Lives of all saints commemorated on March 24


2nd Sunday of Great Lent: St Gregory Palamas

This Sunday was originally dedicated to Saint Polycarp of Smyrna (February 23). After his glorification in 1368, a second commemoration of Saint Gregory Palamas (November 14) was appointed for the Second Sunday of Great Lent as a second “Triumph of Orthodoxy.”

Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, was born in the year 1296 in Constantinople. Saint Gregory’s father became a prominent dignitiary at the court of Andronicus II Paleologos (1282-1328), but he soon died, and Andronicus himself took part in the raising and education of the fatherless boy. Endowed with fine abilities and great diligence, Gregory mastered all the subjects which then comprised the full course of medieval higher education. The emperor hoped that the youth would devote himself to government work. But Gregory, barely twenty years old, withdrew to Mount Athos in the year 1316 (other sources say 1318) and became a novice in the Vatopedi monastery under the guidance of the monastic Elder Saint Nicodemus of Vatopedi (July 11). There he was tonsured and began on the path of asceticism. A year later, the holy Evangelist John the Theologian appeared to him in a vision and promised him his spiritual protection. Gregory’s mother and sisters also became monastics.

After the demise of the Elder Nicodemus, Saint Gregory spent eight years of spiritual struggle under the guidance of the Elder Nicephorus, and after the latter’s death, Gregory transferred to the Lavra of Saint Athanasius (July 5). Here he served in the trapeza, and then became a church singer. But after three years, he resettled in the small skete of Glossia, striving for a greater degree of spiritual perfection. The head of this monastery began to teach the young man the method of unceasing prayer and mental activity, which had been cultivated by monastics, beginning with the great desert ascetics of the fourth century: Evagrius Pontikos and Saint Macarius of Egypt (January 19).

Later on, in the eleventh century Saint Simeon the New Theologian (March 12) provided detailed instruction in mental activity for those praying in an outward manner, and the ascetics of Athos put it into practice. The experienced use of mental prayer (or prayer of the heart), requiring solitude and quiet, is called “Hesychasm” (from the Greek “hesychia” meaning calm, silence), and those practicing it were called “hesychasts.”

During his stay at Glossia the future hierarch Gregory became fully embued with the spirit of hesychasm and adopted it as an essential part of his life. In the year 1326, because of the threat of Turkish invasions, he and the brethren retreated to Thessalonica, where he was then ordained to the holy priesthood.

Saint Gregory combined his priestly duties with the life of a hermit. Five days of the week he spent in silence and prayer, and only on Saturday and Sunday did he come out to his people. He celebrated divine services and preached sermons. For those present in church, his teaching often evoked both tenderness and tears. Sometimes he visited theological gatherings of the city’s educated youth, headed by the future patriarch, Isidore. After he returned from a visit to Constantinople, he found a place suitable for solitary life near Thessalonica the region of Bereia. Soon he gathered here a small community of solitary monks and guided it for five years.

In 1331 the saint withdrew to Mt. Athos and lived in solitude at the skete of Saint Sava, near the Lavra of Saint Athanasius. In 1333 he was appointed Igumen of the Esphigmenou monastery in the northern part of the Holy Mountain. In 1336 the saint returned to the skete of Saint Sava, where he devoted himself to theological works, continuing with this until the end of his life.

In the 1330s events took place in the life of the Eastern Church which put Saint Gregory among the most significant universal apologists of Orthodoxy, and brought him great renown as a teacher of hesychasm.

About the year 1330 the learned monk Barlaam had arrived in Constantinople from Calabria, in Italy. He was the author of treatises on logic and astronomy, a skilled and sharp-witted orator, and he received a university chair in the capital city and began to expound on the works of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite (October 3), whose “apophatic” (“negative”, in contrast to “kataphatic” or “positive”) theology was acclaimed in equal measure in both the Eastern and the Western Churches. Soon Barlaam journeyed to Mt. Athos, where he became acquainted with the spiritual life of the hesychasts. Saying that it was impossible to know the essence of God, he declared mental prayer a heretical error. Journeying from Mount Athos to Thessalonica, and from there to Constantinople, and later again to Thessalonica, Barlaam entered into disputes with the monks and attempted to demonstrate the created, material nature of the light of Tabor (i.e. at the Transfiguration). He ridiculed the teachings of the monks about the methods of prayer and about the uncreated light seen by the hesychasts.

