Lives of all saints commemorated on February 24


Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee Beginning of the Lenten Triodion

The Sunday after the Sunday of Zacchaeus is devoted to the Publican and the Pharisee. At Vespers the night before, the TRIODION (the liturgical book used in the services of Great Lent) begins.

Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee who scrupulously observed the requirements of religion: he prayed, fasted, and contributed money to the Temple. These are very good things, and should be imitated by anyone who loves God. We who may not fulfill these requirements as well as the Pharisee did should not feel entitled to criticize him for being faithful. His sin was in looking down on the Publican and feeling justified because of his external religious observances.

The second man was a Publican, a tax-collector who was despised by the people. He, however, displayed humility, and this humility justified him before God (Luke 18:14).

The lesson to be learned is that we possess neither the Pharisee’s religious piety, nor the Publican’s repentance, through which we can be saved. We are called to see ourselves as we really are in the light of Christ’s teaching, asking Him to be merciful to us, deliver us from sin, and to lead us on the path of salvation.


First and second finding of the Honorable Head of the Holy Glorious Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist of the Lord, John

After the Beheading of the Holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John (August 29), his body was buried by disciples in the Samarian city of Sebaste, and his venerable head was hidden by Herodias in an unclean place. St Joanna (June 27), the wife of King Herod’s steward Chuza (Luke 8:3), secretly took the holy head and placed it into a vessel and buried it on the Mount of Olives in one of Herod’s properties.

After many years, this property passed into the possession of a government official who became a monk with the name of Innocent. He built a church and a cell there. When they started to dig the foundation, the vessel with the venerable head of John the Baptist was uncovered. Innocent recognized its great holiness from the signs of grace emanating from it. Thus occurred the First Finding of the Head. Innocent preserved it with great piety, but fearful that the holy relic might be abused by unbelievers, before his own death he again hid it in that same place, where it was found. Upon his death the church fell into ruin and was destroyed.

During the days of St Constantine the Great (May 21), when Christianity began to flourish, the holy Forerunner appeared twice to two monks journeying to Jerusalem on pilgrimage to the holy places, and he revealed the location of his venerable head.

The monks uncovered the holy relic and, placing it into a sack of camel-hair, they proceeded homewards. Along the way they encountered an unnamed potter and gave him the precious burden to carry. Not knowing what he was carrying, the potter continued on his way. But the holy Forerunner appeared to him and ordered him to flee from the careless and lazy monks, with what he held in his hands. The potter concealed himself from the monks and at home he preserved the venerable head with reverence. Before his death he placed it in a water jug and gave it to his sister.

From that time the venerable head was successively preserved by devout Christians, until the priest Eustathius (infected with the Arian heresy) came into possession of it. He beguiled a multitude of the infirm who had been healed by the holy head, ascribing their cures to the fact that it was in the possession of an Arian. When his blasphemy was uncovered, he was compelled to flee. After he buried the holy relic in a cave, near Emesa, the heretic intended to return later and use it for disseminating falsehood. God, however, did not permit this. Pious monks settled in the cave, and then a monastery arose at this place. In the year 452 St John the Baptist appeared to Archimandrite Marcellus of this monastery, and indicated where his head was hidden. This became celebrated as the Second Finding. The holy relic was transferred to Emesa, and later to Constantinople.


Venerable Erasmus of the Kiev Near Caves

Saint Erasmus of the Kiev Caves St Simon, Bishop of Vladimir (May 10), wrote about him to his friend St Polycarp (July 24): “At the Caves was Erasmus the black-robed. He acquired a legacy of fame because he used everything he possessed for the adornment of the monastery church. He donated many icons, which even now may be seen over the altar.

The saint experienced great temptations after he had given away his wealth. The Evil One began to suggest to him that he should have given the money to the poor, rather than spend it on the beautification of the church. St Erasmus did not understand such thoughts, so he fell into despondency and began to live in a careless manner. Because of his former virtue the gracious and merciful God saved him. He sent him a grievous illness, and the monk lay near death.

In this sickness Erasmus lay for seven days, unable to see or speak, and hardly breathing. On the eighth day the brethren came to him and, seeing the difficulty of his approaching death, said, “Woe to the soul of this brother, for he lived in idleness and in sin. Now his soul beholds something and tarries, not having the strength to leave the body.”

Erasmus suddenly got up, as though he had not been ill, and said to the monks, “Fathers and brethren! It is true that I am a sinner, and have not repented, as you said. Today, however, our monastic fathers Anthony and Theodosius have appeared to me, and said: ‘We have prayed for you, and the Lord has given you time for repentance.’ Then I saw the All-Pure Mother of God with Christ in Her arms, and She said to me, ‘Erasmus, since you adorned My Church with icons, I will also adorn you and exalt you in the Kingdom of my Son! Arise, repent, take the angelic schema, and on the third day you will be taken from this life.’

Having said this, Erasmus began to confess his sins before all without shame, then went to church and was clothed in the schema, and on the third day he died.” St Erasmus was buried in the Near Caves. His memory is also celebrated on September 28 and on the second Sunday of Great Lent.