May 9th (V - 22)
Icon of the Martyr Christopher, Prophet Isaiah, and Monk Martyr Nicholas of Bunenia
Icon of the Martyr Christopher
Prophet Isaiah (VIII Cent. B.C.). Martyrs: Christopher (+ c. 250); Callinika and Acelina; Epimachus the New (+ c. 250); Gordian (+ 362); MonkMartyr Nicholas of Bunenia; Infant Gabriel of Belostock (Transfer of Relics 1775). Transfer of Relics of the Sainted-Hierarch Nicholas the Wonderworker from Myra in Lycia to Bari in Italy (1087). Monk Shio of Mgvim (VI). Saints: Probus and Christopher; Stratonikes. Icon of the Mother of God of Perekopeia (1709).
The holy Prophet Isaiah lived 700 years before the Birth of Christ, and was descended of royal lineage. The father of Isaiah, Amos, raised his son in the fear of God and in the law of the Lord. Having attained the age of maturity, the Prophet Isaiah entered into marriage with a pious maiden-prophetess (Is. 8: 3) and had a son Jashub (Is. 8: 18).
Saint Isaiah was called to prophetic service during the reign of Oziah (Uzziah), king of Judea, and he prophesied for 60 years during the reign of kings Joatham, Achaz (Ahaz), Hezekiah and Manasseh. The start of his service was marked by the following vision: he beheld the Lord God, sitting in a majestic heavenly temple upon an high throne. Six-winged Seraphim encircled Him. With two wings they covered their faces, and with two wings -- they covered their feet, and with two wings they flew about crying out one to another "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord Sabaoth, heaven and earth art filled of His Glory!" The pillars of the heavenly temple did shake from their shouts, and in the temple swelled the smoke of incense. The prophet cried out in terror: "Oh, accursed a man am I, granted to behold the Lord Sabaoth, and having impure lips and living amidst an impure people!" Then was sent him one of the Seraphim, having in hand a red-hot coal, which he took with tongs from the altar of the Lord. He touched it to the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah and said: "Here, I have touched it to thine lips and the Lord doth do away with thine offences and doth cleanse thy sins". After this Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord, directed towards him: "Whom shalt I send and who wilt go to the Jews, who wilt go for Us?" Isaiah answered: "Here am I, send me, Lord, and I shalt go" (Is. 6: 1ff). And the Lord sent him to the Jews to exhort them to turn from the ways of impiety and idol-worship and to offer repentance. To those that repent and turn to the True God, the Lord promised mercy and forgiveness, but punishment and the judgement of God are appointed the unrepentant. Then Isaiah asked the Lord, how long would the falling-away of the Jewish nation from God continue. The Lord answered: "Until that time, as they neglect the city, nor be there people in the houses and this land be made desolate. Just as when a tree be felled and from the stump come forth new shoots, so also from the destruction of the nation wilt remain an holy remnant, from which emergeth a new tribe".
Isaiah left behind him a book of prophecy, in which he denounces the Jews for their unfaithfulness to the God of their fathers, and he predicts the captivity of the Jews and their return from captivity during the time of the emperor Cyrus, the destruction and renewal of Jerusalem and of the Temple. Together with this he predicts the historical fate also of the other nations bordering the Jews. But what is most important of all for us, the Prophet Isaiah with particular clearness and detail prophesies about the coming of the Messiah -- Christ the Saviour. The prophet names the Messiah as God and Man, Teacher of all the nations, Founder of the Kingdom of Peace and Love. The prophet foretells the Birth of the Messiah from a Virgin, and with particular clearness he describes the Suffering of the Messiah for the sins of the world, he foresees His Resurrection and the universal spreading of His Church. By his clear foretelling about Christ the Saviour, the Prophet Isaiah merited being called an Old Testament Evangelist. To him belong the words: "This One beareth our sins and is smitten for us... He was wounded for our sins and tortured for our transgressions. The chastisement of our world was upon Him, and by His wounds we were healed..." (Is. 53: 4-5. Vide Book of Prophet Isaiah: 7: 14, 11: 1, 9: 6, 53: 4, 60: 13, etc.).
