August 5th (VIII - 18)
Icon of the Martyr Eusignius and Righteous Nonna
Prefeast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Martyr Eusignios (+ 362). PriestMartyrs Antherus (+ 236) and Fabian (+ 250), Popes of Rome. Martyrs: Pontius the Roman (+ c. 257); Kantidias, Kantidian and Sibelos, in Egypt; Eudokios and Maximilian; Vicentius; Christina; Ireneius. Righteous Nonna, Mother of Saint Gregory the Theologian (+ 374). Sainted Theoktist, Bishop of Chernigov (+ 1123). Sainted Euthymios, Patriarch of Constantinople (+ 917). Righteous Job of Ushel'sk (+ 1628).
The Martyr Eusignios was born at Antioch in the mid III Century. Over the course of sixty years he served in the Roman armies of the emperors Diocletian, Maximian Hercules, Constantius Chlorus, Constantine the Great and his sons. Saint Eusignios was a companion of Saint Basiliskos (Comm. 3 March and 22 May), and he provided an account of his deed of martyrdom (+ c. 308). At the beginning of the reign of Saint Constantine the Great, Saint Eusignios was a witness to the appearance in the sky of the starry Cross, a prediction of victory. Saint Eusignios retired in his old age from military service and returned to his own country. There he spent his time in prayer, fasting, and attending the temple of God. And thus he lived until the reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363), who yearned for a return to paganism. Through the denunciation of one of the Antioch citizens, Saint Eusignios stood trial as a Christian before the emperor Julian in the year 362. He fearlessly accused the emperor of apostacy from Christ, and reproached him with the example of his relative, Constantine the Great, and he described in detail how he himself had been an eyewitness to the appearance in the sky of the sign of the Cross. Julian did not spare the quite old Saint Eusignios, then 110 years old, but rather ordered him beheaded.
The Monk Job of Ushel'sk was a monk of the Solovetsk monastery (his father was named Patrikii Mazovsky). On 10 November 1608 he was ordained to the dignity of priestmonk by the Novgorod metropolitan Isidor. In 1614 the Monk Job was sent to the Mezensk frontier, where at the confluence into the River Mezen' of the Rivers Ezeg and Vazhka he set up a chapel in honour of the Nativity of Christ. The first monks gathering to him lived at the homes of their own lay-kinsmen, so poor was the monastery. After tsar Mikhail Feodorovich (1613-1645) conferred lands with fishing rights, the monk built a church and monastic cells. On 5 August 1628, when all the brethren were off making hay, robbers attacked the monastery. After terrible tortures in their demands for him to open the monastery treasury, the robbers beheaded the Monk Job. Finding nothing at all, they fled. The brethren upon returning buried the body of the monkmartyr with honour. Local reverence of the Monk Job as a saint of God began soon after his death, because of numerous miracles (in the XVII Century about 50 such were known of). The first icon was written in 1658, and his vita-life in the 1660's. And about this time a chapel was built over the relics of the monk, and rebuilt afterwards by blessing of the Kholmogorsk archbishop Athanasii as a church in honour of the same-name saint Righteous Job the Much-Suffering (Comm. 6 May; and on this day the Church has established to also remember the Monk Job of Ushel'sk). On 3 November 1739 the relics of the Monk Job were witnessed to by archbishop Varsonophii, with in evidence the singing of a molieben to the saint. Thus there was made his glorification. The image of the Monk Job is written thus: "Similarly greyed, a beard like Alexander of Svirsk, in the garb of the monastic schemamonk, and in his hands a scroll upon which is written: "Fear not those murdering of the body, the soul they cannot kill"".
The Martyr Pontius lived during the III Century, the son of a pagan Roman senator named Marcus and his wife Julia. While with child, Julia had gone with her husband to the pagan temple of Jupiter. The devil, inhabiting the temple, shouted from the lips of the pagan priest that the boy in Julia's womb would destroy Jupiter and his pagan temple. When the boy was born, his mother wanted to kill him out of fear of the prediction, but his father opposed this and the child was left to live. He was named Pontius, and he grew up sharp of mind and keen for study. On his way to the pagan school Pontius happened to go past an house, where Christians were making the morning Divine-services. Hearing the words of the psalm which the Christians were singing: "pagan idols be silver and gold, the works of the hands of men..." (Ps. 113: 12 [115: 4]). Pontius became very interested in this verse and he paused at the gate. Pope Pontian, who was making the service, invited Pontius and his companion Valerian to come in. After the service, the pope talked for a long while with the youths, revealing to them the Gospel teachings, and after a certain while he baptised them. Saint Pontius in turn likewise converted his father to Christ, whom Pope Pontian also baptised, together with his whole household. And after the death of his father, Saint Pontius, then 20 years old, was appointed by the emperor Alexander Severus (222-235) as a senator, to take the place of his deceased father. In the Senate and the surroundings of the emperor, Saint Pontius enjoyed universal esteem for his good nature, sound sense and fairness. Under the successor to the emperor Alexander Severus -- Maximian (235-238), Pope Saint Pontian finished his life as a martyr (+ 235).
