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November 28th (XII - 11)

Icon of the saint of the day.

Icon of St. Stephen the new and Martyr Irenarchos

MonkMartyr and Confessor Stephen the New (+ 767). Martyr Irenarchus and with him 7 Women (+ 303). Sainted Theodore (Feodor), Archbishop of Rostov (1394). Martyrs: Stephen, Basil, Gregory, another Gregory, John and many others (VIII). Martyrs: Andrew, Peter, Paul (+ 761). Martyress Anna (VIII). Martyrs: Timothy and Theodore -- Bishops; Peter, John, Sergios, Theodore and Nicephoros -- Priests; Basil and Thomas -- Deacons; Hierotheos, Daniel, Chariton, Socrates, Comasios, Eusebios -- Monks; and Hetimasias (+ 361). Nobleborn Emperors Constantine and Maurician and their children. Mother of the Holy Apostle Andrew. Sainted Theodore, Bishop of Theodosiopolis.

The Holy MonkMartyr and Confessor Stephen the New was born in 715 at Constantinople into a pious Christian family. His parents, having two daughters, prayed the Lord for the birth of a son. The mother of the new-born Stephen took him to the Blakhernae church in honour of the MostHoly Mother of God and dedicated him to God.

During the time of the emperor Leo the Isaurian (716-741) there began persecution against holy icons and against those venerating them. With the support of the emperor, the adherents of the Iconoclast heresy seized control of the supreme positions of authority in the empire and in the Church. Persecuted by the powers of this world, Orthodoxy was preserved in monasteries distant from the capital, in solitary cells and in the brave and faithful hearts of its followers. The Orthodox parents of Saint Stephen, grieved by the surrounding impiety, fled from Constantinople to Bithynia, and they gave over their sixteen year old son in obedience to Blessed John, who asceticised in a solitary place on the Mount of Saint Auxentios. Saint Stephen dwelt more than 15 years with Blessed John, having devoted himself totally to this spirit-bearing elder, and learning monastic activity from him. Here then Stephen received the news that his father was dead, and his mother and sisters had taken monastic tonsure.

After a certain while his teacher, Blessed John, also died. With deep sorrow Saint Stephen buried his venerable body, and by himself continued with monastic effort in his cave. Soon monks began to come to the ascetic, desiring to learn from him the virtuous and salvific life, and there gradually emerged a monastery, the hegumen of which was Saint Stephen. At forty-two years of age Stephen left the monastery founded by him, and he went to another mountain, on the summit of which he dwelt in deep seclusion in a solitary cell. But here also soon gathered a community of monks, seeking the spiritual guidance of Saint Stephen.

Leo the Isaurian was succeeded by Constantine Copronymos (741-775), a still more fierce persecutor of the Orthodox pious, and still more zealous an iconoclast. The emperor convened an Iconoclast council, to which came 358 bishops from the Eastern provinces. However, except for the archbishop of Constantinople Constantine, -- illegitimately raised up onto the patriarchal throne by the power of Copronymos, not one of the other patriarchs bothered to participate in the wicked doings of this council, thus making it all the less able to usurp the term "oecumenical". This council of heretics, at the instigation of the emperor and the archbishop, described icons as idols, and proscribed anathema on all who venerate icons in the Orthodox manner, and it described icon veneration as heresy.

Meanwhile, the monastery of Saint Stephen and its hegumen became known of in the capital. They told the emperor about the ascetic life of the monks, about their Orthodox piety, about the gift of wonderworking of the hegumen Stephen, and about how the news of Saint Stephen had spread far beyond the region of the monastery, and that the name of its head was accorded universal respect and love. The open encouragement of icon-veneration and therein the rebuff to the persecutors of Orthodoxy within the monastery of Saint Stephen especially angered the emperor. Archbishop Constantine perceived, that in the person of Saint Stephen he had a strong and implacable opponent to his iconoclastic intentions, and he took great efforts -- either to draw him over to his side or else destroy him.

They tried to entice Saint Stephen into the Iconoclast camp, at first with flattery and bribery, then by threats, but in vain. Then they slandered the saint, accusing him of co-habiting with nuns. But his guilt was not proven, since the slandered nun courageously denied guilt and died under torture and beatings. Finally, the emperor gave orders to lock up the saint in prison, and to destroy his monastery. Iconoclast-bishops were sent to Saint Stephen in prison, trying to persuade him of the dogmatic correctness of the Iconoclast position. But the saint easily refuted all the arguments of the heretics and he remained true to Orthodoxy.

Then the emperor gave orders to exile the saint to one of the islands in the Sea of Marmora. The monk settled into a cave, and there also soon gathered his disciples. After a certain while the saint left the brethren and took upon himself the exploit of pillar-dweller. News about the Pillar-Dweller Stephen, and about the miracles worked by his prayers, spread throughout all the empire and strengthened the faith and spirit of Orthodoxy in the people.

