December 30th (I - 12)
Icon of the Holy Martyr Anysia and Priest Martyr Zotikos the Presbyter
Holy Martyress Anysia (+ c. 285-305). PriestMartyr Zotikos the Presbyter, Nourisher of Orphans (IV). Disciple from the Seventy: Timon (I). Martyr Phileteros of Nicomedia (+ 311). Nun Theodora of Caesarea (VIII). Nun Theodora of Tsargrad (X). Saint Leo the Archimandrite. Saint Anthony the Bishop. Women-Martyrs Irene and Theodosia.
The Holy Martyress Anysia lived in the city of Soluneia (Thessalonika) during the reign of the emperor Maximian (284-305). Upon the death of her parents, who had raised her in Christian piety, Saint Anysia distributed her substance to the poor and began to lead a strict life in vigil, fasting and prayer.
During the time of his persecution against Christians Maximian issued an edict, according to which anyone had the right without punishment to kill Christians. One time, when Saint Anysia had gone to church for prayer, a pagan soldier stopped her and demanded, that she come along to the pagan feast to the sun. Saint Anysia gently pulled herself away from him. When he soldier boldly grabbed hold of her and attempted to tear the veil from her head, she shoved him, spit in his face and said: "My Lord Jesus Christ forbid thee!" The soldier in anger drew out his sword and ran through the holy martyress. Those gathering over her body wept and loudly complained against the cruel emperor, for having so inhuman an edict. Christians buried the martyress near the city gates, and over her grave was built an house of prayer.
The PriestMartyr Zotikos (Zoticus), Nourisher of Orphans, an illustrious and rich Roman, was in the service of Saint Constantine the Great (306-337). When the emperor transferred the capital from Rome to Constantinople, Zotikos also relocated there. Soon, however, spurning worldly honours, Zotikos accepted the priestly dignity, and he began in his own home to provide for the destitute and orphaned. Then, having received funds from Saint Constantine, he built a place for the sick, a shelter for the homeless, where he took in those afflicted with leprosy, rescuing them from the soldiers, who had been ordered to drown the sick in the sea.
When there followed upon the imperial throne Saint Constantine's son, Constantius (337-361), an adherent of the Arian heresy, a denunciation was made against Saint Zotikos, that he had received from the deceased emperor a large sum of money. Interrogated over this, Zotikos pointed out to the emperor the homeless and sick home built by him. Constantius became angry, since according to his reckoning, that with the money received from his father Zotikos had purchased jewels, and he wanted them back. He gave orders to tie Saint Zotikos to wild mules, which dragged the saint over the stones. All his body was lacerated, and the saint gave up his soul to God. At the place of his death sprang forth a stream of pure water, from which many received healing.
The Holy Disciple Timon (I) was one of the 7 Deacons, established by the Apostles for the assist of destitute Christian widows. Afterwards he was chosen bishop of the city of Arabian Bostra, where he led many to Christianity and died a martyr: they threw him into a red-hot furnace ( a 2nd commemoration is 28 July).
The Holy Martyr Phileteros of Nicomedia twice suffered torture for Christ: under Diocletian (284-305) and under Maximian (305-311). When Diocletian arrived in Nicomedia, they brought to trial Saint Phileteros, who was tall of stature and handsome of face. Catching sight of him, the emperor compared him in appearance to one of the pagan gods. To the questions about his social rank and lineage the martyr answered: "I am the son of an eparch, by faith -- a Christian, and I live with Christians". The emperor by flattery attempted to sway him into a renunciation and spoke insultingly of the Lord Jesus Christ, but the saint replied: "Let the mouth of anyone be silenced, whether he be the emperor or someone other, who dareth to insult my Christ". After these words the martyr was thrown into a red-hot oven, but he emerged from it unharmed. Then Diocletian, under the influence of the apparent miracle, and taking into account the illustrious and handsome appearance of the saint, set him free.