Pope Saint Antherus was elected Bishop of Rome in place of Pope Saint Pontian, and he too soon accepted suffering and death for Christ (+ 236). His successor was Pope Saint Fabian (Fabius), who as a presbyter fearlessly gave burial to the bodies of martyrs. Pope Saint Fabian loved Saint Pontius as though he were his own flesh and blood son. Saint Pontius distributed with Saint Fabian all his substance on the needs of the poor. After the perishing of impious Maximian, the new emperor Gordian (238-244) did not persecute Christians, and thereafter in turn the emperor Philip (244-249) together with his co-regent son Philip was persuaded by the conversations and preaching of Saint Pontius to believe in Christ and to accept Baptism from holy Pope Fabian. With the permission of the emperors, Saints Pontius and Fabian threw down the statue of Jupiter at the pagan temple and on this place built a church. For 4 years the Church of Christ dwelt in peace and tranquility. But then Decius (249-251) ascended the throne, having organised a rebellion and murdered the emperor Philip and his son. And during this time Sainted Fabian, Pope of Rome (+ 250), accepted death for Christ. But Saint Pontius left Rome for the city of Cimelum (on the border of Italy and Gaul-France) and lived there like a stranger. During the time of the emperor Valerian (253-259), cruel torturers were sent out with full authority to all ends to seek out and kill all Christians. And thus Claudius and Anubius arrived in the city of Cimelum for this purpose. Saint Pontius fearlessly confessed himself a Christian and refused to offer sacrifice to idols. They shackled him in irons and threw him in prison. From the very beginning of the torture the saint calmly admonished the torturers, that the Lord would bring to naught the torture and they would see the power of God. And indeed, as soon as the servants attempted to tie Saint Pontius to the rack, it fell apart to pieces, and the torturers fell to the ground as though dead.
"Be convinced, O man of little faith, in the power of my Lord", -- said Saint Pontius to Claudius, but on the advice of Anubius he gave Saint Pontius over to be devoured by two bears in the circus. The wild beasts, while not touching the saint, fell instead upon their keepers and tore at them. The spectators began to shout: "God only is the Christian God, in Whom believeth Pontius". By order of the torturers a bon-fire was built, but it burnt out, and the saint remained alive, and even his clothes did not burn. The crowd shouted all the more strongly: "Great is the God of the Christians!" Saint Pontius then was sentenced to beheading by the sword, and the execution was made out beyond the city in the year 257. The body of Saint Pontius was given burial at the place of execution by his comrade and friend Valerian.
Saint Nonna, the mother of Sainted Gregory the Theologian (i.e. Gregory of Nazianzus, + 25 January 389), was the daughter of Christians named Philotatos and Gorgonia. Saint Nonna was also an aunt of Sainted Amphylokhios, Bishop of Iconium (Comm. 23 November). Her parents raised her in Christian piety. Saint Nonna entered into marriage with Gregory of Arianzus, the rich landowner of an estate in the Arianzus and Nazianzus districts. The marriage was advantageous by earthly considerations, but grievous for the pious soul of Nonna. Her husband Gregory of Arianzus was a pagan, a follower of the sect of the Supremists (Hypsistarii), under which he venerated a supreme god and observed certain Jewish rituals, while at the same time he worshipped fire. Pious Nonna prayed much, that her spouse should turn to the holy truth. Saint Nonna's son, Saint Gregory the Theologian, wrote thus about this: "This was something she could not calmly bear, that the one half be conjoined with God, whilst the other part itself -- should remain apart from God. On the contrary, she wanted, that to the fleshly union there should also apply a spiritual union. Wherefore both day and night she recoursed to God, with fasting and many a tear she besought Him to grant the salvation of her husband". Through the prayers of Saint Nonna, her husband Gregory had a dream vision in his sleep. "It seemed to my father, -- writes Saint Gregory, -- as though he (which never before had he done, though many a time his wife had sought and asked it), it seemed as though he was singing the following verse of David: I was glad when they said of me, let us go into the house of the Lord (Ps. 121 : 1). The singing itself was unprecedented, and moreover with the singing was actually the desire to do so! When she heard about this, it was the fulfilling of her wish, and profiting the moment, she explained the vision to good effect, and in which was the complete truth". The elder Gregory went to the First OEcumenical Council at Nicea, where he made known his conversion to Christ. And he was ordained presbyter and then bishop of Nazianzus and devoted himself totally to the Church. At the same time as his ordination to bishop, his spouse Saint Nonna was made a deaconness. With the same zeal with which she had raised her children, she now occupied herself in performing works of charity.
"She knew, -- says Saint Gregory the Theologian, -- one thing to be truly noble -- to be pious and to know, from whence we have come and whither we go; and that there is one innate and trusty wealth -- to use up one's substance on God and on the poor, especially the impoverished kindred.