Saint Gregory, at the request of the Athonite monks, replied with verbal admonitions at first. But seeing the futility of such efforts, he put his theological arguments in writing. Thus appeared the “Triads in Defense of the Holy Hesychasts” (1338). Towards the year 1340 the Athonite ascetics, with the assistance of the saint, compiled a general response to the attacks of Barlaam, the so-called “Hagiorite Tome.” At the Constantinople Council of 1341 in the church of Hagia Sophia Saint Gregory Palamas debated with Barlaam, focusing upon the nature of the light of Mount Tabor. On May 27, 1341 the Council accepted the position of Saint Gregory Palamas, that God, unapproachable in His Essence, reveals Himself through His energies, which are directed towards the world and are able to be perceived, like the light of Tabor, but which are neither material nor created. The teachings of Barlaam were condemned as heresy, and he himself was anathemized and fled to Calabria.

But the dispute between the Palamites and the Barlaamites was far from over. To these latter belonged Barlaam’s disciple, the Bulgarian monk Akyndinos, and also Patriarch John XIV Kalekos (1341-1347); the emperor Andronicus III Paleologos (1328-1341) was also inclined toward their opinion. Akyndinos, whose name means “one who inflicts no harm,” actually caused great harm by his heretical teaching. Akyndinos wrote a series of tracts in which he declared Saint Gregory and the Athonite monks guilty of causing church disorders. The saint, in turn, wrote a detailed refutation of Akyndinos’ errors. The patriarch supported Akyndinos and called Saint Gregory the cause of all disorders and disturbances in the Church (1344) and had him locked up in prison for four years. In 1347, when John the XIV was replaced on the patriarchal throne by Isidore (1347-1349), Saint Gregory Palamas was set free and was made Archbishop of Thessalonica.

In 1351 the Council of Blachernae solemnly upheld the Orthodoxy of his teachings. But the people of Thessalonica did not immediately accept Saint Gregory, and he was compelled to live in various places. On one of his travels to Constantinople the Byzantine ship fell into the hands of the Turks. Even in captivity, Saint Gregory preached to Christian prisoners and even to his Moslem captors. The Hagarenes were astonished by the wisdom of his words. Some of the Moslems were unable to endure this, so they beat him and would have killed him if they had not expected to obtain a large ransom for him. A year later, Saint Gregory was ransomed and returned to Thessalonica.

Saint Gregory performed many miracles in the three years before his death, healing those afflicted with illness. On the eve of his repose, Saint John Chrysostom appeared to him in a vision. With the words “To the heights! To the heights!” Saint Gregory Palamas fell asleep in the Lord on November 14, 1359. In 1368 he was canonized at a Constantinople Council under Patriarch Philotheus (1354-1355, 1364-1376), who compiled the Life and Services to the saint.


Synaxis of the Venerable Fathers of the Kiev Caves Lavra

On the second Sunday of Great Lent, we commemorate all the Holy Fathers whose relics lie in the Near and Far Caves of the Kiev Caves Lavra.


Forefeast of the Annunciation

No information available at this time.


Venerable Zachariah the Recluse

Saint Zachariah the Recluse of Egypt because of his concern for the poor and homeless was called “to the outcast.” In the printed MENAION he is known as “our Monastic Father Zachariah,” and so he has been identified erroneously with Saint Zachariah the Monk.


St. Artemon (Menignus) the Bishop of Seleucia

Saint Artemon, Bishop of Seleucia, was born and lived in Seleucia of Pisidia (Asia Minor). He was pious and virtuous, therefore when the holy Apostle Paul (June 29) came to Seleucia, he established Saint Artemon as the first bishop of this city, since he was the most worthy. Saint Artemon wisely nourished the flock entrusted to him and won glory as a comforter of the poor and oppressed. Saint Artemon died in great old age.

[In the ancient Slavonic Lives of the Saints “Seleucian” was written as “Seleoukinian” or “Seleunian.” However, in several of the Greek memorials the bishop was also called Solunian (i.e., of Thessalonica). Saint Artemon (or Menignus) was listed in the MENAIA as Seleucian or Solunian. In the second half of the eighteenth century, these two names were mistakenly applied to various persons.]


