January 9th (I - 22)
Icon of the Martyr Polyeuctus
Martyr Polyeuktos (+ 259). Sainted Philip, Metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia (+1569). Prophet Samei (Shemaiah) (X Cent. B. C.). Sainted Peter, Bishop of Armenian Sebasteia (IV). Monk Eustratios the Wonderworker (IX). Martyrs Antonina, Nikander and Zachariah. Martyr Panteleimon.
Saint Polyeuktos was the first martyr in the Armenian city of Meletina. He was a soldier under the emperor Decius (249-251) and he later suffered for Christ under the emperor Valerian (253-259). The saint was friend also of Nearchos, a fellow-soldier and firm Christian, but Polyeutos himself, while yet leading a virtuous life, remained a pagan.
When the persecution against Christians started up, Nearchos said to Polyeuktos: "Friend, we shalt soon be separated from thee, for they wilt take me to torture, and thou alas, wilt renounce friendship with me". Polyeuktos answered him, that in a dream he had seen Christ, Who took from him his garb and clothed him in another and bright attire. "From that moment, -- said he, -- I am prepared to serve the Lord Jesus Christ".
Having become ardent in spirit, Saint Polyeuktos went out onto the city square, tore up the imperial edict hanging there about the duty to worship idols, and then he smashed idols from out of the hands of pagan priests carrying them.
His father-in-law, the governor Felox, to whom had been entrusted the carrying out of the imperial edict, was horrified at the deed of Saint Polyeuktos and declared, that for this he had to die. "Go, make farewell with thine wife and children," -- said Felox. The wife came and with tears began to beseech her husband to renounce Christ, and his father?in-law Felox also wept. But Saint Polyeuktos remained steadfast in his resolve to suffer for Christ. With joy he bent his head beneathe the sword of the executioner and was baptised in his own blood (+ 259). Soon, when the Church of Christ in the time of Equal?to-the-Apostles Constantine had triumphed throughout all the Roman empire, at Meletina there was erected a church in the name of the holy Martyr Polyeuktos. Many a miracle was worked through the prayerful intercession of Saint Polyeuktos. In this very church prayed fervently for the granting of a son the parents of the holy Monk Euthymios the Great (Comm. 20 January). The birth of this great luminary of Orthodoxy in the year 376 thus occurred through the help of the holy Martyr Polyeuktos. His memory was also venerated by Sainted Akakios, Bishop of Meletina, a participant of the Third OEcumenical Council and a great proponent of the Ecumenical Truth. As in the East, so also in the West, the holy Martyr Polyeuktosis venerated as a patron saint of vows and treaty agreements.
Sainted Philip, Metropolitan of Moscow, in the world Feodor (Theodore), was descended from the illustrious boyar-noble lineage of the Kolychevi, occupying a prominent place in the Boyar duma at the court of the Moscow sovereigns. He was born in the year 1507. His father, Stepan Ivanovich, "a man enlightened and filled with military spirit", attentively prepared his son for government service. Pious Varvara (Barbara), the mother of Feodor, who ended her days in monasticism with the name Varsonophia, implanted in the soul of her son a sincere faith and deep piety. Young Feodor Kolychev applied himself diligently to the Holy Scripture and to the books of the holy fathers, upon which the old Russian enlightenment rested, then transpiring within the Church and in the spirit of the Church. The Moscow Greatprince, Vasilii III Ioannovich, the father of Ivan the Terrible, brought young Feodor into the court, but he was not however attracted to court life. Conscious of its vanity and sinfulness, Feodor all the more deeply immersed himself in the reading of books and visiting the churches of God. Life in Moscow repelled the young ascetic. The sincere devotion to him of the young prince Ivan, presaging a great future for him in government service, could not hold in check within the earthly city his searching out of the Heavenly City.