The holy Prophet Isaiah had also a gift of wonderworking. And thus so, when during the time of a siege of Jerusalem by enemies the besieged had become exhausted with thirst, he by his prayer drew out from beneathe Mount Sion a spring of water, which was called Siloam, i.e. "sent from God". It was to this spring afterwards that the Saviour sent the man blind from birth to wash, and for whom was restored sight by Him. By the prayer of the Prophet Isaiah, the Lord prolonged the life of Hezekiah for 15 years.
The Prophet Isaiah died a martyr's death. By order of the Jewish king Manasseh he was sawn through by a wood-saw. The prophet was buried not far from the Pool of Siloam. The relics of the holy Prophet Isaiah were afterwards transferred by the emperor Theodosius the Younger to Constantinople and installed in the church of Saint Lawrence at Blakhernai. At the present time part of the head of the Prophet Isaiah is preserved at Athos in the Khilendaria monastery.
About the times and the events which occurred during the life of the Prophet Isaiah, the 4th Book of Kings [alt. 2 Kings] speaks (Ch. 16, 17, 19, 20, 23, etc.), and likewise 2 Chronicles (Ch. 26-32).
The Holy Martyr Christopher lived during the III Century and suffered in about the year 250, during the reign of the emperor Decius (249-251). About his life and miracles there exist many various accounts, and his memory is venerated in both the Western and Eastern Churches. (The memory of the Martyr Christopher is especially venerated in Italy, where they recourse to him in prayer during times of contagious diseases). Various are the suggestions about his descent. According to some historians, he was descended from the Canaanites, according to others -- from "Cynoscephalai" [literally "Dog-heads", located in Thessaly].
Saint Christopher was a man of great stature and unusual strength, and his face was brutish. By tradition, Saint Christopher at first possessed an handsome appearance, but wishing to avoid temptation for himself and others, he besought the Lord to give him an unseemly face, which was done. Until Baptism he had the name Reprebus (Reprobate) which was connected with his disfigured outer appearance. Even before Baptism, Reprebus confessed his faith in Christ and denounced those who persecuted Christians. For this he was once given a beating by a certain Bacchus, and he took the beating with humility. Because of his reknown strength, soon after this there came after him 200 soldiers, so as to bring him before the emperor Decius. Reprebus submitted without resistance. On the way miracles occurred: a dry stick blossomed in the hand of the saint, by his prayer bread-loaves were multiplied, and the travellers had no lack thereof, similar to the multiplication of loaves in the wilderness by the Saviour. The soldiers surrounding Reprebus were astonished at the miracles, -- they came to believe in Christ and together with Reprebus they were baptised by the Antioch Bishop Babylos.
When Saint Christopher was brought before the emperor, the emperor became terrified by his appearance and decided to coerce him into renouncing Christ, not by force but by cunning. He summoned two profligate women, Callinika and Acelina, and commanded them to sway Christopher into a renunciation of Christ and gain his consent to offer sacrifice to idols. But the women were themselves converted by Saint Christopher to the faith in Christ, and having returned to the emperor, they declared themselves Christians, for which they were subjected to fierce beatings and died as martyrs. Decius sentenced to execution also the soldiers who had been sent after Saint Christopher, but who now believed in Christ. The emperor gave orders to throw the martyr into a red-hot metal box. But Saint Christopher did not experience any suffering and he remained unharmed. After many fierce torments they finally beheaded the martyr with a sword. This occurred in the year 250 in Lycia. By his miracles the holy Martyr Christopher converted to Christ as many as 50 thousand pagans, about which Saint Ambrose (of Milan) testifies to. The relics of Saint Christopher were later transferred to Toledo (Spain), and even later -- to the abbey of Sainte Denis in France.
Sainted Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia -- the Transfer of the Relics from Lycian Myra to Bari in Italy: The Vita about his life is located under the 6 December feastday.