If one woman be distinguished for frugality, and another for piety, it being difficult to combine both qualities, then she however excelled all both in the one and in the other, and in each she attained the height of perfection, and she had both combined as one in her. In her, the one quality could not suffer impairment without the other, but rather each the other sustained. What time and place of prayer ever eluded her? On this daily was her very first thought. Better it be said, who, in setting about praying, had such trust to receive the besought? But even more amazing is this, that she, although she might be powerfully shaken by sorrows, even those of strangers, yet never did she give herself over to hollow wailing to the extent, that the voice of sorrow should win out over thanksgiving, or that the tears should fall endlessly, secretly sealing their mark, or with the onset of the bright feast to remain in garb of sorrow, though there befell her repeatedly many a sorrow. Wherein for the soul, out of a characteristic love for God, everything human was made subject to the Divine. I refrain from speaking about her deeds more secret, which God alone hath witnessed and about which perhaps knew her faithful servants, being in this her confidants".
The final years brought Saint Nonna many a sorrow. In the year 368 died her younger son Caesarius, a young man, of brilliant expectations; and in the following year died her daughter. The brave old woman bore these losses with a submission to the will of God.
In the year 370 bishop Gregory, then already an old man already up in age, participated in the ordination of Saint Basil the Great as Bishop of Caesarea. Saint Nonna, who was somewhat younger than her husband, was likewise readied to enter into the next life, but through the prayers of her beloved son was prolonged her time on earth. "My mother, -- wrote her son, -- always was strong and brave, all her life she never complained of infirmities; but sickness had befallen her. From many a suffering, not mincing words, the least oppressive -- was an aversion to food, continuing for many days and untreatable by any of the doctors. How then did God sustain her? He did not send down manna, as to Israel of old; He did not split open a rock, for a spring of water to issue forth for the thirsty people; not through rambling words, as with Elias, not through a prophetic ecstasy, as once with Daniel, languishing with hunger in the pit. But then in what form? It seemed to her that I, her especially beloved son (she presupposed me in her sleep to be no one else), that I had appeared to her suddenly by night with a basket of the whitest bread, and then having pronounced prayer over these loaves and blessing them with the Sign of the Cross, as is our custom, I gave her to eat, and with this her strength returned and increased. And this night-time vision was for her something that actually happened, since she became herself again and was no longer an hopeless case. And what happened with her became apparent in a clear and evident manner. With the break of day I had gone to her early in the morning, and for the first time saw her in her former fine condition, and so I chanced as usual to ask: how was her night and did she need anything? Without a bit of hesitation quite fluently she said: "Thou thyself, beloved son, hath fed me and now thou dost ask about my health. O, how good and caring thou art!" At this moment her attendants motioned to me by gestures, that I should not contradict her, but I have taken her words at face value and so that the actual truth should not distress her".
Early in the year 374 reposed the hundred year old elder bishop Gregory. Saint Nonna, after this almost never emerging from the church, soon after his death died at prayer in the temple on 5 August 374.
Sainted Theoktist, Bishop of Chernigov, prior to entering upon the cathedra-chair, pursued an ascetic life at the Kievo-Pechersk monastery. He was among the number of the great startsi-elders, healing by prayer the Monk Nikita, afterwards Sainted Bishop of Novgorod (Comm. 31 January). In the year 1103 Saint Theoktist was made hegumen of the Kievo-Pechersk monastery. In the year 1108 he built on the means of pious prince Gleb Vseslavich a stone refectory. Saint Theoktist particularly insisted, that the name of the Monk Theodosii (Feodosii, Comm. 3 May), be included in the synodikon of the saints of all Russia. In the year 1110, on 11 February, there was an heavenly apparition at the Pechersk monastery: a pillar of fire from the ground to the sky appeared and lightning lighted up all the earth, and at the 1st hour of the night there was the crash of thunder; the fiery pillar stood over the stone refectory so that its cross was not visible; afterwards it proceeded to the church and settled over the grave of the Monk Theodosii, and then, turning to the East, it disappeared. "This was not a pillar of fire, but rather an angelic face, -- wrote the Monk Nestor the Chronicler, -- because an angel appears thus, when there is a pillar of fire, a flaming, as says the Prophet David: Who maketh His angels spirits and His servants flames of fire" (Ps. 103 : 4). In the year 1113 Saint Theoktist was ordained Bishop of Chernigov. The PriestMartyr Monk Kuksha (Comm. 27 August), enlightening at this time the Vyatichi, belonging to the Chernigov diocese. On 2 May 1115 Saint Theoktist participated in the transfer of the relics of holy Princes Boris and Gleb to Vyshgorod, and later in Chernigov near his cathedral he consecrated a church in the name of the holy Princes Boris and Gleb, erected in the year 1120 by prince David of Chernigov. And to the noble Prince Passion-Bearers Boris and Gleb the saint made a sermon on the day of their memory. On 6 august 1123, the feast of the Transfiguration, Saint Theoktist died, and because of the feastday, his memory is made on 5 August. On one of the lists of the Saints it is said, that he was buried at the Pechersk monastery. For the memory of Saint Theoktist believers resort also to 28 September, when he is remembered in the 9th ode of the Canon of the Sobor-Assemblage of the Monastic Fathers of the Nearer Caves.
© 2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos