February 11th (II - 24)
Icon of the Hieromartyr Blaise and St. Theodora
PriestMartyr Blaise (Blasios), Bishop of Sebasteia (+ c. 316). Nobleborn Prince Vsevolod, in Holy Baptism Gabriel (Gavriil), of Pskov (+ 1138). Monk Dimitrii of Prilutsk, Vologda (+ 1392). Righteous Theodora, Empress of Greece and Restorer of the Veneration of Holy Icons (+ c. 867). Uncovering of Relics of Zachariah, the Father of Saint John the Baptist. Monk Porphyrios, Fool-for-Christ.
The PriestMartyr Blaise (Blasios), Bishop of Sebasteia, was known for his righteous and pious life. He was unanimously chosen by the people and ordained bishop of Sebasteia. This occurred during the reign of the Roman emperors Diocletian (284-305) and Licinius (307-324) -- fierce persecutors of Christians. Saint Blaise had to encourage his flock, visit the imprisoned, and give support to the martyrs.
Many hid themselves away from the persecutors by going off into desolate and solitary places. Saint Blaise likewise took the opportunity to hide himself away on Mount Argeos, where he asceticised in a cave. Wild beasts came up to him and meekly waited until the saint finished his prayer and gave them blessing; the saint likewise healed sick animals by laying his hands upon them. The refuge of the saint was discovered by servants of the governor Agricolaus, being in the area to snare wild beasts to use to tear apart the Christian martyrs. The servants reported to their master that Christians were hidden away on the mountain, and he gave orders to arrest them. But those sent out found there only the Sebasteia bishop. Glorifying God Who had summoned him to this exploit, Saint Blaise followed the soldiers.
Along the way the saint healed the sick and worked other miracles. Thus, a destitute widow complained to him of her misfortune: a wolf had carried off her only possession -- a small pig. The bishop smiled and said to her: "Weep not, thine piglet wilt be returned to thee...". And actually to the astonishment of everyone, the wolf came running back and returned his booty unharmed.
Agricolaus, greeting the bishop with words of deceit, called him a companion of the gods. The saint answered the greeting, but the gods he called devils. Then they gave him a fierce beating and led him off to prison.
On the next day they again subjected the saint to tortures. When they led him back to the prison, seven women went along behind and gathered up the drops of blood. These they arrested and tried to compel them to worship the idols. The women in pretending to consent to this said, that they needed cleansing beforehand in the waters of a lake. They took along the idols and submerged them in a very deep portion of the lake, and after this the Christians were fiercely tortured. The saints stoically endured the torments, strengthened by the grace of God, their bodies were transformed and became white like snow, and together with the blood there flowed what seemed like milk. One of the women had two young sons, who implored their mother that she help them attain the Kingdom of Heaven and she entrusted them into the care of Saint Blaise. The seven holy women were then beheaded.
Saint Blaise was again brought before Agricolaus, and again he unflinchingly confessed his faith in Christ. The governor gave orders to throw the martyr into a lake. The saint, going down to the water, signed himself with the Sign of the Cross, and he went about on it as though on dry land. Addressing the pagans standing about on shore, he challenged them to come to him whilst calling on the help of their gods. To this, 68 men of the governor's retinue made bold and entered the water, and all immediately drowned. The saint, however, heeding the Angel that had appeared to him, returned to shore.
Agricolaus was in a rage over having lost his finest servants, and he gave orders to behead Saint Blaise, and together with him the two boys entrusted to him, the sons of the martyress. Before death, the priestmartyr prayed for all the whole world, and especially for those honouring his memory. This occurred in about the year 316. The relics of the PriestMartyr Blaise were carried off to the West during the time of the Crusades, and portions of the relics are preserved in many of the lands of Europe [and his memory traditionally honoured there on 3 February].
Holy Nobleborn Prince Vsevolod of Pskov, in Baptism Gabriel (Gavriil), a grandson of Vladimir Monomakh, was born at and spent almost all his life in Novgorod, where in the years 1088-1093 and 1095-1117 his father ruled as prince. His father was the holy prince Saint Mstislav-Theodore (Feodor) the Great (+ 15 April 1132). In the year 1117, when Greatprince Vladimir Monomakh gave Mstislav Kievan Belgorod as his "udel" (land-holding), practically making him co-ruler, young Vsevolod remained as vicar of his father in the Novgorod principality.
