September 20th (X - 3)
Icon of Great Martyrs, Eustathius, his sons, St. Theoktist and St. Agapeios, and his wife St. Theopestee
GreatMartyr Eustathius Placidus, his wife Theopistia and children Agapius and Theopistus (+ c. 118). Martyred Confessors Michael, Prince of Chernigov, and his Boyar-Noble Theodore (Feodor), Wonderworkers (+ 1245). Nobleborn Prince and Monk Oleg of Bryansk (+ c. 1285). Martyrs Artemidoros and Thalos (Thales). Saint Tatiana. MonkMartyr John, Egyptian Confessor, and with him 40 Martyrs (+ 310). Saints Theodore and Theoprepios, Confessors (+ 650). Two Monastic Confessors of Anastasias Monastery, Disciples of Monk Maximos the Confessor (+ 662, 666). MonkMartyr Ilarion (+ 1804).
The Holy GreatMartyr Eustathius before Baptism had the name "Placidus" [meaning "placid" or "calm" in Latin]. He was a military commander under the emperors Titus (79-81) and Trajan (98-117). Even before he came to know Christ, Placidus did acts of charity, helping the poor and destitute. And the Lord deigned not to leave the virtuous pagan remain within the darkness of idol-worship.
One time ahunting he chased upon his speedy mount after a stag, which halted its run atop an high hill, and Placidus suddenly saw amidst its antler-rack a radiant Cross, and upon it -- the Crucified Son of God. In surprise Placidus heard a voice saying: "Why pursuest thou Me, Placidus?" "Who art Thou, Master, Who dost speak with me?" -- in fright asked Placidus. In reply he heard: "I -- am Jesus Christ, God, Who wast incarnated for the salvation of mankind and didst endure voluntary suffering and death by the Cross. Thou honourest Me even without knowing Me, since thy good deeds and abundant alms art come to Me. I have appeared here, to convert and to conjoin thee unto Mine true servants. For I want, that the man working righteous deeds, shouldst not perish in the snares of enemies".
Placidus cried out: "Lord, I do believe that Thou -- art the God of Heaven and earth, the Creator of all creatures. I beseech Thee, O Master, teach me what I should do". And again resounded the Divine voice: "Go thou unto the Christian priest, receive from him Baptism, and he wilt instruct thee unto salvation".
With joy Placidus returned home, and told everything to his wife. She in turn told him, how the evening before in a mysterious dream-vision she had been told: "Thou, thy husband and thy sons on the morrow shalt come unto Me and know Me -- Christ Jesus, the True God, sent unto the salvation of those that do love Me". The spouses then proceeded to do as they had been bidden.
They hastened to the Christian presbyter, who baptised all their family, and communed all with the Holy Mysteries.
On the following day Saint Eustathius set out to the place of his miraculous conversion and in fervent prayer he offered up thanks to the Lord, for having called him onto the path of salvation.
And again Saint Eustathius was vouchsafed a miraculous revelation -- the Lord Himself foretold him about impending tribulations: "Eustathius, thou mustneeds prove thine faith in deeds. Before thee, like unto Job, art many a sorrow, so that being put to the test like gold in the forge, thou be shewn worthy of Me and receive the crown from My hands". Saint Eustathius humbly answered: "Thy will be done, O Lord. I am prepared to accept all things at Thine hands with gratitude, but let Thine almighty help be with me".
Soon Saint Eustathius was plunged into misfortune: all his servants died and his cattle perished. Brought to ruin, but not despairing in spirit, Saint Eustathius with his family secretly abandoned their home, to live unknown, humble and in poverty. He set off on a ship to Egypt. During the time of sailing a new woe beset the saint. The ship owner, enchanted by the beauty of the wife of Eustathius, cruelly set him ashore with his children, keeping the wife for himself. In great grief the saint continued on his way, and new woe beset him. Crossing a tempestuous river ford, he went to carry in turn his two sons, but when he had carried across the one, the other on shore was seized by a lion and carried off into the wilderness, and while he returned towards the other, a wolf dragged that one off into the forest.
