Lives of all saints commemorated on November 17


St Gregory the Wonderworker of Neocaesarea

Saint Gregory the Wonderworker, Bishop of Neocaesarea, was born in the city of Neocaesarea (northern Asia Minor) into a pagan family. Having received a fine education, from his youth he strived for Truth, but the thinkers of antiquity were not able to quench his thirst for knowledge. Truth was revealed to him only in the Holy Gospel, and the youth became a Christian.

For the continuation of his studies St Gregory went to Alexandria, known then as a center for pagan and Christian learning. The youth, eager for knowledge, went to the Alexandrian Catechetical School, where the presbyter Origen taught. Origen was a famous teacher, possessing a great strength of mind and profound knowledge. St Gregory became a student of Origen. Afterwards, the saint wrote about his mentor: “This man received from God a sublime gift, to be an interpreter of the Word of God for people, to apprehend the Word of God, as God Himself did use it, and to explain it to people, insofar as they were able to understand it.” St Gregory studied for eight years with Origen, and was baptized by him.

The ascetic life of St Gregory, his continence, purity and lack of covetousness aroused envy among his conceited and sin-loving peers, pagans that they were, and they decided to slander St Gregory. Once, when he was conversing with philosophers and teachers in the city square, a notorious harlot came up to him and demanded payment for the sin he had supposedly committed with her. At first St Gregory gently remonstrated with her, saying that she perhaps mistook him for someone else. But the profligate woman would not be quieted. He then asked a friend to give her the money. Just as the woman took the unjust payment, she immediately fell to the ground in a demonic fit, and the fraud became evident. St Gregory said a prayer over her, and the devil left her. This was the beginning of St Gregory’s miracles.

Having returned to Neocaesarea, the saint fled from the worldly affairs into which influential townsmen persistently sought to push him. He went into the desert, where by fasting and prayer he attained to high spiritual accomplishment and the gifts of clairvoyance and prophecy. St Gregory loved life in the wilderness and wanted to remain in solitude until the end of his days, but the Lord willed otherwise.

The bishop of the Cappadocian city of Amasea, Thedimos, having learned of St Gregory’s ascetic life, decided to have him made Bishop of Neocaesarea. But having foreseen in spirit the intent of Bishop Thedimos, the saint hid himself from the messengers of the bishop who were entrusted to find him. Then Bishop Thedimos ordained the absent saint as Bishop of Neocaesarea, beseeching the Lord that He Himself would sanctify the unusual ordination. St Gregory perceived the extraordinary event as a manifestation of the will of God and he did not dare to protest. This episode in the life of St Gregory was recorded by St Gregory of Nyssa (January 10). He relates that St Gregory of Neocaesarea received the episcopal dignity only after Bishop Thedimos of Amasea performed all the canonical rites over him.

During this time, the heresy of Sabellius and Paul of Samosata began to spread. They taught falsely concerning the Holy Trinity. St Gregory prayed fervently and diligently imploring God and His most pure Mother to reveal to him the true faith. The All-Holy Virgin Mary appeared to him, radiant like the sun, and with Her was the Apostle John the Theologian dressed in archepiscopal vestments.

By the command of the Mother of God, the Apostle John taught the saint how to correctly and properly confess the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. St Gregory wrote down everything that St John the Theologian revealed to him. The Mystery of the Symbol of the Faith, written down by St Gregory of Neocaesarea, is a great divine revelation in the history of the Church. The teaching about the Holy Trinity in Orthodox Theology is based on it. Subsequently it was used by the holy Fathers of the Church: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and Gregory of Nyssa. The Symbol of St Gregory of Neocaesarea was later examined and affirmed in the year 325 by the First Ecumenical Council, showing his enduring significance for Orthodoxy.

Having become a bishop, St Gregory set off to Neocaesarea. Along the way from Amasea he expelled devils from a pagan temple, the priest of which he converted to Christ. The convert was witness to still another miracle of the saint, at his word a large stone shifted from its place.

