May 7th (V - 20)
Icon of the Martyr Acacius the Centurion and Saint Nilus the Myrrh-gusher of Mt. Athos
Remembrance of Appearance in the Heavens of the Cross of the Lord at Jerusalem (351). Martyrs: Acacius the Centurion (+ 303); Heliocrates; Nicodemos; Pakhomii the Russian of Athos (+ 1780). Monk Nil of Sorsk (+ 1508). Monks John Zedazeni and his Disciples: Habib, Bishop of Nekress, Anthony of Martkob, David of Garej, Xeno of Ikalto, Thaddeus of Stepantsmind, Ise (Jesse) Bishop of Tsilkan, Joseph Bishop of Alaverdi, Isidor of Samtavi, Michael of Ulumbi, Pyrrhos of Breti, Stephen of Khyri, Shio of Mgvim and Deacon Elias (VI). Icons of the Mother of God: Liubech (XI) and Zhirovitsk (1191 and 1470).
Remembrance of the Appearance in the Heavens of the Cross of the Lord at Jerusalem (351): After the death of the first Christian emperor, Constantine the Great, the imperial throne was occupied by his son Constantius, who inclined towards the heresy of Arius, which denied the one self-same essence of the Son of God with the Father. In the reaffirming of holy Orthodoxy, the Lord manifest at Jerusalem a wondrous sign. On the day of Holy Pentecost, 7 May 351, at the third hour of the morning in the heavens there appeared the image of the equal-proportioned Cross of the Lord, shining with an inexpressible light, and brighter than the light of the sun. All the people were eye-witness to this, and they were struck with great dread and amazement. The appearance of the Sign of the Cross began over holy Mount Golgotha, whereupon it was that the Lord had been crucified (Mt. 27: 32-33; Jn. 19: 17, 41; Heb. 13: 12), and it reached to the Mount of Olives (Jn. 8: 1; 18: 1-2), extending from Golgotha a distance of 15 stadia. The Sign was transfused with all the colours of the rainbow and it caught the sight of all the people. Many of the people, leaving off from whatever they were doing, went outside the houses and with awe stood contemplating the wondrous sign. Then a numerous throng of the people of Jerusalem with trembling and joy hastened to the holy Church of the Resurrection.
The holy Jerusalem Patriarch Cyril (350-387) advised the emissary of the emperor Constantius about this miraculous occurrence of the appearance of the Sign of the Cross, and he urged him to return to the Orthodox faith. And Sozomen, an historian of the Ancient Church, likewise testifies, that through this appearance of the Holy Cross many of the Jews and pagan Greeks came to the true faith, repenting in Christ God, and accepted Holy Baptism.
The Holy Martyr Acacius, who lived mostly in the III Century, was born at Cappadocia and was a centurion of the Martesian regiment under the military officer Firmus. When the persecution against Christians was started up on order of the emperor Maximian Galerius (305-311), Firmus began one after the other to interrogate his soldiers about their faith. Saint Acacius thereupon firmly and openly confessed himself a Christian. Seeing the steadfastness of Saint Acacius, Firmus sent him off to the military officer higher up in command, named Vivianus. Vivianus gave the saint over to fierce torture. After the tortures they put him in heavy chains and locked him up in prison. A certain while later they led the martyr together with other prisoners to Byzantium, to the governor. The soldiers accompanying them went along quickly, showing the prisoners no mercy, and Saint Acacius weakened along the way from his wounds, and also from his chains and hunger and thirst. When finally they halted for the night, Saint Acacius offered up thanks to God, for granting him to suffer for His Holy Name. During the time of prayer the saint heard a voice from the heavens: "Valour, Acacius, and be strong!" This voice was heard also by the other prisoners, and many of them believed in Christ and besought the saint to instruct them and further them in the Christian faith.
At Byzantium they situated the holy martyr in onerous lockup, while the other prisoners were put under less severe conditions. But at night the other prisoners beheld, how radiant youths appeared to Saint Acacius and attended to him, washing his wounds and bringing him food. After seven days, Vivianus again summoned Saint Acacius before him and was struck by his fresh appearance. Supposing, that the prison guard for money had given the prisoner both respite and food, he summoned the guard for a strict questioning. And not believing his answers, Vivianus had the guard severely beaten. Saint Acacius himself thereupon answered Vivianus: "My power and strength art given me by the Lord Jesus Christ, Who hath healed my wounds". Vivianus in a frenzy of rage gave orders to beat the martyr about the face and smash his teeth for his unsolicited words. Striving all the more to intensify and prolong the torture of Saint Acacius, Vivianus sent him off to the governor Flaccinus with a letter. But having read the letter, Flaccinus became annoyed, that Vivianus had for so long and so cruelly tortured a soldier holding the venerable rank of centurion, and he gave orders to without further delay behead the martyr. At the place of execution Saint Acacius lifted up his eyes to the heavens, offering up thanks to God for being granted to accept a martyr's death for Him, and then with a calm joy he lay down his head beneathe the sword. This occurred in the year 303. Under Constantine the Great the relics of the holy Martyr Acacius rested at Constantinople in a church built in his honour, and later they were transferred to Calabria, to the city of Scillatio. The holy Martyr Acacius particularly helps those resorting to him in prayer in struggle with the flesh, as discovered by himself for Saint Epiphanios, a disciple of the Fool-for-Christ Saint Andrew.