On Sunday, 5 June 1537, in church for Divine Liturgy, Feodor felt intensely in his soul the words of the Saviour: "No one is able to serve two masters" (Mt. 6: 24), which determined his ultimate destiny. Praying fervently to the Moscow wonderworkers, and without bidding farewell to kinsfolk, he secretly in the attire of a common person left Moscow, and for a certain while he hid himself away from the world in the village of Khizna, near Lake Onega, earning his livelihood as a shepherd. His thirst for ascetic deeds led him to the reknown Solovetsk monastery on the White Sea. There he fulfilled quite toilsome obediences: he chopped firewood, dug the ground, and worked in the mill. After a year and an half of testing, the hegumen Aleksei, at the wish of Feodor tonsured him, giving him the monastic name Philip and entrusting him in obedience to the starets-elder Jona Shamina, who conversed with the Monk Alexander Svirsk (+ 1533, Comm. 30 August). Under the guidance of the experienced elders the Monk Philip grew spiritually, and strengthened in fasting and prayer. Hegumen Aleksei sent him in obedience to work at the monastery black-smith forge, where Saint Philip combined the activity of unceasing prayer amidst his working with an heavy hammer. At the beginning of the service in church he always appeared first and was the last to leave. He toiled also in the bakery, where the humble ascetic was comforted with an heavenly Sign. In the monastery afterwards they displayed the "Bakery" image of the Mother of God, through which the heavenly Mediatrix bestowed Her blessing upon the humble baker-monk Philip. With the blessing of the hegumen, Saint Philip spent a certain while in wilderness solitude, attending to himself and to God.
In 1546 at Novgorod the Great, archbishop Theodosii consecrated Philip as hegumen of the Solovetsk monastery. The new-made hegumen strove with all his might to exalt the spiritual significance of the monastery and its founders -- the Monk Savvatii and Zosima of Solovetsk (Comm. 27 September, 17 April). He searched out the Hodegetria image of the Mother of God brought to the island by the original first head of Solovetsk, the Monk Savvatii; he located the stone cross which once stood before the cell of the monk. Found also was the Psalter, belonging to the Monk Zosima (+ 1478), the first hegumen of Solovetsk, and his robe, in which from that time hegumens would vest during service on the days of memory of the wonderworker. The monastery was revived spiritually. For regulating life at the monastery, a new ustav (monastic rule) was adopted. Saint Philip built on Solovetsk majestic temples -- a refectory church of the Uspenie (Dormition) of the Mother of God, consecrated in the year 1557, and a church of the Transfiguration (Preobrazhenie) of the Lord. The hegumen himself worked as a simple labourer, helping to lay the walls of the Transfiguration church. Beneathe the north portico he dug himself a grave, alongside that of his guide, the starets Jona. Spiritual life in these years blossomed at the monastery: asceticising amidst the brethren amongst the students of Hegumen Philip were the Monks John and Longin of Yarengsk (Comm. 3 July) and Vassian and Jona of Pertominsk (Comm. 12 July).
For his efforts of secret prayer Saint Philip often withdrew for quiet to a desolate wilderness spot, two versts from the monastery, which received afterwards the name the Philippov wilderness.
But the Lord was preparing the saint for other service and other work. At Moscow Ivan the Terrible remembered fondly about the Solovetsk hermit from the time of his childhood years. The tsar hoped to find in Saint Philip a true companion, confessor and counsellor, who through his exalted monastic life would have nothing in common with the sedition of the boyar-nobles. The holiness of the metropolitan, in the opinion of Ivan the Terrible, ought to be of a certain spiritual meekness to quell the treachery and malice, nesting itself within the Boyar soul. The choice of such an arch-hierarch for the Russian Church seemed to him the best possible.
The saint for a long time refused to take upon himself the great burden of primate of the Russian Church. He did not sense any spiritual affinity with Ivan. He attempted to urge the tsar to abolish the Oprichniki [the tsar internal terror shock troops]. Ivan the Terrible attempted to argue its civil necessity. Finally, the dread tsar and the holy metropolitan came to an agreement, that Saint Philip would not meddle in the affairs of the Oprichniki and the running of the government, he would not resign as metropolitan in case, if the tsar be not able to fulfill his wishes, and that he would be a support and counsellor of the tsar, just as former metropolitans were supports for the Moscow sovereigns. On 25 July 1566 occurred the consecration of Saint Philip to the cathedra?seat of the Moscow sainted-hierarchs, whose number he was soon to join.