Holy Prince Vsevolod did much good for Novgorod. Together with the Archbishop of Novgorod, Saint Nyphontii (Comm. 8 April), he raised up many a church, among which were -- the cathedral of the GreatMartyr George at the Yur'ev monastery, and the church of Saint John the Forerunner at Opokakh, built in honour of the "Angel" (i.e. "patron saint") of his first-born son John, who had died in infancy (+ 1128). In his Ustav (Law-code) the prince bestowed a grammota-deed of privileges to the cathedral of Saint Sophia and other churches. During the time of a terrible famine, to save people from perishing, he exhausted his entire treasury. Prince Vsevolod was a valiant warrior, he marched victoriously against the Yam (in 1123) and Chud peoples, but never did he brandish the sword for lucre or power.
In 1132, upon the death of holy Greatprince Mstislav, Vsevolod's uncle the Kiev prince Yaropolk Vladimirovich followed up the last-wishes of his brother and transferred Vsevolod Pereyaslavl'-South, then reckoned the eldest city after Kiev itself. But the younger sons of Monomakh -- Yurii Dolgoruky and Andrei Dobry, were apprehensive lest Yaropolk make Vsevolod his successor, and so they marched out against their nephew. Not wanting internecine strife, Saint Vsevolod returned to Novgorod, but was received there with disaffection. The Novgorodians reckoned, that the prince had been "raised" by them and should not earlier have left them. "Vsevolod did go to Rus', to Pereslavl', -- noted the Novgorod chronicler, -- and did kiss the cross against the Novgorodians, saying, "Ye I would kill"".
Striving to restore good relations with the Novgorodians, the prince in 1133 undertook a new victorious campaign against the Chud people, and he annexed Yur'ev to the Novgorod domain. But an harsh Winter campaign in 1135-1136 against Suzdal' ended unsuccessfully. The stubborn minded Novgorodians would not heed their chastisement by God, and they could not forgive the prince their defeat. The veche-assembly decided to summon a prince from the hostile Monomakh line of the Ol'govichei, and Saint Vsevolod they condemned to banishment: "Thou didst suffer banishment from thine own", -- is sung in the tropar to the saint. For a month and an half they held the prince with his family under guard at the archbishop's palace, and when prince Svyatoslav Ol'govich arrived, "he was expelled from the city".
Vsevolod went again to Kiev, and his uncle Yaropolk gave him as holding the Vyshgorod district near Kiev, -- the place where in the X Century during the rule of her son Svyatoslav had lived holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Greatprincess Olga (Comm. 11 July). Saint Olga, "well preferring the cities of Kiev and Pskov", came to the defense of her unrighteously wronged descendant: in the following year of 1137 the people of Pskov, mindful of the campaigns of the Novgorod-Pskov army under the lead of the prince, invited him to the Pskov principality, the native region of Saint Olga. This was the first Pskov prince, chosen through the will of the Pskov people itself.
Among the glorious works of holy prince Saint Vsevolod-Gabriel at Pskov was the construction of the first stone church in the Name of the Life-Originating Trinity, replacing a wooden one from the times of Saint Olga. On the icons of the saint they often depict him holding a temple "of That Above -- the Holy Trinity".
Saint Vsevolod ruled as prince at Pskov for only a year -- on 11 February 1138 he died, at age 46. All Pskov gathered at the funeral of the beloved prince, and the church singing could barely be heard over the people's wailing. The Novgorodians, in retrospect, sent off an archpriest from the Sophia cathedral to take his holy body back to Novgorod, but the prince had become loatheful of Novgorod, and the coffin would not move from the spot. Bitterly then did the Novgorod people bewail and repent in their misfortune, and they then besought to be given but a small bit of the holy dust "for upholding their city". Through their prayers fell out a fingernail from the hand of the saint. The Pskov people put Saint Vsevolod into the temple of the holy GreatMartyr Demetrios. Alongside the grave they placed the military armament of the prince -- shield and sword, in cruciform shape, with the Latin inscription to wit, -- "I give away mine honour to no one".
On 27 November 1192, the relics of holy Prince Vsevolod were uncovered and transferred into the Trinity cathedral, in which a chapel was consecrated in his honour.
On 22 April 1834, on the first day of Pascha, the holy relics were solemnly transferred into the main church-area of the cathedral.
