Saints


St. Lucy

O Jesus, Your lamb Lucy cries out to You with great love: “O my Bridegroom, I long for You in great pain; I am crucified with You; and in baptism I am buried with You. I suffer for your sake in order to reign with You in order to live in You. Accept me as a spotless victim, since I am immolated for Your love!” Through her intercessions, O Merciful One, save our souls! (Apolytikion)

St. Lucy, the glory of Syracuse in Sicily, lived during the persecution of Diocletian (end of the 3rd century). Her name means “light” (from the Latin lux) and her life and martyrdom sheds the divine light on all who ask her intercessions.

Lucy and her mother went to the tomb of the holy virgin Martyr Agatha at Catania in Sicily to pray for her mother’s health. Agatha appeared to Lucy and told her she would become the glory of Syracuse.” When they returned home, she consecrated her virginity, broke her engagement and sold her dowry to distribute the money to the poor.

Needless to say, this recent decision did not make her former fiance very happy! He denounced Lucy as a Christian to the governor of Syracuse. Like St. Katerina before her, Lucy offered her thanks that she would be able to witness to her love of Christ through her death.

At first Lucy was condemned to be defiled in a brothel, but, no matter what her persecutors would do, they could not move her. They attached her to several yoke of oxen, and even lit a fire all around her, but she could not be budged. Finally, she was beheaded.

Crowning of "St. Lucy" in a Swedish town

The celebration of St. Lucy’s day is particularly associated with the Scandanavian countries. A young girl, wearing white with a red sash and crowned with candles (reminiscent of her name of “light”), leads a procession of women carrying lighted candles. They sing songs in honor of St. Lucy as well as Christmas carols. The celebration is probably originally associated with the winter solstice, since December 13 in the Julian calendar falls around that time, and celebrates the return of the light. As the celebration of St. Lucy, it reminds us of the radiance of the divine light from one who loved our Lord so deeply.

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St. Spyridon of Trimythous

 

You showed yourself a defender of the first Council and a worker of miracles. You summoned the woman back from the grave and turned the snake into gold. Angels came to minister beside you, O holy father Spirydon, when you offered your ardent prayers. Glory to Him who strengthened you! Glory to Him who crowned you! Glory to Him who heals us through your intercessions. (Apolytikion)

Today we commemorate a great saint who exemplified humility and love, St. Spyridon, the 4th century Bishop of Trimythous in Cyprus. He is an example not only for priests and hierarchs, but also for the faithful who can learn from him how to live among the great and powerful and still maintain a spirit of humility, generosity and compassion toward all.

Before Spyridon became a bishop he was a simple shepherd in his native Cyprus. He was married and he and his wife had one daughter.

His compassion for those in need compelled him even to break the fast. On the first day of Lent a traveller knocked on his door. St. Spyridon asked his daughter to wash the man’s feet so he could eat dinner with them. His daughter pointed out that there was no bread in the house, since St. Spyridon only ate on certain days during the fast. He responded by telling her to cook a salted ham. When the man refused to eat, St. Spyridon told him , “It is not proper to refuse this, for the Word of God proclaims, “Unto the pure all things are pure” (Titus 1:15).

After his wife died, Spyridon’s holiness became well known and, when the Bishop of the small town of Trimythous died, the people with one voice called on Spyridon to be his successor. As a bishop, he never lost his humble shepherd ways, but shepherded the flock of Christ like the true and good Shepherd.

The life of St. Spyridon is filled with the stories of his miracles. A couple of these stories will illustrate how God used him as his instrument in this world, and how his main concern was to help and comfort the poor and afflicted.

At a time of a terrible drought, the Saint interceded and the rains fell. However, there were some unscrupulous men on the island who had horded grain and intended to sell the grain at an exorbitant price in order to make a profit on the misfortune of their fellow citizens. At the prayers of the Saint their barns fell to the ground and the grain equitably distributed among the people. According to the Church Historian Sozomen, St. Spyridon would divide his grain among the destitute and those who were suffering from debt; he did not keep anything for himself personally, but opened his storeroom to all to take what they needed and to pay it back whenever possible.