Ivan the Terrible, one of the greatest and most contradictory figures in Russian history, lived an intensely busy life, he was a talented writer and bibliophile [i.e. lover of books], he involved himself in the compilation of the Chronicles (and himself suddenly sundered the thread of the Moscow chronicle-writing), he delved into the intricacies of the monastic ustav (rule), and more than once thought about monasticism and abdicating the throne. Every aspect of governmental service, all the abrupt measures undertaken by him for a setting to root restructuring of civil and social life, Ivan the Terrible tried to rationalise as a manifestation of Divine Providence, as the acting of God within history. His beloved spiritual heroes were Saint Michael of Chernigov (Comm. 20 September) and Saint Theodore (Feodor) the Black (Comm. 19 September), military men active with a complex contradictory destiny, moving on towards their sacred ends through whatever the hindrances rising up afront them, and fulfilling their duties to the Rodina (Native-land) and Holy Church. The more the darkness thickened around Ivan the Terrible, the more resolutely he demanded of his soul cleansing and redemption. Journeying on pilgrimage to the Kirillo-Belozersk monastery, he declared his wish to the hegumen and the gathered elders to be made a monk. The haughty autocrat fell on his knees to the hegumen, and that one blessed his intent. All his life from that time, wrote Ivan the Terrible, "it seems to me, an accursed sinner, that halfways I am already black-robed". The Oprichnina was itself conceived of by Ivan the Terrible in the form of a monastic brotherhood: serving God with weapon and military deeds, the Oprichniki were required to dress in monastic garb and go to church service, long and tiring, lasting from 4 to 10 o'clock in the morning. Upon "brethren", not appearing at 4 o'clock in the morning, the tsar imposed a penance. Ivan himself with his sons sought fervently to pray and sing in the church choir. From church they went on to refectory (meal), and while the Oprichniki ate, the tsar stood alongside them. The remaining food the Oprichniki gathered from the table and distributed to the poor at the doorway of their refectory (dining hall). Ivan the Terrible, with tears of repentance and wanting to be an esteemer of the holy ascetics -- the teachers of repentance, he wanted to wash and burn away his own sins and those of his companions, cherishing the assurance, that even the terrible cruel actions would rebound for him to the welfare of Russia and the triumph of Orthodoxy. The most clearly spiritual action and monastic sobriety of Ivan the Terrible is revealed in his "Synodikon": shortly before his death by his orders there were compiled full lists of the people murdered by him and his Oprichniki, which were then distributed throughout all the Russian monasteries. All his sins against the nation Ivan took upon himself and besought the holy monks to pray to God for the forgiveness of his tormented soul.
The self-styled monasticism of Ivan the Terrible, a dark most grievous oppression over Russia, tormented Saint Philip, who considered it impossible to mix together the earthly and the heavenly, serving the cross and serving the sword. Even moreso was it, that Saint Philip saw, how much unrepentant malice and envy was concealed beneathe the black hoods of the Oprichniki. There were among them outright murderers, hardened in lawless bloodletting, and profiteers in it for the rewards, rooted in sin and transgression. By the sufferance of God history often is worked with the hands of the impious, and Ivan the Terrible as it were wanted to whiten before God his black brotherhood, -- the blood, spilled in the name of its thugs and fanatics, cried out to heaven.
Saint Philip decided to oppose Ivan the Terrible. This was connected with a new wave of executions in the years 1567-1568. In the Autumn of 1567, just as the tsar was setting out on a campaign against Livonia, he learned about a boyar conspiracy. The plotters intended to seize the tsar and deliver him over to the Polish king, who already was on the move with an army towards Russian territory. Ivan the Terrible dealt severely with the conspirators and again he shed much blood. It was bitter for Saint Philip, and the conscience of the saint at length compelled him boldly to enter into defense of the executed. The final rift occurred in the Spring of 1568. On the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross, 2 March 1568, when the tsar with his Oprichniki entered the Uspenie (Dormition) cathedral, as was their custom in monastic garb, Saint Philip refused to bless him, and began openly to denounce the lawless acts committed by the Oprichniki: "Metropolitan Philip did instruct the sovereign of the enmity in Moscow concerning the Oprichnina".The accusations of the Vladyka shattered the harmony of the church service. Ivan the Terrible in a rage said: "Thou wouldst oppose us? We shall see thine firmness! I have been too soft on you", -- retorted the tsar, according to eye-witnesses.
