Saint Acacius of Sinai lived during the sixth century and was a novice at a certain monastery in Asia. The humble monk distinguished himself by his patient and unquestioning obedience to his Elder, a harsh and dissolute man. He forced his disciple to toil excessively, starved him with hunger, and beat him without mercy. Despite such treatment, St Acacius meekly endured the affliction and thanked God for everything. St Acacius died after suffering these torments for nine years.
Five days after Acacius was buried, his Elder told another Elder about the death of his disciple. The second Elder did not believe that the young monk was dead. They went to the grave of Acacius and the second Elder called out: “Brother Acacius, are you dead?” From the grave a voice replied, “No, Father, how is it possible for an obedient man to die?” The startled Elder of St Acacius fell down with tears before the grave, asking forgiveness of his disciple.
After this he repented, constantly saying to the Fathers, “I have committed murder.” He lived in a cell near the grave of St Acacius, and he ended his life in prayer and in meekness. St John Climacus (March 30) mentions him in THE LADDER (Step 4:110) as an example of endurance and obedience, and of the rewards for these virtues.
Our Holy Father John was born in Constantinople, the Queen of Cities. At first he worked as a goldsmith, and everyone expected him to continue in that occupation. From his youth, however, he was inclined toward the monastic life. He also possessed a rare gift for continence and a natural love for fasting, and thus he was known as “the Faster.” Because of his reputation for virtue, he was ordained as a deacon by Patriarch John III, and later he received the grace of the priesthood. St. John was found worthy to behold a vision which showed that he would become be a worthy recipient of God’s grace, for the spiritual enlightenment of his flock. He read the Holy Scriptures and other ecclesiastical books every day, thereby enriching his knowledge.
Once, when he was a young man, John was walking with Eusebius, an old monk from Palestine. Suddenly, a bodiless voice spoke to Eusebius: “Abba, do not walk to the right of the great John.” It was the voice of God, foretelling the great service to which John would shortly be called.
After the death of Patriarch Eutychius, St. John was chosen to succeed him. He did not want to accept the office, but he was frightened by a heavenly vision, and so he consented. By the example of his own life he taught all believers to restrain their capricious desires and to control themselves. The hierarch was unable to abide his flock’s blatant disregard for the institutions of the Church. When the citizens of Constantinople decided to give in to their passions by attending a horse show in the Hippodrome on eve of the Feast of Pentecost, the hierarch fell on his knees before God and fervently prayed that the Lord would thwart their impious intention. As soon as the people began to make their way to the Hippodrome, a terrible storm arose with thunder, rain and hailstones so that everyone dispersed in fear and came to realize the inappropriateness of such entertainment.
St John was Patriarch of Constantinople from 582 - 595, and was the first to use the title “Ecumenical Patriarch.”
He was a great faster, intercessor and wonderworker right up to the time of his death. Distinguished for his abstinence and prayer, St. John had such a love for the poor that he refused them nothing from his estate. After his death, his only personal possessions were found to be a wooden spoon, a linen shirt and an old garment. His writings on repentance and Confession are well known.
After a virtuous life of piety, during which he performed many miracles, St. John reposed on September 2, 595. His grace-filled relics were entombed in the Church of the Holy Apostles.
Saint Aidan, a steadfast defender of Celtic practices against the imposition of Roman usage, was born in Ireland (then called Scotland) in the seventh century. As a monk of the monastery founded by St Columba (June 9) on the island of Iona, he was known for his strict asceticism.
When the holy King Oswald of Northumbria (August 5) wanted to convert his people to Christianity, he turned to the Celtic monks of Iona, rather than the Roman clergy at Canterbury. The first bishop sent to lead the mission proved unsuitable, for he alienated many people by his harshness, and he blamed the hostile disposition of the English for his failure. St Aidan said that the bishop was to blame, and not the English. Instead of being too severe with an ignorant people, he should have fed them with milk rather than solid food (I Cor. 3:2). The bishop was recalled, and an ideal candidate was found to replace him.
St Aidan was consecrated bishop and sent to Northumbria to take charge of the mission. King Oswald gave him the island of Lindisfarne near the royal residence of Bamburg for his episcopal See. St Aidan also founded the famous monastery on Lindisfarne in 635.
St Bede (May 27), in his ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH PEOPLE praises Aidan for his humility and piety, recommending him as a model for other bishops and priests to follow. He was not attached to the things of this world, nor did he seek earthly treasures. Whenever he received gifts from the king or from rich men, he distributed them to the poor. On Wednesdays and Fridays he would fast from all food until the Ninth Hour (about 3 P.M.), except during the paschal season.
From Lindisfarne, St Aidan traveled all over Northumbria, visiting his flock and establishing missions. St Oswald, who knew Gaelic from the time he and his family were exiled to Iona, acted as an interpreter for Bishop Aidan, who did not speak English. Thus, the king played an active role in the conversion of his people.
One year, after attending the services of Pascha, King Oswald sat down to a meal with Bishop Aidan. Just as the bishop was about to bless the food, a servant came in and informed the king that a great number of needy folk were outside begging for alms. The king ordered that his own food be served to the poor on silver platters, and that the silver serving dishes be broken up and distributed to them.There is a charming illustration of this incident in the thirteenth century Berthold Missal in New York’s Pierpont Morgan Library (Morgan MS 710, fol. 101v). Aidan, deeply moved by St Oswald’s charity, took him by the right hand and said, “May this hand never perish.” According to Tradition, St Oswald’s hand remained incorrupt for centuries after his death. St Bede says that the hand was kept in the church of St Peter at Bamburgh, where it was venerated by all. The present location of the hand, if it still survives, is not known.
St Oswald was killed in battle against the superior forces of King Penda on August 5, 642 at a place called Maserfield. He was only thirty-eight years old. St Aidan was deeply grieved by the king’s death, but his successor St Oswin (August 20) was also very dear to him.
King Oswin once gave St Aidan a horse and a cart for his journeys (the bishop usually traveled on foot). Soon after this, Bishop Aidan met a beggar and gave him the horse and cart. The king heard of this and was disturbed by it. He asked St Aidan why he had given the royal gift away when there were ordinary horses in the stables which were more suitable for a beggar. Aidan rebuked him, asking if the king regarded the foal of a mare more highly than the Son of God. At first, he did not understand. Then he fell at the bishop’s feet, weeping tears of repentance. Asking for forgiveness, Oswin promised never again to judge St Aidan’s charitable deeds.
St Aidan raised the king to his feet, declaring that he had never seen a king who was so humble. He prophesied that Oswin would soon depart from this life, since the people did not deserve such a ruler. His prophecy was soon fulfilled, for St Oswin was murdered at Gilling on August 20, 651. St Aidan departed to the Lord on August 31, less than two weeks later. He died at Bamburgh, by the west wall of the church. The beam on which he was leaning to support himself still survives, even though the church was twice destroyed by fire. The beam may still be seen in the ceiling of the present church, above the baptismal font.
On the day St Aidan died, St Cuthbert (March 20) was a young man tending his master’s sheep. Looking up, Cuthbert saw a vision of angels bearing someone’s soul to heaven in a sphere of fire. Later, he learned that Bishop Aidan had died at the very hour that he had seen the vision.
At first, the holy bishop Aidan was buried at Lindisfarne on the right side of the altar in the church of St Peter. In 664 the Synod of Whitby declared that all the churches of Britain must follow Roman practices, and that Celtic customs were to be suppressed. St Colman (February 18), the third Bishop of Lindisfarne, was unable to accept this decision. Therefore, he decided to retire to Iona, taking the bones of St Aidan with him. Celtic customs survived on Iona until the eighth century.