At another time, just a look from him reduced a woman of loose reputation to repent and give up her evil ways. He also converted some thieves who had broken into his sheepfold to steal some ewes. They found themselves bound by an invisible force throughout the night. Spyridon discovered them the next day and spoke to them at length about how they needed to give up their life of stealing and live by honorable labor. After he was through, he let them go, giving each a lamb, saying, “Take this for your trouble, so you did not spend a sleepless night in vain.”

O venerable father, renowned hierarch, having followed the teaching of the apostles, you became the dwelling-place of the Spirit through your virtues. by your teachings, you keep the wicked wolves far from the Church, and you cause the orthodox Faith to shine with all brilliance. you were a pillar, a defender of the Faith. Extending your miracles to the whole world, you changed a serpent into gold and raised up a dead person to answer your questions. Most worthy of admiration among the Fathers, and with the boldness of the holy Teachers, beg Christ to save our souls! (Doxastikon of the Ainoi)

St. Spyridon was one of the bishops present at the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea. There he simply and eloquently defended the Orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, so that a famous Arian philosopher could not refute him, but converted and was baptized. St. Spyridon also graphically showed the nature of the Trinity. He took a brick and squeezed it; out of the brick came fire, water, and dust was left. Just as the brick was one thing, it was made up of three. “There was only one brick,” St Spyridon said, “but it was composed of three elements. In the Holy Trinity there are three Persons, but only one God.”

On another occasion, St. Spyridon was celebrating the Divine Liturgy in a remote church. His assitants heard the voices of an angelic choir make the responses of the Liturgy. The beauty drew the neighboring people to the Church, but when they arrived, they saw only the Saint and the servers.

After a long and virtuous life, St. Spyridon reposed in the Lord in 348. His holy body continued to be the source of divine power and miracles. In the 7th century his body was taken to Constantinople in order to avoid its desecration by the invading Arabs. When the City was falling to the Turks in 1456, his incorrupt body was secretly taken to the island of Kerkyra (Corfu), where he continued to protect the faithful from famine, plague and invasions.

The Reliquary of St. Spyridon on Kerkrya

The legend of St. Spyridon maintains that he is a “walking saint” who walks during the night to continue bringing compassion and healing to his people. The belief proliferated because his shoes seem to wear out every year, and he requires a new pair. One pair of St. Spyridon’s shoes are located in the Cathedral of St. Spyridon in Worcester, MA.

Slippers of St. Spyridon in Worcester MA

St. Spyridon is an incredible witness of the Christian life, a life of humble service, of love especially to the poor, and of compassion toward all who are in need of compassion. Through his intercession may we learn these traits from him!

O blessed father, venerable Spyridon, for love of God you challenge sin even now just as wehn you were alive. You practiced poverty, yet changed a serpent into gold; you stopped the flow of a river in your flowing compassion for the people; as an instrument of the Providence of God, you appeared to the emperor and healed him. As a disciple of Christ, you raised the dead. Joining the assembly of the Fathers, you made the brilliant purity of the faith shine forth. Having such power with Christ who gave you these gifts, pray to Him to save our souls. (Doxastikon of the Kekragaria)

This is an aspect that I love and have always loved about Orthodoxy. We can talk about theosis and the perichoresis of the Holy Trinity, about hypostaseis and prosopa, but “when the rubber hits the road” we also celebrate conceptions and we can loudly proclaim (in today’s Synaxarion)

On the ninth day, Anna became the grandmother of God, as she conceived the Mother of her King.

What an image–the Grandmother of God! How much more down to earth can one be? Today, on the 9th of December, we celebrate the fact that through the promise of God and through normal marital intercourse, the righteous couple, Joachim and Anna, were privileged to conceive the child who would become the Mother of God. It is truly one of those moments when the whole universe rushes together, when the cooperation of the divine and the human becomes almost painfully present. God loves us so deeply and so desires to live with us, to become one of us, that he has the moment planned from all eternity. At the same time, God loves us so deeply that he will not violate our human nature and peform some sort of “magic act” to take on human nature. Each step is planned; each step requires the full cooperation of the human actors. God and man working together for our salvation.

