Lives of all saints commemorated on April 25


Bright Friday: The Life Giving Spring of the Mother of God

Today we commemorate the Life-Giving Spring of the Most Holy Theotokos.

There once was a beautiful church in Constantinople dedicated to the Mother of God, which had been built in the fifth century by the holy Emperor Leo the Great (January 20) in the Seven Towers district.

Before becoming emperor, Leo was walking in a wooded area where he met a blind man who was thirsty and asked Leo to help him find water. Though he agreed to search for water, he was unable to find any. Suddenly, he heard a voice telling him that there was water nearby. He looked again, but still could not find the water. Then he heard the voice saying “Emperor Leo, go into the deepest part of the woods, and you will find water there. Take some of the cloudy water in your hands and give it to the blind man to drink.Then take the clay and put it on his eyes. Then you shall know who I am.” Leo obeyed these instructions, and the blind man regained his sight. Later, St Leo became emperor, just as the Theotokos had prophesied.

Leo built a church over the site at his own expense, and the water continued to work miraculous cures. Therefore, it was called “The Life-Giving Spring.”

After the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the church was torn down by the Moslems, and the stones were used to build a mosque. Only a small chapel remained at the site of the church. Twenty-five steps led down into the chapel, which had a window in the roof to let the light in. The holy Spring was still there, surrounded by a railing.

After the Greek Revolution in 1821, even this little chapel was destroyed and the Spring was buried under the rubble. Christians later obtained permission to rebuild the chapel, and work began in July of 1833. While workmen were clearing the ground, they uncovered the foundations of the earlier church. The Sultan allowed them to build not just a chapel, but a new and beautiful church on the foundations of the old one.

Construction began on September 14, 1833, and was completed on December 30, 1834. Patriarch Constantine II consecrated the church on February 2, 1835, dedicating it to the Most Holy Theotokos.

The Turks desecrated and destroyed the church again on September 6, 1955. A smaller church now stands on the site, and the waters of the Life-Giving Spring continue to work miracles.

There is also a Life-Giving Spring Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos which is commemorated on April 4.

KONTAKION Tone 8

O most favored by God, you confer on me the healing of your grace from your inexhaustible Spring. Therefore, since you gave birth incomprehensibly to the Word, I implore you to refresh me with the dew of your grace that I might cry to you: Hail, O Water of salvation.


Apostle and Evangelist Mark

The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark, also known as John Mark (Acts 12:12), was one of the Seventy Apostles, and was also a nephew of St Barnabas (June 11). He was born at Jerusalem. The house of his mother Mary adjoined the Garden of Gethsemane. As Church Tradition relates, on the night that Christ was betrayed he followed after Him, wrapped only in a linen cloth. He was seized by soldiers, and fled away naked, leaving the cloth behind (Mark 14:51-52). After the Ascension of the Lord, the house of his mother Mary became a place where Christians gathered, and a place of lodging for some of the Apostles (Acts 12:12).

St Mark was a very close companion of the Apostles Peter and Paul (June 29) and Barnabas. St Mark was at Seleucia with Paul and Barnabas, and from there he set off to the island of Cyprus, and he traversed the whole of it from east to west. In the city of Paphos, St Mark witnessed the blinding of the sorcerer Elymas by St Paul (Acts 13:6-12).

After working with the Apostle Paul, St Mark returned to Jerusalem, and then went to Rome with the Apostle Peter. From there, he set out for Egypt, where he established a local Church.

St Mark met St Paul in Antioch. From there he went with St Barnabas to Cyprus, and then he went to Egypt again, where he and St Peter founded many churches. Then he went to Babylon. From this city the Apostle Peter sent an Epistle to the Christians of Asia Minor, in which he calls St Mark his son (1 Pet 5:13).

When the Apostle Paul came to Rome in chains, St Mark was at Ephesus, where St Timothy (January 4) was bishop. St Mark went with him to Rome. There he also wrote his holy Gospel (ca. 62-63).

From Rome St Mark traveled to Egypt. In Alexandria he started a Christian school, which later produced such famous Fathers and teachers of the Church as Clement of Alexandria, St Dionysius of Alexandria (October 5), St Gregory Thaumatourgos (November 5), and others. Zealous for Church services, St Mark composed a Liturgy for the Christians of Alexandria.

St Mark preached the Gospel in the inner regions of Africa, and he was in Libya at Nektopolis.

During these journeys, St Mark was inspired by the Holy Spirit to go again to Alexandria and confront the pagans. There he visited the home of Ananias, and healed his crippled hand. The dignitary happily took him in, listened to his words, and received Baptism.

Following the example of Ananias, many of the inhabitants of that part of the city where he lived were also baptized. This roused the enmity of the pagans, and they wanted to kill St Mark. Having learned of this, St Mark made Ananias a bishop, and the three Christians Malchos, Sabinos, and Kerdinos were ordained presbyters to provide the church with leadership after his death.

The pagans seized St Mark when he was serving the Liturgy. They beat him, dragged him through the streets and threw him in prison. There St Mark was granted a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who strengthened him before his sufferings. On the following day, the angry crowd again dragged the saint through the streets to the courtroom, but along the way St Mark died saying, “Into Your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

The pagans wanted to burn the saint’s body, but when they lit the fire, everything grew dark, thunder crashed, and there was an earthquake. The pagans fled in terror, and Christians took up the body of St Mark and buried it in a stone crypt. This was on April 4, 63. The Church celebrates his memory on April 25.

In the year 310, a church was built over the relics of St Mark. In 820, when the Moslem Arabs had established their rule in Egypt and oppressed the Christian Church, the relics of St Mark were transferred to Venice and placed in the church named for him.

In the ancient iconographic tradition, which adopted symbols for the holy Evangelists borrowed from the vision of St John the Theologian (Rev 4:7) and the prophecy of Ezekiel (Ez. 1:10), the holy Evangelist Mark is represented by a lion, symbolizing the might and royal dignity of Christ (Rev 5:5).

St Mark wrote his Gospel for Gentile Christians, emphasizing the words and deeds of the Savior which reveal His divine Power. Many aspects of his account can be explained by his closeness to St Peter. The ancient writers say that the Gospel of Mark is a concise record of St Peter’s preaching.

One of the central theological themes in the Gospel of St Mark is the power of God achieving what is humanly impossible. The Apostles performed remarkable miracles with Christ (Mark 16:20) and the Holy Spirit (Mark 13:11) working through them. His disciples were told to go into the world and preach the Gospel to all creatures (Mark 13:10, 16:15), and that is what they did.


Venerable Sylvester the Abbot of Obnora

Saint Sylvester of Obnora was a disciple and novice under St Sergius of Radonezh (September 25 and July 5). After completing his obedience at the Trinity monastery, St Sylvester received a blessing to live alone in the wilderness.

In the deep forest at the River Obnora, flowing into the River Kostroma, he set up a cross at his chosen spot and began his ascetical labors. For a long time no one knew about the holy hermit. His cell was discovered by a peasant who had lost his way. He told the distraught hermit that people had seen bright rays, and a pillar of cloud above his habitation. The monk shed tears of sorrow, because the place of his solitude had been discovered. The pilgrim besought the saint to tell about himself.

St Sylvester said that he had been living there a long time, and that he ate tree bark and roots. At first he became weak without bread, and fell on the ground from his weakness. Then an angel appeared to him in the guise of a wondrous man and touched his hand. From that moment St Sylvester did not experience any distress. Another time, the peasant came back to the saint and brought him bread and flour for reserve supply.

This one meeting was sufficient for the exploits of the hermit to become known to many. Soon peasants began to come to him from the surrounding settlements. St Sylvester allowed them to build cells near his.

When the brethren had gathered, St Sylvester went to Moscow and petitioned St Alexis (February 12) to bless the construction of a temple in honor of the Resurrection of Christ. The hierarch gave him an antimension (a cloth containing relics of martyrs, necessary for celebrating the Divine Liturgy), and made him igumen of the monastery.

With the construction of the church the number of brethren quickly grew, and the saint frequently withdrew for solitary prayer in the dense forest. This spot received the name “Commanded Grove,” since St Sylvester commanded that no trees should be cut there. In this grove he dug three wells, and a fourth on the side of a hill at the River Obnora. When the saint returned from his solitude, a number of people awaited him at the monastery, and each wanted to receive his blessing and hear his advice.

The saint fell into a fatal illness, and the brethren, who were distressed whenever he went into seclusion, were even more distressed about his approaching death. “Do not grieve about this, my beloved brethren,” he said to console them, “for everything is according to the will of God. Keep the commandments of the Lord and don’t be afraid to suffer misfortune in this life, so you may receive a reward in Heaven. If I have found boldness before the Lord and my life is pleasing to Him, then this holy place will not diminish after my departure. Pray to the Lord God and His All-Pure Mother, that you may be delivered from temptation.” St Sylvester died on April 25, 1479 and was buried on the right side of the wooden Resurrection church.

A record of the saint’s miracles has been preserved from the year 1645, in which twenty-three miracles are described. The saint healed twelve people from demonic possession and delirium, and six others from eye afflictions.

An edifying miracle occurred in 1645. The hieromonk Job of the monastery ordered peasants to cut down the forbidden forest grove for firewood, and he was struck blind. After four weeks he acknowledged his sin, repented and vowed not to act on his own will, but to follow the advice of the brethren. The hieromonk served a Molieben in church, after which he was brought to the reliquary of St Sylvester, and there he regained his sight.


Icon of the Mother of God of Constantinople

The Constantinople Icon of the Theotokos is locally venerated at Moscow’s Dormition church on Malaya Dimitrovka. This image is different from the Constantinople Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos celebrated on September 17, although it appears to be a copy of it.

The wonderworking Constantinople Icon appeared on April 25, 1071.