March 29th (IV - 11)
Icon of St. Mark of Arethusa and Deacon Cyril
PriestMartyr Mark, Bishop of Arethuseia, the Deacon Cyril and many others (+ c. 363). Monk John the Wilderness-Dweller (IV). Sainted Eustathios the Confessor, Bishop of Bithynia (IX). Monastics Mark, Jona (+ 1480) and Vassa (+ c. 1473) of Pskovo-Pechersk. Monks Isaac, Philip and many others. Saint Marcian. Saint Patapius.
The PriestMartyr Mark, Bishop of Arethuseia, suffered for his faith in Christ under the emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363). By order of the Equal-to-the-Apostles emperor Constantine (306-337, Comm. 21 May), Saint Mark had once destroyed an idolatrous temple. When Julian came upon the throne, he began to persecute Christians and to restore paganism, and his enemies decided to take revenge on Saint Mark. The old bishop at first hid himself from the persecution, but learning, that the pagans in search of him had put many people to torture, he voluntarily gave himself up. Amidst abuse and jeers the holy elder was led throughout all the city and given over to torture. They tore out his hair, lacerated his body, dragged him along the street, dumped him in a swamp, tied him up bound and cut at him with knives. Demanding from the holy bishop repayment for the destruction of the pagan-temple, the persecutors invented ever newer and newer torments: they squeezed the elder in a foot-press, they cut off his ears with strong linen cords and finally, having smeared the body of the holy martyr with honey and grease, they hung him up in a basket in the hot mid-day as prey for the bees. But the holy elder as it were did not notice the pain, and this irritated the tormentor all the more. The inhabitants of the city of Arethuseia, beholding the unshakable firmness of the saint, set him free. Many of them later under the influence of his talks were converted to Christ. Sainted Gregory the Theologian (Comm. 25 January) tells about the sufferings of Saint Mark in his First Discourse against Julian.
About the Holy Martyr Deacon Cyril, Blessed Theodorit relates, that during the reign of Equal-to-the-Apostles Constantine the Great he destroyed many idols in the city of Iliopolis. For this he was killed under Julian the Apostate. Pagans cut up his body and, like wild beasts, they bit at it, for which the Lord punished the torturers with blindness, boils and other terrible ills.
During this time in the Palestinian cities of Ascalon and Gaza the pagans tormented to death many Christians -- priests, and likewise women and children that had dedicated themselves to God. The torturers cut up their bodies, covered them with barley and threw them for lacerating to the swine. For their terrible torments the holy martyrs received crowns of victory in the Kingdom of Heaven, and the torturers rightful recompense -- eternal torment in hell.
The Monk John the Wilderness-Dweller: During a time of persecution against Christians the pious widow Juliania hid from pursuers together with her two young children John and Themistea. She constantly taught her children with prayers and by reading of the Holy Books. From time to time the lad John secretly visited a nearby monastery, subjecting himself to danger. One time a pious man happened upon him, who advised him to find a more secluded place for prayer. Having returned home, the lad told his mother, that he was going off to the pious solitary man. Thinking that her son would quickly return, the mother sent him off. John set off to the wilderness-dweller Pharmuphios and, having received blessing from him, withdrew into the wilderness. The young ascetic found an abandoned deep well, filled with many snakes, scorpions and other nasty creatures and, having prayed, he flung himself downwards, but sustained by an Angel, he remained unharmed. He spent the daytime in the well at prayer with cross-form joining of hands with neither food nor sleep for forty days, although the snakes did not abandon the well. One time an Angel, bringing food to the hermit Pharmuphios, brought bread also for Saint John. But the Angel did not bring the bread straight to John, so that the young ascetic should not be filled with pride. From that time the holy lad received Heavenly food through Pharmuphios. The young ascetic had many temptations from the devil to test him. Devils assumed the form of his mother, his sister, his kinsfolk and acquaintances, so as to sadden the ascetic and compel him to break off his efforts. With tears they all one after the other approached the well, beseeching the Monk John to leave with them. All this while the saint did not cease to pray and finally he would utter: "Begone from me", -- and the devils vanished.
Up until the time of his blessed end, occurring during the IV Century, Saint John lived in the well, incessantly at the ascesis of prayer and fasting. Through the providence of God there came by for his burial the Monk Chrysikhios, who had asceticised in the wilderness over the course of thirty years. On the eve of his repose, the Monk John after long entreaties related in detail to Chrysikhios about his life and effort of salvation. After his death there occurred numerous miracles at the place of his ascetic deeds.
Sainted Eustathios the Confessor, Bishop of Bithynia, was already at the start of his efforts a fervent monk, meek and wise, filled with great faith and love for neighbour. For his virtuous life he was made bishop of the city of Bithynia (a Roman province in north-west Asia Minor) and for many years he guided his flock, giving them example of virtuous life and perfection. During the time of the Iconoclast heresy, Saint Eustathios boldly came out against the heretics in defending the veneration of holy icons. Iconoclast enemies reported against him to the emperor, and the saint suffered imprisonment and fierce beatings. Finally they deprived the holy Bishop Eustathios of his cathedra and sent him off to prison. The holy confessor died during the IX Century in exile, over the course of three years having undergone insults, deprivation, hunger and want.