Today’s feast reminds us, as does the beautiful Gospel from the Sunday before Christmas from the first chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, that God has a human family, just like the rest of us. God has fully entered into our human experience. It’s ashame that his Grandmother and his Grandfather never knew him in the flesh. They raised such a wonderful daughter; they certainly would have been very proud of their Grandson!

On an interesting aside note: The Orthodox Church celebrates three feasts of conceptions. The most important, of course, is March 25, the Annunciation, the day that Mary conceived the Son of God in her womb. Exactly nine months later (December 25) we celebrate the birth of that Son. The other two conceptions are St. Anna’s conception of the Theotokos and St. Elizabeth’s conception of the Forerunner, St. John the Baptist. Interestingly, the birth feasts are not exactly nine months later. The Nativity of the Theotokos is on September 8, one day shy of the 9 months. The Conception of the Forerunner is celebrated on September 23, and his birth on June 24, one day more than the 9 months. This discrepency is to emphasize that only Christ is perfect, having a perfect 9 month gestation period. As holy as the Theotokos and John the Baptist were, they were not equal to our Lord in perfection, and so their dates are just off of the exact 9 month period.

Te Deum laudamus

Te Dominum confitemur

St. Ambrose

St. Ambrose was Bishop of Milan at the end of the 4th century. Previously he had been Governor of Aemilia and Liguria. When he went to quell the troubles that were brewing between the Orthodox and the Arians in electing a new Bishop of Milan, the people were so impressed by him that they began to cry out, “Ambrose for Bishop.” One big trouble–Ambrose was still a catechumen. He was immediately baptized and, eight days later, made a bishop.

St. Ambrose was an exemplary bishop, defending the Orthodox faith of Nicaea against the newest onslaught of Arianism. But he also defended the moral teachings of the Church against no one less than the Emperor Theodosius. When the governor of Thessaloniki had been killed in a riot, Theodosius punished the city by massacering more than seven thousands citizens. When the Emperor came to Milan (the imperial residence in the West) and tried to enter the Cathedral, Ambrose stood against him and excommunicated him. Theodosius humbly accepted this rebuke and joined the ranks of the penitents.

St. Ambrose was also famous for his beautiful hymns. His simple phrases encapsulate the great truths of our Faith. Probably the most famous hymn attributed to St. Ambrose is called the Te Deum (from its first words). It is used in the West as a service of thanksgiving (comparable to the Artoklasia in the Greek Church) and is sung at very solemn times. The hymn is a magificent monument of the Orthodox faith and the effect this Faith should have in our lives. Here is a translation of the beginning.

We praise you, O God. We acknowledge you to be the Lord. The whole earth worships you as the eternal Father. All Angels, the Heavens and all Powers, the Cherubim and Seraphim with ceaseless voice cry out: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, the heavens and earth are filled with the majesty of your glory.

After meditating on the transcendence of the Father, the hymn turns to praise of the Son and the history of salvation. One of the most moving verses of the hymn is this:

Tu ad liberandum suscepturus hominem, non horruisti virginis uterum.

When you took it upon yourself to free humanity, you did not despise the Virgin’s womb.

Such a profound formulation of the divine kenosis or emptying; God himself submitted to dwell in a Virgin’s womb, to undergo nine months of gestation and then a human birth.

The hymn concludes with a simple and yet profound prayer of faith.

In te Domine speravi; non confundar in aeternum.

I have hoped in you , O Lord; may I never be confounded.

I have attached a video of this beautiful hymn attributed to St. Ambrose. I chose this particular video because, although it may not be the best “performance”, it is sung in the context of Liturgy and prayer.

