Lives of all saints commemorated on January 28


Venerable Ephraim the Syrian

Saint Ephraim the Syrian, a teacher of repentance, was born at the beginning of the fourth century in the city of Nisibis (Mesopotamia) into the family of impoverished toilers of the soil. His parents raised their son in piety, but from his childhood he was known for his quick temper and impetuous character. He often had fights, acted thoughtlessly, and even doubted God’s Providence. He finally recovered his senses by the grace of God, and embarked on the path of repentance and salvation.

Once, he was unjustly accused of stealing a sheep and was thrown into prison. He heard a voice in a dream calling him to repent and correct his life. After this, he was acquitted of the charges and set free.

The young man ran off to the mountains to join the hermits. This form of Christian asceticism had been introduced by a disciple of St Anthony the Great, the Egyptian desert dweller Eugenius.

St James of Nisibis (January 13) was a noted ascetic, a preacher of Christianity and denouncer of the Arians. St Ephraim became one of his disciples. Under the direction of the holy hierarch, St Ephraim attained Christian meekness, humility, submission to God’s will, and the strength to undergo various temptations without complaint.

St James transformed the wayward youth into a humble and conrite monk. Realizing the great worth of his disciple, he made use of his talents. He trusted him to preach sermons, to instruct children in school, and he took Ephraim with him to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea (in the year 325). St Ephraim was in obedience to St James for fourteen years, until the bishop’s death in 338.

After the capture of Nisibis by the Persians in 363, St Ephraim went to a monastery near the city of Edessa. Here he saw many great ascetics, passing their lives in prayer and psalmody. Their caves were solitary shelters, and they fed themselves with a certain plant.

He became especially close to the ascetic Julian (October 18), who was of one mind with him. St Ephraim combined asceticism with a ceaseless study of the Word of God, taking from it both solace and wisdom for his soul. The Lord gave him a gift of teaching, and people began to come to him, wanting to hear his counsel, which produced compunction in the soul, since he began with self-accusation. Both verbally and in writing, St Ephraim instructed everyone in repentance, faith and piety, and he denounced the Arian heresy, which at that time was causing great turmoil. Pagans who heard the preaching of the saint were converted to Christianity.

He also wrote the first Syriac commentary on the Pentateuch (i.e. “Five Books”) of Moses. He wrote many prayers and hymns, thereby enriching the Church’s liturgical services. Famous prayers of St Ephraim are to the Most Holy Trinity, to the Son of God, and to the Most Holy Theotokos. He composed hymns for the Twelve Great Feasts of the Lord (the Nativity of Christ, the Baptism, the Resurrection), and funeral hymns. St Ephraim’s Prayer of Repentance, “O Lord and Master of my life...”, is recited during Great Lent, and it summons Christians to spiritual renewal.

From ancient times the Church has valued the works of St Ephraim. His works were read publicly in certain churches after the Holy Scripture, as St Jerome tells us. At present, the Church Typikon prescribes certain of his instructions to be read on the days of Lent. Among the prophets, St David is the preeminent psalmodist; among the Fathers of the Church, St Ephraim the Syrian is the preeminent man of prayer. His spiritual experience made him a guide for monastics and a help to the pastors of Edessa. St Ephraim wrote in Syriac, but his works were very early translated into Greek and Armenian. Translations into Latin and Slavonic were made from the Greek text.

In many of St Ephraim’s works we catch glimpses of the life of the Syrian ascetics, which was centered on prayer and working in various obediences for the common good of the brethren. The outlook of all the Syrian ascetics was the same. The monks believed that the goal of their efforts was communion with God and the acquisition of divine grace. For them, the present life was a time of tears, fasting and toil.

“If the Son of God is within you, then His Kingdom is also within you. Thus, the Kingdom of God is within you, a sinner. Enter into yourself, search diligently and without toil you shall find it. Outside of you is death, and the door to it is sin. Enter into yourself, dwell within your heart, for God is there.”

Constant spiritual sobriety, the developing of good within man’s soul gives him the possibility to take upon himself a task like blessedness, and a self-constraint like sanctity. The requital is presupposed in the earthly life of man, it is an undertaking of spiritual perfection by degrees. Whoever grows himself wings upon the earth, says St Ephraim, is one who soars up into the heights; whoever purifies his mind here below, there glimpses the Glory of God. In whatever measure each one loves God, he is, by God’s love,satiated to fullness according to that measure. Man, cleansing himself and attaining the grace of the Holy Spirit while still here on earth, has a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven. To attain to life eternal, in the teachings of St Ephraim, does not mean to pass over from one realm of being into another, but rather to discover “the heavenly,” spiritual condition of being. Eternal life is not bestown on man through God’s one-sided efforts, but rather, it constantly grows like a seed within him by his efforts, toils and struggles.

The pledge within us of “theosis” (or “deification”) is the Baptism of Christ, and the main force that drives the Christian life is repentance. St Ephraim was a great teacher of repentance. The forgiveness of sins in the Mystery of Repentance, according to his teaching, is not an external exoneration, not a forgetting of the sins, but rather their complete undoing, their annihilation. The tears of repentance wash away and burn away the sin. Moreover, they (i.e. the tears) enliven, they transfigure sinful nature, they give the strength “to walk in the way of the the Lord’s commandments,” encouraging hope in God. In the fiery font of repentance, the saint wrote, “you sail yourself across, O sinner, you resurrect yourself from the dead.”

St Ephraim, accounting himself as the least and worst of all, went to Egypt at the end of his life to see the efforts of the great ascetics. He was accepted there as a welcome guest and received great solace from conversing with them. On his return journey he visited at Caesarea in Cappadocia with St Basil the Great (January 1), who wanted to ordain him a priest, but he considered himself unworthy of the priesthood. At the insistence of St Basil, he consented only to be ordained as a deacon, in which rank he remained until his death. Later on, St Basil invited St Ephraim to accept a bishop’s throne, but the saint feigned madness in order to avoid this honor, humbly regarding himself as unworthy of it.

After his return to his own Edessa wilderness, St Ephraim hoped to spend the rest of his life in solitude, but divine Providence again summoned him to serve his neighbor. The inhabitants of Edessa were suffering from a devastating famine. By the influence of his word, the saint persuaded the wealthy to render aid to those in need. From the offerings of believers he built a poor-house for the poor and sick. St Ephraim then withdrew to a cave near Edessa, where he remained to the end of his days.


Venerable Theodosius the Abbot of Totma, Vologda

Saint Theodosius of Totma was born at Vologda about the year 1530. In his youth he was raised in a spirit of Christian piety and the fear of God. At the insistence of his parents he married, but family life did not turn him away from God. He went fervently to church and prayed at home, particularly at night. After the death of his parents and his wife, he withdrew to the Priluki monastery not far from Vologda.

At the monastery Theodosius passed through the various obediences: he carried water, chopped fire-wood, milled flour and baked bread. He went to Totma on the igumen’s orders to search for a salt-works for the monastery. He sought the permission of Tsar Ivan Vasilevich and the blessing of Archbishop Nicander to found a monastery at Totma. Theodosius was appointed head of this newly-formed Totma monastery, which in a grant of 1554 was declared free of taxation.

The saint founded the Totma Ephraimov wilderness monastery and brought brethren into it. Eventually becoming the head of two monasteries, Theodosius continued to lead an ascetic life. He wore down his body by wearing chains and a hairshirt, and beneath his monastic cowl he wore an iron cap. Fond of spiritual reading, he acquired many books for the monastery. St Theodosius reposed in the year 1568 and was buried in the monastery he founded, and miracles occurred at his grave.

On September 2, 1796 during the reconstruction of the Ascension church, his relics were found incorrupt, and their glorification took place on January 28, 1798, on the day of his repose.


Venerable Ephraim, Abbot and Wonderworker of Novy Torg

Saint Ephraim of Novy Torg, founder of the Sts Boris and Gleb monastery in the city of Novy Torg, was a native of Hungary. Together with his brothers, St Moses the Hungarian (July 26) and St George (in Hungarian “Sandor,” pronounced “Shandor”), he quit his native land, possibly because he was Orthodox.

Having come to Russia, all three brothers entered into the service of the Rostov prince St Boris, son of St Vladimir (July 15). St Ephraim’s brother George also perished in the year 1015 at the River Alta, with holy Prince Boris. The murderers cut off his head, and took the gold medallion which he had received from St Boris. Moses managed to save himself by flight, and became a monk at the Kiev Caves monastery.

St Ephraim, evidently in Rostov at this time, and arriving at the place of the murder, found the head of his brother and took it with him. Forsaking service at the princely court, St Ephraim withdrew to the River Tvertsa in order to lead a solitary monastic life.

After several other monks settled near him, he founded a monastery in honor of the holy Passion-Bearers Boris and Gleb in the year 1038. The brethren chose him to lead them. Near the monastery, not far from a merchant’s road to Novgorod, a wanderer’s home was built, where the poor and travelers stayed for free. St Ephraim died in old age. His body was buried at the monastery he founded. The head of his brother, St George was also placed in the grave, in accordance with his last wishes. The relics of St Ephraim were uncovered in the year 1572.


St Ephraim the Bishop of Pereyaslavl, Kiev Caves, Far Caves

Saint Ephraim of the Caves, Bishop of Pereslavl, before his tonsure into monasticism, was treasurer and steward of household affairs at the court of the Kiev Great Prince Izyaslav (Demetrius) Yaroslavich (1054-1068). Weighed down by this noisy and bustling life and wishng to become a monk, he was accepted by St Anthony of the Kiev Caves and was tonsured by St Nikon (March 23).

The enraged prince demanded that Ephraim return, threatening to lock him up in prison and to destroy the Monastery of the Caves. St Anthony and the brethren left the monastery and decided to go to another place. Izyaslav, however, feared the wrath of God. He took his wife’s advice and withdrew his forces from the monastery in disgrace.

St Ephraim wished to go on pilgrimage to the holy places abroad. With the blessing of St Anthony, he journeyed to Constantinople and settled there in one of the monasteries. While in Constantinople, St Ephraim made a copy of the Studite monastic Rule, and took it to Kiev at the request of St Theodosius. As soon as he received the Rule, St Theodosius implemented it in his monastery.

After the year 1072 Ephraim was made bishop in Pereslavl, with the title of Metropolitan. He adorned Pereslavl with many beautiful churches and public buildings, and he built stone walls around the city in the Greek manner. He built free hospices for the poor and travelers, and constructed several public bath-houses.

In the year 1091, St Ephraim participated in the opening and solemn transfer of the relics of St Theodosius. A Life of St Ephraim existed in former times, but it has not survived. We find an account of him both in the Life of St Theodosius, and in the Russian Chronicles. A tale and encomium for St Nicholas the Wonderworker is ascribed to St Ephraim.

St Ephraim died in the year 1098. He was buried in the Antoniev (Far) Caves of the Kiev Caves monastery.

His memory is also celebrated on September 28 and on the second Sunday of Great Len


Venerable Palladius the Hermit, of Antioch

Saint Palladius the Desert Dweller led an ascetical life in a certain mountain cave near Syrian Antioch. Because of his struggles, he received from the Lord a gift of wonderworking. Once, a merchant was found murdered by robbers near his cave. People accused St Palladius of the murder, but through the prayer of the saint, the dead man rose up and named his murderers. The saint died at the end of the fourth century, leaving behind several edifying works.


St Isaac the Syrian the Bishop of Nineveh

Saint Isaac the Syrian, Bishop of Ninevah, lived during the sixth century. He and his brother entered the monastery of Mar Matthew near Ninevah and received the monastic tonsure. His learning, virtue, and ascetic manner of life attracted the notice of the brethren, and they proposed that he head the monastery. St Issac did not want this burden, preferring a life of silence, so he left the monastery to live alone in the desert.

His brother urged him more than once to return to the monastery, but he would not agree. However, when the fame of St Isaac’s holy life had spread, he was made Bishop of Ninevah. Seeing the crude manners and disobedience of the inhabitants of the city, the saint felt that it was beyond his ability to guide them, and moreover, he yearned for solitude.

Once, two Christians came to him, asking him to settle a dispute. One man acknowledged that he owed money to the other, but asked for a short extension. The lender threatened to bring his debtor to court to force him to pay. St Isaac, citing the Gospel, asked him to be merciful and give the debtor more time to pay. The man said, “Leave your Gospel out of this!” St Isaac replied, “If you will not submit to Lord’s commandments in the Gospel, then what remains for me to do here?” After only five months as bishop, St Isaac resigned his office and went into the mountains to live with the hermits. Later, he went to the monastery of Rabban Shabur, where he lived until his death, attaining a high degree of spiritual perfection.

From the early eighth century until the beginning of the eighteenth century, nothing was known about St Isaac of Syria in Europe except for his name and works. Only in 1719 was a biography of the saint published at Rome, compiled by an anonymous Arab author. In 1896, more information on St Isaac came to light. The learned French soteriologist Abbot Chabot published some eighth century works on Syrian history by Iezudena, bishop of Barsa, where the account of St Isaac the Syrian was found.


Icon of the Mother of God of Sumorin-Totem

The Sumorin Totma Icon of the Mother of God was glorified by numerous healings at the Spaso-Sumorin monastery of the city of Totma. When the inhabitants of the city turned to Tsar Ivan the Terrible for permission to build a monastery in their city, the Rostov archbishop Nicander in the year 1554 bestowed upon St Theodosius the grant for building. The igumen of the Priluki monastery blessed St Theodosius with an icon of the Mother of God for success at building the new monastery.

The icon thereafter received the name Sumorin Totma (Sumorin is the family name of St Theodosius, and Totma is a city). After the death of the monk, the wonderworking icon was put in a case in front of the crypt of the saint at the Ascension church of the monastery.

St Theodosius has appeared to many of the sick, holding this icon in his hands.


St Archilius

No information available at this time.


St Luarsaab

No information available at this time.