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The Hieromartyr Autonomus was a bishop in Italy. During the time of the persecution against Christians under the emperor Diocletian (284-305), St Autonomus left his own country and resettled in Bithynia, in the locality of Soreus with a man named Cornelius. St Autonomus did his apostolic duty with zeal and converted to Christ so many pagans, that a large Church was formed, for which he consecrated a temple in the name of the Archangel Michael. For this church, the saint at first ordained Cornelius as deacon, and then presbyter. Preaching about Christ, St Autonomus visited also Lykaonia and Isauria.
The emperor Diocletian gave orders to arrest St Autonomus, but the saint withdrew to Claudiopolis on the Black Sea. In returning to Soreus, he had the priest Cornelius ordained bishop. St Autonomus then went to Asia, and when he had returned from there, he began to preach in the vicinity of Limna, near Soreus.
Once, the newly-converted destroyed a pagan temple. The pagans decided to take revenge on the Christians. Seizing their chance, the pagans rushed upon the church of the Archangel Michael when St Autonomus was serving Divine Liturgy there. After torturing St Autonomus they killed him, reddening the altar of the church with his martyr’s blood. The deaconess Maria removed the body of the holy martyr from beneath a pile of stones and buried it.
During the reign of St Constantine the Great, a church was built over the tomb of the saint. In the year 430, a certain priest had the old church pulled down. Not realizing that the martyr’s body had been buried beneath the church, he rebuilt the church in a new spot. But after another 60 years the relics of the saint were found incorrupt, and a church was then built in the name of the Hieromartyr Autonomus.
St Bassian of Tiksnensk [Totemsk] (in the world Basil) was a peasant from the village of Strelitsa (by other accounts, from the village of Burtsevo), near the city of Totma, and he was by trade a tailor. Leaving his family, he became a monk under St Theodosius of Totemsk in the Sumorinsk monastery at the River Sukhona, where he spent several years in works and obediences.
In 1594, the monk resettled not far from Totma, at the River Tiksna, near a church named for St Nicholas the Wonderworker. At first he lived at the church portico, but then he made himself a cell near the church. The monk visited at each divine service. For thirty years he wore chains on his body: on his shoulders a heavy chain, on his loins an iron belt, and on his head beneath his head covering an iron cap.
Yearning for solitude, the monk admitted no one to his cell, except his spiritual Father. He lived by the alms which they put by his small window. St Bassian died on September 12, 1624. Only at burial was it discovered how much he had humbled his flesh.
At the place of St Bassian’s ascetic struggles a monastery was established in honor of the Icon of the Savior Not-Made-by-Hands. Veneration of St Bassian began in the year 1647, when during a deadly plague, many received healing at his tomb. The Life of the monk was written in the year 1745 by the igumen Joseph.
Saint Simeon of Verkhoturye was a nobleman, but he concealed his origin and led the life of a beggar. He walked through the villages and for free sewed half-coats and other clothes, primarily for the poor. While doing this he deliberately failed to sew something, either a glove, or a scarf, for which he endured abuse from his customers.
The ascetic wandered much, but most often he lived at a churchyard of the village of Merkushinsk not far from the city of Verkhoturye (on the outskirts of Perm). St Simeon loved nature in the Urals, and while joyfully contemplated its majestic beauty, he would raise up a thoughtful glance towards the Creator of the world. In his free time, the saint loved to go fishing in the tranquility of solitude. This reminded him of the disciples of Christ, whose work he continued, guiding the local people in the true Faith. His conversations were a seed of grace, from which gradually grew the abundant fruits of the Spirit in the Urals and in Siberia, where the saint is especially revered.
St Simeon of Verkhoturye died in 1642, when he was 35 years of age. He was buried in the Merkushinsk graveyard by the church of the Archangel Michael.
On September 12, 1704, with the blessing of Metropolitan Philotheus of Tobolsk, the holy relics of St Simeon were transferred from the church of the Archangel Michael to the Verkhoturye monastery in the name of St Nicholas.
St Simeon worked many miracles after his death. He frequently appeared to the sick in dreams and healed them, and he brought to their senses those fallen into the disease of drunkenness. A peculiarity of the saint’s appearances was that with the healing of bodily infirmities, he also gave instruction and guidance for the soul.