The Monk Nil of Sorsk, a great ascetic of the Russian Church, was descended from the Maikov boyar-noble line. He accepted monasticism at the monastery of the Monk Kirill (Cyril) of Belozersk (Comm. 9 June). Here he made use of the counsels of the pious starets-elder Paisii Yaroslavov, who was afterwards hegumen of the Trinity-Sergiev Lavra. The Monk Nil journeyed much through the East, studying the monastic life in Palestine and at Athos. Returning to Rus', he withdrew to the River Sora in the Vologda lands, he made himself a cell and a chapel, where there soon grew up a monastery with a new for that time in Rus' skete monastic-rule, adopted from Athos by the Monk Nil. In accord with the command of the Monk Nil, the monks had to sustain themselves by the work of their own hands, to accept charity only in extreme need, and to shun the love of things and splendour even in church; women were not permitted in the skete monastery, monks was not allowed to leave the skete under any pretexts, and the possession of lands or estates was forbidden. Scattered about in the forest around the small church in honour of the Meeting (Sretenie) of the Lord, in separate cells of one or two but not more than three men, the skete-monks on the eve of Sundays and other feastdays gathered together a complete day for Divine-services, and the All-Night Vigil moreover, at which for each kathisma two or three readings from the holy fathers were put forth, and it indeed lasted the whole night. On other days each one prayed and worked in his own cell. The chief effort of the monk was devoted to the struggle with his own thoughts and passions, in result of which in his soul would be born peace, in his mind -- clarity, in his heart -- contriteness and love. In his written works -- "A Tradition for my Student, Wishing to Live in the Wilderness", and the "Ustav-Rule", the Monk Nil in detail spells out the steps of this salvific mental activity. The first step -- is a renunciation from the world, in particular, from every worldly distraction; the second -- is unceasing prayer, accompanied by the memory of death. In his own life the saint distinguished himself by his extreme non?possessiveness and love for work. He himself dug out a pond and a well, the water of which had healing power. For his sanctity of life the Starets Nil was deeply venerated by the Russian hierarchs of his time. The monk participated in the Sobor-Councils of the years 1490 and 1503. Shunning the honours and glories of this world, before his death he bid his disciples either to cast out his body for devouring by beasts and birds or else bury it without honours at the place of his exploits. The saint died in his 76th year of life, on the day of 7 May 1508. His relics, buried in the monastery founded by him, were glorified by manifold mysteries. The Russian Church enumerated him to the rank of the Saints. [In English, fragments of his "Tradition" and "Ustav-Rule" may be found in G. Fedotov's "Treasury of Russian Spirituality".]
The Holy Martyr Pakhomii was born in Little Russia. He had the name Prokopii and in childhood he was taken captive by Tatars, who sold him over into slavery to a certain Turk in the city of Usaki (Philadelphia in Anatolia). He spent 17 years in servitude, enduring patiently all the insults and abuse. Gaining his freedom, for 12 years he asceticised on Holy Mount Athos under the guidance of the starets-elder priestmonk Joseph, who tonsured him into monasticism with the name Pakhomii. Pakhomii afterwards resettled into the Kausokali skete-monastery, where he lived under the guidance of the starets-elder Akakios. Saint Pakhomii then returned to Usaki, where he openly confessed himself a Christian. The Turks arrested him and began to demand his acceptance of Mahometanism. Saint Pakhomii refused and was beheaded in the city of Usaki on the day of the Ascension of the Lord, 7 May 1780. The relics of the holy martyr rest on the island of Patmos, in the monastery of the holy Apostle John the Theologian.