St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia

We have gathered together to celebrate and to praise with song the model of bishops and glory of the fathers, a fountain of miracles and a great helper to believers. Let us sing to Nicholas: “Rejoice, O protector of Myra, who were revered as its shepherd and strongest pillar! Rejoice, O radiant star, whose light of miracles shines throughout the world! Rejoice, O divine joy to those in sorrow! Rejoice, O defender of the oppressed; for even now, O holy Nicholas, you still pray to God for us who celebrate your feast with faith, and who honor you with zeal and joy.” (Vespers of St. Nicholas)

The hymns for the feast of St. Nicholas are amazing in the depths of their theology, the exuberance of their praises, and the beauty of their poetry.  The hymns love to play on the name Nicholas and its connection to the Greek word nike which means “victory.” They also love to play on the connection between his city Myra and the Greek word myrrhon, the fragrant holy oil which is used in the Holy Mystery of Chrismation. The hymns present Nicholas as the victor with Christ over the powers of the enemy, the presence of the sweet smell of the Holy Spirit among his faithful both in Myra and throughout the world.

O holy father Nicholas, Christ has shown you to be a model of faith. Your humility inspired all your flock. From Myra, your piety shines throughout the world. you are known as the protector of widows and orphans. Now we ask your unceasing prayer for the salvation of our souls. (Lete of Vespers)

St. Nicholas especially showed the depths of his faith at the First Ecumenical Council. Confronted with the blasphemies of Arius, he could not contain his righteous indignation, and struck Arius. Because it was a violation of Canon Law for one cleric to strike another, Nicholas was stripped of his office. That night, Christ and the Theotokos appeared in dreams to the bishops of the Council and informed them that they were, in fact, pleased with Nicholas’ action because he acted out of love, and that they needed to restore him to his office. He was willing to suffer humilitation and degradation rather than see the truths of the faith trampled under foot. How many of us stand up for our faith when it is attaked? What an example St. Nicholas can be in this!

O father and hierarch Nicholas, the holiness of your life has set you before your flock as a rule of faith, an example of meekness and a teacher of temperance. Wherefore, you acquired greatness through humility and spiritual wealth through poverty. Pray to Christ God that He may save our souls. (Apolytikion)

St. Nicholas, of course, is best known for his love of the poor. The story of how he helped rescue a father from consigning his three daughters to prostitution because he could not provide them with a dowry is well known. Even today he is considered the patron of children everywhere. But, unlike his commercial adaptation (the so-called Santa Claus), he does not encourage children (and adults) to greed and jealousy. Rather, he won true riches through poverty. He shows us how to become rich in the love of God.

As we prepare to celebrate the great Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, we pray that St. Nicholas will show us the true path, both to appreciate the great truth of the feast, that God truly became a human being, and to see that God’s love is manifested in poverty and not in wealth, in generosity and sacrificial giving and not in greed.

St. Andrew the First-Called

Andrew, first-called of the Apostles, and brother of Peter, their leader: intercede with the Master of all that He may grant peace to the world and great mercy to our souls. (Apolytikion)

Today we celebrate the memory of the holy, glorious and illustrious first-called Apostle Andrew, the patron of the Church of Constantinople. St. Andrew’s immediate response to our Lord’s call is an example for all of us in our journey of faith.

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” they said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’ clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. Youa re to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). (John 1:35-42)

Just as our Lord offered the invitation first to Andrew, “Come and see,” so he offers the same invitation to us. Our faith is not a logical proposition; it is an experience of a living person who loves us and whom we love.

Let us praise for his courage Andrew the theologian, first Apostle of the Savior and brother of Peter, for just as he drew his brother to Christ, he is crying out to us: “Come, for we have found the One the world desires!” (Kontakion)

St. Andrew also gives us an example of discipleship when he is called with Peter from their nets. His response is immediate and without hesitation.

Call of Peter and Andew

As [Jesus] walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net intot he sea–for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 3:18-20)

“Follow me”. What do these words mean? For Andrew, it meant leaving his “comfort zone”, abandoning his profession, his world, everything he knew, to follow a young rabbi who was teaching strange things about a new vision of the Kingdom of God. “Follow me”. We receive the same call at our Baptism and every day of our lives. It means we must abandon our egos, our self-absorption, the “feel good” philosophy of our society and allow ourselves to be guided on the path which Christ walks ahead of us. This path is the rough path of the cross, but our only sure safety is to put our feet in his footsteps, to go where he leads, the leave ourselves open to the new life and love that he gives us on the way.