The memory of St Simeon of Verkhoturye is celebrated also on December 18, on the day of his glorification (1694).
The Holy Martyr Julian lived during the fourth century not far from the ancient city of Ancyra. A report was made to the governor of the district of Galatia that the Presbyter Julian was hiding in a certain cave with forty others of the same persuasion, and that he was celebrating divine services there. They arrested St Julian and demanded that he reveal where the remaining Christians were hidden, but he refused.
The pagans ordered the holy priest to offer sacrifice to their gods, but he would not consent to this, either. Then they stripped him and placed him on a red-hot iron grate. The martyr signed himself with the Sign of the Cross, and an angel of the Lord cooled the flame. St Julian remained unharmed.
When the governor asked who he was and how he had quenched the fire, the martyr said: “I am a servant of God.” The torturers brought forth an old woman, the mother of the saint, and they threatened her that if she did not persuade her son to offer sacrifice to idols, then they would torture her. The brave woman answered that if they defiled her body against her will, this would not make her guilty of sin before God. On the contrary, it would constitute an act of martyrdom.
The humiliated torturers sent the old woman away, but they condemned St Julian to death. In his prayer the saint gave fervent thanks to God and asked that he be given strength to endure the sufferings. St Julian also asked a special grace from God: that those who take earth from the place of his burial be granted forgiveness of sins and deliverance from passions, and that harmful insects and birds might not descend upon their fields.
Commending himself to God with the words: “Lord, accept my spirit in peace!” the martyr bent his neck beneath the sword, and a Voice summoned the martyr to the Heavenly Kingdom. This Voice was heard also by those Christians who had hidden themselves in the cave. Emboldened, they come forth to the place of St Julian’s sufferings, but they found him already dead. They all confessed themselves to be Christians, and they were arrested and brought to the governor, who ordered them beheaded.
These forty Christians endured martyrdom with St Julian of Galatia in the fourth century. The governor of the district of Galatia was informed that St Julian and forty others were hiding in a certain cave, and sent men to arrest them. When they arrived at the cave, they found only Julian, who refused to tell them where the others were hiding.
When Julian refused to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, he was tortured and then beheaded. The forty Christians heard a Voice summoning the martyr to the Heavenly Kingdom. Emboldened, they come forth to the place of St Julian’s sufferings, but they found him already dead. They all confessed themselves to be Christians, and they were arrested and brought to the governor, who ordered them beheaded.
This StTheodore of Alexandria is not the same person as St Theodore the Bishop of Alexandria (December 3).
Today’s saint was a simple Christian who was thrown into prison for confessing Christ. Later, he was tortured and thrown into the sea, but remained unharmed.
St Theodore was beheaded and buried in Alexandria.
The Hieromartyr Coronatus, Bishop of Nicomedia [Iconium], suffered for Christ in the persecution of Decius and Valerian (253-259) in the third century. The governor of Iconium, Perennius, through his interrogations and persecution, forced Christians to go into hiding. St Coronatus voluntarily appeared before Perennius. The torturers tightly bound the legs of the bishop with thin cords and led him through the city. The hieromartyr underwent excruciating sufferings, and blood flowed from the wounds on his legs, because the cords dug into his flesh. After terrible tortures, Bishop Coronatus was beheaded.
Saint Athanasius of Serpukhov (in the world Andrew) was born at Obonezh Pyatina into the family of the priest Auxentius and his wife Maria. He was, from youth, inclined towards prayer and renunciation of the world, and he sought a worthy guide in monastic labors.
At this time, news of St Sergius of Radonezh had already spread throughout the whole of Rus. The monastery of the Life-Creating Trinity at Makovets had become for everyone a luminous model of monastic organization. Here in the monastery, the cenobitic life transformed “the hateful discord of this world,” creating an oneness of spirit in an unity of love based on the example of the Divine Trinity Itself. The youth Andrew went from the outskirts of Novgorod to Abba Sergius at Makovets, following in his footsteps in search of spiritual perfection.
Named Athanasius in monasticism, in honor of St Athanasius the Great, the disciple and copier of the Life of St Anthony the Great, the founder of Egyptian monasticism. St Athanasius in turn became a worthy disciple of the great Igumen Sergius, the Father and teacher of Russian monasticism.
The disciples of St Sergius, in addition to the usual monastic obediences, received the holy abba’s blessing for special church services: copying books, painting icons, buildin churches. This added a genuine churchly quality to life, imparting churchly beauty and hymnology, a liturgical transfiguration of God’s world.
The favourite obedience of Abba Athansios, which he imposed upon himself, was copying books. The holy books were regarded by the Fathers as on the same level as the holy icons, the most important way to impart churchly ideas, those of theological and liturgical creativity.
The school of St Sergius, revealing to the Russian and to the Universal Church the whole extent of theological experiential knowledge of the Holy Trinity, is closely connected with the flourishing of church literature, with the necessity of interactive enrichment of the Russian Church by the literary works of the Byzantine Church and its theologians, and by the deep spiritual experience of the Russian ascetics.
In the year 1374, the Serpukhov prince Vladimir Andreevich the Brave, a colleague of Demetrius of the Don , turned to St Sergius with a request to found a monastery on his lands. Abba Sergius came to Serpukhov with his beloved disciple Athanasius, and having established the monastery of the Conception of the Most Holy Theotokos, he blessed St Athanasius to organize it, and then to be its igumen.
The monastery of St Athanasius was built near the city of Serpukhov, on the high bank of the River Nara. They therefore called it “Vysotskoi” [“of the heights”]. Hence also its title, with which entered into Russian Church history its founder and first igumen, St Athanasius of Vysotsk.
Abba Athanasius zealously set about the organization of the monastery entrusted to him. Many Russian ascetics arrived here, “on the heights,” for an heightened schooling in monasticism.
According to the teaching of Abba Athanasius, preserved for us by Epiphanius the Wise, to be a monk was no easy thing. “The duty of the monk consists in this, that he be vigilant in prayer and in divine precepts until midnight, and sometimes for the whole night. He should eat nothing but bread and water, oil even and wine would be altogether improper.” Through the words of the saint of God, many came to him at the monastery on the heights, “but then they slackened, and, unable to endure the work of ascetic struggle, they fled.”
Those ascetics of higher monastic worth remained with the holy abba. Therefore, it was to this monastery, to his disciple and fellow-ascetic Athanasius, that the God-bearing Abba Sergius of Radonezh sent his future successor, St Nikon (November 17) for tonsure and guidance in monastic endeavors. St Athanasius taught him: “Monks are called voluntary martyrs. Many holy martyrs suffered for a single hour and then died, but each day monks endure sufferings not from torturers, but from within, from the properties of the flesh and from mental enemies. There are struggles, and they suffer until their last breath.”
In 1478, after the death of St Alexis, Metropolitan of Moscow, the new Metropolitan, St Cyprian (September 16) arrived in Moscow. But Great Prince Demetrius of the Don wanted to establish his own priest and colleague Michael [Mitaya] as metropolitan, and he would not accept Metropolitan Cyprian. Instead, he expelled him from Moscow.
St Cyprian was in a difficult position. But he found support and sympathy among the pillars of Russian monasticism, Sts Sergius of Radonezh and Athanasius of Vysotsk. From the very beginning, they saw the canonical legitimacy of the Metropolitan in his dispute with the Great Prince and they supported him in the prolonged struggle (1478-1490) for the restoration of canonical order and unity in the Russian Church. St Cyprian had to journey several times during these years to Constantinople to participate in council deliberations concerning the governace of the Russian Church. On one of these journeys, with the blessing of holy Abba Sergius, St Athanasius of Vysotsk went to Constantinople with his friend the Metropolitan, leaving his own disciple, St Athanasius the Younger as the igumen of the Vysotsk monastery.