Saint Fantinus the Wonderworker was born in Calabria (Italy) of parents George and Vriena. He was given over to a monastery, and from childhood he was accustomed to ascetic deeds. In his youth he wandered into the wilderness, remaining often without food or clothes for twenty days. The monk spent 60 years in such exploits.
Before the end of his life, fleeing before pursuing Saracens, he went with his disciples Vitalius and Nicephorus to the Peloponnesos (Greece). Preaching the way of salvation, the monk visited Corinth, Athens, Larissa and Thessalonica, where he venerated the relics of the Great Martyr Demetrius (October 26). He died peacefully in extreme old age at the end of the ninth, and beginning of the tenth century.
Righteous Anna the Prophetess was descended from the tribe of Aser, and was the daughter of Phanuel. She lived with her husband for seven years until he died. After his death, Righteous Anna led a strict and pious life, “not leaving the Temple, and serving God both day and night in fasting and prayer” (Luke. 2: 37). When Righteous Anna was 84 years old, she saw the Infant Jesus Christ at the Temple of Jerusalem. He was brought to be dedicated to God as a firstborn child according to the Mosaic law.
Righteous Anna also heard the prophetic words of St Simeon the God-Receiver spoken to the Most Holy Theotokos. The Prophetess Anna together with St Simeon glorified God, and told everyone that the Messiah had come into the world (Luke. 2: 38).
The New Hieromartyr Cosmas, Equal of the Apostles, in the world Constas, was a native of Aitolia. He studied at first under the guidance of the archdeacon Ananias Dervisanos, and afterwards continued his education on Mount Athos, at the Vatopedi school renowned for teachers such as Nicholas Tzartzoulios (from Metsovo) and Eugenius Voulgaris (afterwards in the years 1775-1779 the archbishop of Ekaterinoslav and the Chersonessus).
Remaining on Athos at the Philotheou monastery to devote himself to spiritual labors, he was tonsured a monk with the name Cosmas, and later was ordained hieromonk. The desire to benefit his fellow Christians, to guide them upon the way of salvation and strengthen their faith, impelled St Cosmas to seek the blessing of his spiritual fathers and go to Constantinople. There he mastered the art of rhetoric and, having received a written permit of Patriarch Seraphim II (and later from his successor Sophronius) to preach the Holy Gospel.
So the saint began to proclaim the Gospel at first in the churches of Constantinople and the surrounding villages, then in the Danube regions, in Thessalonica, in Verroia, in Macedonia, Chimaera, Akarnania, Aitolia, on the islands of Saint Maura, Kephalonia and other places.
His preaching, filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit, was simple, calm, and gentle. It brought Christians great spiritual benefit. The Lord Himself assisted him and confirmed his words with signs and miracles, just as He had confirmed the preaching of the Apostles.
Preaching in the remote areas of Albania, where Christian piety had almost disappeared among the rough and coarse people entrenched in sin, St Cosmas led them to sincere repentance and improvement with the Word of God.
Under his guidance, church schools were opened in the towns and villages. The rich offered their money for the betterment of the churches, for the purchase of Holy Books (which the saint distributed to the literate), veils (which he gave women, admonishing them to come to church with covered heads),for prayer ropes and crosses (which he distributed to the common folk), and for baptismal fonts so that children could be baptized in the proper manner.
Since the churches could not accommodate everyone wanting to hear the wise preacher, St Cosmas with forty or fifty priests served the Vigil in the fields, and in city squares, where thousands of people prayed for the living and for the dead, and were edified by his preaching. Everywhere that St Cosmas halted and preached, the grateful listeners set up a large wooden cross, which remained thereafter in memory of this.
The apostolic service of St Cosmas was brought to a close by his martyric death in the year 1779. At 65 years of age, he was seized by the Turks and strangled. His body was thrown into a river, and after three days, was found by the priest Mark and buried near the village of Kolikontasi at the monastery of the Entrance into the Temple of the Most Holy Theotokos. Afterwards, part of his relics were transferred to various places as a blessing.
He was glorified by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1961.
The Martyr Eulalia lived in Spain, near the city of Barcionum (now Barcelona), and she was raised by her parents in piety and the Christian Faith. Already at fourteen years of age, the maiden spent a solitary life in her parental home with others of her own age, occupied in prayer, the reading of Holy Scripture, and handicrafts.
During the time of a persecution against Christians under the emperors Diocletian (284-305) and Maximian (305-311), the governor Dacian arrived in the city of Barcionum to rid it of Christians. Hearing of this, the maiden secretly left her home at night, and by morning had made her way into the city. Pushing her way through the throng of people, the girl made a bold denunciation of the judge for forcing people to renounce the True God in order to offer sacrifice to devils instead.
Dacian gave orders to strip the girl and beat her with rods, but she steadfastly endured the torment and told the judge that the Lord would deliver her from the pain. They tied the martyr to a tree and tore her skin with iron claws, and they then burned her wounds with torches.
During her torment, Dacian asked the saint, “Where then is your God, Whom you have called upon?” She answered that the Lord was beside her, but that Dacian in his impurity could not see Him. During the saint’s prayer: “Behold, God helps me, and the Lord is the defender of my soul” (Ps. 53/54:4), the flames of the torches turned back upon the torturers, who fell to the ground.
The Martyr Eulalia began to pray that the Lord would take her to Heaven to Himself, and with this prayer she died. People saw a white dove come from her mouth and fly up to Heaven. Then a sudden snowstorm covered the martyr’s naked body like a white garment (the saint’s commemoration is sometimes given as December 10, which may be more correct, in view of the snow).
Three days later, the martyr’s parents came and wept before her hanging body, but they were also glad that their daughter would be numbered among the saints. When they took St Eulalia from the tree, one of the Christians, named Felix, said with tears of joy: “Lady Eulalia, you are the first of us to win the martyr’s crown!”
St Felix himself soon accepted death for Christ, and is also commemorated on this day.
The Martyr Andrew Stratelates was a military commander in the Roman army during the reign of the emperor Maximian (284-305). They loved him in the Roman army because of his bravery, invincibility and sense of fairness. When a large Persian army invaded the Syrian territories, the governor Antiochus entrusted St Andrew with the command of the Roman army, giving him the title of “Stratelates” (“Commander”). St Andrew selected a small detachment of brave soldiers and proceeded against the adversary.
His soldiers were pagans, and St Andrew himself had still not accepted Baptism, but he believed in Jesus Christ. Before the conflict he persuaded the soldiers that the pagan gods were demons and could not help them in battle. He proclaimed to them Jesus Christ, the omnipotent God of Heaven and earth, giving help to all who believe in Him.
The soldiers went into battle, calling on the help of the Savior. The small detachment routed the numerous host of the Persians. St Andrew returned from the campaign in glory, having gained a total victory. But jealous men denounced him to the governor Antiochus, saying that he was a Christian who had converted the soldiers under his command to his faith.
St Andrew was summoned to trial, and there he declared his faith in Christ. For this they subjected him to torture. He laid himself upon a bed of white-hot copper, but as soon as he sought help from the Lord, the bed became cool. They crucified his soldiers on trees, but not one of them renounced Christ. Locking the saints away in prison, Antiochus sent the report of charges on to the emperor, unable to decide whether to impose the death sentence upon the acclaimed champion. The emperor knew how the army loved St Andrew, and fearing a rebellion, he gave orders to free the martyrs. Secretly, however, he ordered that each be executed on some pretext.
After being freed, St Andrew went went to the city of Tarsus with his fellow soldiers. There the local bishop Peter and Bishop Nonos of Beroea baptized them. Then the soldiers proceeded on to the vicinity of Taxanata. Antiochus wrote a letter to Seleucus, governor of the Cilicia region, ordering him to overtake the company of St Andrew and kill them, under the pretext that they had deserted their military standards.