Having lost everything, Saint Eustathius wept bitterly. But he realised, that Divine Providence had sent him these misfortunes, to test his endurance and devotion to the will of God. In prayer lifting up to God his inconsolable grief, Saint Eustathius went on further, prepared for new tribulations. In the village of Badiss he found work and spent five years in unremitting toil. But Saint Eustathius did not then know, that through the mercy of God shepherds and farmers had saved his sons, and they lived right nearby him; he also did not know, that the impudent shipowner was soon struck down -- he died from a terrible disease, and the wife of Saint Eustathius had been left untouched, and she lived at peaceful work.
During this time period it had become difficult for the emperor Trajan to levy an army for Rome. He then remembered the valiant regimental commander Placidus and dispatched Antiochus and Acacius, friends of Placidus, to find him.
Having gone round a multitude of places, finally they arrived in the village, where Saint Eustathius lived. The soldiers came upon Eustathius in a field, where he was guarding the bread-grain, but they did not recognise him and they began to tell him about the one whom they sought, asking his help and promising a large reward. But Saint Eustathius, immediately recognising his friends, did not reveal to them his identity. He brought them to the home of his master and fed them. Gazing at him, the travellers noted that he very much resembled their regimental commander, and when they saw on his knee a peculiar mark -- the scar from a deep war wound, they realised that in front of them -- was their friend. They hugged him with tears and said why they were seeking him. Saint Eustathius returned to Rome and again became an imperial commandant. Many a new recruit entered the army for him, and he did not know, that the two young soldier-friends, to whom he often gave orders and whom he loved for their skill and daring, were actually his own sons, and they did not know, that they were serving under the command of their own father, nor that they each the other -- were brothers by birth.
One time while on campaign the army, led by Eustathius, halted at a certain settlement. The soldier-brothers were talking in their tent. The elder one spoke about his lot: how he had lost his mother and hapless brother, and how in a terrifying way he had been parted from his father. And the younger brother with joy realised, that in front of him was his very own brother, and told him so and also about himself.
A woman overheard the soldiers' conversation -- their tent was pitched right next to her house -- and this woman was their mother! She realised that these were her sons. Still not yet identifying herself to them, and not wanting to be separated from them, she went to their commander -- Saint Eustathius, to ask permission to follow along with his army. And this commander she recognised as her husband, and with tears she told him about herself and about the two soldiers, who were actually their sons. Thus, through the great mercy of the Lord, the whole family was happily reunited.
Soon thereafter the war ended in victory. Saint Eustathius returned to Rome with honours and glory. The emperor Trajan had since died, and his successor Adrian (117?138) wanted to celebrate the event of victory with a solemn offering of sacrifice to the gods. To the astonishment of everyone Saint Eustathius did not show up at the pagan temple. By order of the emperor they searched frantically for him.
"Why wishest thou not to worship the gods? -- enquired the emperor, -- It becomest thee before all others to offer up thanks unto them. They not only preserved thee in war and granted thee victory, but also they did help thee find thy wife and children". Saint Eustathius replied: "I -- am a Christian and I know as the One God Christ Jesus, I revere and give thanks to Him, and I worship Him. He hath given me everything: health, victory, He returned my family and hath sent down His help unto the overcoming of tribulations".
In a rage the emperor stripped him of his rank and summoned him with his family to trial. But there also they did not succeed in swaying the steadfast confessors of Christ into offering sacrifice to idols. The whole family of Saint Eustathius was sentenced to be torn apart by wild beasts. But the beasts would not touch the holy martyrs. Then the cruel emperor in his wrath gave orders to throw them all alive into a red-hot copper ox, and here Saint Eustathius, his wife Theopistia and their sons Agapius and Theopistus, accepted a martyr's end. Three days later they opened the fiery grave, and the bodies of the holy martyrs were found unscathed -- not one hair on their heads was singed, and their faces shone with an unearthly beauty. Many seeing this miracle came to believe in Christ. Christians then gave burial to the bodies of the saints.