Denunciations were made at a later period to the emperor Maximian, that Phileteros was a Christian. Brought to trial before the emperor, the holy martyr again confessed his faith in Christ. For this they subjected him to whippings. Then they threw him for devouring by wild beasts, but he remained unharmed. Then they sentenced him to beheading by the sword, but the two servants, to whom was entrusted the execution, were not able to kill him: just as they positioned the sword over the head of the martyr, their hands ceased to function. Persuaded through this, that the Lord invisibly was guarding the holy martyr, both these executioners believed in Christ and they themselves suffered for the faith by being beheaded by the sword.
The holy Martyr Phileteros was sentenced then to exile on Prokonnesus, one of the islands of the Sea of Marmora. On the journey to exile he wrought many a miracle and destroyed an heathen temple with its idols. Six soldiers with their commandant accompanying the saint to his exile thus believed in Christ.
There came out to him along the way Saint Eubiotes, who likewise had undergone many a suffering for Christ. The saints joyfully hugged, and they dwelt at the cell of Saint Eubiotes for 7 days, together the soldiers and their commander. Saint Phileteros then died there (+ 311) and was buried by Saint Eubiotes. The soldiers with their commander likewise died there, 11 days later, and were buried alongside the holy Martyr Phileteros.
The Nun Theodora of Caesarea, living during the VIII Century, was the daughter of the patrician Theophilos and his wife Theodora. Her parents for a long time had been childless, and grieved over this. They prayed much and made a vow, that if a child were born to them, it would be dedicated to God. When the daughter born to them was of age, her mother took her to the monastery of Saint Anna, where the maiden entered under the guidance of an hegumeness. And there she learned the Word of God.
The emperor Leo the Isaurian (716-741), an iconoclast heretic, wanted to give the maiden Theodora into marriage to one of his aides. Against her will they took her from the monastery and brought her to Constantinople, where everything was already prepared for the wedding celebration. But at the time of the wedding feast there occurred an attack by the Skyths against the capital, and the spouse of Saint Theodora, dispatched to help beat back the attack of the enemy, perished in the very first skirmish. Taking advantage of the general confusion, Saint Theodora made herself inconspicuous, got on a ship and returned to her convent. When an imperial emissary showed up there for her, he saw that she was already tonsured a monastic, dressed in sackcloth. They thus could no longer force the saint to leave the women's monastery, and she spent the remaining years of her life in deeds of vigil, fasting and prayer. Upon her body she wore heavy iron chains, not removing them until death.
The Nun Theodora of Tsargrad lived at Constantinople during the first half of the X Century. She had been married, but was widowed early on and led a pious life, attending the destitute and hopeless, and then she accepted monasticism and lived under the guidance of the Monk Basil the New (Comm. 26 March), devoting herself to monastic life in her own home in a solitary cell. The Nun Theodora died in extreme old age in the year 940. Upon the death of Saint Theodora, a student of Saint Basil the New, Gregory by name, prayerfully besought his teacher to reveal to him the after-death fate of the deceased nun. "Thou thus very much do wish this?", -- asked the Monk Basil. "Yes, very much I should wish it", -- answered Gregory. "Thou shalt see her today, if thou with faith ask of this and if deeply thou be convinced of the possibility of the fulfilling of the request". Gregory was greatly surprised and he thought it all over, how and where he as going to be able to see someone, who had gone off into eternal life. When Gregory that same night was falling asleep, a youth of comely appearance came to him and said: "Rise up, the monastic father Basil doth summon thee, so as to visit together with Theodora; if thou wishest to see her, then come along and see". Gregory immediately went off to the Monk Basil, but did not find him there. Those present said to him, that the Monk Basil had gone himself to visit the Nun Theodora. To the distressed Gregory they pointed out the way, along which had gone the Monk Basil. Gregory proceeded along it, until he found himself in a unknown labyrinth. The narrow and difficult path led to a bolted gateway. Seeing through a crack in it, that a courtyard was situated beyond the gates, Gregory called out to a woman seated there. She explained, that this courtyard belonged to Father Basil, who was wont to come hither to visit with his spiritual children. "Open to me, for I too am a spiritual child of Saint