Monk John Zedazeni and his Twelve Disciples: Habib, Bishop of Nekress, Anthony of Martkob, David of Garej, Xeno of Ikalto, Thaddeus of Stepantsmind, Ise Bishop of Tsilkan, Joseph Bishop of Alaverdi, Isidor of Samtavi, Michael of Ulumbi, Pyrrhos of Breti, Stephen of Khyri, Shio of Mgvim -- were holy Syrian (Cappadocian) ascetics, the founders of Gruzian-Georgian monasticism, having arrived in Gruzia from Cappadocia in the mid-VI Century. The holy Thirteen Cappadocian Fathers were actually Gruzinians, who received their spiritual schooling at the reknown Laura of Saint Simeon the Pillar-Dweller and at other monasteries of Syria and Mesopotamia, with the intent to return to their native land and assist in its Christian enlightenment.
Saint John Zedazeni, the head of these ascetics, received his spiritual schooling at Antioch. Accounts have not been preserved about the place of his birth nor about his kin. In his youthful years he accepted monasticism and devoted himself to a solitary ascetic life, gaining afterwards an amazing geniality, humility and gift of wonderworking. The fame of his spiritual exploits attracted to him a throng of disciples, from which number Saint John Zedazeni chose by lot 12 men, and in fulfilling the command of the Mother of God, he set off with them to Gruzia. Along the way they received blessing from Saint Simeon the Younger Pillar-Dweller (+ 596), and at Mtsketia, the ancient capital of Gruzia, traversing "with undampened feet" the River Kura, they were joyfully met by the people, by the emperor Parsman (542-557), and by the Archbishop-Katholikos Eulabios (552-560). The chronicles relate, that the holy Cappadocian Fathers spoke in the Gruzian language to those meeting them, and going into the Svetitskhoveli cathedral church and prostrating themselves beneathe the Life-Creating Pillar (the hagiographic account about it is located under 1 October), they glorified and gave thanks to God. With the blessing of Katholikos Eulabios, Saint John together with his disciples settled on Mount Zedazeni (from which Saint John gets his name -- Zedazeni), where formerly there had been a pagan-temple and an idol erected. The ascetics lived in lean-to huts, they ate grasses and roots, and they were constantly at prayer and spiritual meditation. A multitude of the sick flocked to them, receiving healing through their prayerful intercession. After the choosing of Saints Habib and Ise as bishops, the Mother of God appeared to Saint John in a dream and commanded him to send out his disciples into various parts of Gruzia, for the preaching of the Word of God and for pastoral edification. Hearkening to the instructions of Saint John, certain of the disciples set off to Kakhetia (Xeno, and later Stephen), others to Kartalin (Pyrrhos, Michael, Thaddeus and Isidor). The accounts about the other saints -- Habib, Anthony, David, Ise, Joseph, Shio -- are located respectively under: 29 November, 19 January, 2 December, 15 September, 9 May.
"They all... taught the nation, they instructed it in the faith, they abolished the darkness of superstition and they did away with what remained in the mountain gorges of pagan temples and idol-worship, in place of which they erected the holy cross and holy churches, and they established within the nation a civil sense..."
Saint Xeno, "a pillar of sweet obedience", while completing his preaching in the mountains of Upper Kakhetia, founded a monastery at Ikalto, whereat also after great efforts he was buried in the cathedral church in honour of the Image of the Saviour Not?Wrought-by-Hand.
Saint Thaddeus (in Gruzinian "Tate") at first remained at Mtsketia, organising at the bidding of Saint John the monastery at the foot of Mount Zedazeni, for instructing those that had come. After the death of Saint John, Saint Thaddeus preached in Kartalin, where he founded many churches, among which was a temple in honour of the holy First-Martyr Stephen in the city of Urbnisi. Later on he settled in a cave on Mount Tslevi near the city of Kaspi, at which summit he likewise founded a church in honour of the holy First-Martyr Stephen. In this cave at the church which he founded, there were buried the relics of Saint Thaddeus, "an image of pure truth and faith".
Saint Isidor, "a vineyard of virtues", after his prolonged apostolic exploits, established a monastery at Samtavisi in honour of the Image of the Saviour Not-Wrought-by-Hand, and here also rest his relics.
Saint Michael toiled much in the furthering of Christianity in the mountains of Upper Kartalin and Osetia. In the vicinity of Ulumbi he founded a large monastery. In the cathedral church of this monastery, which in the XIX Century was converted into a parish church, rest his holy relics.
Saint Pyrrhos, "a Divine image of tears", founded a monastery on the left bank of the River Dvanis-Tskhali, near the vicinity of Breti. Within a church of the monastery were placed his venerable relics.
Saint Stephen, "wedding knowledge with strength", after prolonged apostolic labours in Lower Kakhetia, founded a monastery in the vicinity of Khrysa. He was buried in the cathedral church in honour of the holy First-Martyr Stephen, on the left side of the altar at the table of oblation.