Seleucus came upon the martyrs in the passes of Mount Tauros, where they were evidently soon to suffer. St Andrew, calling the soldiers his brothers and children, urged them not to fear death. He prayed for all who would honor their memory, and asked the Lord to create a curative spring on the place where their blood would be shed.
At the time of this prayer the steadfast martyrs were beheaded with swords. During this time, a spring of water issued forth from the ground. Bishops Peter and Nonos, with their clergy, secretly followed the company of St Andrew, and buried their bodies. One of the clergy, suffering for a long time from an evil spirit, drank from the spring of water, and at once he was healed. Reports of this spread among the local people and they began to come to the spring. Through the prayers of St Andrew and the 2593 Martyrs suffering with him, they received gracious help from God.
Saint Alypius, one of the first and finest of Russian iconographers, was a disciple of St Nikon (March 23), and from his youth he lived a life of asceticism at the Kiev Caves monastery. He studied the iconography of the Greek masters, and from the year 1083 beautified the Caves monastery church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos.
If he learned that in some church the icons had become worn, he took them with him and restored them without charge. If people happened to pay him for his work, he set aside one third to purchase supplies for painting icons, one third as alms for the poor, and the remainder for his own needs.
St Alypius was never famous, and he painted icons only to serve God. He was ordained a hieromonk, and was known for working miracles even in his lifetime. St Alypius healed a Kievan man suffering from leprosy and decay of the body by anointing the wounds of the sick man with the paints he used for the painting of icons. Many of his icons were glorified by miracles, and sometimes angels helped him in the holy task of painting icons.
A certain man of Kiev who had built a church, once gave two monks of the Caves a commission to have icons painted for it. The monks concealed the money and said nothing to St Alypius about it. After waiting a long time for the work to be completed, the man went to the igumen to complain about St Alypius. Only then did they discover that he had not been told of the commission. When they brought the boards provided by the customer, it turned out that beautiful icons had already been painted on them.
When the church was consumed by fire, all of the icons remained unharmed. One of these icons (the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos), known as the Vladimir-Rostov Icon (August 15), was taken by Great Prince Vladimir Monomakh (1113-1125) to a church he had built at Rostov.
Another time, when St Alypius lay deathly ill, an angel painted an icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos for him. On August 17 (around the year 1114), an angel came to receive the soul of St Alypius, and he was buried in the Near Caves. The first three fingers of St Alypius’s right hand were positioned together, and the last two were bent to the palm. It seems that he died while signing himself with the Sign of the Cross.
The Seven Youths of Ephesus: Maximilian, Iamblicus, Martinian, John, Dionysius, Exacustodianus (Constantine) and Antoninus, lived in the third century. St Maximilian was the son of the Ephesus city administrator, and the other six youths were sons of illustrious citizens of Ephesus. The youths were friends from childhood, and all were in military service together.
When the emperor Decius (249-251) arrived in Ephesus, he commanded all the citizens to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. Torture and death awaited anyone who disobeyed. The seven youths were denounced by informants, and were summoned to reply to the charges. Appearing before the emperor, the young men confessed their faith in Christ.
Their military belts and insignia were quickly taken from them. Decius permitted them to go free, however, hoping that they would change their minds while he was off on a military campaign. The youths fled from the city and hid in a cave on Mount Ochlon, where they passed their time in prayer, preparing for martyrdom.
The youngest of them, St Iamblicus, dressed as a beggar and went into the city to buy bread. On one of his excursions into the city, he heard that the emperor had returned and was looking for them. St Maximilian urged his companions to come out of the cave and present themselves for trial.
Learning where the young men were hidden, the emperor ordered that the entrance of the cave be sealed with stones so that the saints would perish from hunger and thirst. Two of the dignitaries at the blocked entrance to the cave were secret Christians. Desiring to preserve the memory of the saints, they placed in the cave a sealed container containing two metal plaques. On them were inscribed the names of the seven youths and the details of their suffering and death.
The Lord placed the youths into a miraculous sleep lasting almost two centuries. In the meantime, the persecutions against Christians had ceased. During the reign of the holy emperor Theodosius the Younger (408-450) there were heretics who denied that there would be a general resurrection of the dead at the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some of them said, “How can there be a resurrection of the dead when there will be neither soul nor body, since they are disintegrated?” Others affirmed, “The souls alone will have a restoration, since it would be impossible for bodies to arise and live after a thousand years, when even their dust would not remain.” Therefore, the Lord revealed the mystery of the Resurrection of the Dead and of the future life through His seven saints.
The owner of the land on which Mount Ochlon was situated, discovered the stone construction, and his workers opened up the entrance to the cave. The Lord had kept the youths alive, and they awoke from their sleep, unaware that almost two hundred years had passed. Their bodies and clothing were completely undecayed.
Preparing to accept torture, the youths once again asked St Iamblicus to buy bread for them in the city. Going toward the city, the youth was astonished to see a cross on the gates. Hearing the name of Jesus Christ freely spoken, he began to doubt that he was approaching his own city.
When he paid for the bread, Iamblicus gave the merchant coins with the image of the emperor Decius on it. He was detained, as someone who might be concealing a horde of old money. They took St Iamblicus to the city administrator, who also happened to be the Bishop of Ephesus. Hearing the bewildering answers of the young man, the bishop perceived that God was revealing some sort of mystery through him, and went with other people to the cave.
At the entrance to the cave the bishop found the sealed container and opened it. He read upon the metal plaques the names of the seven youths and the details of the sealing of the cave on the orders of the emperor Decius. Going into the cave and seeing the saints alive, everyone rejoiced and perceived that the Lord, by waking them from their long sleep, was demonstrating to the Church the mystery of the Resurrection of the Dead.
Soon the emperor himself arrived in Ephesus and spoke with the young men in the cave. Then the holy youths, in sight of everyone, lay their heads upon the ground and fell asleep again, this time until the General Resurrection.
The emperor wanted to place each of the youths into a jeweled coffin, but they appeared to him in a dream and said that their bodies were to be left upon the ground in the cave. In the twelfth century the Russian pilgrim Igumen Daniel saw the holy relics of the seven youths in the cave.
Saint Basil the Blessed, Wonderworker of Moscow, was born in December 1468 on the portico of the Elokhov church in honor of the Vladimir Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos outside Moscow. His parents were commoners and sent their son to be trained as a cobbler.
During Basil’s apprenticeship, the master happened to witness a remarkable occurrence, which showed him that his student was no ordinary man. A certain merchant had brought grain to Moscow on a barge and then went to order boots, specifying that they be made in a particular way, since he would not pick them up for a year. Blessed Basil wept and said, “I wish you would cancel the order, since you will never wear them.”
When the perplexed master questioned his apprentice he explained that the man would not wear the boots, for he would soon die. After several days the prediction came true.
When he was sixteen, the saint arrived in Moscow and began the difficult exploit of foolishness for Christ. In the burning summer heat and in the winter’s harsh frost, he walked about barefoot through the streets of Moscow. His actions were strange: here he would upset a stand with kalachi, and there he would spill a jug with kvas. Angry merchants throttled the blessed one, but he endured the beatings with joy and he thanked God for them. Then it was discovered that the kalachi were poorly cooked, and the kvas was badly prepared. The reputation of St Basil quickly grew, and people saw him as a holy fool, a man of God, and a denouncer of wrong.
A certain merchant wanted to build a stone church on Pokrovna in Moscow, but its arches collapsed three times. The merchant turned to the saint for advice, and he pointed him toward Kiev. “Find there John the Cripple,” he said. “He will advise you how to construct the church.”
Traveling to Kiev, the merchant sought out John, who sat in a poor hut and rocked an empty cradle. “Whom do you rock?” asked the merchant. “I weep for my beloved mother, who was made poor by my birth and upbringing.” Only then did the merchant remember his own mother, whom he had thrown out of the house. Then it became clear to him why he was not able to build the church. Returning to Moscow, he brought his mother home, begged her forgiveness, and built the church.
