Lives of all saints commemorated on February 20


St Leo the Bishop of Catania in Sicily

Saint Leo was bishop of the city of Catania, in Sicily. He was famed for his benevolence and charity, and his Christian love for the poor and the vagrant. The Lord granted him the gifts of healing various illnesses, and working miracles.

When St Leo was Bishop of Catania, there was a certain sorcerer named Heliodorus, who impressed people with his fake miracles. This fellow was originally a Christian, but then he rejected Christ and became a servant of the devil.

St Leo often urged Heliodorus to repent of his wicked deeds and return to God, but in vain. Once, Heliodorus impudently entered the church where the bishop was serving, and tried to create a disturbance, sowing confusion and temptation by his sorcery.

Seeing the people beset by devils under the sorcer’s spell, St Leo realized that the time for gentle persuasion had passed. He calmly emerged from the altar and, tying his omophorion around the magician’s neck, he led him out of the church into the city square. There he forced Heliodorus to admit to all his wicked deeds. He commanded that a fire be lit, and jumped into the fire with the sorcerer. Thus they stood in the fire until Heliodorus got burnt. St Leo, by the power of God, remained unharmed. This miracle brought St Leo great renown during his lifetime.

When he died, a woman with an issue of blood received healing at his grave. The body of the saint was placed in a church of the holy Martyr Lucy (December 13), which he himself had built. Later on, his relics were transferred into the church of St Martin the Merciful, Bishop of Tours (November 11).


Venerable Agathon the Wonderworker of the Kiev Caves

Saint Agathon of the Kiev Caves was a great ascetic, and he healed the sick by a laying his hands upon them. He also possessed the gift of prophecy and foretold the time of his own death. His memory is celebrated also at the Synaxis of the Monks of the Far Caves on August 28.


Beheading of the Venerable Cornelius the Abbot of the Pskov Caves

The Hieromartyr Cornelius of the Pskov Caves was born in the year 1501 at Pskov into the noble family of Stephen and Maria. In order to give their son an education, his parents sent him to the Pskov Mirozh monastery, where he worked under the guidance of an Elder. He made candles, chopped wood, studied his letters, transcribed and adorned books, and also painted icons. Having finished his studies, Cornelius returned to his parental home with the resolve to become a monk.

Once, the government clerk Misiur Munekhin took Cornelius with him to the Pskov Caves monastery in the woods, which then was in the worst condition of any church in Pskov. The beauty of nature, and the solemnity of services in the cave church produced such a strong impression on Cornelius that he left his parental home forever and received monastic tonsure at the Pskov Caves monastery.

In 1529, at the age of twenty-eight, St Cornelius was made igumen and became head of the monastery. While he was igumen, the Pskov Caves monastery reached its prime. The number of brethren increased from 15 to 200 men. This number of monks was not surpassed under any subsequent head of the monastery.

The activity of St Cornelius extended far beyond the bounds of the monastery. He spread Orthodoxy among the Esti [Aesti]) and Saeti people living around the monastery, he built churches, hospices, homes for orphans and those in need. During a terrible plague in the Pskov region St Cornelius walked through the plague-infested villages to give Communion to the living and to sing burial services for the dead.

During the Livonian war St Cornelius preached Christianity in the occupied cities, built churches, and distributed generous aid from the monastery storerooms to the Esti and Livonians suffering from the war. At the monastery he selflessly doctored and fed the injured and the maimed, preserved the dead in the caves, and inscribed their names in the monastery Synodikon for eternal remembrance.

In the year 1560, on the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, St Cornelius sent a prosphora and holy water as blessing for the Russian armies besieging the city of Thellin. On that very day the Germans surrendered the city.

In 1570 when a See was established in Livonian Yuriev, a certain igumen Cornelius was appointed as Bishop of Yuriev and Velyansk (i.e., Thellin). Some have identified him with St Cornelius, but this does not correspond with actual events.

St Cornelius was a great lover of books, and at the monastery there was quite a collection of books. In 1531 his work entitled, “An Account of the Origin of the Pechersk Monastery” appeared. In the mid-sixteenth century the Pskov Caves monastery took over the tradition of writing chronicles from the Spaso-Eleaszar monastery.

At the start of the chronicles were accounts of the first two Pskov chronicles from 1547 to 1567. Besides this, Igumen Cornelius left behind a great monastery Synodikon for remembering the deceased brothers and benefactors of the monastery, and from the year 1588 he began to maintain the “Stern Book” [“Kormovaya kniga.” Since the rear of a ship is called the stern, the sense of the title is “looking back in remembrance”]. He also compiled a “Description of the Monastery” and a “Description of the Miracles of the Pechersk Icon of the Mother of God.”