Basil," -- besought Gregory. But the servant girl would not open the doors without the permission of the Nun Theodora. Gregory began to knock loudly on the doors. The Nun Theodora heard it and joyfully let him through, exclaiming: "Here he is -- the beloved son of my master, Basil!" Having greeted him, the Nun Theodora inquired: "Brother Gregory, who hath guided thee hither?" Then he in turn related, how through the prayer of Saint Basil he had the good fortune to behold her in the glory, which she had attained by her ascetic life. Gregory began to implore her to tell him, for purposes of spiritual benefit, how she had parted from the body and bypassing the slanderers she had come to this holy habitation. The Nun Theodora replied: "how can I, dear child Gregory, tell thee everything? After the point, in which I was with tribulation in fear and trembling, I have forgotten much, moreover, I did see such faces and hear such voices, as never one doth happen to see nor hear over all the course of one's life. What I can say, is this, that death should have come upon me fiercely because of my unjust deeds, done on earth, were it not for the prayers of our Father Basil. His prayers alone did make my death the more easy". After this the Nun Theodora began to relate, how a multitude of suddenly appearing evil spirits accosted before her end. They carried large books, into which were written down all the sins of her whole life, and they reviewed them with impatience, as though any minute expecting the arrival of some sort of judge. Seeing all this, the Nun Theodora went into such fear and terror, that finally she began exhausted and in agony she glanced about on all sides, wanting to see someone, who would be able to drive away he devils. Finding herself in this tormenting situation, she then beheld two Angels, standing to the right side of her. The evil spirits then withdrew farther off. "Why do ye, grim enemies of the race of man, seek to harass and torment the soul of the deceased? Rejoice not, for here be not one of yours", -- exclaimed an Angel. Then the shameless spirits began to recount everything, that the saint had done from the time of her youth, whether by word, or deed or thought. To all this they added on much of their own invention, seeking to slander the saint. Finally there came death. It poured something into a bowl and offered it to the saint to drink, and afterwards, taking a knife, it cut off her head. "Ah, my child, -- continued on the Nun Theodora with her account, -- how bitter it became for me then, how bitter! At this moment death snatched away my soul, which quickly separated from the body, just like a bird leaps off the hand of the fowler, if he sets it to freedom". Radiant Angels took the soul of the Nun Theodora and began to set off with it to Heaven, whereas her body was left to lay upon the earth, like discarded clothing. When the holy Angels had hold of the soul of the nun, the evil spirits again showed up, saying: "We have her many sins, answer us for them". And then the Angels began to recount all the good deeds, which the saint had done: her charity, her love of peace, the love for the temple of God, patience, humility, fasting, and many other ascetic deeds which the nun had undertaken in life. All taken together, they set opposite the sins her good deeds, which expiated them. The evil spirits gnashed their teeth, wanting yet to abduct the holy soul and hurl it down into the abyss. At this time suddenly there appeared in spirit the Monk Basil and he said to the holy Angels: "My protectors, this soul hath rendered me many a service, lessening the distress of mine infirmity and old age. I have prayed concerning her to the Lord, and He bestowed this good thing". With this the Monk Basil gave the Angels some sort of small chest, adding: "When ye want the coelestial trials to finish, redeem her, taking what be from this chest and giving it to the wicked and evil spirits". Having giving them the chest, the saint went away. Seeing all this, the evil spirits for a long time remained perplexed and speechless, and then suddenly, loudly shrieking, they howled: "Woe to us! In vain have we toiled, watching and following her, as to how and where she did sin". Having said this, they instantly disappeared. Then the Monk Basil again appeared and brought with him many different vessels with fragrances, which he entrusted to the Angels. Opening one vessel after the other, the Angels poured out the fragrances upon the Nun Theodora. She was filled with a spiritual sweetness and felt, that she had changed and become very luminous. The Monk Basil said: "My protectors! When ye have done everything needful over her, then, having brought her to the habitation prepared by the Lord for me, leave her there". Having said this, he withdrew. The holy Angels took the Nun Theodora and proceeded upwards to Heaven, rising up as though through the air.
