September 5th (IX - 18)
Icon of the Prophet Zachariah
Prophet Zachariah and Righteous Elizabeth, Parents of Saint John the ForeRunner (I). Murder of Nobeborn Prince Gleb, in Holy Baptism David (+ 1015). MonkMartyr Athanasii (Afanasii) of Bretsk (+ 1648). Martyrs Thiphael and his sister Thivea (or Vivea) (+ c. 98-138). Martyr Sarbiles. Martyress Raisa (or Iraida) (+ c. 308). Martyred Soldiers Juventinus and Maximus (+ c. 361-363). Martyrs Urban, Theodore, Medimnos and with them 77 Men of Churchly Rank, suffering at Nikomedia (+ 370). Martyr Avdi (or Habib) in Persia (V).
The Holy Prophet Zachariah and Holy Righteous Elizabeth were the parents of the holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord, John. They were descended from the lineage of Aaron: Saint Zachariah, son of Barach, was a priest in the Jerusalem Temple, and Saint Elizabeth was the sister of Saint Anna, -- the mother of the MostHoly Mother of God. The righteous spouses, "comporting themselves through all the commandments of the Lord blameless (Lk. 1: 5-25), suffered barrenness, which in the Old Testament times was considered a punishment from God. One time during the occasion of service in the Temple, Saint Zachariah received the news from an Angel, that his aged wife would bear him a son, who "wilt be great before the Lord" (Lk. 1: 15) and "wilt go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias" (Lk. 1: 17). Zachariah was doubtful of the possibility of the fulfilling of this prediction, and for his weakness of faith he was punished by becoming unable to speak. When Righteous Elizabeth gave birth to a son, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit she announced that his name was John, although earlier in their family line no one had been given such a name as this. They asked Righteous Zachariah and he likewise wrote down on the writing-board the name John. Immediately the gift of speech returned to him, and inspired of the Holy Spirit, he began to prophesy about his son as being the Forerunner of the Lord.
When impious king Herod heard from the Magi about the birth of the Messiah, he decided to kill at Bethlehem and its surroundings all the infants up to 2 years old, hoping that in this number would be also the new-born Messiah. Herod well know about the unusual birth of John and he wanted to kill him, fearing that he was the foretold King of the Jews. But Righteous Elizabeth hid herself away with the infant in the hills. The murderers searched everywhere for John. Righteous Elizabeth, catching sight of her pursuers, began tearfully to implore God concerning their safety, and immediately the hill opening up concealed her together with the infant from their pursuers. In these tragic days Saint Zachariah was taking his turn making services at the Jerusalem Temple. Soldiers sent by Herod tried in vain to learn from him the whereabouts of his son. Then, by command of Herod, they murdered this holy prophet, having stabbed him betwixt the offertory and the altar (Mt. 23: 35). Righteous Elizabeth died 40 days after her spouse, and Saint John, preserved by the Lord, dwelt in the wilderness until the day of his appearance to the nation of Israel.
Nobleborn Prince Gleb, in Holy Baptism David, was one of the first Russian martyrs -- "Passion-Bearers" ("Strastnoterptsi"); he suffered together with his brother Prince Boris (in Holy Baptism named Roman). After the murder of Saint Boris, Svyatopolk the Accursed sent to his younger brother Prince Gleb a messenger with false information concerning their father, Great-prince Vladimir -- who had died from illness, thereby using deceit to murder another possible claimant to the Kiev throne. The deceived Prince Gleb hastened off towards Kiev with a small company. His apprehensive brother Yaroslav, having caught up with him at Smolensk, was unable to delay the saint, who did not suspect such wickedness on the part of his brother Svyatopolk. Not far from Smolensk the assassins came upon the boat of Saint Gleb, who made no resistance, but only mildly besought that they should spare him because of his yet still young life. At the command of the murderers the cook of Gleb slit his throat. The body of the prince was buried in a desolate place not far from Smolensk, "betwixt two tree-trunks", i.e. in a simple wooden coffin (+ 1015). In the year 1019-1020 his brother Yaroslav found the grave of Saint Gleb, and the body being incorrupt, was transferred to Vyshgorod near Kiev and buried alongside holy Prince Boris. Later on, the relics of the brothers were transferred (Comm. 2 May) into a church of Saint Basil the Great, and there at the crypts of these holy passion-bearers many miracles were worked. The Kiev metropolitan John compiled a service to the passion-bearer princes and also established a feastday for them together on 24 July, which was made from the first half of the XI Century. The Russian Church from of old has venerated these passion-bearer brothers, who unceasingly have rendered prayerful assist to their native land, particularly in years of grievous tribulation. Thus, just before the Nevsky battle in 1240, the Passion-Bearers Boris and Gleb appeared in a vision to one of the soldiers of holy Nobleborn Prince Alexander Nevsky (Comm. 23 November, 30 August and 23 May), and they aided the Russians during the combat. The chronicles are filled with the accounts about the various manifestations of graced mercy, witnessed at their tombs, and about the victories gained through their help. In honour of the holy Passion-Bearers Boris and Gleb many churches and monasteries were built throughout all the various ends of Russia.
The MonkMartyr Athansii (Afanasii) of Bretsk was Belorussian and was born in about the year 1597 into a pious Christian family named Philippovich. He received a serious upbringing, and he knew the theological and historical literature, as is evidenced in the diary of the saint, which has been preserved.
In his youthful years Saint Athanasii for a certain while was a teacher in the houses of Polish merchants. In the year 1627 he accepted tonsure under hegumen Joseph at the Vilensk monastery of the Holy Spirit. The Monk Athanasii was ordained priest-monk in the year 1632 and made head of the Duboisk (Dubovsk) monastery near Pinsk. Saint Athanasii, with a special blessing of the Mother of God, self-denyingly re-established Orthodoxy within the boundaries of the ancient Russian territories that had been seized by the Polish Reche. Between the years 1638-1648 Saint Athanasii fulfilled his obedience as hegumen of the Bretsk Simeonov monastery. The monk endured much abuse from the Uniates and illegal persecution from the civil authorities -- he thrice suffered being locked up in prison. The saint was sent off to the authorities at Kiev to appear before a religious tribunal, but he was acquitted, and returned again to his own monastery. Over the course of ten years the Monk Athanasii, finding himself amidst persons maliciously disposed towards him, led a constant struggle for Holy Orthodoxy, -- his faithfulness to which is evidenced by his sufferings.
Attempts to wear down the spiritual endurance of the saint were to no avail. He again went to trial, by the decision of which, for his cursing of the Unia, the monk was sentenced to death by execution. Saint Athanasii died a martyr on the night of 4?5 September 1648 (the Uncovering of Relics was on 20 July 1679).
The Martyrs Thiphael and his sister Thivea (or Vivea) (+ c. 98-138) suffered for their bold and effective preaching of Christianity among the pagans. After long and intense torture the pagans suspended the holy Martyr Thiphael on a tree and cut at him with a saw, and his sister the Martyr Thivea they killed with a spear thrust in the neck.
The Martyred Soldiers Juventinus and Maximus suffered during the reign of the emperor Julian the Apostate, whom they served as bodyguards. One time while he was at Antioch, Julian decided to make a defilement of Christians, having besprinkled with idol-offering blood all the food-supplies offered in the market-places. Saints Juventinus and Maximus openly condemned the emperor's course of action and they boldly denounced him for his apostasy from the Christian faith. After merciless beatings they were both put to death on orders of the impious emperor (+ c. 361-363).
The Martyrs Urban, Theodore, Medimnos and with them 77 Men of Churchly Rank suffered at Nikomedia during the reign of the Arian-heretic emperor Valentus (Valens) (364-378 or 379). Under this Arian heretic they banished from the Constantinople Church the Orthodox bishop Euagrios, and Christians not wishing to consort with this heresy were locked up into prison and subjected to various outrages. Having then been driven to the point of despair, the Orthodox Christians decided to petition protection from the emperor and they dispatched 80 chosen men of religious rank, headed by Saints Urban, Theodore and Medimnos. Hearing their justified complaints, the emperor flew into a rage. But he know how to hide his wrath, and quietly he summoned the eparch Modestus and ordered him to put the delegates to death. Modestus put them upon a ship, having initially given them to understand the false news that they all would be sent off to imprisonment, while he instead gave orders to the ship-officers to burn the ship on the open sea. The ship was set afire and in the embrace of its flames it thus for awhile floated upon the sea. Finally, reaching a place called Dakizis, the ship burnt up completely together with all the holy martyrs on board it (+ 370).
The Martyr Avdi (or Habib) suffered in Persia during the reign of the emperor Izdegerd I for his refusal to renounce Christ and instead worship the sun and fire. He died after tormenting tortures and until his final gasp he gave thanks to God, for blessing His chosen one to die for His Holy Name.
© 1999 by translator Fr S Janos