The Monastics Mark, Jona and Vassa are venerated as among the originating fathers of the Pskovo-Pechersk monastery.
It is unknown precisely, when the first hermit monks settled by the Kamenets stream in the natural caves of the hill, which the local inhabitants called "the holy hill". The monastery chronicle presents an account of eye-witnesses, hunter-trappers from Izborsk by the nickname of Selishi: "Once by chance we came with our father to the outlying hill, where now is the church of the Mother of God, and heard what seemed church singing; they sang harmoniously and reverently, but the singers could not be seen, and the air was filled with the fragrance of incense".
Of the first elders of the Pskovo-Pechersk monastery only Mark alone is known by name. About him it testifies: "First at the beginning a certain elder was living at the Kamenets floodage by the cave, of whom certain fishermen caught sight of at the three rocks, lying over the cave of the MostHoly Mother of God church; but we were not able to discover anything known about this one, -- who the elder was nor his lineage, nor how and from whence he came to this place, nor how long he dwelt there nor how he died". The second hegumen of the Pechersk monastery bore the name of Starets (elder) Mark in the monastery Synodikon. The Monk Kornilii (Comm. 20 February) as hegumen doubted the veracity of this inscription and he ordered that the name be erased from the Synodikon. Suddenly he became grievously ill and had a revelation, that this was in punishment for ordering to strike out the name of the Monk Mark from the monastery diptych. Begging forgiveness with tearful prayer at the grave of the Starets Mark, Hegumen Kornilii put back his holy name. When the cave church of the Uspenie (Dormition) of the MostHoly Mother of God was dug out and the burial caves expanded, the Hegumen Dorophei found the grave of the Monk Mark in decay, but his relics and clothing undecayed.
In the year 1472 the peasant Ivan Dement'ev cut down the forest on the steep hill. One of the felled trees rolled downhill, tearing out of the ground by its roots another tree. The slide opened up the entrance to a cave, over which was the inscription: "A cave built by God". (There is a tradition about this, that a certain fool-for-Christ the Monk Varlaam frequently came to the cave and wiped away this inscription, but that it every time miraculously re-appeared).
To this holy spot, prayed in by the first ascetics, there came from elsewhere the priest John nicknamed "Shestnik". He was a native of "the Moscow lands" and served as priest at Iur'ev (now Tartu) in "a right-believing church, established by Pskov people" and named for Saint Nicholas and the GreatMartyr George, and he together with the Priest Isidor spiritually nourished the Russians living there. In 1470 Father John was compelled to flee with his family to Pskov under persecution from the German-Catholics. Having learned of the martyr's end of his comrade (the commemoration of PriestMartyr Isidor is 8 January), John decided to withdraw into the newly-appeared "cave built by God", so that there, on the very boundary with the Livonians, he might found a monastery as an outpost of Orthodoxy.
Soon his wife fell ill and, having taken monastic vows with the name Vassa, she died. Her righteousness was evidenced immediately after her death. Her husband and her spiritual father buried the Nun Vassa in the wall of "the cave built by God", but by night her coffin was "removed from the ground by an invisible power of God". Father John and the other priest confessor of the Nun Vassa were upset, thinking that this had occurred, because they had not made in full the order of farewell-song, and a second time they sang the funeral service and again they buried the body, but in the morning it again was "atop the ground". Then it became clear, that this -- was a sign from God. They made the grave of the Nun Vassa in the cave on the left side. Shaken by the miracle, John took monastic vows with the name Jona and began to asceticise even more fervently.
Having dug out by hand the cave church and two cells on pillars, he began to petition the clergy of the Pskovsk Trinity cathedral to consecrate it, but these decided not to do so at the moment "because of the unusual location". Then the Monk Jona besought the blessing of the Novgorod Archbishop Theophil.
On 15 August 1473 the cave church was consecrated in honour of the Uspenie (Dormition) of the MostHoly Mother of God. During the consecration there occurred a miracle from an icon of the Uspenie of the MostHoly Mother of God -- a blind woman received her sight -- "sent by the merciful God beginning His great gifts to His All-Pure Mother". (This icon, which they call the "old", in distinction from another wonderworking icon of the Uspenie of the MostHoly Mother of God bordered with Her life, was written about the year 1421 by the Pskov iconographer Aleksei Maly, and is preserved at present in the altar of the Uspensk temple in the hill locale. The icon bordered with the life -- is the temple patron-icon of the cave church). The date of consecration of the cave church is reckoned as the official date of the founding of the Pskovo-Pechersk monastery. The Monk Jona asceticised at the cave monastery until 1480 and peacefully expired to the Lord. Upon his death they discovered on his body a chainmail coat of armour, which was hung over his grave in testimony of the secret ascetic deeds of the monk, but during an incursion of the Germans it was stolen.
The relics of the Monk Jona rest in the caves alongside the relics of the monastic elder Mark and the Nun Vassa. Once during an invasion of the monastery the Livonian knights, jeering over the holy relics, wanted to open with a sword the cover of the coffin of the Nun Vassa, but a flame from the holy ascetic flashed out from the coffin. Traces of this punishing fire are seen to the present day on the coffin of the Nun Vassa.
© 1998 by translator Fr. S. Janos.