The emperor gave orders to transfer Saint Stephen to prison on the island of Pharos, and then to bring him to trial. At the trial, the saint refuted the arguments of the heretics sitting in judgement upon him. He explained the dogmatic essence of icon?veneration, and he denounced the Iconoclasts for this, -- that in blaspheming icons, they gave blasphemy to Christ and the Mother of God. The saint pointed to a golden coin in proof, upon which was the depiction of the emperor. He asked the judges, what they would do with a man, who having thrown down the money, would then trample it under his feet. They answered him, that such a man would certainly be punished for having dishonoured the image of the emperor. To this the saint said, that an even greater punishment awaited anyone who would dishonour the image of the King of Heaven and His Saints, and with that he cast down the coin upon the ground and began to grind it underfoot.

The emperor gave orders to take away the saint to prison, where already there were languishing 342 elders, condemned for the veneration of icons. And In this prison Saint Stephen spent eleven months, consoling the imprisoned. Together with them he made the singing of prayer, often doing the tropar to the Image of the Saviour Not Wrought-by-Hand. The people in crowds came to the prison and asked Saint Stephen to pray for them.

The emperor, -- having learned that in prison the saint had organised a monastery, where constantly there was prayer amidst which they venerated holy icons, -- sent two of his own dearest servants, twin-brothers, to beat the saint to death. When these brothers went to the prison and beheld the face of the monk shining with a Divine light, they fell down on their knees to him, asking his forgiveness and prayers, but they told the emperor that his command had been carried out. But the emperor learned the truth and he resorted to still another lie. Informing his soldiers, that the saint had intentions to topple him from the throne, he dispatched them to the prison. The holy confessor himself came out half the way to the furious soldiers, who seized hold of him and dragged him through the streets of the city. They then threw the lacerated body of the martyr into a pit, where they were wont to bury criminals.

On the following morning over Mount Auxentios there appeared a fiery cloud, and then an heavy darkness descended upon the capital with a fierce thunderstorm, which struck at much.

The Holy Martyr Irenarchos and with him 7 Women suffered during the reign of Diocletian (284-305). After vicious tortures they were beheaded.

Sainted Theodore (Feodor), Archbishop of Rostov, in the world John, was the son of Stefan (brother by birth of the Monk Sergei of Radonezh), who occupied an important post under the Radonezh prince Andrei Ioannovich. Left a widower, Stefan accepted monasticism, and together with his 12 year old son, he went to the monastery to the Monk Sergei, who foreseeing the ascetic life of the lad John, tonsured him with the name Theodore (Feodor) -- on the day of memory of the Monk Theodore of the Hairshirt (20 April). And after Theodore's attaining of an appropriate age, he was given blessing for the priestly dignity. Through the blessing of the Monk Sergei, -- on the banks of the River Moskva, at the place called Simonovo, -- Saint Theodore built a church in honour of the Nativity of the MostHoly Mother of God and founded a monastery. Soon the monastery began to attract a throng of people, and Saint Theodore, having built a cell five versts from the Moscow Kremlin, began ascetically to pursue new tasks. And here disciples gathered around him. The Monk Sergei, visiting this place, blessed the founding of a monastery, and Metropolitan Aleksei blessed the construction of a church in the name of the Uspenie-Dormition of the MostHoly Mother of God at Novoe Simonovo, which also had its foundations laid in 1379. The old Simonov monastery remained the burial place of monks.

By his virtuous life and strict asceticism, Saint Theodore became known of in Moscow. The metropolitan Saint Aleksei elevated him to the dignity of hegumen, and Greatprince Dimitrii Donskoy chose him as his father confessor. Saint Theodore several times journeyed to Constantinople on matters for the Russian metropolitan. On his first journey, in 1384, he received from Patriarch Nilos the dignity of archimandrite, and the Simonov monastery was put under the Patriarch, thus stavropygial; in 1387 he was ordained archbishop and occupied the Rostov cathedra-seat.

Being the hegumen and then the archimandrite of the Simonov monastery, and despite being occupied with general churchly matters, Saint Theodore unremittingly guided monastic life and raised up among his disciples many great and famous ascetics. At the Simonov monastery were tonsured the monks Kirill and Pherapont -- the future founders of two famous Belozersk monasteries -- the Kirillov and the Pherapontov. It is known also, that Saint Theodore occupied himself with iconography, and he adorned with icons of his own writing both the Simonov monastery, and many a Moscow church.

At Rostov, Archbishop Theodore founded the Nativity of the Virgin monastery.

The blessed death of the saint occurred on 28 November 1394. His relics are situated in the Rostov Uspenie-Dormition cathedral.

The Holy Martyrs Stephen, Basil, Gregory, another Gregory, John and many others suffered for the veneration of holy icons with the MonkMartyr Stephen the New, with whom they languished together in prison. After his martyr's death, they were executed.

© 1999 by translator Fr S Janos



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