Lives of all saints commemorated on February 23


Hieromartyr Polycarp the Bishop of Smyrna

Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who was “fruitful in every good work” (Col. 1:10), was born in the first century, and lived in Smyrna in Asia Minor. He was orphaned at an early age, but at the direction of an angel, he was raised by the pious widow Kallista. After the death of his adoptive mother, Polycarp gave away his possessions and began to lead a chaste life, caring for the sick and the infirm. He was very fond of and close to St Bucolus, Bishop of Smyrna (February 6). He ordained Polycarp as deacon, entrusting to him to preach the Word of God in church. He also ordained him to the holy priesthood.

The holy Apostle John the Theologian was still alive at this time. St Polycarp was especially close to St John, and sometimes accompanied him on his apostolic journeys.

Shortly before his death, St Bucolus expressed his wish that Polycarp be made Bishop of Smyrna. When St Polycarp was consecrated as a bishop, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him. St Polycarp guided his flock with apostolic zeal, and he was also greatly loved by the clergy. St Ignatius the God-Bearer of Antioch (December 20) also had a high regard for him. Setting out for Rome where execution awaited him, he wrote to St Polycarp, “This age is in need of you if it is to reach God, just as pilots need winds, and as a storm-tossed sailor needs a port.”

The emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180) came to the Roman throne and started up a most fierce persecution against Christians. The pagans demanded that the judge search for St Polycarp, “the father of all the Christians” and “the seducer of all Asia.”

During this time St Polycarp, at the persistent urging of his flock, stayed in a small village not far from Smyrna. When the soldiers came for him, he went out to them and invited them in to eat. He asked for time to pray, in order to prepare himself for martyrdom. His suffering and death are recorded in the “Epistle of the Christians of the Church of Smyrna to the Other Churches,” one of the most ancient memorials of Christian literature.

Having been brought to trial, St Polycarp firmly confessed his faith in Christ, and was condemned to be burned alive. The executioners wanted to nail him to a post, but he declared that God would give him the strength to endure the flames, so they could merely tie him with ropes. The flames encircled the saint but did not touch him, coming together over his head in the shape of a vault. Seeing that the fire did him no harm, the pagans stabbed him with a dagger. So much blood flowed from this wound that it extinguished the flames. The body of the hieromartyr Polycarp was then cremated. The Christians of Smyrna reverently gathered up what remained of his holy relics, and each year they celebrated the day of his martyrdom.

A story has been preserved about St Polycarp by his disciple, St Irenaeus of Lyons, which Eusebius cites in his ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY (V, 20):

“I was still very young when I saw you in Asia Minor at Polycarp’s,” writes St Irenaeus to his friend Florinus, “but I would still be able to point out the place where Blessed Polycarp sat and conversed, and be able to depict his walk, his mannerisms in life, his outward appearance, his speaking to people, his companionable wandering with John, and how he himself related, together with other eyewitnesses of the Lord, those things that he remembered from the words of others. He also told what he heard from them about the Lord, His teachings and miracles....

Through the mercy of God to me, I then already listened attentively to Polycarp and wrote down his words, not on tablets, but in the depths of my heart. Therefore, I am able to bear witness before God, that if this blessed and apostolic Elder heard something similar to your fallacy, he would immediately stop up his ears and express his indignation with his usual phrase: ‘Good God! That Thou hast permitted me to be alive at such a time!’”

During his life the holy bishop wrote several Epistles to the flock and letters to various individuals. The only one that has survived to the present day is his Epistle to the Philippians which, St Jerome testifies, was read in the churches of Asia Minor at divine services. It was written by the saint in response to the request of the Philippians to send them some letters of the hieromartyr Ignatius (December 20) which St Polycarp had in his possession.

The composer H.I.F. Bibier (1644-1704) has written a Sonata “Scti Polycarpi” for eight trumpets in honor of the holy martyr.


Venerable Polycarp of Briansk

Saint Polycarp of Briansk In the world, he was Prince Peter Ivanovich Boryatinsky, a descendant of St Michael, Prince of Chernigov (September 20). This supposition has been put forward because Boryatinsky is connected with the destiny of the Briansk Savior Transfiguration monastery.

The name of Prince Peter Boryatinsky is often encountered in documents of the sixteenth century. Thus, he was among those sent off to wage war against the Swedish king at the river Sestra. In 1576, he was named voevod at Tula. In 1580, Boryatinsky, having been appointed voevod at Kholm, was captured by the Lithuanians under a siege headed by Panin. Upon his release from captivity under Boris Godinov, Boryatinsky returned home in disgrace.

In 1591 he was named voevod at Tiumen, but after several years he left the world, settled at Briansk and received monastic tonsure with the name Polycarp. From his means the monk built a monastery of the Transfiguration of the Lord and established in it a Rule of strict ascetical life. St Polycarp was the first Superior of this monastery. He died and was buried there in 1620 or 1621.


Venerable John, Ascetic of the Syrian Deserts

Saint John, disciple of St Limnaeus (February 22), lived in Syria in the fifth century, and chose for himself the ascetic struggle of “a shelterless life.” He settled on a hill, sheltered from the wind on all sides, and lived there for twenty-five years. He ate only bread and salt, and he exhausted his body under heavy chains. When one of the nearby ascetics planted an almond tree on the hill so that St John could enjoy its shade and get out of the vicious heat, the saint told him to cut it down. This he did in order to deny his body any respite.


Venerable Antiochus, Ascetic of the Syrian Deserts

Sts Antiochus and Antoninus also lived in asceticism with St John. They continued their ascetical struggles until they reached an advanced age, offering an example of spiritual strength, and overcoming every obstacle.