And here upon the way suddenly was encountered the First Trial, which is called the Trial of Idle and Nasty Words. The tormentors demanded an answer be given to everything, that the Nun Theodora had ever spoken badly about anyone, and they pointed out the indecorous laughter, mockery and crude songs. All this the saint had forgotten, since quite a length of time had passed, when first she began to lead a life, pleasing to God. But the Angels defended her.
Further on was the Trial of Lies. The evil spirits situated there were very nasty, stubborn and fierce. They furiously began to slander the saint, but the Angels gave it to them from the small chest and passed by unhindered.
When the Nun Theodora reached the Third Trial -- that of Judging and Slander, from the evil spirits there emerged one rather older and it began to relate, how with what vile words the nun had slandered someone during her life. Much he indicated was false, but it was amazing still, with what detail and exactness the demons remembered things, things which the nun herself had forgotten.
The servants of the Fourth Trial -- that of Gluttony and Drunkenness, literally like ravenous wolves were ready to devour the saint, recollecting, how she ate in the morning without praying to God, how she ate at lunch and supper without measure, and transgressed the fasts. Trying to snatch the nun from the hands of the Angels, one of the evil spirits said: "Did thou not promise to the Lord God at holy Baptism to renounce Satan and all his works and everything, that pertains to him? Having given such a vow, how canst thou have done the things which thou hast done?" And the devils even calculated up all the cups of wine, which the Nun Theodora had imbibed over the course of all her life. When she said: "Yes, this was so, and this I do remember", -- the Angels again gave out a portion from the small chest of Saint Basil, just as they had done at each of the trials, and set off further.
"Do the people located on earth know, what awaits them here and with what they will meet at the time of their death?" -- asked the Nun Theodora of the Angels. "Yes, they do know, -- answered an Angel, -- but the pleasures and delights of life act so strongly upon them, it so consumes their attention, that they involuntarily forget about that which doth await them beyond the grave. Good it be for those, which remember the Holy Scripture and work charity or do yet other good deeds, which afterwards can redeem them of the eternal torments of hell. But woe to those, which live carelessly as though forever, thinking only of the sweets of the belly and their pride. If suddenly death should overtake them, they perish completely, since they have not in their defense any good deeds; the souls of these people are fiercely tormented by the dark princes of these trials, they lead them off into the dark places of hell and will hold on to them until the Coming of Christ. Thus also thou, Theodora, wouldst have suffered, had thou not received of the saint of God Basil the gift, which hath saved thee here from all harm".
With suchlike discourse by the Angel was reached the Fifth Trial -- that of Laziness and Sloth, where sinners are tormented for all the hours of the day spent in idleness. Here the indolent are held, having been too lazy to go to the Church of God on feastdays. Here too the careless and the despondent are tested, both the layfolk and the clergy, and there is discerned the lack of attentiveness of each about their own soul. Many here are hurled off into the abyss. The Angels made up for the insufficiencies of the nun with the gifts of Saint Basil and proceeded on further.
The Sixth Trial -- was that of Thievery, and they passed through freely. Thus also the Seventh Trial -- that of Greed and Avarice, the Angels managed to pass through unhindered because, by the mercy of God, the Nun Theodora had always been satisfied with what God provided, and she diligently distributed what she possessed to the needy.
The spirits of the Eighth Trial -- that of Bribery, gave torment for Bribe-taking and Flattery, and gnashed their teeth out of malice, when the Angels went on from them, since they had nothing against the Nun Theodora.