Preaching mercy, the blessed one helped those who were ashamed to ask for alms, but who were more in need of help than others. Once, he gave away a rich imperial present to a foreign merchant who was left without anything at all. Although the man had eaten nothing for three days, he was not able to beg for food, since he wore fine clothing.
The saint harshly condemned those who gave alms for selfish reasons, not out of compassion for the poor and destitute, but hoping for an easy way to attract God’s blessings upon their affairs. Once, the saint saw a devil in the guise of a beggar. He sat at the gates of the All-Pure Virgin’s church, and he gave speedy help in their affairs to everyone who gave alms. The saint exposed the wicked trick and drove the devil away.
For the salvation of his neighbor, St Basil also visited the taverns, where he tried to see a grain of goodness, even in people very much gone to ruin, and to strengthen and encourage them by kindness. Many observed that when the saint passed by a house in which they made merry and drank, he wept and clutched the corners of that house. They inquired of the fool what this meant, and he answered: “Angels stand in sorrow at the house and are distressed by the sins of the people, but I entreat them with tears to pray to the Lord for the conversion of sinners.”
Purified by great deeds and by the prayer of his soul, the saint was also given the gift of foreseeing the future. In 1547 he predicted the great fire of Moscow; through prayer he extinguished a fire at Novgorod; and once he reproached Tsar Ivan the Terrible, because during the divine services he was preoccupied with thoughts of building a palace on the Vorobiev hills.
St Basil died on August 2, 1557. St Macarius, Metropolitan of Moscow served the saint’s funeral with many clergy. His body was buried in the cemetery of Trinity church, where in 1554, the Protection cathedral was built in memory of the conquest of Kazan. His Holiness Patriarch Job glorified St Basil the Blessed at a Council on August 2, 1588.
In an early icon, St Basil is portrayed as old, with white hair curling at the ears, and a short, curly white beard. He is completely naked, and holds a handkerchief in his hand. The veneration of St Basil the Blessed was always so strong that the Trinity temple and the attached Protection church were renamed for him [the famous St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow].
The Holy Myrrh-Bearer Equal of the Apostles Mary Magdalene. On the banks of Lake Genesareth (Galilee), between the cities of Capharnum and Tiberias, was the small city of Magdala, the remains of which have survived to our day. Now only the small village of Mejhdel stands on the site.
A woman whose name has entered forever into the Gospel account was born and grew up in Magdala. The Gospel tells us nothing of Mary’s younger years, but Tradition informs us that Mary of Magdala was young and pretty, and led a sinful life. It says in the Gospels that the Lord expelled seven devils from Mary (Luke. 8:2). From the moment of her healing Mary led a new life, and became a true disciple of the Savior.
The Gospel relates that Mary followed after the Lord, when He went with the Apostles through the cities and villages of Judea and Galilee preaching about the Kingdom of God. Together with the pious women Joanna, wife of Choza (steward of Herod), Susanna and others, she served Him from her own possessions (Luke 8:1-3) and undoubtedly shared with the Apostles the evangelic tasks in common with the other women. The Evangelist Luke, evidently, has her in view together with the other women, stating that at the moment of the Procession of Christ onto Golgotha, when after the Scourging He took on Himself the heavy Cross, collapsing under its weight, the women followed after Him weeping and wailing, but He consoled them. The Gospel relates that Mary Magdalene was present on Golgotha at the moment of the Lord’s Crucifixion. While all the disciples of the Savior ran away, she remained fearlessly at the Cross together with the Mother of God and the Apostle John.
The Evangelists also list among those standing at the Cross the mother of the Apostle James, and Salome, and other women followers of the Lord from Galilee, but all mention Mary Magdalene first. St John, in addition to the Mother of God, names only her and Mary Cleopas. This indicates how much she stood out from all the women who gathered around the Lord.
She was faithful to Him not only in the days of His Glory, but also at the moment of His extreme humiliation and insult. As the Evangelist Matthew relates, she was present at the Burial of the Lord. Before her eyes Joseph and Nicodemus went out to the tomb with His lifeless Body. She watched as they covered over the entrance to the cave with a large stone, entombing the Source of Life.
Faithful to the Law in which she was raised, Mary together with the other women spent following day at rest, because it was the great day of the Sabbath, coinciding with the Feast of Passover. But all the rest of the peaceful day the women gathered spices to go to the Grave of the Lord at dawn on Sunday and anoint His Body according to the custom of the Jews.
It is necessary to mention that, having agreed to go on the first day of the week to the Tomb early in the morning, the holy women had no possibility of meeting with one another on Saturday. They went separately on Friday evening to their own homes. They went out only at dawn the following day to go to the Sepulchre, not all together, but each from her own house.
The Evangelist Matthew writes that the women came to the grave at dawn, or as the Evangelist Mark expresses, extremely early before the rising of the sun. The Evangelist John, elaborating upon these, says that Mary came to the grave so early that it was still dark. Obviously, she waited impatiently for the end of night, but it was not yet daybreak. She ran to the place where the Lord’s Body lay.
Mary went to the tomb alone. Seeing the stone pushed away from the cave, she ran away in fear to tell the close Apostles of Christ, Peter and John. Hearing the strange message that the Lord was gone from the tomb, both Apostles ran to the tomb and, seeing the shroud and winding cloths, they were amazed. The Apostles went and said nothing to anyone, but Mary stood about the entrance to the tomb and wept. Here in this dark tomb so recently lay her lifeless Lord.
Wanting proof that the tomb really was empty, she went down to it and saw a strange sight. She saw two angels in white garments, one sitting at the head, the other at the foot, where the Body of Jesus had been placed. They asked her, “Woman, why weepest thou?” She answered them with the words which she had said to the Apostles, “They have taken my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” At that moment, she turned around and saw the Risen Jesus standing near the grave, but she did not recognize Him.
He asked Mary, “Woman, why weepest thou? Whom dost thou seek?” She answered thinking that she was seeing the gardener, “Sir, if thou hast taken him, tell where thou hast put Him, and I will take Him away.”
Then she recognized the Lord’s voice. This was the voice she heard in those days and years, when she followed the Lord through all the cities and places where He preached. He spoke her name, and she gave a joyful shout, “Rabbi” (Teacher).
Respect and love, fondness and deep veneration, a feeling of thankfulness and recognition at His Splendor as great Teacher, all came together in this single outcry. She was able to say nothing more and she threw herself down at the feet of her Teacher to wash them with tears of joy. But the Lord said to her: “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and tell them: “I ascend to My Father, and your Father; to My God and to your God.”
She came to herself and again ran to the Apostles, to do the will of Him sending her to preach. Again she ran into the house, where the Apostles still remained in dismay, and proclaimed to them the joyous message, “I have seen the Lord!” This was the first preaching in the world about the Resurrection.
The Apostles proclaimed the Glad Tidings to the world, but she proclaimed it to the Apostles themselves.
Holy Scripture does not tell us about the life of Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection of Christ, but it is impossible to doubt, that if in the terrifying minutes of Christ’s Crucifixion she was at the foot of His Cross with His All-Pure Mother and St John, she must have stayed with them during the happier time after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. Thus in the Acts of the Apostles St Luke writes that all the Apostles with one mind stayed in prayer and supplication, with certain women and Mary the Mother of Jesus and His brethren.
Holy Tradition testifies that when the Apostles departed from Jerusalem to preach to all the ends of the earth, then Mary Magdalene also went with them. A daring woman, whose heart was full of reminiscence of the Resurrection, she went beyond her native borders and went to preach in pagan Rome. Everywhere she proclaimed to people about Christ and His teaching. When many did not believe that Christ is risen, she repeated to them what she had said to the Apostles on the radiant morning of the Resurrection: “I have seen the Lord!” With this message she went all over Italy.