The preaching of the saint was direct, lively and fruitful. He taught and worked miracles in the name of Christ: he healed the sick, he helped the needy, he settled quarrels and complaints. Two brothers sharing an inheritance were not able to agree over the property of their dead father. There was a large lake over which they argued, for each of the brothers wanted the lake for himself. They both gathered their friends together, and were ready to come to blows. St Gregory persuaded them to delay their fight until the following day, and he himself prayed all night long at the shore of the lake which sparked the quarrel. When dawn broke, everyone saw that the lake had dried up or gone underground. Through the intense prayer of the saint, now there was only a stream, and its course defined the boundary line. Another time, during the construction of a church, he commanded a hill to move and make room at the place of the foundation.

When a persecution against Christians began under the emperor Decius (249-251), St Gregory led his flock to a faraway mountain. A certain pagan, knowing about the hiding place of the Christians, informed the persecutors. Soldiers surrounded the mountain. The saint went out into an open place, raised up his hands to heaven and ordered to his deacon to do the same. The soldiers searched the whole mountain, and they went several times right past those praying, but not seeing them, they gave up and went away. In the city they reported that there was nowhere to hide on the mountain: no one was there, and only two trees stood beside each other. The informer was struck with amazement, he repented of his ways and became a fervent Christian.

St Gregory returned to Neocaesarea after the end of the persecution. By his blessing church Feasts were established in honor of the martyrs who had suffered for Christ.

By his saintly life, his effective preaching, working of miracles and graced guiding of his flock, the saint steadily increased the number of converts to Christ. When St Gregory first ascended his cathedra, there were only seventeen Christians in Neocaesarea. At his death, only seventeen pagans remained in the city.


Venerable Nikon the Abbot of Radonezh the Disciple of the Venerable Sergius

Saint Nikon, Abbot of Radonezh, a disciple and successor of St Sergius of Radonezh (September 25 and July 5), was born at Yuriev-Polsk. Having heard of the angelic life of the Radonezh Wonderworker, the young man came to St Sergius and requested to be tonsured into the angelic schema.

St Sergius did not accept Nikon, whether because of his youth or for some other reason. Instead, he sent him to his disciple St Athanasius (September 12) at Serpukhov. But St Athanasius would not accept him right away. Only after seeing the young man’s persistence did he tonsure him into the monastic schema.

St Nikon struggled in prayer, studied Holy Scripture and persevered in virtue and purity. Because of his humility and the way he fulfilled each task assigned him without argument, St Nikon was called a “zealot of obedience.” When he reached the age of thirty, he was ordained to the priesthood. After a certain while, St Athanasius blessed him to go see St Sergius. St Sergius, catching sight of him, said, “It is good that you have come, my child Nikon,” and happily received him.

At first, he gave orders for St Nikon to serve the brethren. The disciple passed whole days in monastic matters, and his nights in prayerful conversation with God. St Sergius was comforted by his virtuous life. Having received a special insight concerning him, St Sergius bade his disciple to dwell with him in his own cell, so that he might share in spiritual attainment. He instructed him in every monastic virtue, and explained much about the essence of spiritual life. St Sergius assigned St Nikon to the duty of assisting him, but six months before his repose, he appointed his disciple as his successor. Then St Sergius withdrew into seclusion.

After the death of St Sergius (September 25, 1392), Nikon carried out his duties exactly as he was instructed by the founder of the monastery. He had the habit of attending all the monastic services, and never did he forsake common tasks, working on a equal footing with all the brethren. But the burden of being the igumen of the monastery weighed upon St Nikon. Recalling his quiet life in the Serpukhov Vysotsk monastery with St Athanasius, and later with St Sergius, he gave up his position and retired to his own cell.

For six years the monastery was guided by St Sava of Storozhevsk (December 3). In the year 1400 St Sava founded his own monastery near Zvenigorod, and the brethren entreated St Nikon to again take over its direction. He consented, but allotted himself a certain time each day for silence, so as to stand alone before God.

When reports began to spread about an invasion of the Russian land by Khan Edigei (1408), St Nikon zealously prayed to God to spare the monastery. In a dream the Moscow hierarchs Peter (December 21) and Alexis (February 12) together with St Sergius appeared to him and said that he should not grieve over the destruction of the monastery, since it would not become desolate, but would flourish all the more.

The monks left the monastery, taking with them relics, books, and consecrated vessels. When they returned, they saw that their beloved place had been reduced to ashes. But St Nikon did not despair, and the brethren began to restore the monastery. First of all a wooden church was built in honor of the Most Holy Trinity. It was consecrated on September 25, 1411, the anniversary of the repose of St Sergius.