St Cornelius expanded and beautified the monastery, he further enlarged the monastery caves, he moved the wooden church of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste beyond the monastery enclosure to the monastery gate, and on its site he built a church in the name of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos in the year 1541. In 1559, he constructed a church dedicated to the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos.

The Caves monastery, on the frontier of the Russian state, was not only a beacon of Orthodoxy, but also a bulwark against the external enemies of Russia.

In 1558-1565, St Cornelius built a massive stone wall around the monastery, and over the holy gates, he built a stone church dedicated to St Nicholas, entrusting the protection of the monastery to him. In the church was a sculpted wooden icon of “Nicholas the Warrior.”

In the chronicle compiled by the hierodeacon Pitirim, the martyric death of St Cornelius was recorded: “This blessed Igumen Cornelius ... was igumen forty-one years and two months. Not only as a monk, but also by his fasting and holy life, he was an image of salvation ... in these times there was much unrest in the Russian land. Finally, the earthly Tsar (Ivan the Terrible) sent him from this corruptible life to the Heavenly King in the eternal habitations, on February 20, 1570, in his 69th year.” (This information is on a ceramic plate, from the ceramics covering the mouth of the tomb of St Cornelius).

In the ancient manuscripts of the Trinity-Sergiev Lavra it was written that Igumen Cornelius came out from the monastery gates with a cross to meet the Tsar. Ivan the Terrible, angered by a false slander, beheaded him with his own hands, but then immediately repented of his deed, and carried the body to the monastery. The pathway made scarlet by the blood of St Cornelius, along which the Tsar carried his body to the Dormition church, became known as the “Bloody Path.” Evidence of the Tsar’s repentance was the generous recompense he made to the Pskov Caves monastery after the death of St Cornelius. The name of the igumen Cornelius was inscribed in the Tsar’s Synodikon.

The body of St Cornelius was set into the wall of “the cave formed by God,” where it remained for 120 years without corruption. In the year 1690, Metropolitan Marcellus of Pskov and Izborsk, had the relics transferred from the cave to the Dormition cathedral church and placed in a new crypt in the wall.

On December 17, 1872 the relics of St Cornelius were transferred from the former tomb into a copper-silver reliquary. They were placed into a new reliquary in 1892. It is presumed that the service to the martyr was composed for the Uncovering of the Relics in the year 1690.


Hieromartyr Sadoc (Sadoth) the Bishop of Persia

The Hieromartyr Sadoc, Bishop of Persia, and 128 Martyrs with him suffered in Persia under Sapor II. St Sadoc was successor of the hieromartyr Simeon (April 17). He once had a dream, in which St Simeon told him of his own impending martyric death. Standing in great glory atop a ladder reaching up to Heaven, St Simeon said, “Ascend to me, Sadoc, and be not afraid. Yesterday I ascended, and today you will ascend.”

Soon the emperor Sapor, renewing the persecution against Christians, ordered that St Sadoc be arrested with his clergy and flock. In all, 128 people were arrested, including nine virgins. They were thrown into prison, where they were cruelly tortured for five months. They were told to renounce the Christian Faith and instead to worship the sun and fire. The holy martyrs bravely answered, “We are Christians and worship the One God.” They were sentenced to beheading by the sword.


128 Martyrs in Persia

The Hieromartyr Sadoc, Bishop of Persia, and 128 Martyrs with him suffered in Persia under Sapor II. St Sadoc was successor of the hieromartyr Simeon (April 17). He once had a dream, in which St Simeon told him of his own impending martyric death. Standing in great glory atop a ladder reaching up to Heaven, St Simeon said, “Ascend to me, Sadoc, and be not afraid. Yesterday I ascended, and today you will ascend.”

Soon the emperor Sapor, renewing the persecution against Christians, ordered that St Sadoc be arrested with his clergy and flock. In all, 128 people were arrested, including nine virgins. They were thrown into prison, where they were cruelly tortured for five months. They were told to renounce the Christian Faith and instead to worship the sun and fire. The holy martyrs bravely answered, “We are Christians and worship the One God.” They were sentenced to beheading by the sword.


St Agathon the Pope of Rome

Saint Agathon, Pope of Rome, was the son of pious Christian parents, who provided him an excellent education. After their death, St Agathon distributed his inheritance to the poor and became a monk. His virtuous life could not remain concealed from people. In 679, he was elected as the Bishop of Rome, and he remained in this position until his death in 682.