The Holy Nobleborn Prince of Chernigov Michael, son of Vsevolod Ol'govich the Dark-Red (+ 1212), was noted from childhood for his piety and mildness. He had very poor health, but hoping on the mercy of God, the young prince in 1186 besought the holy prayers of the Monk Nikita of Pereyaslavl' the Pillar-Dweller (Comm. 24 May), who during these years received reknown by his prayerful intercession before the Lord. Having received a wooden staff from the holy ascetic, the prince at once was healed. In 1223 noble prince Michael took part in a meeting of Russian princes at Kiev, deliberating the question of whether to aid the Polovetsians against the approaching Mongol-Tatar hordes. With the perishing in the Battle at the Kalka River in 1223 of his uncle, Mstislav of Chernigov, Saint Michael became prince of Chernigov. In 1225 he was invited to be prince for the Novgorod people. Through his sense of justice, compassion and firmness he gained the love and respect of Old Novgorod. This was particularly important for the Novgorodians, in that the ascent of Michael as prince signified a reconciliation of Novgorod with the city of Vladimir holy nobleborn GreatPrince Georgii Vsevolodovich (Comm. 4 March), the wife of whom was the holy princess Agathia, sister of prince Michael.
But Saint Michael did not long remain prince at Novgorod. He soon returned to his native Chernigov. To the stipulations and requests of the Novgorodians to remain prince he answered, that Chernigov and Novgorod ought to become kindred lands, and their inhabitants -- like brothers, and he would forge the bonds of friendship of these cities.
The noble prince assiduously concerned himself with the building up of his appenage realm. But it was difficult for him in these troubled times. His activity provoked unease in the Kursk prince Oleg, and in 1227 internecine strife nearly erupted -- save that the Kiev metropolitan Kirill (Cyril, 1224-1233) reconciled them. And in this same year prince Michael peacefully resolved a dispute between the Kiev GreatPrince Vladimir Rurikovich and the Galich prince.
In 1235 noble prince Michael occupied the Kiev great-princely throne.
Troublesome times ensued. In 1238 the Tatars (Mongols) laid waste to Ryazan, Suzdal', Vladimir. In 1239 they moved against South Russia, and ravaged the left-bank of the Dniepr River, the Chernigov and Pereyaslavl' lands. By autumn of 1240 the Mongols were coming nigh to Kiev. The khan's emissaries proposed that Kiev surrender voluntarily, but the noble prince would not negotiate with them. Prince Michael rode urgently to Hungary, to persuade the Hungarian king Bela to organise allied forces to resist the common enemy. Saint Michael tired to recruit into the struggle against the Mongols both Poland, and the German emperor. But the moment for a combined resistance was lost: Rus' was devastated, and later in turn Hungary and Poland. Having received no foreign support, noble prince Michael returned to the ruins of Kiev and for a certain while he lived not far from the city on an island, and then he resettled to Chernigov.
The prince did not abandon hope in the possibility of an united Christian Europe against the Asiatic nomads. In 1245 at a Lyons Council in France was present as emissary, sent by Saint Michael, his co-worker the metropolitan Peter (Akerovich), calling for a crusade to march against the pagan Horde. Catholic Europe in the persons of its chief spiritual leaders, the Roman pope and the German emperor, betrayed the interests of Christianity. The pope was involved in a war with the German emperor, and the Germans indeed took advantage of the Mongol invasion, to attack Rus' themselves.
In these circumstances affecting Christianity in general, there is an universal significance to the confessor's deed of the Orthodox prince-martyr Saint Michael of Chernigov amidst the pagan Horde. In Rus' soon appeared emissaries of the khan, in order to carry out a census of the Russian population and to impose tribute-taxes upon it. From the prince was demanded full submission to the Tatar khan, and for his princely realm -- the khan's special permission of a charter ("yarlyk"). The emissaries informed prince Michael, that it was necessary for him to set off in journey to the Horse for an affirmation of rights to rule the princedom under the khan's yarlyk. Seeing the woeful plight of Rus', noble prince Michael recognised the need to obey the khan, but as a fervent Christian he knew, that he would not abjure his faith before the pagans. From his spiritual father, the bishop John, he received blessing to journey to the Horde and be there a true confessor of the Name of Christ.