The deep spiritual bond of the city of holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Olga with holy Prince Vsevolod was never broken: he always remained a Pskov wonderworker. At the siege of Pskov by Stefan Bathory in 1581, when the fortress walls were already breached and the Poles were ready to rush into the city, from the Trinity cathedral with a church procession they brought to the place of battle the holy relics of Prince Vsevolod, and the enemy withdrew. And with the appearance of the wonderworking Pskovo-Pechersk Icon (Comm. 1 October), holy Nobleborn Prince Vsevolod-Gabriel has stood amidst the Heavenly defenders of Pskov.
The Monk Dimitrii of Prilutsk, Wonderworker, was born into a rich merchant's family in Pereyaslavl'-Zalessk. From the time of his youth the monk was uncommonly handsome. Having accepted monastic tonsure at one of the Pereyaslavl' monasteries, the saint later founded the Nikol'sk (Saint Nicholas) life-in-common monastery on the Borisoglebsk Hill at the shore of Lake Plescheevo near the city, and became its hegumen.
In 1534 Saint Dimitrii first met with the Monk Sergei Radonezh, who had come to Pereyaslavl' to bishop Athanasii. From that time he repeatedly conversed with the Monk Sergei and became close with him. The fame of the Pereyaslavl' hegumen so spread about, that he became godfather to the children of Greatprince Dimitrii Ioannovich. Under the influence of the Radonezh wonderworker, the Monk Dimitrii decided to withdraw off to a desolate place, and together with his disciple Pakhomii he set off North. In the Vologda forests, at the River Velika, in the Avnezhsk surroundings, they built a church of the Resurrection of Christ and they made ready to lay the foundations for a monastery. But the local inhabitants were fearful of losing out, and the wilderness-dwellers in their wish to be a burden to no one, set off further.
Not far from Vologda, at the bend of a river in an isolated spot, the Monk Dimitrii decided to form the first of the life-in-common monasteries of the Russian North. The people of Vologda and the surrounding gladly consented to help the saint. The owners of the land intended for the monastery, Il'ya and Isidor, even trampled down a grain field, so that a temple might be built immediately. In 1371 the wooden Saviour cathedral was erected, and brethren began to gather. Many a disciple of the monk came thither from Pereyaslavl'. The deep prayer and quite strict asceticism was combined in the Prilutsk hegumen with kindliness: he fed the poor and hungry, he took in strangers, he conversed with those in need of consolation, and he gave counsel. The monk loved to pray in private. His Lenten food was but prosphora with warm water, and even on feastdays he would not partake of the wine and fish permitted by the ustav-rule. Both Winter and Summer he wore only his old sheepskin coat, and into old age he went off with the brethren on common tasks. Contributions to the monastery the saint accepted cautiously, so that the welfare of the monastery be not to the impairment of those living nearby. The Lord vouchsafed His servant the gift of perspicacity. The Monk Dimitrii died at an advanced age on 11 February 1392. The brethren approaching found him as though asleep, and his cell was filled with a wondrous fragrance. Miracles from the relics of Saint Dimitrii began in the year 1409, and during the XV Century his veneration spread throughout all Rus'. And not later than the year 1440, based on the narratives of Saint Dimitrii's disciple the hegumen Pakhomii, the Prilutsk monk Makarii recorded his life (Great Reading-Menaion, 11 February).
The Righteous Empress Theodora was the wife of the Greek emperor Theophilos the Iconoclast (829-842), but she did not share in the heresy of her husband and secretly she venerated holy icons. After the death of her husband, when Saint Theodora governed the realm together with her in age minor son Michael, she restored the veneration of icons, bringing back the deposed holy Patriarch Meletios and convened a Council, at which the Iconoclasts were anathematised. And by her was started the celebration of this event -- the Triumph of Orthodoxy, which annually is celebrated on the 1st Sunday of Great Lent. Righteous Theodora did much for Holy Church and moreover nourished in her son Michael a firm devotion to Orthodoxy.
When Michael came of age, she was retired from governing and spent 8 years in the monastery of Saint Euphrosynia, in ascetic deeds and the reading of Divine books (a copy of the Gospels is known of, copied by her hand). She died peacefully in about the year 867.
In 1460 her relics were given off by the Turks to the people of the city of Kortsyra.
© 2000 by translator Fr. S. Janos