The monastery was restored, and St Nikon began construction of a stone church over the grave of his spiritual Father, St Sergius. The work crew digging the foundations uncovered the incorrupt relics of St Sergius on July 5, 1422. Amidst universal rejoicing they placed the relics in a new reliquary and at the new site a wooden church was built (now the church in honor of the Descent of the Holy Spirit is at this place). St Nikon later built a new stone church in the Name of the Most Holy Trinity. In honor and memory of his spiritual Father, he transferred the holy relics into this newly built church.

St Nikon brought in the finest iconographers, Sts Andrew Rublev (July 4) and Daniel Cherny (June 13) for the adornment of the temple. Then St Andrew painted the Icon of the Most Holy Trinity (Hospitality of Abraham), embodying what was revealed to St Sergius. St Nikon was occupied with the construction of the Trinity church until the end of his life.

St Nikon’s final resting place was revealed to him in a vision before his death. He summoned the brethren and gave them instructions. After receiving the All-Pure Body of Christ and His Precious Blood, St Nikon gave the brethren a last blessing and said, “Go forth, my soul, with joy to the place where repose is prepared for you. Christ is calling you.”

Having made the Sign of the Cross, St Nikon died on November 27, 1426. He was buried near the reliquary of St Sergius. Under the hierarch Jonah (1448-1461), the hieromonk Pachomius the Logothete wrote the Service and Life of St Nikon. In the year 1547 a generally observed celebration to him was established. In the year 1548 a church named for him was built over the grave of St Nikon. In 1623 a new one was constructed in its place, in which the relics of St Nikon rest in a crypt. The 500 year anniversary of the repose of St Nikon was solemnly observed in 1976 at the Trinity-Sergeev Lavra.


Venerable Lazarus the Iconographer, of Constantinople

Saint Lazarus the Iconographer lived in Constantinople. He was a priest, led a strict ascetic life and painted holy icons. He fought against all heresy, enduring many afflictions from the Nestorians, Eutychians, and iconoclasts. Under the iconoclast emperor Theophilus (829-842), he was arrested and after cruel tortures, thrown into prison. Theophilus ordered horseshoes to be placed in a fire until they glowed red with the heat. Then they were put upon the iconographer’s hands, because he dared to paint icons of Christ and the saints. He was saved from execution by the intervention of the empress Theodora.

St Lazarus died in the year 857 while returning from Rome, where he had been sent in a delegation on church matters to Pope Benedict III (855-858). His remains were taken to Constantinople and buried in the church of St Evandrus.


Martyr Michael (Gobron) of Georgia

In the year 914 a certain prince by the name of Michael-Gobron distinguished himself in a battle against the Arab Muslim invaders. After they had captured the fortress of Kvelistsikhe in southern Georgia, the Muslims took captive those who remained alive, and Prince Gobron was among them. Deeply impressed by the Georgian soldier’s valor, the emir Abu al-Qasim ordered his army to treat him with respect.

King Adarnerse sent Abu al-Qasim a large sum of money as a ransom for his people, and some were released. Gobron, however, was not among them. The Georgian prince recognized clearly what the future would bring, and he prepared to be martyred for Christ’s sake. The Saracens escorted Gobron and 133 Georgian soldiers to their execution.

Abu al-Qasim tempted the faithful prince by offering him earthly glory and honor in exchange for his renunciation of the Christian Faith. But St. Gobron firmly declined all of his offers. Then the furious Abu al-Qasim ordered that he be taken into the yard and shown his fallen countrymen on one side and the promised wealth on the other.

When the emir cunningly asked which one he would choose, Gobron answered, “I told you from the very start that I will not retreat from Christ my Lord!”

Then the emir devised a new, more cruel trial: “He knows not the grief of death. Lead him outside and execute every living Christian before his eyes!” he commanded.

They led the saint out in the midst of his brothers and proceeded to slaughter every one of them. The blood of the dead flew around Gobron in every direction, and the martyrs’ limp bodies collapsed at his feet, but none of these horrors could break his will.

Then they compelled him to bow his head and brandished their swords above him two times. Prince Gobron traced a cross on his brow with blood and said, “I thank Thee, Lord Jesus Christ, that Thou hast accounted me, the most contemptible and chief among sinners, worthy to lay down my life for Thy sake!”

