January 21st (II -3)
Icon of Martyr Neophytus, Maximos the Confessor, and Virgin Martyr Agnes
Monk Maximos the Confessor (+ 662). Martyr Neophytes (+ c. 303-305). Martyrs Eugene, Candidus, Valerian and Aquila (III). Virgin Martyress Agnes (+ c. 304). Martyr Anastasias (+ 662). Monk Neophytes of Batopedeia. Monk Maxim the Greek (+ 1556). Four Holy Martyrs at Gyrona. Saints John and Theodosius. Batopedeia Icons of the Mother of God: Ktitorian (IV), and that named "Consolation or Solace" ("Otrada, ili Utezhenie") (807), and that named "Stabbed" ("Zaklannaya") and "Xenophite Hodegetria" ("Odigitrii - Ksenophskoi").
The Monk Maximos the Confessor was born in Constantinople in about the year 580 and raised in a pious Christian family. In his youth he received a very diverse education: he studied philosophy, grammatics, rhetoric, he was well-read in the authors of antiquity and he mastered to perfection theological dialectics. When Saint Maximos entered into government service, the scope of his learning and his conscientiousness enabled him to become first secretary to the emperor Heraclius (611-641). But court life vexed him, and he withdrew to the Chrysopoleia monastery (on the opposite shore of the Bosphorus -- now Skutari), where he accepted monastic tonsure. By the humility of his wisdom he soon won the love of the brethren and was chosen hegumen of the monastery, but even in this dignity, in his own words, he "remained a simple monk". But in 633 at the request of a theologian, the future Jerusalem Patriarch Saint Sophronios (Comm. 11 March), the Monk Maximos left the monastery and set off to Alexandria.
Saint Sophronios was known in these times as an implacable antagonist against the Monothelite heresy. The Fourth OEcumenical Council (year 451) had condemned the Monophysite heresy, which confessed in the Lord Jesus Christ only one nature (the Divine, but not the Human nature, of Christ). Influenced by this erroneous tendency of thought, the Monothelite heretics introduced the concept that in Christ there was only "one Divine will" ("thelema") and only "one Divine effectuation or energy" ("energia"), -- which sought to lead back by another path to the repudiated Monophysite heresy. Monotheletism found numerous adherents in Armenia, Syria, Egypt. The heresy, fanned also by nationalist animosities, became a serious threat to church unity in the East. The struggle of Orthodoxy with the heresies was particularly complicated by the fact, that in the year 630 three of the Patriarchal thrones in the Orthodox East were occupied by Monothelites: at Constantinople -- by Sergios, at Antioch -- by Athanasias, and at Alexandria -- by Cyrus.
The path of the Monk Maximos from Constantinople to Alexandria led through Crete, where indeed he began his preaching activity. He clashed there with a bishop, who adhered to the heretical opinions of Severus and Nestorius. At Alexandria and its surroundings the monk spent about 6 years. In 638 the emperor Heraclius, together with the patriarch Sergios, attempted to downplay the discrepancies in the confession of faith, and the issued an edict: the so-called "Ecthesis" ("Ekthesis tes pisteos" -- "Exposition of Faith), -- which ultimately decreed that there be confessed the teaching about "one will" ("mono-thelema") operative under the two natures of the Saviour. In defending Orthodoxy against this "Ecthesis", the Monk Maximos recoursed to people of various vocations and positions, and these conversations had success. "Not only the clergy and all the bishops, but also the people, and all the secular officials felt within themselves some sort of invisible attraction to him, -- testifies his Vita.
Towards the end of 638 the patriarch Sergios died, and in 641 -- the emperor Heraclius also died. The imperial throne came to be occupied by the cruel and coarse Constans II (642-668), an open adherent of the Monothelites. The assaults of the heretics against Orthodoxy intensified. The Monk Maximos went off to Carthage and he preached there and in its surroundings for about 5 years. When the successor of patriarch Sergios, patriarch Pyrrhos, arrived there in forsaking Constantinople because of court intrigues, and being by persuasion a Monothelite, -- there occurred between him and the Monk Maximos an open disputation in June 645. The result of this was that Pyrrhos publicly acknowledged his error and even wanted to put into writing to Pope Theodore the repudiation of his error. The Monk Maximos together with Pyrrhos set off to Rome, where Pope Theodore accepted the repentance of the former patriarch and restored him to his dignity.
In the year 647 the Monk Maximos returned to Africa. And there, at a council of bishops Monotheletism was condemned as an heresy. In the year 648, in place of the "Ecthesis", there was issued a new edict, commissioned by Constans and compiled by the Constantinople patriarch Paul, the "Typus" ("Tupos tes pisteos" -- "Pattern of the Faith"), which overall forbade any further deliberations, whether if be about "one will" or about "two wills", as regarding the acknowledged "two natures" of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Monk Maximos thereupon turned to the successor of the Roman Pope Theodore, Pope Martin I (649-654), with a request to examine the question of Monotheletism at a conciliar consideration by all the Church. In October of 649 there was convened the Lateran Council, at which were present 150 Western bishops and 37 representatives of the Orthodox East, amongst which was also the Monk Maximos the Confessor. The Council condemned Monotheletism, and its defenders -- the Constantinople patriarchs Sergios, Paul and Pyrrhos, were consigned to anathema.
When Constans II received the determinations of the Council, he gave orders to arrest both Pope Martin and the Monk Maximos. This summons took 5 years to fulfill, in the year 654. They accused the Monk Maximos of treason to the realm and locked him up in prison. In 656 he was sent off to Thrace, and again later brought back to a Constantinople prison. The monk, together with two of his students, was subjected to the cruellest torments: for each they cut out the tongue and cut off the right hand. Then they were sent off to Colchis. But here the Lord worked an inexplicable miracle: all three of them found the ability to speak and to write. The Monk Maximos indeed foretold his own end (+ 13 August 662). On the Greek Saints-Prologue (Calendar), 13 August indicates the Transfer of the Relics of Saint Maximos to Constantinople, but possibly it might apply to the death of the saint. Or otherwise, the establishing of his memory under 21 January may be connected with this -- that 13 August celebrates the Leavetaking of the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Over the grave of the Monk Maximos shone three miraculously-appearing lights, and there occurred many an healing.
The Monk Maximos has left to the Church a large theological legacy. His exegetical works contain explanations of difficult places within the Holy Scripture, also Commentary on the Prayer of the Lord and on the 59th Psalm, various "scholia" ("marginalia" or text-margin commentaries) on treatises of the PriestMartyr Dionysios the Areopagite (+ 96, Comm. 3 October) and Sainted Gregory the Theologian (+ 389, Comm. 25 January). To the exegetical works of Saint Maximos belongs likewise his explication of Divine-services, entitled "Mystagogia" ("Introduction concerning the Mystery").
To the dogmatic works of the Monk Maximos belong: the Exposition on his dispute with Pyrrhos, and several tracts and letters to various people. In them are contained expositions of the Orthodox teaching of the Divine Essence and about Hypostatic-Persons of the Holy Trinity, about the Incarnation of God, and about the "theosis" ("deification", "obozhenie") of human nature.
"Nothing in theosis is the product of human nature, -- the Monk Maximos writes in a letter to his friend Thalassios, -- since nature cannot comprehend God. It is only but the mercy of God that has the capacity to endow theosis unto the existing... In theosis man (the image of God) becomes likened to God, he rejoices in all the plenitude that does belong to him by nature, since the grace of the Spirit doth triumph within him and because God doth act within him" (Letter 22).
To the Monk Maximos belong also works concerning the anthropologic (i.e. concerning man). He deliberates on the nature of the soul and its consciously- personal existence after the death of a man. Among his moral compositions, especially important is his "Chapters on Love". The Monk Maximos the Confessor wrote likewise three hymns in the finest traditions of church hymnography, following the lead of Saint Gregory the Theologian.
The theology of the Monk Maximos the Confessor, based on the spiritual experience of the knowledge of the great Desert-Fathers, and utilising the skilled art of dialectics worked out by pre-Christian philosophy, was continued and developed upon in the works of the Monk Simeon the New Theologian (+ 1021, Comm. 12 March), and Sainted Gregory Palamas (+ c. 1360, Comm. 14 November).
The Holy Martyr Neophytes, a native of the city of Nicea, was raised by his parents in strict Christian piety. For his virtue, temperance and unceasing prayer, it pleased God to glorify Saint Neophytes with the gift of wonderworking, while the saint was yet but a lad! Like unto Moses, the holy lad brought forth water from a stone of the city wall and gave this water to those suffering thirst. In answer to the prayer of the mother of Saint Neophytes, seeking that the Will of God concerning her son might be revealed to her, a white dove miraculously appeared, and announced about the salvific path awaiting him. The saint was led forth from his parental home by this dove and brought to a mountain cave, which served as a sheltering den for a lion. The lad dwelt there until his fifteenth year, leaving it but once to bury his parents and distribute their substance to the poor.
During the time of the persecution by Diocletian (284-305), he voluntarily appeared in Nicea and boldly began to denounce the impiety of the pagan faith. The enraged persecutors suspended the saint on a tree, they whipped him with ox thongs and cut at his body with iron. Then they threw him into a red-hot oven, but the holy martyr remained unharmed, spending 3 days and 3 nights in it. The torturers, not knowing what more to do with him, decided to kill him. One of the pagans thrust a spear into his chest, and the saint expired to the Lord in his 16th year of life, somewhere in the years 303-305, at Nicea.
The Holy Martyrs Eugene, Candidus, Valerian and Aquila suffered for their faith in Christ during the reign of Diocletian and Maximian (284-305), under the regimental commander Licius. Valerian, Candidus and Aquila had hidden themselves away during the time of the persecution in the Granezond hills, preferring life among the wild beasts over living with the pagans. But there also there were soon found and brought to Granezond. For their bold and steadfast confession of faith in Christ the holy martyrs were whipped with ox thongs, cut at with iron, and then had salt poured on their wounds which then were scorched with fire. Several days later Saint Eugene was also arrested, and subjected to the same tortures. After the tortures they threw the four martyrs into a red?hot oven; when they emerged from it unharmed, they were beheaded. The saints accepted a martyr's death towards the end of the III Century.
The Holy Martyress Agnes was born at Rome during the III Century. Her parents were Christians and they raised her in the precepts of the Christian faith. From her youthful years she devoted herself to God, and decided to dedicate herself to a life of virginity. When she refused to enter into marriage with the son of the city official Symphronius, one of his associates revealed to him that Agnes was a Christian. The wicked governor decided to subject the holy virgin to shame and he gave orders to strip and send her off to an house of harlotry for her insult against the pagan gods. But the Lord would not permit the shaming of the saint -- on her head there instantly grew out her long thick hair covering her body from people; later situated in the house of harlotry the saint shone with an Heavenly light, which blinded the sight of anyone approaching her. The son of the governor, himself having come to dishonour the virgin, fell down dead in merely having touched her hand. But through the fervent prayer of Saint Agnes he was restored to life and before the face of his father and many other people he proclaimed: "There is One God in the heavens and on earth -- the Christian God, and the other gods be but dust and ashes!" In seeing this miracle, 160 men believed in God and were baptised, and then in short order accepted a martyr's death from the pagans.
Saint Agnes, at the demand of the pagan priests, was given over to torture. They tried to burn her in a bon-fire as a witch, but the saint remained unharmed in the fire, praying to God, and after this they killed her with a strike of the sword to the throat. The holy virgin martyress was buried by her parents not far from the city of Rome (in about the year 304).
At the grave of Saint Agnes occurred many a miracle. The relics of Saint Agnes rest at Rome in a church on the outskirts, built in honour of her name, along the Via Nomentana.
The Holy Martyr Anastasias was a student of the Monk Maximos the Confessor, and together with him suffered persecution under the Monothelites. He penned the Vita of his teacher. He died in the year 662.
The Monk Neophytes of Batopedeia was a church warden at the Batopedeia monastery at Athos. One time, having fallen grievously ill, he turned with intense prayer to the MostHoly Mother of God, asking for healing, and he heard a voice from the icon of the Mother of God: "A year of life is given thee, so as to prepare for death". The miraculously healed Neophytes intensified his monastic efforts, preparing himself for the exodus from earthly life. After a year on one of the Sundays, when he was preparing himself to receive the Holy Mysteries of Christ, he again heard the voice from the icon of the Mother of God, that the time of his end was already come, and after communing the Holy Mysteries he expired peacefully to the Lord.
The Monk Maxim the Greek (XV-XVI Centuries), was the son of a rich Greek dignitary in the city of Arta (Albania), and he received a splendid education. In his youth he travelled widely and he studied the languages and sciences (i.e. intellectual disciplines) in the European lands -- he spent time at Paris, Florence, Venice. Upon returning to his native land, he went to Athos and accepted monasticism at the Batopedeia monastery. And with enthusiasm he studied ancient manuscripts, left on Athos by monasticised Byzantine Greek emperors (Andronikos Paleologos and Ioannes Kantakuzenos). During this period the Moscow Greatprince Vasilii Ioannovich (1505-1533) wanted to have insights into the Greek manuscripts and books of his mother, Sophia Paleologa, and he recoursed to the Constantinople patriarch with a request to send him a learned Greek. The Monk Maxim received the commission to go to Moscow. Upon his arrival, he was entrusted to render into Slavonic translation a Commentary on the Psalter, and somewhat later a Commentary on the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and also certain other Divine-service books.
The Monk Maxim tried zealously and accurately to fulfill everything entrusted to him. But in view that Slavonic was not his native language as a translator, there essentially arose certain imprecisions in the translations.
The Metropolitan of Moscow Varlaam highly valued the work of the Monk Maxim. But when the Moscow throne came to be occupied by metropolitan Daniel, the situation changed.
The new metropolitan demanded that the Monk Maxim translate into the Slavonic language the Church history of Theodorit. Maxim the Greek resolutely refused this commission, pointing out that "in this history are included letters of the heretic Arius, and this might present danger for the semi-literate". This refusal caused a rift between the monk and the metropolitan. Despite their differences, the Monk Maxim continued zealously to toil in the field of the spiritual enlightenment of Rus'. He wrote letters against the Mahometans, Papism and the pagans. He translated the Commentaries of Saint John Chrysostom on the Gospels from Matthew to John, and likewise he wrote several works of his own.
When the Greatprince set out to dissolve his marriage with his spouse Solomonia because of her infertility, the dauntless confessor Maxim sent the prince his "Chapters Instructive towards Initiating Right-Belief", in which he persuasively pointed out, that the situation obliged the prince not to yield to beast-like passions. For this they locked up the Monk Maxim in prison. And from this moment there began a new period in the life of the monk, filled with much suffering. Inaccuracies found in his translations were imputed to the Monk Maxim as deliberate and intentional corruptions of the text. It was difficult for the monk in prison, but amidst his sufferings the saint gained also the great mercy of God. An Angel appeared to him and said: "Endure, elder! These torments deliver thee of torments eternal". In prison the monastic starets (elder) wrote in charcoal upon a wall a Canon to the Holy Spirit, which even at present is read in the Church: "Wherefore with manna having sustained Israel in the wilderness of old, and my soul, O Lord-Vladyka, is filled of the All-Holy Spirit, through Which vouchsafe that I shalt serve Thee always..."
After six years the Monk Maxim was set free from prison and sent off under church interdict to Tver. There he lived under the supervision of the good-natured bishop Akakii, who dealt kindly with guiltless sufferer. The monk then wrote his autobiographical work: "Thoughts, by which a Monk in Woe and Imprisoned, did Console and Strengthen himself with Patience". Here are some several words from this vivid text: "Neither grieve, nor sorrow, nor be saddened, beloved soul, of this, that thou hast suffered unjustly, from which it becometh thee to accept all to benefit, and wherefore thou employ it spiritually, proffering it as sustenance, filled of the Holy Spirit..." Only after twenty years of dwelling at Tver did they decide to let the monk live freely, and remove from him the church interdict. The Monk Maxim the Greek spent the final years of his life at the Trinity Sergiev Lavra. He was already about 70 years of age. Oppression and work took their toil on the health of the monk, but his spirits remains vigorous, and he continued on at his work. Together with his cell-attendant and student Nil, the monk with zeal translated the Psalter from Greek into the Slavonic language. Neither oppression nor prison discouraged the Monk Maxim.
