Erastus, Olympus, Rodion, and companions –Apostles

On the Byzantine liturgical calendar today we commemorate the holy apostles, Erastus, Olympus, Rodion, and their companions. Remembered as apostles and little heard of unless you are a student of sacred Scripture.

When St Paul wrote his letter to the Romans he was staying in Corinth. Erastus was the treasurer of that city and a supporter of St Paul. Rodion, or Herodion, is greeted by Paul as a compatriot in the same letter. Olympus is another of the saints singled out for a special greeting. He and his companions were the core of the Church in Rome. (NS).

Erastus, Olympus, Rodion, and their companions, pray for us.

St Theodosius of the caves at Kiev

Our venerable father, Theodosius, abbot of the mon­astery of the caves at Kiev, called the initiator of the common life in ancient Rus.

Theodosius lived two centuries before St. Francis, in Kievan Russia, where the Gospel had only recently been preached for the first time. Like Francis, Theodosius was filled with compassion for the poor and longing for a life of simplicity. He, too, experienced violent opposition from his parents, and eventually took refuge with the hermit, An­thony, in a cave near Kiev.

In time-honored scenario, their life of solitude soon attracted so many followers that by 1062, there were built monastic buildings above ground to house the large community now headed by Theodosius. Adding his own vision to the mo­nastic precepts he learned from Anthony, he tempered Greek and Syrian severity with Slavic compassion. His rule stressed obedience, mutual love, meekness, and simplicity. Above all, in his dealings with monks, peasants, and princes, he reflected the kenosis, or self-emptying, of Christ. Chronicles of the time recount how Theodosius participated in all the labors of the monastery, and was often mistaken by visi­tors for the cook or the gardener. The respect he earned from princes and nobles prompted a flow of wealth into the monastery, which Theodosius used to feed, clothe, and nurse the poor and imprisoned. By the time he died in 1074, Russia had an important and thriving center of monastic life less than 100 years after its conversion. (NS)

More on St Theodosius may be read here.

The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew

At the beginning of the Fast before Christmas, we celebrate the feast of St. Matthew, who wrote one of the Gospels of the birth of our Lord. (St. Luke is the other.) St. Matthew’s purpose was to show how the prophecies of the Covenant were fulfilled in Jesus. Therefore, he is the son of Abraham and the Son of David. He fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that a virgin would give birth, the prophecy of Micah that he would be born in Bethlehem, the prophecy of Jeremiah that the innocents would die, and that he would be called a Nazorean. Matthew tells us of the visit of the Magi, the massacre of the innocents, and the flight into Egypt. It is also Matthew who presents to us the model figure of St. Joseph. Just as the Joseph of the Old Testament saved his people in Egypt, so the Joseph of the New Testament saves the hope of the people, Jesus, by taking him to Egypt. We have no better model of human fatherhood. Joseph is a righteous man (Matthew 1:19), who is open to God’s revelation through his messenger angel that the child of Mary is of God, a faith that goes beyond human knowledge. It is Joseph who protects the child, his foster son, so that Jesus, the Savior, could someday fulfill the plan of the heavenly Father. It is Joseph who re-orders his whole life for the sake of his beloved child. Joseph, then, is a model of divine fatherhood, “from whom every fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named. (Ephesians 3:15)”

In Christmas, we must be filled with the righteous of the holy Joseph.

Troparion at Glory …, Ode 3 of the Feast of St. Matthew:

Matthew, the divinely-minded trumpet made the teachings about God resound. He has poured out the radiant life of the Trinity upon the peoples as he revealed to them the Incarnation of the Word in you, O pure Virgin.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

St Mary Magdalene

The Church recalls the memory of the holy myrrhbearer and equal of the apostles, Mary Magdalene.

There are several Marys mentioned in the New Testament. The surname Magdalene distinguishes this Mary as the one from the town of Magdala. Luke’s gospel mentions that Jesus relieved her of seven devils, which could have simply been some kind of physical or mental illness. Scripture gives evidence of her life as a devoted follower of Christ whose loyalty remained firm when even the faith of the other twelve apostles wavered.

It is most likely that the unnamed woman who washed Christ’s feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and then anointed them was Mary Magdalene, as depicted in many icons of her.

The Church gives Mary Magdalene special honor as the most faithful companion of Jesus as she was at the foot of the cross when he was crucified, and was the first to witness his resurrection. Her encounter with Christ on her way to perform the funeral anointing, as recorded by John, earned her an apostles’ task, for it was she who was commissioned to tell the other apostles that Christ had risen. Thus it becomes clear that not only was she “equal to the apostles” but as scripture shows, she was “apostle to the apostles.” (NS)

“O Mary Magdalene, you were the first to witness the divine Resurrection of the First Cause of all good things, who has compassionately deified our nature; and you were the first to be the herald of the good news to the Apostles, crying out to them: Lay aside your sadness! Receive great hope instead! Come and see the risen Christ who grants the world great mercy! (Doxasticheron, Tone 6, at Psalm 140)

Sts Peter and Paul

“The feast of Peter and Paul and the Birth of John the Baptist are ranked as great feasts, after those of Christ and the Theotokos. Icons of the apostles grouped at the Ascension or at Pentecost always picture Peter and Paul at the head of the assembly, although, historically, Paul was not present at either.

The rapid spread of the early Church is due mainly to these two apostles. Peter was crucified in Rome during the time of Nero in 61 AD. He was married and worked as a fisherman with his brother Andrew in Galilee. When the Twelve were called, Peter took up the role of senior. He openly acknowledged Christ as the Son of God, the Messiah. Although he faltered during Christ’s passion, he still remained first. Peter called for an election to replace Judas. He was the first to preach on Pentecost, and the first to heal and to raise the dead. Peter was, above all, a man of great faith. This earned for him the name Rock, and the assurance from Christ that the Church would be built on such faith.