Tradition relates that in Italy Mary Magdalene visited Emperor Tiberias (14-37 A.D.) and proclaimed to him Christ’s Resurrection. According to Tradition, she brought him a red egg as a symbol of the Resurrection, a symbol of new life with the words: “Christ is Risen!” Then she told the emperor that in his Province of Judea the unjustly condemned Jesus the Galilean, a holy man, a miracleworker, powerful before God and all mankind, had been executed at the instigation of the Jewish High Priests, and the sentence confirmed by the procurator appointed by Tiberias, Pontius Pilate.
Mary repeated the words of the Apostles, that we are redeemed from the vanity of life not with perishable silver or gold, but rather by the precious Blood of Christ.
Thanks to Mary Magdalene the custom to give each other paschal eggs on the day of the Radiant Resurrection of Christ spread among Christians over all the world. In one ancient Greek manuscript, written on parchment, kept in the monastery library of St Athanasius near Thessalonica, is a prayer read on the day of Holy Pascha for the blessing of eggs and cheese. In it is indicated that the igumen in passing out the blessed eggs says to the brethren: “Thus have we received from the holy Fathers, who preserved this custom from the very time of the holy Apostles, therefore the holy Equal of the Apostles Mary Magdalene first showed believers the example of this joyful offering.”
Mary Magdalene continued her preaching in Italy and in the city of Rome itself. Evidently, the Apostle Paul has her in mind in his Epistle to the Romans (16: 6), where together with other ascetics of evangelic preaching he mentions Mary (Mariam), who as he expresses “has bestowed much labor on us.” Evidently, she extensively served the Church in its means of subsistence and its difficulties, being exposed to dangers, and sharing with the Apostles the labors of preaching.
According to Church Tradition, she remained in Rome until the arrival of the Apostle Paul, and for two more years following his departure from Rome after the first court judgment upon him. From Rome, St Mary Magdalene, already bent with age, moved to Ephesus where the holy Apostle John unceasingly labored. There the saint finished her earthly life and was buried.
Her holy relics were transferred in the ninth century to Constantinople, and placed in the monastery Church of St Lazarus. In the era of the Crusader campaigns they were transferred to Italy and placed at Rome under the altar of the Lateran Cathedral. Part of the relics of Mary Magdalene are said to be in Provage, France near Marseilles, where over them at the foot of a steep mountain a splendid church is built in her honor.
Saint Macrina was the sister of the holy hierarchs Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, and was born in Cappadocia at the beginning of the fourth century. Her mother, Emilia, saw an angel in a dream, naming her unborn child Thekla, in honor of the holy Protomartyr Thekla. St Emilia (January 1) fulfilled the will of God and named her daughter Thekla. Another daughter was named Macrina, in honor of a grandmother, who suffered during the time of persecution under the emperor Maximian Galerius.
Besides Macrina, there were nine other children. St Emila herself guided the upbringing and education of her elder daughter. She taught her reading and writing in the Scriptural books and Psalms of David, selecting examples from the sacred books which spoke of a pious and God-pleasing life. St Emilia taught her daughter to pray and to attend church services. Macrina was also taught the proper knowledge of domestic governance and various handicrafts. She was never left idle and did not participate in childish games or amusements.
When Macrina grew up, her parents betrothed her to a certain pious youth, but the bridegroom soon died. Many young men sought marriage with her, but Macrina refused them all, having chosen the life of a virgin and not wanting to be unfaithful to the memory of her dead fiancé. St Macrina lived in the home of her parents, helping them fulfill the household tasks as an overseer together with the servants, and she helped with the upbringing of her younger brothers and sisters. After the death of her father she became the chief support for the family.
When all the children grew up and left the parental home, St Macrina convinced her mother, St Emilia, to leave the world, to set their slaves free, and to settle in a women’s monastery. Several of their servants followed their example. Having taken monastic vows, they lived together as one family, they prayed together, they worked together, they possessed everything in common, and in this manner of life nothing distinguished one from another.
After the death of her mother, St Macrina guided the sisters of the monastery. She enjoyed the deep respect of all who knew her. Strictness towards herself and temperance in everything were characteristic of the saint all her life. She slept on boards and had no possessions. St Macrina was granted the gift of wonderworking. There was an instance (told by the sisters of the monastery to St Gregory of Nyssa after the death of St Macrina), when she healed a girl of an eye-affliction. Through the prayers of the saint, there was no shortage of wheat at her monastery in times of famine.
St Macrina died in the year 380, after a final prayer of thanks to the Lord for having received His blessings over all the course of her life. She was buried in the same grave with her parents.
The Holy Great Prince Vladimir, Equal of the Apostles. Few names in the annals of history can compare in significance with the name of St Vladimir, the Baptizer of Rus, who stands at the beginning of the spiritual destiny of the Russian Church and the Russian Orthodox people. Vladimir was the grandson of St Olga, and he was the son of Svyatoslav (+ 972). His mother, Malusha (+ 1001) was the daughter of Malk Liubechanin, whom historians identify with Mal, prince of the Drevlyani. Having subdued an uprising of the Drevlyani and conquered their cities, Princess Olga gave orders to execute Prince Mal for his attempt to marry her after he murdered her husband Igor, and she took to herself Mal’s children, Dobrynya and Malusha. Dobrynya grew up to be a valiant brave warrior, endowed with a mind for state affairs, and he was later on an excellent help to his nephew Vladimir in matters of military and state administration.
The “capable girl” Malusha became a Christian (together with Great Princess Olga at Constantinople), but she preserved in herself a bit of the mysterious darkness of the pagan Drevlyani forests. Thus she fell in love with the austere warrior Svyatoslav, who against the will of his mother Olga made her his wife. The enraged Olga, regarding as unseemly the marriage of her “housekeeper” and captive servant to her son Svyatoslav, heir to the Great Kiev principality, sent Malusha away to her own native region not far from Vybut. And there in about the year 960 was born the boy with the Russian pagan name Volodimir, meaning peaceful ruler, ruling with a special talent for peace.
In the year 970 Svyatoslav set out on a campaign from which he was fated not to return. He had divided the Russian Land among his three sons. At Kiev Yaropolk was prince; at Ovrucha, the center of the Drevlyani lands, was Oleg; at Novgorod was Vladimir. In his first years as prince, we see Vladimir as a fierce pagan. He headed a campaign, in which the whole of pagan Rus is sympathetic to him, against Yaropolk the Christian, or in any case, according to the chronicles, “having given great freedom to the Christians”, on July 11, 978 he entered into Kiev, having become the “sole ruler” of the Kiev realm, “having subdued the surrounding lands, some by peaceful means, and the unsubmissive ones by the sword.”
Though Vladimir indulged himself in a wild, sensuous life, he was far from the libertine that they sometimes portray him as being. He “shepherded his land with truth, valor and reason”, as a good and diligent master, of necessity he extended and defended its boundaries by force of arms, and in returning from military campaigns, he made for his companions and for all Kiev liberal and merry feasts.
But the Lord prepared him for another task. Where sin increases, there, in the words of the Apostle, grace abounds (Rom. 5: 20). “And upon him came visitation of the Most High, and the All-Merciful eye of the Good God gazed upon him, and shone forth the thought in his heart, of understanding the vanity of idolous delusion, and of appealing to the One God, Creator of all things both visible and invisible.” The matter of accepting Baptism was facilitated through external circumstances. The Byzantine Empire was in upheaval under the blows of the mutinous regiments of Bardas Skliros and Bardas Phocas, each of whom sought to gain the imperial throne. In these difficult circumstances the emperors, the coregent brothers Basil the Bulgar-Slayer and Constantine, turned for help to Vladimir.