Venerable Zachariah the Ascetic of the Kiev Caves

Saint Zachariah the Faster of the Caves was an ascetic in the Far Caves in the thirteenth-fourteenth centuries. He fasted so strictly that he ate nothing baked nor boiled, and he consumed only greens once a day at the setting of the sun. Demons trembled at the mere mention of his name.

Often the monk saw angels, with which he deserved to live in Heaven.


Martyr Stephen of Kazan

The Holy Martyr Stephen of Kazan was a Tatar. For more than twenty years, he suffered from a weakness of the legs. After the capture of Kazan by Ivan the Terrible (1552), he believed in Christ and received healing. The saint was baptized by Archpriest Menignus of the Moscow cathedral, who had brought a letter from Metropolitan Macarius to the Russian army.

After the Russian army withdrew from Kazan, the Tatars chopped the martyr Stephen into pieces, scattered his body and plundered his house, because he remained faithful to Christ.


Martyr Peter of Kazan

The Holy Martyr Peter of Kazan was a newly-baptized Tatar who suffered because he converted to Christianity from Islam.

After the Russian army left Kazan, the inhabitants dragged Peter from his home by force, and addressed him by his former Moslem name, hoping that he would deny Christ. But to all flattery and persuasion Saint Peter answered, “My father and mother is God Who is glorified in Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If you believe in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, then you are my family. I was named Peter in holy Baptism, and I will not answer to the name by which you address me.”

Seeing that he would remain steadfast in the Faith, his family had him tortured. He endured fierce torments, but he did not cease to confess the Name of Christ, saying, “I am a Christian.” The holy martyr was buried in Kazan on the site where the church of the Resurrection of Christ later stood, at the Zhitny-Grain marketplace.

For the Lives of the holy martyrs Stephen and Peter of Kazan see: “Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate,” 1977, No. 9, p. 79-80.


St. James the Confessor the Bishop of Catania

No information available at this time.


Icon of the Mother of God of “the Uncut Mount”

“The Uncut,” or “Clouded Mountain” Icon of the Mother of God: About 250-300 years ago this icon was in one of the men’s monasteries of Tver and was presented by the Superior to Cosmas Volchaninov in gratitude for his fine work in the monastery church. This icon was passed on from generation to generation, but a certain impious grandson of Cosmas removed it and placed the icon in an attic.

His bride endured many insults from her husband and his relatives. In despair over her marriage she resolved to commit suicide in a deserted bath-house. On the way there a monk appeared to her and said, “Where are you going, unhappy one? Go back, pray to the Theotokos of The Clouded Mountain, and you will live in peace.”

The agitated young wife returned home and revealed everything, not concealing her interrupted intention. They searched for the monk, but they did not find him, and no one had seen him but her. This took place on the eve of the Feast of the Annunciation to the Most Holy Theotokos.

They found the icon in the attic, cleaned off the dirt and set it up in the house in a place of honor. In the evening, the parish priest served the all-night Vigil before the icon. From that time, Vigil was served in the house every year on this day.

For more than 150 years the icon was in the Volchaninov family. Katherine, daughter of Basil, the last of the Volchaninov line, married George Ivanovich Konyaev, taking with her the icon of the Mother of God as a precious inheritance. Moliebens and all-night vigils were served in the Konyaev house on March 24 and November 7 (perhaps this was the day when the icon was transferred from the monastery to the house of Cosmas Volchaninov).

In 1863 near a cemetery church of the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God it was decided to build a chapel in honor of Saint Tikhon and Saint Macarius of Kalyazin. The then owner of the icon, George Konyaev (who died in 1868 at the age of 97) wanted to donate the icon of the Theotokos to the church. He asked the clergy to build another chapel for the wonderworking icon of the Mother of God of the “Clouded Mountain.”

He also said, “I feel the very best place for it is the temple of the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God, since the place on which the church was built, in former times was called a Mount, since it was the highest place in the city. The inhabitants took their possessions to the Mount and saved themselves from ruin during a flood. Let the icon, “The Clouded Mountain”, remain on this mountain with your blessing, and let all who are buried here be veiled with Her mercy.” On July 15, 1866 the icon was transferred into the new chapel, which was consecrated by Bishop Anthony of Staritsk the following day.

On the icon the Most Holy Theotokos is depicted standing on a semi-circular elevation, a mountain; on Her left arm, the Divine Infant blesses with His right hand. Upon the head of the Mother of God is a crown, and in Her hand a mountain, on which are seen above churches with cupolas and crosses.