Again they brought St. Gobron before the emir. For the last time Abu al-Qasim tried to entice him to apostatize, but the saint, dripping with blood, declared, “Do as you wish. I am a Christian and will never retreat from the name of my Christ!”

Having lost all patience, Abu al-Qasim ordered that St. Gobron’s head be chopped off and thrown in with the other mutilated bodies. Then they dug three large holes, tossed in the relics of the martyrs, refilled the holes with earth, and forbade all Christians to approach that place. At night the graves shone with a divine light visible to believers and unbelievers alike.

For laying down their lives for Christ, the valorous prince Michael-Gobron and the 133 martyrs were numbered among the saints by the Georgian Apostolic Church. The day of their commemoration was designated as November 17, the day of their martyrdom.


Martyred 133 Soldiers with the Great-martyr Michael (Gobron) of Georgia

In the year 914 a certain prince by the name of Michael-Gobron distinguished himself in a battle against the Arab Muslim invaders. After they had captured the fortress of Kvelistsikhe in southern Georgia, the Muslims took captive those who remained alive, and Prince Gobron was among them. Deeply impressed by the Georgian soldier’s valor, the emir Abu al-Qasim ordered his army to treat him with respect.

King Adarnerse sent Abu al-Qasim a large sum of money as a ransom for his people, and some were released. Gobron, however, was not among them. The Georgian prince recognized clearly what the future would bring, and he prepared to be martyred for Christ’s sake. The Saracens escorted Gobron and 133 Georgian soldiers to their execution.

Abu al-Qasim tempted the faithful prince by offering him earthly glory and honor in exchange for his renunciation of the Christian Faith. But St. Gobron firmly declined all of his offers. Then the furious Abu al-Qasim ordered that he be taken into the yard and shown his fallen countrymen on one side and the promised wealth on the other.

When the emir cunningly asked which one he would choose, Gobron answered, “I told you from the very start that I will not retreat from Christ my Lord!”

Then the emir devised a new, more cruel trial: “He knows not the grief of death. Lead him outside and execute every living Christian before his eyes!” he commanded.

They led the saint out in the midst of his brothers and proceeded to slaughter every one of them. The blood of the dead flew around Gobron in every direction, and the martyrs’ limp bodies collapsed at his feet, but none of these horrors could break his will.

Then they compelled him to bow his head and brandished their swords above him two times. Prince Gobron traced a cross on his brow with blood and said, “I thank Thee, Lord Jesus Christ, that Thou hast accounted me, the most contemptible and chief among sinners, worthy to lay down my life for Thy sake!”

Again they brought St. Gobron before the emir. For the last time Abu al-Qasim tried to entice him to apostatize, but the saint, dripping with blood, declared, “Do as you wish. I am a Christian and will never retreat from the name of my Christ!”

Having lost all patience, Abu al-Qasim ordered that St. Gobron’s head be chopped off and thrown in with the other mutilated bodies. Then they dug three large holes, tossed in the relics of the martyrs, refilled the holes with earth, and forbade all Christians to approach that place. At night the graves shone with a divine light visible to believers and unbelievers alike.

For laying down their lives for Christ, the valorous prince Michael-Gobron and the 133 martyrs were numbered among the saints by the Georgian Apostolic Church. The day of their commemoration was designated as November 17, the day of their martyrdom.


Venerable Gennadius of Vatopedi, Mt Athos

Saint Gennadius was the steward of the Vatopedi monastery on Mt Athos in the fourteenth century, and was in charge of supplies. When the monastery’s oil began to run low, he tried to be economical with what remained by using oil just for the needs of the church. The cook began to complain to the Igumen, saying that he had no oil for preparing meals. The Igumen ordered St Gennadius to place his trust in the Mother of God, and to supply the oil for all the monastery’s needs.

One day, St Gennadius went to the storeroom and saw the tank overflowing with oil covering the floor as far as the door. This miracle was ascribed to the Most Holy Theotokos, and to Her Elaiovrytissa icon which stood nearby. Since that time, the icon has hung in the storeroom and has emitted an ineffable fragrance.

The Elaiovrytissa (“Flowing with oil”) Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos is commemorated on Bright Friday.