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The Martyr Eusignius was born at Antioch in the mid-third century. For sixty years he served in the Roman armies of the emperors Diocletian, Maximian Hercules, Constantius Chlorus, Constantine the Great and his sons. St Eusignius was a companion of St Basiliscus (March 3 and May 22), and he provided an account of his martyrdom. At the beginning of the reign of St Constantine the Great, St Eusignius was a witness to the appearance of the Cross in the sky, a prediction of victory.
St Eusignius retired in his old age from military service and returned to his own country. There he spent his time in prayer, fasting, and attending the church of God. So he lived until the reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363), who yearned for a return to paganism. Through the denunciation of one of the Antiochian citizens, St Eusignius stood trial as a Christian before the emperor Julian in the year 362. He fearlessly accused the emperor of apostasy from Christ, and reproached him with the example of his relative, Constantine the Great, and he described in detail how he himself had been an eyewitness to the appearance of the sign of the Cross in the sky. Julian did not spare the aged St Eusignius, then 110 years old, but ordered him beheaded.
St Job the Gorge-Dweller was a monk of the Solovki monastery (his father was named Patrick Mazovsky). On November 10, 1608 he was ordained as a hieromonk by Metropolitan Isidore of Novgorod. In 1614 St Job was sent to the Mezen frontier, where at the confluence of the Rivers Ezeg and Vazhka into the River Mezen, he set up a chapel in honor of the Nativity of Christ. The first monks to gather around him lived at the homes of their kinsmen, so poor was the monastery. After Tsar Michael Theodorovich (1613-1645) conferred lands with fishing rights, the saint built a church and monastic cells.
On August 5, 1628, when all the brethren were off cutting hay, robbers attacked the monastery. After torturing him to get him to open the monastery treasury, the robbers beheaded St Job. Finding nothing at all, they fled. The brethren upon returning buried the body of the martyr with honor. Local veneration of St Job as a saint of God began soon after his death, because of numerous miracles (in the seventeenth century about fifty were known). The first icon was painted in 1658, and his Life written in the 1660s.
About this time a chapel was built over the relics of the monk. Later, with the blessing of Archbishop Athanasius of Kholmogorsk it was rebuilt as a church in honor of his namesake the Righteous Job the Much-Suffering (May 6). On November 3, 1739 the relics of St Job were witnessed to by Archbishop Barsanuphius, with in evidence the singing of a Molieben to the saint. Thus his glorification was accomplished. In iconography, St Job is depicted in this manner: “Similarly greyed, a beard like St Alexander of Svir, in the garb of the schemamonk, and in his hands a scroll upon which is written: “Fear not those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul” (Mt. 10:28).
Saint Antherus was elected Bishop of Rome in place of St Pontian, and he too soon accepted suffering and death for Christ (+ 236). His successor was St Fabian, who as a presbyter fearlessly gave burial to the bodies of martyrs.
St Fabian loved St Pontius as though he were his own son. St Pontius distributed with St Fabian all his substance on the needs of the poor. After the death of the impious Maximian, the new emperor Gordian (238-244) did not persecute Christians. The emperor Philip (244-249), together with his son and co-regent Philip, was persuaded by the conversations and preaching of St Pontius to believe in Christ and to accept Baptism from St Fabian.
With the permission of the emperors, Sts Pontius and Fabian destroyed the statue of Jupiter in the pagan temple and built a church on this place. For four years the Church of Christ dwelt in peace and tranquility. Then Decius (249-251) ascended the throne, after organizing a rebellion and murdering the emperor Philip and his son.
And during this time St Fabian, Bishop of Rome (+ 250), accepted death for Christ. St Pontius left Rome for the city of Cimelum (on the border of Italy and Gaul) and lived there as a stranger. During the time of the emperor Valerian (253-259), cruel torturers were sent out with full authority to seek out and kill Christians. Thus Claudius and Anubius arrived in the city of Cimelum for this purpose.
St Pontius fearlessly confessed himself a Christian and refused to offer sacrifice to idols. They shackled him in irons and threw him in prison. From the very beginning of the torture the saint calmly admonished the torturers, saying that the Lord would bring the tortureto naught, and they would see the power of God. As soon as the servants attempted to tie St Pontius to the rack, it fell to pieces, and the torturers fell on the ground as though dead.