And the Angels proceeded freely thus through the Ninth Trial -- that of Unrighteousness and Vanity, the Tenth Trial -- that of Envy and Jealousy, and the Eleventh Trial -- that of Pride.
Along their way they soon encountered the Twelfth Trial -- that of Anger. The eldest of the spirits, full of the wrath of anger and arrogance, commanded its servants to torment and torture the nun. The devils repeated all the original words of the nun, spoken by her in anger, they remembered even, how with anger she had glared at her own children or strictly punished them. For all this the Angels gave answer, handing out from the small chest.
Literally like robbers, there rushed out the evil spirits of the Thirteenth Trial -- that of Spitefulness, but finding nothing in their records, they wailed bitterly. Then the Nun Theodora made bold to ask one of the Angels, from whence do the evil spirits know, who and what is done bad in life. The Angel answered: "Every Christian through holy Baptism doth receive a Guardian Angel, who does invisibly protect him from everything bad and urges him to everything good, and who records all the good deeds done by this person. But on the other side, there is an evil angel keeping watch over all the course of life for the evil deeds of people and writes them down into his book. He records all the sins which, as thou hast seen, do accost people in passing through the trials on their way to Heaven. These sins are able to deny a soul entry into Paradise and lead directly into the abyss, in which the evil spirits themselves do dwell. And therein these souls will dwell until the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, if they have not for themselves good deeds, wherewith to snatch them from the hands of the devil. People, those truly believing in the Holy Trinity, and having communed as they are able a portion of the Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ the Saviour, directly ascend to Heaven without any hindrance. And the holy Angels of God be manifest as their defenders, and the Saints pleasing to God do intercede for the salvation of souls of righteously living people. Concerning however the impious and heretics of malicious-faith, and those who accomplish nothing of benefit in their lives, no one looks after then and in their defense the Angels are able to say nothing".
The Angels then reached the Fourteenth Trial -- that of Thuggery, where are tested all, who have lashed out with anger, smiting someone on the cheek or using some other weapon. And this trial too the Angels passed through freely.
Suddenly they found themselves at the Fifteenth Trial -- that of Sorcery and Necromancy (Conjuring), amidst poisonously beckoning demons. Here are located he viperous-mannered spirits, the purpose of whose existence is to lead people into temptation and corruption. Through the grace of Christ the Nun Theodora soon bypassed this trial. But after this she inquired, is it for every sin, which a man commits in life, that he is tormented with at the trials, or is it possible even during life to expiate the sin, in order to be cleansed of it and not be tormented with it at the trials. The Angels answered the Nun Theodora, that not all thus experience the trials, but only those, who like her, did not make an heart-cleansing confession before death. "If I had confessed to my spiritual father all my sinfulness without shame or fear, and if I had received absolution from my spiritual father, -- said the Nun Theodora, -- then I should have gone through all these trials unhindered, and not one of my sins would have tormented me. But since I was not wont to confess in an heart-cleansing manner all my sins to my spiritual father, then here they do torment me for this. Certainly, it did help me much, that I strove and desired over all the course of my life to flee sin. Whoever with diligence strives after repentance, doth receive always from God the forgiveness, and through this also unencumbered passage from this life to the blessed life beyond the grave. The evil spirits, which be situated amidst the trials together with their records, in opening them find nothing written, since the Holy Spirit will make invisible everything written. And they see this and they know, that everything written by them is wiped out, thanks to confession, and they then be deeply saddened. If a person be still among the living, then they aspire to write down there some other sort of sins. Great in truth is the saving of the person in confession! It doth save one from many a woe and distress, it provides the possibility without hindrance to go through all the trials and come nigh to God. Some do not make confession in the expectation, that there will still be time for salvation, and for the remission of sins. Others simply at confession are ashamed to tell the priest their sins -- here such people will be severely tested by the trials. There are also such, who are ashamed to tell everything to one spiritual father, and they choose rather to tell one sin to one priest, and others -- to another, and so forth. For such a confession they will be punished and they will suffer not a little the transition from trial to trial".