In the XI Century the Byzantine Greek empire was living through some terrible times. The Turks put an end to its influence in Asia Minor, they destroyed cities and villages, the murdered the inhabitants, and they accompanied their cruel outrage with the desecration of churches, holy relics, icons and books. The Mussulmen attempted also to destroy the relics of Saint Nicholas, deeply venerated by all the Christian world. In the year 792 the caliph Aaron Al'-Rashid sent Khumeid at the head of a fleet to pillage the island of Rhodes. Having lain waste this island, Khumeid set off to Lycian Myra with the intent to rob from the tomb of Saint Nicholas. But instead of it he robbed another, standing alongside the crypt of the saint. Just as they succeeded in committing this sacrilege, a terrible storm lifted upon the sea and almost all the ships were shattered into pieces.
The desecration of holy things shocked not only Eastern, but also Western Christians. Christians in Italy were particularly apprehensive for the relics of Saint Nicholas, and among them were many Greeks. The inhabitants of the city of Bari, located on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, decided to save the relics of Saint Nicholas.
In the year 1087 merchants from Bari and Venice set out to Antioch for trade. Both these and others also had proposed on the return trip to take up the relics of Saint Nicholas and transport them to Italy. In this plan the men of Bari commissioned the Venetians to land them at Myra. At first two men were sent in, who in returning reported that in the city -- all was quiet, and in the church where rested the glorified relics, they encountered only four monks. Immediately 47 men, having armed themselves, set out for the church of Saint Nicholas. The monk-guards, suspecting nothing, showed them the raised platform, beneathe which was concealed the tomb of the saint, where by custom, they anointed foreigners with myrh from the relics of the saint. The monks told them during this about an appearance of Saint Nicholas that evening to a certain elder. In this vision Saint Nicholas ordered the cautious preserving of his relics. This account encouraged the barons, -- they saw an avowal for them in this vision and as it were a decree from the saint. In order to facilitate their activity, they revealed their intent to the monks and offered them money -- 300 gold coins. The monk-guards refused the money and wanted to warn the inhabitants about the misfortune threatening them. But the newcomers bound them and put their own guards at the doorway. They took apart the church platform beneathe which stood the tomb with the relics. In this effort the youth Matthew was excessive in his especial zeal, wanting to as quickly as possible to find the relics of Saint Nicholas. In his impatience he broke the cover and the barons saw, that the sarcophagus was filled with fragrant holy myrh. The compatriots of the barons, the presbyters Luppus and Drogus, made a litany, after which the break of Matthew began to flow with myrh from the overflowing sarcophagus of the relics of the saint. This occurred on 20 April 1087.
Seeing the absence of a container chest, presbyter Drogus wrapped the relics in the cover cloth, and in the company of the barons he carried them to the ship. The monks -- having been set free, alerted the city with the sad news about the abduction of the relics of the Wonderworker Nicholas by foreigners. A crowd of people gathered at the shore, but it was too late...
On 8 May the ships arrived in Bari, and soon the joyous news made the rounds of all the city. On the following day, 9 May 1087, they solemnly transported the relics of Saint Nicholas into the church of Saint Stephen, situated not far from the sea. The solemn bearing of the relics was accompanied by numerous healings of the sick, which inspired still greater reverence for the Saint of God. A year afterwards a church was built in the name of Saint Nicholas and consecrated by Pope Urban II.
This event, connected with the transfer of the relics of Saint Nicholas, evoked a particular veneration for the Wonderworker Nicholas and was marked by the establishing of a special feastday on 9 May. At first the Feastday of the Transfer of the Relics of Saint Nicholas was observed only by the people of the city of Bari. In the other lands of the Christian East and West it was not adopted, despite the fact that the transfer of the relics was widely known about. This circumstance is to be explained by the custom in the Middle Ages of venerating primarily the relics of local saints. Moreover, the Greek Church did not establish the celebration of this remembrance, since for it the loss of the relics of Saint Nicholas was a sad event.