“Be convinced, O man of little faith, of the power of my Lord,” said St Pontius to Claudius, but on the advice of Anubius he gave St Pontius over to be eaten by two bears in the circus. The wild beasts, while not touching the saint, fell instead upon their keepers and mauled them. The spectators began to shout: “The only God is the Christian God, in Whom Pontius believes.” By order of the torturers a fire was built, but it burned out and the saint remained alive. Not even his clothes were burnt. The crowd shouted all the more strongly: “Great is the God of the Christians!” St Pontius then was sentenced to beheading by the sword, and his execution took place in the year 257. The body of St Pontius was given burial by his friend Valerian.
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Saint Nonna, the mother of St Gregory the Theologian (January 25, 389), was the daughter of Christians named Philotatos and Gorgonia, who raised her in Christian piety. St Nonna was also an aunt of St Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium (November 23).
St Nonna entered into marriage with Gregory of Arianzus (January 1), the rich landowner of an estate in the Arianzus and Nazianzos districts. The marriage was advantageous by earthly considerations, but grievous for the pious soul of Nonna. Her husband Gregory was a pagan, a follower of the sect of the Supremists (Hypsistarii), who venerated a supreme god and observed certain Jewish rituals, while at the same time they worshipped fire.
St Nonna prayed that her spouse would turn to the holy truth. St Nonna’s son, St Gregory the Theologian, wrote about this: “She could not bear this, being half united to God, because he who was part of her remained apart from God. She wanted a spiritual union in addition to the bodily union. Day and night she turned to God with fasting and many tears, entreating Him to grant salvation to her husband.”
Through the prayers of St Nonna, her husband Gregory had a vision in his sleep. “It seemed to my father,” writes St Gregory, “as though he was singing the following verse of David: ‘I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord’ (Ps. 121/122: 1). He had never done this before, though his wife had often offered her supplications and prayers for it.”
The Psalm was strange to him, but along with its words, the desire also came to him to go to church. When she heard about this, St Nonna told her husband that the vision would bring the greatest pleasure if it were fulfilled.
The elder Gregory went to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea, where he made known his conversion to Christ. He was baptized, ordained presbyter, and then Bishop of Nazianzos devoting himself totally to the Church. At the same time as his consecration as bishop, his wife St Nonna was made a deaconness. With the same zeal with which she had raised her children, she now occupied herself in performing works of charity.
“She knew,” says St Gregory the Theologian, “one thing to be truly noble: to be pious and to know from where we have come and where we are going; and that there is one innate and trusty wealth: to use one’s substance on God and on the poor, especially the impoverished kin.
One woman may be distinguished for frugality, and another for piety, while she, difficult as it is to combine both qualities, excelled all others in both of them. In each she attained the height of perfection, and both were combined in her. She did not permit one duty to interfere with the other, but rather each supported the other.
What time and place of prayer ever eluded her? She was drawn to this each day before anything else, and she had complete faith that her prayers would be answered. Although greatly moved by the sorrows of strangers, she never yielded to grief to the extent that she allowed any sound of woe to escape her lips before the Eucharist, or a tear to fall from her eye, or for any trace of mourning to remain on a Feast day, though she repeatedly endured many sorrows. She subjected every human thing to God.
Her final years brought St Nonna many sorrows. In the year 368 her younger son Caesarios died, a young man of brilliant expectations; and in the following year, her daughter died. The brave old woman bore these losses submitting to the will of God.
In the year 370 Bishop Gregory, then already an old man, participated in the consecration of St Basil the Great as Bishop of Caesarea. St Nonna, who was somewhat younger than her husband, was also ready to enter into the next life, but through the prayers of her beloved son her time on earth was prolonged.
“My mother,” wrote her son, “ was always strong and vigorous, and free from sickness all her life, but then she became ill. Because of much distress... caused by her inability to eat, her life was in danger for many days, and no cure could be found. How then did God sustain her? He did not send down manna, as for Israel of old; He did not split open a rock, in order to provide water for the thirsty people; not did He send food by ravens, as with Elias, nor did He feed her..., as He once fed Daniel, who felt hunger in the pit. But how?”
It seemed to her that I, her favorite son (not even in dreams did she prefer anyone else), had appeared to her suddenly by night with a basket of the whitest bread. Then I blessed these loaves with the Sign of the Cross, as is my custom, and I gave her to eat, and with this her strength increased.”
St Nonna believed the vision was real. She became stronger, and more like her old self.
St Gregory visited her early the next morning and, as usual, asked what sort of night she had, and if she required anything. She replied, “My son, you have fed me and now you ask about my health. I am well.” At this moment her maids made signs to me that I should not contradict her, but to accept her words so that the actual truth should not distress her.”
Early in the year 374 the hundred-year-old St Gregory the Elder reposed. After this, St Nonna almost never emerged from the church. Soon after his death, she died at prayer in the temple on August 5, 374.
St Nonna was a model wife and mother, a remarkable woman who devoted her life to God and the Church without neglecting her other responsibilities. Because of her spiritual, social, and domestic concerns, St Nonna would be a most fitting patron for Orthodox women’s organizations.
Saint Theoctistus, Bishop of Chernigov, before assuming the episcopal office, pursued an ascetic life at the Kiev Caves monastery. He was one of the great Elders, healing St Nikita, the future Bishop of Novgorod (January 31), by his prayers.
In the year 1103 St Theoctistus was made igumen of the Kiev Caves monastery. In the year 1108 he built a stone trapeza (dining hall) through the generosity of the pious prince Gleb Vseslavich. St Theoctistus particularly insisted that the name of St Theodosius (May 3) be included in the Synodikon of the saints of all Russia.
On February 11, 1110, there was a heavenly apparition at the Caves monastery. A pillar of fire appeared, stretching from the ground to the sky, and lightning lighted up all the earth, At the first hour of the night, there was a crash of thunder. The fiery pillar stood over the stone trapeza so that its cross was not visible. Later, it proceeded to the church and settled over the grave of St Theodosius, and then, turning to the East, it disappeared.
“This was not a pillar of fire, but rather an angelic face,” wrote St Nestor the Chronicler, “because an angel appears thus when there is a pillar of fire, a flaming, as says the Prophet David: Who makes His angels spirits and His servants flames of fire” (Ps. 103 : 4).
In the year 1113, St Theoctistus was consecrated Bishop of Chernigov. The Hieromartyr Monk Kuksha (August 27), enlightening the Vyatichi at this time, belonging to the Chernigov diocese. On May 2, 1115 St Theoctistus participated in the transfer of the relics of holy Princes Boris and Gleb to Vyshgorod, and later in Chernigov near his cathedral he consecrated a church in the name of the holy Princes Boris and Gleb, built in the year 1120 by Prince David of Chernigov. And to the noble Prince Passion-Bearers Boris and Gleb the saint made a sermon on the day of their memory. On August 6, 1123, the Feast of the Transfiguration, St Theoctistus died, and because of the feastday, his memory is kept on August 5.
On one of the lists of the Saints it is said, that he was buried at the Caves monastery. St Theoctistus is also commemorated on September 28, when he is remembered in the 9th ode of the Canon of the Synaxis of the Monastic Fathers of the Near Caves.
The Martyr Pontius lived during the third century, the son of the pagan Roman senator Marcus and his wife Julia. While with child, Julia had gone with her husband to the temple of Jupiter. The devil, inhabiting the temple, shouted through the lips of the pagan priest that the boy in Julia’s womb would destroy Jupiter and his pagan temple. When the boy was born, his mother wanted to kill him out of fear of the prediction, but his father opposed this and the child was left to live. He was named Pontius, and he grew up sharp of mind and eager for study.
On his way to the pagan school Pontius happened to go past a house, where Christians were attending the morning services. Hearing the words of the Psalm which the Christians were singing: “the idols of the heathen are silver and gold, the works of men’s hands” (Ps. 114/115: 4 and Ps. 134 /135: 15 ). Pontius became very interested in this verse and he paused at the gate.
St Pontian, who was celebrating the service, invited Pontius and his companion Valerian to come in. After the service, the bishop talked for a long while with the youths, revealing to them the Gospel teachings, and after a certain while he baptized them. St Pontius, in turn, converted his father to Christ, whom St Pontian also baptized, together with his whole household.
After the death of his father, St Pontius, then 20 years old, was appointed by the emperor Alexander Severus (222-235) as a senator, to take the place of his deceased father. In the Senate and the surroundings of the emperor, St Pontius enjoyed universal esteem for his good nature, sound sense and fairness. Under the successor to the emperor Alexander Severus, Maximian (235-238), St Pontian finished his life as a martyr.
Saint Oswald was born around 605, the second of the seven sons of the Anglo-Saxon king Aethelfrith, who was the first ruler to unite the provinces of Bernicia and Deira into the kingdom of Northumbria.
King Edwin of Deira refused to accept the Bernician control of both provinces, so he attempted a coup while Aethelfrith was away in the north. Edwin was defeated and driven into exile. When Aethelfrith was killed later, Edwin became King of Northumbria.