Imperceptibly they approached the Sixteenth Trial -- that of Fornication. The tormentors were astonished, that the saint had reached them without hindrance, and when they began to relate, what she had done in life, they gave much false testimony, while providing in the account names and places. Thus also it happened with the servants of the Seventeenth Trial -- that of Adultery. The Eighteenth Trial -- that of Sodomy, was where there are tormented all the sins of fornication against nature and of incest, all the nasty, secretly done deeds about which, in the words of the Apostle, it is shameful even to speak. The Nun Theodora passed through quickly. The Angels said to her: "Thou didst see the dreadful and loathsome fornications of that trial. Know, that it is the rare soul that passes by them freely. All the world is immersed in the evil of temptations and filth, nearly all people are lascivious, and "the inclinations of the heart of man -- are evil from the time of his youth" (Gen. 8: 21). Few are they that have mortified the passions of the flesh, and there be few such, who would freely get through these trials. A large part, arriving hither, do perish. The forces of the fornicative trials boast, that they alone most of all of the trials fill up the fiery raging in hell. Give thanks to God, Theodora, that thou hast bypassed these tormentors of prodigality through the prayers of thine father, the Monk Basil. Thou shalt see no greater terror".
At the Nineteenth Trial -- that of Idol-Worship and Every-Heresy, there was nothing to torment the Nun Theodora with.
At the final, the Twentieth Trial -- that of Lack of Pity and Hardness of Heart, there was recorded everything unmerciful, cruel, spiteful and of hate. The soul of a person, not following the command of God about mercy, is flung from hither into hell and shut up in it until the general resurrection. Literally like a mass of bees, there swooped down servants of the fierce demon, but finding nothing concerning the nun, they went away.
The rejoicing Angels then transported the saint through the gates of Heaven. When she entered into Heaven the water on the ground gave way, and behind her it again joined together. A triumphant host of Angels met the saint and conducted her to the Throne of God. As they went, there descended upon them two Divine clouds. At an inexplicable height stood the Throne of God, so white, that it illumined all present before it. "Everything there is situated such, that it be not possible either to comprehend or explain; the mind is beclouded with perplexity, and memory lulls, and I did forget, where I was situated", -- went on the Nun Theodora with her narration. She bowed down to the Unseen God and heard a Voice, commanding to be shown her all the souls of the righteous and of sinners, and after this to grant repose, where the Monk Basil should indicate. When all this had been shown her, one of the Angels said: "Thou knowest, Theodora, that in the world it is the custom: on the 40th day after death those remaining alive make memory of the departed. And thus, there upon the earth the Monk Basil doth today remember thee". "And so, -- the Nun Theodora concluded her story, -- my spiritual child Gregory, after the 40th day of the separation of my soul from the body, I am now situated in this place, which was prepared for our father the Monk Basil". After this she led him through the Heavenly habitation, where Gregory encountered the Monk Basil in the courtyard beyond the refectory. Afterwards Saint Theodora led him into the garden. Astonished at all the good things, Gregory wanted to find out about them. But the Nun Theodora merely said, that all this be not of earth, but attainable for those, who in the earthly life endure many a sorrow and misfortune, yet who keeps the commands of the Lord and precisely fulfills them. When the Nun Theodora said, that life in Heaven is distinctly different from life on earth, Gregory involuntarily pinched himself, wanting to know whether he was still in the flesh. His spirit was joyful, his senses and thoughts pure. He wanted to return from the garden, which the nun had pointed him to, and go to the courtyard. When he returned, there was no one there at the refectory. Having made a bow to the Nun Theodora, Gregory started to return homewards, and at that very moment he awoke and began to wonder, where he was and what it all it had been, that he had heard and seen. He became afraid, lest it was all just a demonic deceit, and he went to his teacher. Then he Monk Basil himself recounted everything, that Gregory had seen, and asked him to write down everything he had seen and heard, for the benefit of others.
© 2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos