Lives of all saints commemorated on December 21


Sunday before the Nativity

The Sunday before the Nativity of the Lord (December 18-24) is known as the Sunday of the Holy Fathers. On this day the Church commemorates all those who were well-pleasing to God from all ages, from Adam to St Joseph the Betrothed of the Most Holy Theotokos, those who are mentioned in the geneology of Luke 3:23-38. The holy prophets and prophetesses are also remembered today, especially the Prophet Daniel and the three holy youths (December 17).

The Troparion to the Prophet Daniel and the three holy youths (“Great are the accomplishments of faith...) is quite similar to the Troparion for St Theodore the Recruit (February 17, and the first Saturday of Great Lent). The Kontakion to St Theodore, who suffered martyrdom by fire, reminds us that he also had faith as his breastplate (see I Thessalonians 5:8).


Forefeast of the Nativity of our Lord

The Forefeast of the Nativity of the Lord begins on December 20. From now on, most of the liturgical hymns will be concerned with the birth of the Savior.

During Matins (after the first Sedalen) on this second day of the prefeast of the Nativity we sing, “The unapproachable God in His tender mercy approaches me; He wills to be born in the flesh in the city of Bethlehem. He receives human nature from a Virgin maiden. Let us eagerly run to greet Him, crying out in fear: O Lord, glory to Thee.”


Virginmartyr Juliana of Nicomedia

The Holy Virgin Martyr Juliana, daughter of an illustrious pagan named Africanus, was born in the city of Nicomedia. As a child, she was betrothed to a certain Elusius, one of the emperor’s advisors. St Juliana was endowed with a profound intellect and goodness of soul. She saw through the delusion and deception of the pagan faith, and secretly accepted holy Baptism.

When the time of her wedding approached, Juliana refused to be married. Her father urged her not to break her engagement, but when she refused to obey him, he began to beat her viciously. Then Africanus handed his daughter over to the Eparch, who happened to be Elusius, Juliana’s former fiancé. Elusius fervently asked Juliana to marry him, promising not to require her to abandon her faith. St Juliana refused and said that she’d rather be put to death.

They beat the saint both long and harshly, but after each beating she received healing and new strength from God. Her punishment took place before a large number of people. Of these, 500 men and 150 women came to confess Christ after witnessing the steadfastness and courage of the holy virgin miraculously healed from her wounds. They were all beheaded, and were baptized in their own blood.

Convinced of the futility of attempting to separate the holy virgin from her heavenly Bridegroom, Eleusius sentenced Juliana to death. She accepted the sentence with joy and glorified the Lord for permitting her to receive a martyr’s crown. The holy Martyr Juliana was executed in the year 304.

St Juliana is the subject of an Anglo-Saxon poem, believed to have been written by Cynewulf in the eighth century.


Martyred 500 Men of Nicomedia, with the Virginmartyr Juliana

The martyrdom of St Juliana took place before a large number of people. Of these, 500 men and 150 women came to confess Christ after witnessing the steadfastness and courage of the holy virgin miraculously healed from her wounds.

They were all beheaded, and were baptized in their own blood.


Martyred 130 Women of Nicomedia, with the Virginmartyr Juliana

The martyrdom of St Juliana took place before a large number of people. Of these, 500 men and 150 women came to confess Christ after witnessing the steadfastness and courage of the holy virgin miraculously healed from her wounds.

They were all beheaded, and were baptized in their own blood.


Repose of St Peter the Metropolitan of Moscow and Wonderworker of All Russia

St Peter, Metropolitan of Moscow, was born in Volhynia of pious parents, Theodore and Eupraxia. Even before the birth of her son, the Lord revealed to Eupraxia the preordained blessedness of her son. At the age of twelve, young Peter entered a monastery. He successfully studied the book sciences of those times and eagerly fulfilled his monastic obediences. The future saint devoted much time to an attentive study of the Holy Scriptures, and he also learned iconography. The icons painted by St Peter were distributed to the brethren and to Christians who visited the monastery.

Because of his virtuous and ascetic life, the igumen of the monastery had St Peter ordained as a hieromonk. After years of ascetic labors at the monastery, the hieromonk Peter, with the blessing of the igumen, left the monastery in search of a solitary place.

He built a cell at the Rata River and began to pursue asceticism in silence. Afterwards, at the place of his ascetic exploits, a monastery was formed, called the Novodvorsk. A church dedicated to the Savior was built for the monks who came to him. Chosen as igumen, St Peter guided his spiritual children, never became angry with a guilty monk. Instead, he instructed the brethren by word and by example. The virtuous igumen and ascetic became known far beyond the vicinity of the monastery. Prince Yuri of Galicia frequently visited the monastery in order to receive spiritual instruction from the holy ascetic.

Once, in his travels through the Russian land, Metropolitan Maximus of Kiev and Vladimir (December 6) visited the monastery with words of instruction and edification. Having received the blessing of St Maximus, St Peter presented him with an icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, which he had painted. St Maximus prayed before the icon for the salvation of the Russian land entrusted to him by God until the end of his days.

When Metropolitan Maximus died, the See of Vladimir remained for a certain time unoccupied. An abbot named Gerontius, aspiring to become the primate of Russia, went to Constantinople with St Peter’s vestments, archpastoral staff, and the icon he had painted. The Great Prince of Vladimir, St Michael of Tver (November 22), sent him to the Patriarch of Constantinople with a petition that he be appointed as Metropolitan of Russia.

On the suggestion of Prince Yuri of Galicia, Igumen Peter reluctantly went to the Patriarch of Constantinople with a petition that he be consecrated as Metropolitan. God chose St Peter to nourish the Russian Church. The Mother of God appeared to Gerontius during a storm on the Black Sea and said, “You labor in vain, for you will never be bishop. The one who painted this icon, the Rata igumen Peter, shall be elevated to the throne of Kiev.”

The words of the Mother of God were fulfilled. Patriarch Athanasius of Constantinople (1289-1293) elevated St Peter as Metropolitan of Russia, bestowing upon him the hierarchal vestments, staff and icon, brought by Gerontius. Upon his return to Russia in 1308, Metropolitan Peter arrived at Kiev after a year, and then proceeded on to Vladimir.

The chief hierarch was tested by many trials during his first years of guiding the Russian metropolitanate. Suffering beneath the Tatar (Mongol) Yoke the Russian land was in turmoil, and St Peter was often obliged to change the place of his residence. During this period the saint’s labors and concerns to affirm the true Faith and morality in the realm were particularly important. On his journies throughout the diocese, he incessantly instructed the people and clergy on preserving Christian piety. He also brought quarrelsome princes to peace and unity.

In the year 1312 the saint made a journey to the Horde, where he received a decree from Khan Uzbek, safeguarding the rights of the Russian clergy.

In 1325 Metropolitan Peter, at the request of Great Prince John Kalita (1328-1340), transferred the metropolitan See from Vladimir to Moscow. This event had very great significance for all the Russian land. St Peter prophetically predicted deliverance from the Tatar Yoke and that Moscow would become the foremost city in Russia.

With his blessing, the foundation of the cathedral of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos in the Moscow Kremlin was laid in August 1326 (According to Tradition, the foundations of stone churches are normally laid in the spring). This was a profoundly symbolic blessing by St Peter.

St Peter fell asleep in the Lord on December 21, 1326. The holy relics of the saint were buried in the Dormition cathedral in a stone crypt, which he himself had prepared. Many miracles were accomplished through the saint’s prayers. Many healings were even done secretly, which testifies to his profound humility even after death.

The veneration of the first hierarch of the Russian Church was affirmed and spread throughout the Russian land. In 1339, under St Theognostus (March 14), St Peter was numbered among the saints. Princes kissed the cross on the saint’s tomb as a sign of their fidelity to the Great Prince of Moscow.

As a particularly venerated protector of Moscow, St Peter was called on to witness the drawing up of government treaties. The people of Novgorod once had the right of nominating their own bishop in the cathedral of St Sophia. After their annexation to Moscow under Ivan III, they swore an oath that henceforth they would only consecrate their archbishops at the grave of St Peter the Wonderworker. And it was at the grave of the saint that the first hierarchs of Russia were named and chosen.

The Russian Chronicles mention him frequently, and no significant state undertaking was initiated without prayers at the grave of St Peter. The relics of St Peter were transferred in 1472 and 1479. In memory of these events, feastdays were established for October 5 and August 24.


St Juliana the Princess of Vyazma

St Juliana, Princess of Vyazma and Novy Torg, a daughter of the noble Maximus Danilov, was known for her virtues and her chastity. Her spouse, Prince Simeon of Vyazma, and also Prince Yuri of Smolensk, were compelled to flee their native lands, which the Lithuanian prince Vitovt had seized. Then Prince Basil of Moscow bestowed the Tver city of Torzhok upon the exiled princes.

Prince Yuri became captivated by Juliana’s beauty and tried in every way to persuade her to commit adultery, but Juliana remained faithful to her husband. During a feast, Prince Yuri killed Juliana’s husband, in the hope of taking her by force. St Juliana resisted the ravisher, wounding him with a knife. The enraged Prince Yuri ordered that her hands and feet be cut off, and that her body be thrown into the Tvertsa River. The martyrdom of St Juliana occurred in the winter of 1406.

Troubled by his conscience and censured by everyone, Prince Yuri fled to the Tatars, but even there he did not find peace. He settled in the Ryazan wilderness (where he died in 1408). In the spring of 1407, they saw the body of Princess Juliana floating in the river. A certain peasant heard a voice from above, commanding that the body of St Juliana be buried in the Torzhok cathedral on the right side by the south doors.

A tomb for her body was afterwards built at the Savior-Transfiguration cathedral, where many received healing from her. In connection with the glorification of St Juliana on June 2, 1819 a chapel was built on the right-hand side, and dedicated to her. At the cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Lord, where earlier there had been a chapel over the grave of the saint, a church was built and also dedicated to St Juliana in 1906.


Blessed Procopius of Vyatka the Fool-For-Christ

Blessed Procopius, Fool-for-Christ, of Vyatka, was the son of pious peasants. When Procopius reached age twenty, they wanted him to marry, but he secretly went to the city of Khlynov and took upon himself the feat of foolishness. The holy fool endured hunger, cold, mocking and insults. The Lord glorified him with the gift of clairvoyance. Blessed Procopius died at the age of forty-nine in 1627.


Martyr Themistocles of Myra in Lycia

The Holy Martyr Themistocles lived in the city of Myra of Lycia during the reign of the persecutor of Christians, Decius (249-251). Themistocles was a shepherd. During the persecution he concealed within his home a certain Christian named Dioskorides, while he himself went out to the pursuers. They tortured him cruelly, and he received a martyr’s crown for Christ in the year 251.


Venerable Macarius the Faster, Abbot of the Khakhuli Monastery

In the second half of the 10th century King Davit Kuropalates constructed the Khakhuli Church in southern Georgia. He also founded Khakhuli Monastery, which in later centuries would become a center of spirituality, science, and education. Today this monastery is located on Turkish territory, but the grace of the ascetic labors of the fathers who labored there in the past pours forth hope upon the Georgian people to this day.

Many holy and wonder-working fathers labored at Khakhuli Monastery, including St. Basil the son of King Bagrat III, the brothers George and Saba of Khakhuli, St. Hilarion of Tvali and many other God-fearing ascetics, whose righteousness and spiritual feats were guided by the holy abbot Macarius.

Fr. Macarius was a great ascetic, teacher, and prophet. Novices and wise, experienced elders alike flocked to him for advice and blessings. The young monk George, later the great ascetic George of the Holy Mountain, was brought to St. Macarius to receive his blessing. St. Macarius called George his spiritual son.

By the grace of God, St. Macarius reconciled his responsibilities as abbot of the monastery with the great spiritual labor of solitude. He earned the title “the Faster” for his exceptional ascesis in fasting and prayer. It is said that, as abbot of Khakhuli Monastery, “he shone like the morning sunrise and guided the spiritual activity and secular life of the entire Tao-Klarjeti region.”

St. Macarius reposed around the year 1034.