The Monk Maxim reposed on 21 January 1556. He was buried at the northwest wall of the Spirit church of the Trinity Sergiev Lavra. Graced manifestations were to no little extent witnessed at the grave of the Monk Maxim, and a tropar and kondak to him was compiled. The image of the Monk Maxim is often depicted on the icon of the Sobor (Assemblage) of Radonezh Saints.
The Batopedeia Icon of the Mother of God is located within the old Batopedeia monastery on Athos, in the church of the Annunciation. It received the appellation of "Batopedeia" from this, that nearby this monastery a young prince named Arkadios fell off a ship into the sea, and by the miraculous intercession of the Mother of God he was carried to shore safe and unharmed. They found him here standing by a bush, not far from the monastery. From this event came the name "Batopedeia" ("batos paidos" -- "shrub of the Lord"). The holy Emperor Theodosius the Great in gratitude for the miraculous deliverance of his son embellished and generously endowed the Batopedeia monastery.
On the Batopedeia Icon, the Mother of God is depicted with face turned towards the right shoulder, in memory that in the year 807 on 21 January, She turned Her face towards the hegumen of the monastery, who was standing at prayer near the holy icon, and forewarned him of the intent of robbers to pillage the monastery. The hegumen took measures of precaution, and the monastery was saved. In memory of this miraculous event in front of the wonderworking icon there burns a perpetual lampada. On Athos this icon is called also "Consolation" ("Otrada") or "Solace" ("Uteshenie").
The Icon of the Mother of God, named the "Stabbed" ("Zaklannaya"), is situated in the Batopedeia monastery on Athos, in a church in honour of Saint Demetrios of Thessalonika, built on next to the cathedral church. The icon was written on canvas, and its name of "The Stabbed" it received from the following instance. A certain ecclesiarch, a deacon of the Batopedeia monastery, was occupied during a long service with the arrangement of the order, and getting delayed, he was late for refectory meal. The annoyed cook reminded him, that it was necessary to come on time. Offended, the deacon flew into such a rage, that he went off again to the church, and standing afront the icon of the Mother of God, he said: "How much time must I put in at serving Thee, O Mother of God? I have toiled, and toiled, and for everything I have nothing to show for it, not even a morsel of bread!". And with these words he struck Her on the cheek with a knife and pierced right through the canvas. From the wound blood splattered, and the face went pallid. The terrified transgressor fell down right in front of the icon, blind, senseless, his limbs went weak, and he was trembling all over, like Cain, the murderer of old. The hegumen, making all-night vigil for mercy and the saving of the hapless one, prayed fervently for him and after three years received news of his forgiveness. And actually, the deacon came to his senses, recovered his sight, and deeply repented of his thoughtless transgression. Settling himself afront the place of the icon stabbed by him, in repentance he spent all the rest of his remaining life before it.
Before the death of the deacon, the Mother of God appeared to him and was gladdened by his repentance, but said, that his impudent hand should undergo censure until the Second Coming of Christ. And when, according to the Athonite custom, after three years time the bones of the dead were uncovered, an astonishing sight struck everyone: all the bones of the repentant culprit were bright, but the impudent hand was decayed and blackened. This hand is kept at the monastery in memory of the unfathomable love of the Mother of God, ready to pardon all the offences borne by Her, both voluntary and involuntary.
The Icon of the Mother of God named "Xenophite Hodegetria": According to tradition, this wonderworking icon from time immemorial was situated at the Athonite Batopedeia monastery, in the cathedral. In the year 1730 from behind closed doors it disappeared not only from the church, but also from the monastery. They found the icon at the Xenophite monastery, a three hour journey from the Batopedeia monastery. Returned to the Batopedeia monastery, the icon was restored to its former place, and the fathers of the monastery took protective measures of precaution for preventing the theft of the icon. But again a second time the icon of the Mother of God left the Batopedeia monastery and appeared at Xenophe. Persuaded of the providential aspect of this event, the brethren of the monastery gave up on returning the icon to their monastery and left it at Xenophe. As a sign of their blessing, the brethren after several years furnished for the icon both tapers and oil.
The "Hodegetria" Icon at Xenophe is situated in the cathedral church, nearby a column of the left kleros-choir, the very same place it occupied at the Batopedeia monastery.