At Constantinople St Athanasius settled into the monastery of the holy Forerunner and Baptist John (Studion), where he found a cell for himself and for several disciples who had come with him. St Athanasius occupied himself with prayer and salvific theological books. The monk spent about twenty years in the capital of Church culture, working to translate books from the Greek language and copying Church books, which he then sent off to Rus. Thereby, he transmitted to the Russian Church not only a legacy of great Orthodox thought, but also the traditions of Constantinople’s masters of manuscript illumination, with their elegant penmanship and artistry of textual miniatures, achieving a harmony of content and form. A continuing creative connection was established between St Athanasius’s skillful copying of books at Constantinople and the calligraphic and iconographic school of the Vysotsk monastery at Serpukhov.
It was not by chance that it was especially at the Vysotsk monastery that the holy Igumen Nikon guided the future iconographer St Andrew Rublev (July 4), as once previously the God-bearing Abba Sergius had guided Nikon himself in this monastery to spiritual maturity and an understanding of the rejuvenating and transformative spirit of pure churchly beauty.
In this sacred service of churchly beauty, in constant liturgical activity for the glory of the Life-Originating Trinity, the life-bearing genius of St Andrew matured. God destined him for the great visual rendering of the theological and liturgical legacy of St Sergius, with the immortal wonderworking icon of the Most Holy Trinity for the iconostasis of the Trinity cathedral. In the iconographic creativity of St Andrew Rublev, just as in the temple-building activity of St Nikon, and in the hagiographic works of Epiphanius the Wise, we find embodiment and synthesis of the finest traditions of the Byzantine and Russian art.
This creative synthesis was served also by St Athanasius of Vysotsk all his life. Living at Constantinople, he continued to work for the Russian Church, and for his native land. To give but one example, he sent to the Vysotsk monastery ten icons of the finest Greek style. He and his disciples translated into the Slavonic language the “Four Hundred Chapters” of St Maximus the Confessor, the Chapters of Mark about church services, and the Discourses of St Simeon the New Theologian.
In the year 1401, just before his death, the venerable elder copied, and possibly translated himself, a Church Rule, distributed within the Russian Church under the title, “The Eye of the Church.”
St Athanasius spent his life in constant work with books. He died at Constantinople in old age in the year 1401 (or perhaps a bit later). Russian chroniclers note him as an elder “virtuous, learned, knowing the Holy Scriptures”, to which “at present his writings give witness.” His Life was written in the year 1697 by the hieromonk Karion [Istomin] of the Moscow Chudov monastery.
St Athanasius’s successor and disciple, St Athanasius the Younger, successfully directed the spiritual life of the brethren and gave an example by his own God-pleasing life. St Athanasius the Younger reposed after a long illness on September 12, 1395. In the ancient manuscripts of the saints it says of him: “St Athanasius, igumen of Vysotsk Conception monastery at Serpukhov, a new wonderworker who reposed in the year 6904 (1395) on the twelfth day of September, a disciple of St Athanasius, wondrous disciple of St Sergius, who later was at Constantinople and reposed there.”
Thirty-five thousand Persian soldiers marched toward Georgia in the year 1795. The Georgian king Erekle II (1762-1798) and his two thousand soldiers declared war on the invaders as they were approaching Tbilisi. The Georgians won the first skirmish, but many perished in the fighting. The enemy was shaken and was preparing to flee the battleground, when several traitors reported to Aqa Muhammed Khan that King Erekle had lost nearly his entire army. This betrayal decided the fate of the battle: the one hundred fifty soldiers who remained in the Georgian army barely succeeded in saving the life of King Erekle, who had willed to perish on the battlefield with his soldiers.
All of Tbilisi was engulfed in flames. The plunderers murdered the people, set fire to the libraries, destroyed the print shop, and vandalized the churches and the king’s palace. They slaughtered the clergy in an especially cruel manner.
Unfortunately, history has not preserved the names of all those martyrs who perished in this tragedy, but we do know that a certain Metropolitan Dositheus of Tbilisi was killed because he would not abandon his flock. While the invaders simply killed most of the clergymen, from St. Dositheus they demanded a renunciation of the Christian Faith. They commanded him to defile the True and Life-giving Cross of our Lord. But the holy hieromartyr Dositheus endured the greatest torments without yielding to the enemy, and he joyfully accepted death for Christ’s sake. The invaders slaughtered Christ’s devoted servant with their swords.
St. Dositheus was martyred on September 12 in the year 1795.