Let us acclaim Andrew, the herald of the Faith and servant of the Word, who fishes men from the depths of error, holding in his hands the rod of the Cross and casting divine power as a net to draw souls from the abyss of evil and to present them as an acceptable offering to our God. O faithful, ceaselessly sing to him with the choirs of disciples of Christ, that he intercede before him to show us favor on the day of judgment. (Doxastikon of the Ainoi)

St. Andrew gave the perfect witness of his faith and love by his death. After having preached in Greece, Bithynia and Thrace, he went to Patras in Greece. As the story is told in the Synaxarion vol. 2 by Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra (1999, p. 282):

At Patras Andrew healed Maximilla, the Proconsul’s wife, of an incurable illness, and so brought her to the faith. The other inhabitants of Patras also shared in the blessings he brought with him, and there was soon a large community of Christians in the city. During the absence of teh Proconsul Aegeates, Saint Andrew converted his brother and deputy, Stratocles. On his return, Aegeates was enraged to observe the gains made by the Christians even in his own household, and he had the Apostle arrested. In prison Andrew continued preaching, and he ordained Stratocles as Bishop of Patras. Some days later the Apostle was summarily condemned to be crucified head downwards. How joyful he was to imitate Christ even in the way he was to die for him! After restraining the friends who wanted to procure his freedom, Andrew blessed his faithful for the last time and gave up his soul to God. Aegeates died a violent death soon after, as punishment for his iniquity, and his wealth was distributed to the poor by Stratocles, who built the cathedral church over the place of the Apostle’s martyrdom.

When we are hesitant or doubtful about our role as disciples of Christ, let us turn to St. Andrew and ask him for his assistance to “come and see”.

Having found the primary object of your desires, the One who put on our nature in the compassion of his heart, O Andrew, you united yourself to him in the fervor of your love. You cried out to your brother, “We have found Christ, the One whom the prophets announced in the Spirit. Let us go, that his beauty may delight our souls and spirits; so that, enlightened by his splendor, we may drive away the darkness of ignorance and the night of error, praising and blessing the Lord who grants the world great mercy!” (from the Aposticha of Vespers)

Today we celebrate the memory of the holy Great-martyr Katherine of Alexandria.

St. Katherine

Let us sing of the illustrious bride of Christ, holy Katherine, the protectress of Sinai, who is our refuge and our help. With the sword of the Spirit, she brilliantly silenced the sophistry of the impious; as a crowned martyr, she forever entreats great mercy for us all.

Thanksgiving

For some reason the feast of St. Katherine always reminds me of Thanksgiving. Probably because they almost always coincide in some way, either occuring on the same day, or within a few days of each other.

The coincidence of these two celebrations naturally brings to mind the relationship of giving thanks to martyrdom. The first thing that strikes me about the stories of the martyrs is the gratitude and joy they feel because they have been privileged to bear the ultimate witness to their faith in Christ by enduring tortures and death. The Synaxarion compiled by Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra (vol. 2, 1999, p. 239) illustrates this in the martyrdom of St. Katherine:

On 25 November, Catherine was brought forth from her dungeon to appear at the tribunal, fairer and more radiant with heavenly joy than when she had entered it, for she saw that the day of her union with Christ had come at last. She was taken outside the city and, after a last prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord, who had revealed to her the inexhaustible treasures of true wisdom, she was beheaded in her turn.

This young girl, so wise in the ways of the world, saw all her earthly wisdom as nothing compared with the wisdom and beauty of her Lord. She was about to give a witness to her love for God, and was grateful that such an opportunity was provided to her.

We look at such love with admiration, but at a distance: there’s no way I could ever achieve such a deep love that I would be thankful for my persecutors. When we make that small gesture toward gratitude to God for what he has given us on Thanksgiving, there will be little gratitude expressed that life gives us the constant opportunity to grow deeper in love with God. Yes, we are grateful for family and friends, for health and prosperity, all these things are important gifts. But the greatest gift we have is God’s love towards us, and the grace he gives us to love him in return. Do we love him enough to thank him for this? If not, our prayer should be that God will strengthen our love to the point that, with St. Katherine, we are willing to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for any opportunity to give witness to our love.

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