Together with holy prince Michael on the journey to the Horde went his faithful friend and companion, the boyar-noble Theodore (Feodor). At the Horde they knew about the attempts of prince Michael to organise an uprising against the Tatars concurrently with Hungary and the other European powers. His enemies had long sought the opportunity to destroy him. In 1246 when noble prince Michael and the boyar Theodore arrived at the Horde, they were ordered on how to go to the khan, to proceed through a flaming bon-fire, to cleanse them of their evil intents, and to worship the primal-elements considered gods by the Mongols: the sun and fire. In answer to the pagan-priests commanding them to perform the pagan rituals, the holy prince replied: "A Christian doth worship only God, the Creator of the world, and not creatures". They reported to the khan about the unyielding of the Russian prince. Batu's attendant El'deg delivered the conditions: either fulfill the demands of the pagan priests, or die unyielding in torments. But this also was followed by the resolute answer of holy prince Michael: "I am prepared to submit to the emperor, since that God hath entrusted him with the destiny of the earthly kingdoms, but as a Christian, I cannot worship idols". The fate of the brave Christians was sealed. Taking courage in the words of the Lord: "Whoso wouldst to save their soul, shalt lose it, and whoso shalt lose their soul for My sake and the Gospel, that one wilt save it" (Mt. 8: 35?38), the holy prince and his devoted boyar prepared for a martyr's end and communed the Holy Mysteries, which their spiritual father foreseeing this gave them. The Tatar executioners seized hold of the noble prince and for a long time they beat him fiercely, until the ground ran crimson with blood. Finally one of the apostates from the faith in Christ, by the name of Daman, cut off the head of the holy martyr.
To the boyar Saint Theodore, if he were to fulfill the pagan ritual, the Tatars deceitfully began to promise the princely honours of the martyred sufferer. But Saint Theodore was not swayed by this -- he followed the example of his prince. After quite vicious torments they beheaded him. The bodies of the holy passion-bearers were thrown for devouring by dogs, but the Lord miraculously guarded them for several days, until faithful Christians could secretly bury them with reverence. Later on the relics of the holy martyrs were transferred to Chernigov.
The confessor's act of Saint Theodore amazed even his executioners. Persuaded of the steadfast keeping to the Orthodox faith by the Russian people, and their readiness to die with joy for Christ, the Tatar khans decided not to try the patience of God as before, and they ceased demanding of Russians at the Horde any outright fulfilling of pagan rituals. But the struggle of the Russian nation and the Russian Church against the Mongol Yoke continued for yet a long time. The Orthodox Church was embellished in this struggle by new martyrs and confessors. GreatPrince Theodore (Feodor, + 1246) was poisoned by the Mongols. Also martyred were Saint Roman of Ryazan (+ 1270), Saint Michael of Tver' (+ 1318), his sons Dimitrii (+ 1325) and Alexander (+ 1339). All of these took courage at the example and holy prayers of the Russian FirstMartyr at the Horde --Saint Michael of Chernigov.
On 14 February 1572, at the wish of tsar Ivan Vasil'evich the Terrible, and with the blessing of the metropolitan Antonii, the relics of the holy martyrs were transferred to Moscow, into the temple dedicated to their name. From there in 1770 they were transferred into the Visitation (Sretenie) cathedral, and on 21 November 1774 -- into the Archangel cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin.
The Lives and service to Saints Michael and Theodore were compiled in the mid?XVI Century by the reknown church writer, the monk Zinovii of Otonsk.
"The lineage of the righteous wilt be blest", -- says the holy Psalmodist David. This occurred in full measure for Saint Michael. He is at the head of many a famous family-line in Russian history. His children and grandchildren continued with the holy Christian service of Saint Michael. The Church enumerated to the ranks of the saints his daughter -- the Nun Evphrosynia of Suzdal' (Comm. 25 September), and his grandson -- holy nobleborn Oleg of Bryansk (Comm. 20 September).
Holy Nobleborn Prince Oleg Romanovich of Bryansk (in Baptism Leontii) was grandson of the holy Martyr-prince Michael of Chernigov. According to the chronicle histories it is known, that noble prince Oleg in 1274 together with his father, prince Roman Mikhailovich of Bryansk, participated in a war against Lithuania. After 1274 he resigned as prince and took monastic vows with the name Vasilii at the Bryansk Petropavlovsk monastery, built on his means. At this monastery the holy nobleborn prince died as a strict ascetic in about the year 1285 and was buried in the monastery church.
© 1998 by translator Fr. S. Janos