The tsar began to show ever greater cruelty in persecuting all those that opposed him. Executions followed one after the other. The fate of the saintly confessor was sealed. But Ivan the Terrible wanted to observe a canonical semblance of propriety. The Boyar duma obediently carried out the decision to have a trial over the Primate of the Russian Church. A cathedral trial-court was set up over Metropolitan Philip in the presence of a thinned-out Boyar duma. False witnesses were found: and to the deep sorrow of the saint, these were monks of the Solovetsk monastery beloved by him, his former students and novices. They accused Saint Philip of a multitude of transgressions, even including sorcery. "I am come upon the earth, just like all my ancestors, -- humbly answered the saint, -- prepared to suffer for truth". Having refuted all the accusations, the holy sufferer attempted to halt the trial by declaring voluntarily to resign the metropolitan dignity. But his abdication was not accepted. New abuse awaited the martyr. Even after bringing forth a sentence of life imprisonment, they compelled Saint Philip to serve Liturgy in the Uspensk cathedral. This was on 8 November 1568. In the midst of the service the Oprichniki burst into the temple, they publicly read the council sentence of condemnation, and then abused the saint, tearing from him the hierarchical vestments, they dressed him in rags, dragged him out of the church and drove him off on a simple peasant's sledge to the Theophany monastery. For a long while they oppressed the martyr in the cellars of the Moscow monasteries, the feet of the elder they shoved into stocks, they held him in chains, and put an heavy chain upon his neck. Finally, they drove him off to the Tver Otroch monastery. And there a year afterwards, on 23 December 1569, the saint accepted a martyr's death at the hands of Maliuta Skuratov. Only three days before this the holy elder foresaw the finish of his earthly efforts and communed the Holy Mysteries. His relics were committed to earth initially there at the monastery, beyond the church altar. Later on they were transferred to the Solovetsk monastery (11 August 1591) and from there -- to Moscow (3 July 1652).
The memory of Sainted Philip was celebrated by the Russian Church from the year 1591, on the day of his martyr's end -- 23 December. From 1660 the celebration was transferred to 9 January.
The Prophet Samei (Shemaiah) lived under king Solomon and his son Rehoboam, whom the prophet before the face of God forbade to war against the 10 Tribes of Israel, which separated themselves from the offspring of David (3  Kings 12).
Sainted Peter, Bishop of Sebasteia, was a brother of Sainted Basil the Great and Sainted Gregory of Nyssa (Comm. 1 January and 10 January). And in his upbringing a large part was played by his older sister, Saint Macrina (Comm. 19 July). Sainted Basil the great consecrated Saint Peter as presbyter, and after the death of Saint Basil he was made bishop of Sebasteia (in Armenia). Saint Peter was present at the Second OEcumenical Council in the year 381, convened at Constantinople against the heresy of Macedonias.
The Monk Eustratios hailed from the city of Tarsis. At 20 years of age he secretly left the home of his parents and settled in the Abgarite monastery (on Olympos in Asia Minor). There he lived a strict ascetic life, eating only bread and water, and spending the nights at prayer. After a certain while he was chosen head of the monastery. During the reign of the Iconoclast Leo the Armenian (813-820), the Monk Eustratios in hiding from pursuit roamed the hills and the wilds, and after the death of the emperor he returned to the monastery. Prayer never left his lips, and he incessantly repeated the words: "Lord, have mercy!"
Before his death he gave an instruction to the monks: not to be attracted towards earthly blessings, and constantly to think about the future life. Signing himself with the sign of the Cross, he pronounced the words: "Into Thine hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit" and he died peacefully, at age 95.
© 1999 by translator Fr. S. Janos