Events unfolded quickly. In August 987 Bardas Phocas proclaimed himself Emperor and moved against Constantinople, and in autumn of that same year the emissaries of Emperor Basil were at Kiev. “And having exhausted his (Basil’s) wealth, it compelled him to enter into an alliance with the Emperor of the Russians. They were his enemies, but he besought their help,” writes one of the Arab chronicles of events in the 980s. “And the Emperor of the Russians consented to this, and made common cause with him.”
As a reward for his military help, Vladimir asked for the hand of the emperors’ sister Anna, which for the Byzantines was an unheard of audacity. Princesses of the imperial lineage did not marry “barbarian” rulers, even if they were Christians. At the same time the emperor Otto the Great was seeking the hand of Anna for his son, and he was refused. However, in Vladimir’s case Constantinople was obliged to consent.
An agreement was concluded, according to which Vladimir had to send the emperors six thousand Varangians, and to accept holy Baptism. Under these conditions he would receive the hand of the imperial daughter Anna. Thus in the strife of human events the will of God directed the entering of Rus into the grace-filled bosom of the Ecumenical Church. Great Prince Vladimir accepted Baptism and sent the military assistance to Byzantium. With the aid of the Russians, the mutineers were destroyed and Bardas Phocas killed. But the Greeks, gladdened by their unexpected deliverance, were in no hurry to fulfill their part of the bargain.
Vexed at the Greek duplicity, Prince Vladimir “hastened to collect his forces” and he moved “against Korsun, the Greek city,” the ancient Chersonessos. The “impenetrable” rampart of the Byzantine realm on the Black Sea fell. It was one of the vitally important hubs of the economic and mercantile links of the empire. This blow was so much felt, that its echo resounded throughout all the regions of Byzantium.
Vladimir again had the upper hand. His emissaries, the commanders Oleg and Sjbern soon arrived in Constantinople for the imperial daughter. Eight days passed in Anna’s preparation, during which time her brothers consoled her, stressing the significance of the opportunity before her: to enable the enlightening of the Russian realm and its lands, and to make them forever friends of the Byzantine realm. At Taurida St Vladimir awaited her, and to his titles there was added a new one: Caesar (Tsar). The haughty rulers of Constantinople had to accede also in this, to bestow upon their new brother-in-law the imperial insignia. In certain of the Greek historians, St Vladimir is termed from these times as a “mighty basileios-king”, he coins money in the Byzantine style and is depicted on it with the symbols of imperial might: in imperial attire, and on his head the imperial crown, and in his right hand the sceptre with cross.
Together with the empress Anna, there arrived for the Russian See Metropolitan Michael ordained by holy Patriarch Nicholas II Chrysoberges. He came with his retinue and clergy, and many holy relics and other holy things. In ancient Chersonessos, where each stone brings to mind St Andrew the First-Called, there took place the marriage-crowning of St Vladimir and Blessed Anna, both reminiscent and likewise affirming the oneness of the Gospel of Christ in Rus and in Byzantium. Korsun, the “empress’s dowry”, was returned to Byzantium. In the spring of 988 the Great Prince and his wife set out through the Crimea, Taman and the Azov lands, which had come into the complexion of his vast realm on the return trip to Kiev. Leading the princely cortege with frequent Services of Thanksgiving and incessant priestly singing they carried crosses, icons and holy relics. It seemed, that the Ecumenical Holy Church was moving into the spacious Russian land, and renewed in the font of Baptism, Holy Rus came forth to meet Christ and His Church.
Then followed an unforgettable and quite singular event in Russian history: the morning of the Baptism of the Kievans in the waters of the River Dneipr. On the evening before, St Vladimir declared throughout the city: “If anyone does not go into the river tomorrow, be they rich or poor, beggar or slave, that one shall be my enemy.” The sacred wish of the holy Prince was fulfilled without a murmur: “all our land glorified Christ with the Father and the Holy Spirit at the same time.”
It is difficult to overestimate the deep spiritual transformation of the Russian people effected by the prayers of St Vladimir, in every aspect of its life and world-view. In the pure Kievan waters, as in a “bath of regeneration”, there was realized a sacramental transfiguration of the Russian spiritual element, the spiritual birth of the nation, called by God to unforeseen deeds of Christian service to mankind.
“Then did the darkness of the idols begin to lift from us, and the dawn of Orthodoxy appear, and the Sun of the Gospel illumined our land.” In memory of this sacred event, the regeneration of Rus by water and the Spirit, the Russian Church established the custom of an annual church procession “to the water” on August 1. Later, the Feast of the Procession of the Honorable Wood of the Life-Creating Cross of the Lord, which Russia celebrated with the Greek Church, was combined with the Feast of the All-Merciful Savior and the Most Holy Theotokos (established by St Andrew Bogoliubsky in the year 1164). In this combination of feasts there is found a precise expression of the Russian theological consciousness, for which both Baptism and the Cross are inseparable.
Everywhere throughout Holy Rus, from the ancient cities to the far outposts, St Vladimir gave orders to destroy the pagan sanctuaries, to flog the idols, and in their place to clear land in the hilly woods for churches, in which altars would be consecrated for the Bloodless Sacrifice. Churches of God grew up along the face of the earth, at high elevated places, and at the bends of the rivers, along the ancient trail “from the Variangians to the Greeks” figuratively as road signs and lamps of national holiness. Concerning the famed church-building activity of St Vladimir, the Metropolitan of Kiev St Hilarion (author of the “Word on Law and Grace”) exclaimed: “They demolished the pagan temples, and built up churches, they destroyed the idols and produced holy icons, the demons have fled, and the Cross has sanctified the cities.”
From the early centuries of Christianity it was the custom to raise up churches upon the ruins of pagan sanctuaries or upon the blood of the holy martyrs. Following this practice, St Vladimir built the church of St Basil the Great upon a hill, where a sanctuary of Perun had been located, and he built the stone church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos (Desyatinnaya) on the place of the martyrdom of the holy Varangian Martyrs (July 12). The magnificent temple was intended to become the cathedral for the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus, and thus the primal altar of the Russian Church. It was built in five years, and was richly adorned with frescoes, crosses, icons and sacred vessels, brought from Korsun. The day of the consecration of the church of the Most Holy Theotokos, May 12 (in some manuscripts May 11), was ordered by St Vladimir to be inserted into the Church calendar as an annual celebration. This event was linked with other events celebrated on May 11, and it provided the new Church a twofold sense of continuity. Under this day in the calendar is noted the churchly Founding of Constantinople “dedicated by the holy emperor St Constantine as the new capital of the Roman Empire, the city of Constantine is dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos (330). On this same day of May 11, the church of Sophia, the Wisdom of God was consecrated at Kiev (in the year 960 under St Olga). St Vladimir, having had the cathedral church consecrated to the Most Holy Theotokos, followed the example of St Constantine in dedicating the capital city of the Russian Land (Kiev) to the Queen of Heaven.
Then a tithe or tenth was bestown on the Church; and since this church had become the center of the All-Russian collection of churchly tithes, they called it the Tithe church. The most ancient text of the grant, or church rule by holy Prince Vladimir spoke thus: “For I do bestow on this church of the Holy Mother of God a tenth of all my principality, and also throughout all the Russian Land from all the princely jurisdiction a tithe of squirrel-pelts, and from the merchant, a tithe of the week, and from households each year, a tenth of every herd and every livelihood, to the wondrous Mother of God and the wondrous Savior.” The grant also specified “church people” as being free from the jurisdictional power of the prince and his “tiuni” (officials) and placed them under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan.