The Russian Orthodox Church celebration of the memory of the Transfer of the Relics of Saint Nicholas from Lycian Myra to Bari in Italy on 9 May was established soon after the year 1087, on the basis of an already established veneration by the Russian people of the great Saint of God, brought over from Greece simultaneously with the acceptance of Christianity. The glorious accounts about the miracle-workings, done by the saint on both land and sea, were widely known to the Russian people. Their inexhaustible strength and abundance testify to the especially graced help of the great Saint of God for suffering mankind. The image of Saint Nicholas, a mighty Wonderworker and Benefactor, became especially dear to the heart of the Russian people, since it inspired deep faith and hope for his intercession. The faith of the Russian people in the abundant aid of the Saint of God was marked by numerous miracles.
A significant body of literature was compiled about him very early in Russian writings. Accounts about the miracles of Saint Nicholas done in the Russian land were recorded early on in deep antiquity. Soon after the Transfer of the Relics of Saint Nicholas from Lycian Myra to Bari, there appeared a Russian redaction of his Vita and an account about the Transfer of his holy relics, written by one contemporary to this event. Earlier still was written a laudation to the Wonderworker. And each week on Thursday, the Russian Orthodox Church honours his memory in particular.
In honour of Sainted Nicholas were erected numerous churches and monasteries, and with his name Russian people are wont to name their children at Baptism. In Russia are preserved numerous wonderworking icons of the saint. Most reknown among them are the images of Mozhaisk, Zaraisk, Volokolamsk, Ugreshsk and Ratny. There was neither house nor temple in the Russian land, in which there was not an image of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. The significance of the graced intercession of the great Saint of God is expressed by the ancient compiler of the Life-Vita, in the words of whom Sainted Nicholas "did work many glorious miracles both on land and on sea, aiding those downtrodden in misfortune and rescuing the drowning, carried to dry land from the depths of the sea, raising up others from corruption and bringing them home, liberating from chains and imprisonment, averting felling by the sword and freeing from death, and granting much healing to many: sight to the blind, walking to the lame, hearing to the deaf, and speech to the mute. He brought riches to many suffering in abject poverty and want, he provided the hungry food and for each in their need he appeared a ready helper, an avid defender and speedy intercessor and protector, and such as appeal to him he doth help and deliver from adversity. Both the East and the West know of this great Wonderworker, and all the ends of the earth know his miracle-working".
The Monk Shio (Simeon) of Mgvim was born in Syrian Antioch. His parents were Christians and raised their son as the only heir. The youth received a fine education, he studied the Holy Scripture and already in his early years he became accomplished in the ability of expounding the Word of God. Having learnt about an holy ascetic named John, Shio secretly left his parental home and set out to the saint. The Monk John made the youth return to his parents, after foretelling that his parents would become monastics. The prediction was soon fulfilled: Shio distributed his inheritance and accepted tonsure from the Monk John.
The Monk Shio 20 years later, amidst 12 other chosen disciples of Saint John, set off to Iveria (Gruzia or Georgia) to preach the Word of God. With the blessing both of his teacher and of the Gruzinian Katholikos Eulabios, the Monk Shio settled into a cave west of the city of Mtskheta, where he made austere ascetic efforts and was vouchsafed miraculous visions. The solitary life of the ascetic became known of, and soon the place of the saint's efforts was transformed into a monastery, at which a church in the Name of the MostHoly Trinity was established by the monk. Later on other churches were built: in honour of the Mother of God and John the Forerunner. All the churches were consecrated by the Katholikos Makarios. The number of brethren increased, and the monk gave his blessing for them to found the Mgvim monastery, while he himself continued his deeds of salvation in seclusion. The Monk Shio reposed on 9 May, having the evening before communed the Holy Mysteries and given the brethren a final salvific instruction. The remains of the Saint of God were buried in the monastery founded by him. The Monk Shio is known, as the author of 160 precepts for the brethren.
The Holy Martyr Epimachus the New suffered in the city of Alexandria in about the year 250, under the emperor Decius (249-251). He was scourged to death with lead rods. His relics are located in the Roman catacombs.
The Holy Martyr Gordian was beheaded with a sword in the year 362 under Julian the Apostate (361-363) at Rome. His relics rest in the Roman catacombs.
The MonkMartyr Nicholas of Bunenia suffered from the Arabs in Thessaly, near the city of Larissa.
© 1999 by translator Fr. S Janos