Having dispersed his disciples, Saint John Zedazeni kept with him Deacon Elias and absorbed himself in prayerful exploits. Saint John had to withstand the snares of evil spirits, which by the Name of Christ he expelled from the outskirts of Mtsketa. Through the prayer of Saint John, on Mount Zaden flowed forth a spring of healing waters. Having received a revelation about his impending end, the Monk John summoned to him his disciples -- the holy Deacon Elias and Saint Thaddeus of Stepantsmind, whom he commanded to bury him in his narrow cave on the mountain, at the place of his exploits. Having communed the Holy Mysteries, the Monk John beheld the heavens opened and the hosts of the Bodiless Powers of Heaven together with a multitude of the Saints. In spiritual rapture he gave up his righteous soul to the Lord. The end of Saint John transpired between the years 557 and 560, during the time of the Katholikos Makarios (553-569). His disciples, having forgotten his command, in an assemblage of clergy transported the body of the saint to the monastery at the foot of Mount Zaden and placed it in a special crypt.
But the earth roundabouts quaked and the tremours did not cease until the body of Saint John was placed in the cave atop the mountain, as the monk had commanded. During the X Century under Katholikos-archbishop Clement (908-923), on the south side of this cave was built a church in honour of John the Baptist, such that the holy relics of Saint John Zedazeni were in its chapel in the offertory. They were glorified by many signs of the mercy of the Lord.
The Liubech Icon of the Mother of God received its name from the city of Liubech, on the Chernigov outskirts. The icon manifest itself during the XI Century. The miracles occurring from this icon were described by Sainted Dimitrii of Rostov. In 1653, when an onslaught of the Poles against Liubech was immanent, they sent off the icon to Kiev. In 1701 after the restoral they returned the icon to the Liubech church in honour of the Resurrection of Christ, and in the Kiev Sophia cathedral was left an exact copy.
The Zhirovitsk Icon of the Mother of God manifested itself in the year 1470 in the vicinity of Zhirovitsa on the Grodnensk frontier. In the forest, belonging to the Orthodox Lithuanian dignitary Alexander Solton, shepherds beheld an extraordinarily bright light, peering through the branches of a pear tree, standing over a brook at the foot of an hill. The shepherds approached closer and beheld on the tree a not-large icon of the Mother of God shining radiantly. The shepherds with reverence took hold the icon and conveyed it to Alexander Solton. Alexander Solton did not pay any special attention to the report of the shepherds, but he nonetheless took the icon and shut it away in a chest. On the following day Solton had guests, and he wanted to show them what had been found. To his amazement, he did not find the icon in the chest, although shortly before this he had seen it. After a certain while the shepherds again found the icon in the same place and again they brought it to Alexander Solton. This time however he received the icon with great reverence and gave a vow to build at the place of its discovery a church in honour of the MostHoly Mother of God. Around the wooden church soon gathered a settlement and a parish was formed. In about the year 1520 the church was completely burned, despite the efforts of the inhabitants to extinguish the blaze and save the icon. Everyone thought, that the icon had perished. But one time peasant children, returning from school, beheld a miraculous vision: the Virgin extraordinarily beautiful in resplendid radiance sat upon a stone at the burned church, and in Her hands was the icon, which everyone reckoned had been burnt. The children did not dare approach Her, but they hastened to tell about the vision to their kinsfolk and acquaintances. Everyone accepted the story about the vision as a Divine revelation and together with the priest they set off to the hill. On a stone with a burning candle stood the Zhirovitsk Icon of the Mother of God, totally unharmed by the fire. For awhile they placed the icon in the house of the priest, and the stone was fenced in. When they built a stone church, they placed the wonderworking icon there. A men's monastery later grew up around the church. Its brethren headed the struggle for Orthodoxy against the Unia and Latinism. In 1609 the monastery was seized by the Uniates and remained in their hands until the year 1839. During this time the Zhirovitsk Icon of the Mother of God was venerated by both Uniates and Catholics. In 1839 the monastery was returned to the Orthodox and became the first locale of the restoration of Orthodox Divine-services on the West-Russian frontier. During the time of the First World War, they conveyed the Zhirovitsk Icon of the Mother of God to Moscow, and at the beginning of the decade of the 1920's it was returned to the monastery. At present it is located in the cathedral in honour of the Uspenie (Dormition) of the MostHoly Mother of God of the Zhirovitsk monastery, Minsk diocese, and it is deeply reverenced for its graced help. The icon was carved in stone having the dimensions of 43x56 cm.
© 2000 by translator Fr. S. Janos