Paul was born in Tarsus, outside the Jewish homeland. He was a Hellenized Jew, at home in the Graeco-Roman culture. Thus, he was well-qualified by background and personality to be apostle to the Gentiles. Over half of the chapters in the Acts of the Apostles are devoted to Paul’s missionary activity. Thirteen of Paul’s letters, in the New Testament, portray the mettle and stature of his burning zeal for the Word of God. He was beheaded in Rome a few years after Peter met his own death. (NS)

Martyrs of Sebaste, Armenia

Together let us honor that holy company united by faith, those noble warriors of the Master of all; they were divinely enlisted for Christ and passed through fire and water. The they entered into refreshment and pray for those who cry: Glory Him who has strengthened you; glory to Him who has crowned you; glory to Him who has made you wonderful, O holy Forty Martyrs. (Apolytikion)

Today, the Churches of the Constantinopolitan Tradition (as a point of comparison, the Armenian Apostolic Church commemorates liturgically these martyrs on March 21) recalls the forty holy martyrs who perished on the ice of Lake Sebaste in Armenia in AD 320.

The 12th legion of the Roman army was stationed at Sebaste in Armenia when the emperor Licinius decreed the profession of Christianity a capital offense. Forty soldiers of this legion who were Christian refused to renounce their faith. Their sentence was mass execution, carried out by forcing them to strip and wade into a freezing lake. A warming fire was burning on shore to encourage renunciation. One soldier gave up but his place was quickly taken by one of the guards who was so impressed by his comrades valor and commitment that he was willing to join their ranks. All were dead from the cold by the following morning. (NS)

A friend marked the occasion by listening to Donizetti’s opera on this subject, Les Martyrs (Poliuto), based on Corneille’s tragedy Polyeucte. The recording on Opera Rara was sponsored by Haig and Elza Didizian, Bob and Tamar Manoukian and Armen and Nouneh Sarkissian.

Through their holy prayers, O Savior, save Armenia, all the Oriental Orthodox and those of us who love them dearly as brothers!

St Ephrem the Syrian

Today, the Church liturgically recalls the life and work of Our Holy Father Ephrem the Syrian.

As we have seen, the theology of Syrian was a fountain of teaching about the incarnation of our Lord, especially his baptism in the Jordan. The feast of Theophany was the foremost manifestation of the Triune God. Among the Syrian theologians, none was most important than St. Ephrem.

Born of pagan parents, he found the Christian faith, was baptized and eventually ordained a deacon. His life was marked by asceticism, as he imitated our Lord in the desert. He had the ascetic gift of tears, sorrow for sin and joy in the salvation of our Lord. His Troparion begins, “Your abundant tears made the wilderness sprout and bloom, and your deep sighings made your labor fruitful a hundredfold. “His theology was equal to the greatest fathers, but his style was entirely different. He wrote in verse, so that it might be sung in hymns, and so he is called the “Harp of the Holy Spirit.”

The corpus of his work was huge, and over 400 hymns still exist, many of which are used in the Syrian Liturgy. He writes of the mystery of the Incarnation:

“A tiny stream from your teaching, Lord,
For us below makes a flood of interpretations.
In your Bread is hidden a Spirit not to be eaten,
In your Wine dwells a Fire not to be drunk.
Spirit in your Bread, Fire in your Wine,
A wonder set apart, [yet] received by our lips!
See, Fire and Spirit in the womb that bore you!
See, Fire and Spirit in the river where you were baptized!
Fire and Spirit in our Baptism;
In the Bread and the Cup, Fire and Holy Spirit!” (Hymns on the Faith 10)

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

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St Gregory the Theologian

Today the Church liturgically commemorates one the greats: St Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople. The Troparion for this feast reads:

The sweet-sounding shepherd’s pipe of your theology overpowered the trumpeting of the orators; for having searched the depths of the Spirit eloquence was also bestowed upon you. Pray to Christ God, Father Gregory, that our souls may be saved.

St Gregory said,

“If someone asked us, what is it that you worship and respect, we should readily reply, love, for in the Holy Spirit’s own words our God Is Love. This is in fact the name that God cherishes above all others. “What is the sum of the law and the prophets?” This is the only answer that the evangelist would accept. Why in the world then do we the disciples of Love hate one another so? Why do we do disciples of peace engage in wars which do not admit of treaty or truce?”

Can we say this in our parish? in our personal lives?

St Timothy

The holy apostle and martyr, Timothy, bishop of Ephesus, is honored by the Church today.

This disciple and companion of St. Paul was put in charge of the christian community at Ephesus (reportedly for 15 years) and is honored as their first bishop. Around AD 97, he was killed by an angry mob, not unlike the silversmiths’ riot triggered by Paul.

The two letters addressed to Timothy in the New Testament are considered by modern scholarship to be compositions of the Pauline community.

The Kontakion for the feast reads:

Let us the faithful praise the Holy Apostle Timothy, the companion of Paul in his travels and together with him let us honor the wise Anastasius, who came as a star from Persia for the healing of the passions of our souls and the diseases of our bodies.

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St Maximus the Confessor

St Maximus the Confessor is liturgically commemorated today.

“God created all things with his limitless power, brought them into being, holds them there and gathers them together and sets boundaries to them; in his providence, he links them all – intellectual beings as well as sensible – to each other as he does to himself. In his might, God draws up all the things that are naturally distinct from each other and binds them to himself as their cause, their origin and goal; and through the power of this relationship to him as source, he lets them also be drawn toward each other…No being can permanently isolate itself through its own particularity or through the drive of its nature toward some other end; rather, everything remains, in its very being, bound without confusion to everything else, through the single, enduring relationship of all to their one and only source.”

A previous post on St Maximus can be read here.

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