Oswald’s mother Acha (Edwin’s sister) fled to Ireland (then called Scotland) with her children. It is believed that during his seventeen years of exile, St Oswald received Christian baptism at Iona and also learned the Gaelic language.
Edwin was killed in 633 while fighting King Penda of Mercia and King Caedwalla of Cwynedd (North Wales). Eanfrith, Oswald’s older brother, returned to paganism and was killed in battle against Caedwalla. Now Oswald had to lead the struggle against the Britons.
In 634 Oswald assembled an army and prepared to meet the forces of Penda and Caedwalla at Heavenfield (Hefenfelth) near the Roman Wall seven miles north of Hexham. On the eve of the battle, St Oswald set up a great wooden cross on the field. With his own hands, the king steadied the cross while his men filled in the hole which had been dug to receive it. Although only a few of his men were Christians, Oswald ordered the army to kneel and pray to the true and living God to grant them victory.
“Let us now kneel down and pray to the omnipotent and only true God, that He will mercifully defend us from our proud enemy,” he told them, “for He knows that we fight in a just war in defense of our lives and our country.”
A modern replica of this cross now stands on the site, near the church of St Oswald.
The night before the battle, King Oswald had a vision of St Columba of Iona (June 9), who stretched his cloak over the sleeping soldiers and promised that the Saxon army would defeat Caedwalla the next day. Following the battle, Oswald established his supremacy in Northumbria and his right to the title of Bretwalda (High King of England). He was godfather to King Cynegils of Wessex at his baptism, and married his daughter of in 635. By 637, Oswald’s authority was recognized by almost everyone.
For the next five years Britain was blessed with a rare period of stability. While governing his earthly realm, St Oswald also labored to attain a heavenly crown and to bring his people into the Kingdom of God. Turning to the Celtic monks of Iona, rather than the Roman clergy at Canterbury, Oswald invited missionaries to proclaim the Gospel to his subjects. The first bishop sent to lead the mission proved unsuitable, for he alienated many people by his harshness. The bishop was recalled, and an ideal candidate was found to replace him.
St Aidan (August 31) was consecrated bishop and sent to Northumbria to take charge of the mission. King Oswald gave him the island of Lindisfarne near the royal residence of Bamburg for his episcopal see. St Aidan also founded the famous monastery on Lindisfarne.
Since Bishop Aidan was not yet fluent in the Anglo-Saxon tongue, St Oswald would accompany him on his missionary journeys. The king translated the bishop’s words and explained the Word of God to his subjects, playing an active role in the evangelization of his kingdom. People flocked to receive baptism, drawn partly by Aidan’s preaching, and partly by King Oswald’s example of godliness and virtue.
St Oswald was a devout and sincere Christian who was often seen sitting with his hands resting palms upwards on his knees in a gesture of prayer. He granted land and money for the establishment of monasteries, and he was famous for his generosity to the poor.
One year, after attending the services of Pascha, King Oswald sat down to a meal with Bishop Aidan. Just as the bishop was about to bless the food, a servant came in and informed the king that a great number of needy folk were outside begging for alms. The king ordered that his own food be served to the poor on silver platters, and that the silver serving dishes be broken up and distributed to them.There is a charming illustration of this incident in the thirteenth century Berthold Missal in New York’s Pierpont Morgan Library (Morgan MS 710, fol. 101v). Aidan, deeply moved by St Oswald’s charity, took him by the right hand and said, “May this hand never perish.” According to tradition, St Oswald’s hand remained incorrupt for centuries after his death. St Bede (May 27) says that the hand was kept in the church of St Peter at Bamburgh, where it was venerated by all. The present location of the hand, if it still survives, is not known.
St Oswald was killed in battle against the superior forces of King Penda on August 5, 642 at a place called Maserfield. He was only thirty-eight years old. Before his death, St Oswald prayed for the souls of his soldiers.This has become almost proverbial: “‘O God, be merciful to their souls,’ said Oswald when he fell.”
Some identify the battle site with Oswestry (Oswald’s tree, or cross) in Shropshire, but this seems an unlikely place for a battle between Mercians and Northumbrians. Others believe that Lichfield is the probable site. Lichfield means “field of the body,” and was founded by Oswald’s brother Oswy. The city was an archbishopric for seventeen years under Offa, who had a particular veneration for St Oswald.
Following the Battle of Maserfield, St Oswald’s body was dismembered, and his head and arms were displayed on poles. Many miraculous healings took place at the site of the battle. This is not surprising, for during his lifetime St Oswald always helped the sick and the needy. Pilgrims took earth from the place where St Oswald fell, and many sick people were healed by mixing some of the dust with water and drinking it.