The chronicle has preserved a prayer of St Vladimir, with which he turned to the Almighty at the consecration of the Dormition Tithe church: “O Lord God, look down from Heaven and behold, and visit Your vineyard, which Your right hand has planted. And make this new people, whom You have converted in heart and mind to know You, the True God. And look down upon this Your church, which Your unworthy servant has built in the name of the Mother Who gave birth to Thee, the Ever-Virgin Theotokos. And whoever prays in this church, let his prayer be heard, through the prayers of the All-Pure Mother of God.”
With the Tithe church and Bishop Anastasius, certain historians have made a connection with the beginnings of Russian chronicle writing. At it were compiled the Life of St Olga and the account of the Varangian Martyrs in their original form, and likewise the “Account, How in the Taking of Korsun, Vladimir came to be Baptized.” Here also originated the early Greek redaction of the Lives of the Holy Martyrs Boris and Gleb.
During the time of St Vladimir, the Kiev Metropolitan See was occupied successively by the Metropolitan St Michael (September 30), Metropolitan Theophylactus, who transferred to Kiev from the See of Armenian Sebaste (991-997), Metropolitan Leontius (997-1008), and Metropolitan John I (1008-1037). Through their efforts the first dioceses of the Russian Church were opened: at Novgorod (its first representative was St Joachim of Korsun (+ 1030), compiler of the Joachimov Chronicle), Vladimir-Volyn (opened May 11, 992), Chernigov, Pereslavl, Belgorod, and Rostov. “And thus throughout all the cities and villages there were set up churches and monasteries, and the clergy increased, and the Orthodox Faith blossomed forth and shone like the sun.”
To advance the Faith among the newly enlightened people, learned people and schools were needed to help prepare them. Therefore, St Vladimir and the holy Metropolitan Michael “commanded fathers and mothers to take their young children and send them to schools to learn reading and writing.” St Joachim of Korsun set up such a school at Novgorod, and they did the same in other cities. “And there were a multitude of schools of scholars, and of these were there a multitude of philosophers.”
With a firm hand St Vladimir held in check enemies at the frontiers, and he built fortified cities. He was the first in Russian history to set up a “notched boundary,” a line of defensive points against nomadic peoples. “Volodimir began to set up cities along the Desna, along the Vystra, along the Trubezha, along the Sula and along the Stugna. And he settled them with the Novgorodians, the Smolyani, the Chuds and the Vyatichi. He made war against the Pechenegs and defeated them.” But the real reason for his success was the peaceful Christian preaching among the pagans of the steppes.
In the Nikol’sk Chronicles under the year 990 was written: “And in that same year there came to Volodimir at Kiev four princes from the Bulgars and they were illumined with Divine Baptism.” In the following year “the Pecheneg prince Kuchug came and accepted the Greek faith, and he was baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and served Vladimir with a pure heart.” Under the influence of the holy prince several apparent foreigners were also baptized. For example, the Norwegian “koenig” (king) Olaf Trueggvason (+ 1000) who lived several years at Kiev, and also the renowned Torvald the Wanderer, founder of a monastery of St John the Forerunner along the Dneipr near Polotsk, among others. In faraway Iceland the poet-skalds called God the “Protector of the Greeks and Russians.”
In addition to the Christian preaching, there were the renowned feasts of St Vladimir. After Liturgy on Sundays and Church Feasts there were put out abundant feasting tables for the Kievans, they rang the bells, choirs sang praise, the “transported infirm” sang bylini-ballads and spiritual verses. On May 12, 996, for example, on the occasion of the consecration of the Tithe church, the prince “made a bright feast.” He distributed goods “to many of the poor, and destitute and wanderers, and through the churches and the monasteries. To the sick and the needy he delivered through the streets casks and barrels of mead, and bread, and meat, and fish, and cheese, desiring that all might come and eat, glorifying God”. Feasts were likewise celebrated in honor of the victories of Kievan warriors, and the regiments of Vladimir’s retinue: of Dobrynya, Alexander Popovich, Rogda the Bold.
In the year 1007 St Vladimir transferred the relics of St Olga to the Tithe church. Four years later, in 1011, his spouse and companion in many of his undertakings, the Blessed Empress Anna, was also buried there. After her death the prince entered into a new marriage with the young daughter of the German Graf Kuno von Enningen, granddaughter of the emperor Otto the Great.
The era of St Vladimir was a crucial period for the formation of Orthodox Rus. The unification of the Slavic lands and the formation of state boundaries under the domain of the Rurikovichi resulted from a strenuous spiritual and political struggle with neighboring tribes and states. The Baptism of Rus by Orthodox Byzantium was a most important step in its self-definition as a state. The chief enemy of Vladimir became Boleslav the Brave, whose plans included the extensive unification of the West Slavic and East Slavic tribes under the aegis of Catholic Poland. This rivalry arose back when Vladimir was still a pagan: “In the year 6489 (981). Volodimir went against the Lakhs and took their cities, Peremyshl, Cherven, and other cities, which be under Rus.” The final years of the tenth century are likewise filled with the wars of Vladimir and Boleslav.
After a brief lull (the first decade of the eleventh century), the “great stand-off” entered into a new phase: in the year 1013 a conspiracy against St Vladimir was discovered at Kiev. Svyatopolk the Accursed, who was married to a daughter of Boleslav, yearned for power. The instigator of the conspiracy was Boleslav’s cleric, the Kolobzheg Catholic bishop Reibern.
The conspiracy of Svyatopolk and Reibern was an all-out threat to the historical existence of the Russian state and the Russian Church. St Vladimir took decisive measures. All the three involved were arrested, and Reibern soon died in prison.
St Vladimir did not take revenge on those that “opposed and hated” him. Under the pretense of feigned repentance, Svyatopolk was set free.
A new misfortune erupted in the North, at Novgorod. Yaroslav, not yet “the Wise,” as he was later to be known, in the year 1010 having become ruler of Novgorod, decided to defect from his father the Great Prince of Kiev. He formed his own separate army, moving on Kiev to demand the customary tribute and tithe. The unity of the Russian land, for which St Vladimir had struggled all his life, was threatened with ruin. In both anger and in sorrow St Vladimir gave orders to “secure the dams and set the bridges,” and to prepare for a campaign against Novgorod. His powers were on the decline. In the preparations for his final campaign, happily not undertaken, the Baptizer of Rus fell grievously ill and surrendered his soul to the Lord in the village of Spas-Berestov on July 15, 1015. He had ruled the Russian realm for thirty-seven years (978-1015), twenty-eight of these years after his Baptism.
Preparing for a new struggle for power and hoping for Polish assistance, and to play for time, Svyatopolk attempted to conceal the death of his father. But patriotically inclined Kievan nobles, by night, secretly removed the body of the deceased sovereign from the Berestov court, where Svyatopolk’s people were guarding it, and they conveyed the body to Kiev. At theTithe church the coffin with the relics of St Vladimir was met by Kievan clergy with Metropolitan John at the head of the procession. The holy relics were placed in a marble crypt, set within the St Clement chapel of the Dormition church beside the marble crypt of Empress Anna.
The name and deeds of the holy Equal of the Apostles St Vladimir, whom the people called the Splendid Sun, is interwoven with all the successive history of the Russian Church. “Through him we too have come to worship and to know Christ, the True Life,” testified St Hilarion. His deeds were continued by his sons, and grandsons and descendants, rulers of the Russian land for almost six centuries, from Yaroslav the Wise, who took the first steps towards the independent existence of the Russian Church, down to the last of the Rurikovichi, Tsar Theodore Ioannovich, under whom (in 1589) the Russian Orthodox Church became the fifth independent Patriarchate in the dyptichs of Orthodox Autocephalous Churches.
The festal celebration of the holy Equal of the Apostles Vladimir was established under St Alexander Nevsky, in memory of the intercession of St Vladimir on May 15, 1240, for his help in gaining the renowned victory by Nevsky over Swedish crusaders.