Venerable Antoninus, Ascetic of the Syrian Deserts

Sts Antoninus and Antiochus also lived in asceticism with St John. They continued their ascetical struggles until they reached an advanced age, offering an example of spiritual strength, and overcoming every obstacle.


Venerable Moses, Ascetic of the Syrian Deserts

St Moses lived in Syria in the fifth century.Iimitating St John, he settled on a high mountain near the village of Rama. He was a disciple of St Polychronius, and lived with him. Emulating his Elder in everything, St Moses was the very model of an austere ascetical life.


Venerable Zebinas, Ascetic of the Syrian Deserts

St Zebinas lived in Syria during the fifth century. He lived an ascetical life on the same mountain as St Moses. He never sat down during his Rule of prayer, but sometimes he leaned on his staff. The neighboring inhabitants venerated St Zebinas, and they received great help in their sorrows and needs through his prayers.

He reached a great old age, then departed to the Lord.


Venerable Polychronius, Ascetic of the Syrian Deserts

Saint Polychronius lived in Syria in the fifth century. He was the disciple of St Zebinas, and imitated the life of his Elder, spending both day and night in fasting and vigil. St Polychronius had no chains, but he dug up a heavy oaken root from the earth and carried it on his shoulders when he prayed. St Polychronius asked God to send rain during a drought, and he filled up a stone vessel with oil for the needy.


Venerable Moses, Ascetic of the Syrian Deserts

Saint Moses settled on a high mountain near the village of Rama. He was a disciple of St Polychronius. Emulating his Elder in everything, St Moses was the very model of austere ascetical life.

St Moses died in Syria in the fifth century.


Venerable Damian, Ascetic of the Syrian Deserts

Saint Damian lived in Syria in the fifth century. He withdrew to a monastery named Ieros and lived there in asceticism. In his cell he had only a small box of lentils from which he ate.


Venerable Alexander the founder of the Monastery, of the “Unsleeping Ones”

Saint Alexander, Founder of the Monastery of the “Unsleeping Ones,” was born in Asia and received his education at Constantinople. He spent some time in military service but, sensing a calling to other service, he left the world and receivedmonastic tonsure in one of the desert monasteries near Antioch under the guidance of Igumen Elias.

Having advanced through all the degrees of monastic obedience, he received a blessing from the igumen to dwell in the wilderness. The saint lived an ascetical life in the wilderness, taking only the Holy Gospel with him. Afterwards, the Lord summoned him to preach to pagans. He converted to the faith the local city-head Rabbul, who afterwards prospered in the service of the Church, attaining the rank of bishop and for thirty years he occupied the bishop’s cathedra in the city of Edessa.

Finally, St Alexander settled not far from the Euphrates River. Monks gathered around him, attracted by the loftiness of his prayerful asceticism and spiritual experience. A monastery of 400 monks eventually sprang up there.

Then the holy igumen in his prayerful zeal decided to offer never-ceasing praise to the Lord at the monastery both by day and by night. For three years the holy abba prayed that God might reveal to him whether it was pleasing to Him to establish such a monastic rule. He received an answer by divine revelation. All the monks were divided into twenty-four watches of prayer. Changing shifts each hour, two choirs sang the holy Psalms both day and night, except when divine services were celebrated in church. Hence the name “Monastery of Unsleeping Ones,” since the ascetics offered unceasing praise to God.

St Alexander guided the monastery on the Euphrates for twelve years. Thereafter, having left the experienced Elder Trophimus as igumen, he set off with some chosen brethren through the cities bordering on Persia, to preach the Gospel. Having arrived at Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, he also established a monastery there with his Rule of unceasing praise. The abba died at a great old age after fifty years of monastic struggles. His death occurred in the year 430.

St Alexander is also commemorated on July 3.


Venerable Damian of Esphigmenou of Mt Athos

Saint Damian lived in the thirteenth century. He was a hesychast on Mt. Athos, and struggled in the skete of Esphigmenou monastery, on a mountain called Samareia, between the monasteries of Hilandar and Esphigmenou, and also in one of the caves where the Father of Russian Monasticism, St Anthony of the Caves (July 10), had lived in asceticism.

Known for his ascetic life and for the miracles he performed, he was truly obedient and kept the injunctions of the Fathers.

St Damian reposed in his cell in the year 1280, and a miraculous fragrance issued from his grave for forty days. His Life was written by his friend St Cosmas of Zographou Monastery (September 22).


Monkmartyr Damian of Philotheou

Saint Damian of Philotheou was a disciple of St Dometius (August 7). He was from the village of Richovon (Merichovon) near Agrapha. He went to Mt. Athos when he was quite young, and received the monastic tonsure at Philotheou Monastery. After spending some time there, he withdrew to a hermitage under the guidance of an Elder named Dometius.

After three years, he heard a voice telling him to go forth and teach. He obeyed these instructions, preaching in many areas of Greece. He urged his fellow Christians to repent of their sins, to abstain from all vices, to obey God’s commandments, and to devote themselves to God-pleasing works.

As he was on his way to a village, St Damian was arrested by the Turks and thrown into prison. After fifteen days of torture, he was hanged and then thrown into a fire.

St Damian received the crown of martyrdom on February 23, 1568.


New Hieromartyr Nicholas (Dmitrov) of Tver

No information available at this time.


St Gorgonia, sister of St Gregory the Theologian

Saint Gorgonia, The sister of St Gregory the Theologian, she was distinguished for her great virtue, piety, meekness, sagacity, and toil. Her house was a haven for the poor. The mother of five children, she died around the year 372 at the age of thirty-nine. Her last words were, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep” (Psalm 4:8).