A year after his death, St Oswald’s arms were brought to Bamburgh by Oswy, and his head was brought to Lindisfarne. There the grief-stricken Bishop Aidan interred it in the monastery church.
According to William of Malmesbury (twelfth century), St Oswald is the first English saint whose relics worked miracles. Portions of his relics were distributed to several churches in England in in Europe. Today St Oswald’s head is in Durham Cathedral in St Cuthbert’s coffin, but the rest of his relics seem to have been lost.
In December of 1069 a clergyman named Earnan had a vision of Sts Cuthbert (March 20) and Oswald. He described the king as being clad in a scarlet cloak, tall in stature, with a thin beard and boyish face. This is recorded by the historian Simeon of Durham.
In the Middle Ages, devotion to St Oswald spread from Britain to Spain, Italy, and Germany. Unfortunately, the fame of this most Christian king is somewhat obscured today, and his popularity diminished after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Before that, the Danish invaders destroyed many Anglo-Saxon political and legal institutions, as well as written records and oral traditions which had been preserved in the monasteries.
Though King Alfred the Great and even William the Conquerer were anxious to link themselves with St Oswald, the kings who reigned after the Conquest were less inclined to associate themselves to St Oswald’s reputation as king. For three centuries the Norman kings of England spoke French, which became the language of the court, and they showed little interest in English history.
There were significant changes to the monastic culture after the Conquest as well. A number of monks were brought over from France, and they began to populate the English monasteries. By this time the English Church had become more solidly allied with Rome, and the old Celtic traditions began to disappear.
St Oswald deserves to be better known, but he has not been completely forgotten. There are over sixty churches dedicated to him in England, and his name is also associated with several place names and holy wells.
St Oswald is also commemorated on June 20 (the Transfer of his Relics).
Saint John the Chozebite, the son of Maxim and Catherine Jacob, was born July 23, 1913 in the Horodistea district of Moldavia. He was named for the holy prophet Elias (July 20). In 1914, his father died in the war, and his mother succumbed to a disease, leaving Elias as an orphan. His grandmother Maria raised him until he was eleven. She was a nun, so she was able to educate him in spiritual matters. She died in 1924, so young Elias went to live with other relatives. He had a great love for Christ and His Church, and longed for the monastic life.
He entered Neamts Monastery on August 15, 1933 when he was twenty years old. Here his soul was nourished by the beauty of the services, the experienced spiritual instructors, and the silence of the mountains. The young monk loved prayer, vigils, spiritual reading, and solitude, and soon he surpassed many experienced monks in obedience, humility, and patience. Seeing his great love for spiritual books, the igumen made him the monastery’s librarian. Elias gave comfort to many of the brethren by recommending specific books for each one to read. Then he would advise them to read the book carefully, make their confession, and not miss the services if they wanted to find peace.
His spiritual efforts attracted the notice of Archimandrite Valerie Moglan, who recommended that Elias be permitted to receive monastic tonsure. He was tonsured on April 8, 1936 and received the name John. From that time, the young monk intensified his spiritual efforts, conquering the temptations of the demons, and progressing on the path of salvation.
St John made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with two other monks in 1936, and they decided to remain there. The monk Damascene fell ill, however,
and had to be taken back to Romania by the monk Claudius after eight months.
At first, St John lived in Bethlehem near St Sava’s Monastery. Romanian monks had lived at St Sava’s since the sixteenth century, and John struggled there for almost ten years. He was made librarian of the monastery, and he fulfilled this obedience for about seven years.
In 1945 St John longed for the peace and solitude of the desert, and so he went to live as a hermit. He was ordained as a priest in 1947, and became igumen of the Romanian Skete of St John the Baptist by the Jordan. Pilgrims often came to him for Confession, Communion, and consolation. In his free time he composed religious poems and hymns.
After five years, he and his disciple went into the desert of Chozeba near Jehrico. Here they lived in asceticism for eight years in the cave where, according to Tradition, St Anna had prayed.
St John Jacob died on August 5, 1960 at the age of forty-seven and was buried in his cave. On August 8, 1980 his relics were found incorrupt and fragrant. They now rest in the St George the Chozebite Monastery.
In 1968 and 1970, St John’s book SPIRITUAL NOURISHMENT was published in two volumes, with the blessing of Patriarch Benedict of Jerusalem.
St John Jacob was glorified by the Romanian Orthodox Church in 1992.
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