But the first veneration of the holy prince began in Rus rather earlier. The Metropolitan of Kiev St Hilarion (+ 1053), in his “Word on Law and Grace,” spoken on the day of memory of St Vladimir at the saint’s crypt in the Tithe church, calls him “an apostolic sovereign”, like St Constantine, and he compares his apostolic evangelisation of the Russian Land to the evangelisation by the holy Apostles.
Saint Olga, Equal of the Apostles, was the wife of the Kievan Great Prince Igor. The struggle of Christianity with paganism under Igor and Olga, who reigned after Oleg (+ 912), entered into a new phase. The Church of Christ in the years following the reign of Igor (+ 945) became a remarkable spiritual and political force in the Russian realm. The preserved text of a treaty of Igor with the Greeks in the year 944 gives indication of this: it was included by the chronicler in the “Tale of Bygone Years,” under the entry recording the events of the year 6453 (945).
The peace treaty had to be sworn to by both the religious communities of Kiev: “Baptized Rus”, i.e. the Christian, took place in the cathedral church of the holy Prophet of God Elias (July 20); “Unbaptized Rus”, i.e. the pagans, in turn swore their oath on their weapons in the sanctuary of Perun the Thunderer. The fact, that Christians are included in the document in the first place, indicates their significant spiritual influence in the life of Kievan Rus.
Evidently at the moment when the treaty of 944 was being drawn up at Constantinople, there were people in power in Kiev sympathetic to Christianity, who recognized the historical inevitability of involving Rus into the life-creating Christian culture. To this trend possibly belonged even prince Igor himself, whose official position did not permit him personally to go over to the new faith, nor at that time of deciding the issue concerning the Baptism of the whole country with the consequent dispersal throughout it of Orthodox Church hierarchs. The treaty therefore was drawn up in the circumspect manner of expression, which would not hinder the prince to ratify it in either the form of a pagan oath, or in the form of a Christian oath.
But when the Byzantine emissaries arrived in Kiev, conditions along the River Dneipr had essentially changed. A pagan opposition had clearly emerged, at the head of which stood the Varangian voevoda (military-leader) Svenel’d (or Sveinald) and his son Mstislav (Mtsisha) to whom Igor had given holdings in the Drevlyani lands.
Strong also at Kiev was the influence of the Khazar Jews, who could not but be displeased with the thought of the triumph of Orthodoxy in the Russian Land.
Unable to overcome the customary inertia, Igor remained a pagan and he concluded the treaty in the pagan manner, swearing an oath on his sword. He refused the grace of Baptism and was punished for his unbelief. A year later, in 945, rebellious pagans murdered him in the Drevlyanian land, cut down betwixt two trees. But the days of paganism and the lifestyle of the Slavic tribes basic to it were already numbered. The burden of government fell upon the widow of Igor -- the Kiev Great-princess Olga, and her three-year-old son Svyatoslav.
The name of the future enlightener of the Russian Land and of her native region is first to be met with in the “Tale of Bygone Years,” in the phrase where it speaks about the marriage of Igor: “and they brought him a wife from Pskov, by the name of Olga.” She belonged, so specifies the Joakimov Chronicle, to the lineage of the Izborsk princes, -- one of the obscure ancient-Russian princely dynasties, of which in Rus during the 10th-11th Centuries there numbered no less than twenty, but who were all displaced by the Rurikovichi or merged otherwise with them through marriage. Some of them were of local Slavic descent, others -- Varangian new-comers. It is known, that the Scandinavian Viking “koenigs” (kinglets) called to become princes in the Russian cities -- invariably assimilated to the Russian language, and often, they soon became genuinely Russian with Russian names and lifestyle, world-outlook and even physical appearance of attire.
Thus, Igor’s wife also had the Varangian name “Helga,” which in Russian is pronounced Olga. The feminine name Olga corresponds to the masculine name “Oleg” (Helgi), which means “holy” [from Germanic “heilig” for “holy”]. Although the pagan understanding of holiness was quite different from the Christian, it also presupposed within a man a particular frame of reference, of chastity and sobriety of mind, and of insight. The fact that people called Oleg the Wise-Seer (“Veschi”) and Olga the Wise (“Mudra”) shows the spiritual significance of names.
Rather later traditions regard her a native of a village named Vybuta, several kilometers from Pskov up along the River Velika. They still not so long ago used to point out at the river the Olga Bridge, the ancient fording place, Where Olga was met by Igor. The Pskov geographic features have preserved several names connected with this great descendent of Pskov: the village of Ol’zhinets and Ol’gino Pole (Olga Field); the Olga Gateway, one of the branches of the River Velika; Olga Hill and the Olga Cross near Lake Pskov; and the Olga Stone at the village of Vybuta.
The beginning of the independent rule of Princess Olga is connected in the chronicles with the narrative about her terrible revenge on the Drevlyani, who murdered Igor. Having sworn their oaths on their swords and believing “only in their swords”, the pagans were doomed by the judgment of God to also perish by the sword (Mt. 26: 52). Worshipping fire among the other primal elements, they found their own doom in the fire. And the Lord chose Olga to fulfill the fiery chastisement.
The struggle for the unity of Rus, for the subordination to the Kievan center of mutually divisive and hostile tribes and principalities paved the way towards the ultimate victory of Christianity in the Russian Land. For Olga, though still a pagan, the Kiev Christian Church and its Heavenly patron saint the holy Prophet of God Elias [in icons depicted upon a fiery chariot] stood as a flaming faith and prayer of a fire come down from the heavens, and her victory over the Drevlyani—despite the severe harshness of her victory, was a victory of Christian constructive powers in the Russian realm over the powers of a paganism, dark and destructive.
The God-wise Olga entered into history as a great builder of the civil life and culture of Kievan Rus. The chronicles are filled with accounts of her incessant “goings” throughout the Russian land with the aim of the well-being and improvement of the civil and domestic manner of life of her subjects. Having consolidated the inner strengthening of the might of the Kiev great-princely throne, thereby weakening the influence of the hodge-podge of petty local princes in Rus, Olga centralized the whole of state rule with the help of the system of “pogosti” (administrative trade centers). In the year 946 she went with her son and retinue through the Drevlyani land, “imposing tribute and taxes”, noting the villages, inns and hunting places, liable for inclusion in the Kiev great-princely holdings. The next year she went to Novgorod, establishing administrative centers along the Rivers Msta and Luga, everywhere leaving visible traces of her activity. “Her lovischa (hunting preserves) were throughout all the land, the boundary signs, her places and administrative centers, wrote the chronicler, and her sleighs stand at Pskov to this very day, as are her directed places for snaring of birds along the Dneipr and the Desna Rivers; and her village of Ol’zhicha stands to the present day.”
The “pogosti” established by Olga, as financial-administrative and law-court centers, represented sturdy props of great-princely power in these places.
Being first of all, and in the actual sense of the word, centers of trade and exchange (the merchant as “guest”) gathered together and became organized around the settlements (and in place of the “humanly arbitrary” gathering of tribute and taxes, there now existed uniformity and order with the “pogosti” system). Olga’s “pogosti” became an important network of the ethnic and cultural unification of the Russian nation.
Later on, when Olga had become a Christian, they began to erect the first churches at the “pogosti”; from the time of the Baptism of Rus the “pogost” and church (parish) became inseparably associated. (It was only afterwards with the existence of cemeteries alongside churches that there developed the current meaning of the Russian word “pogost” to nowadays signify “parish graveyard”.)
Princess Olga exerted much effort to fortify the defensive might of the land. The cities were built up and strengthened, Vyshgorod (or Detintsa, Kroma) they enclosed with stone and oak walls (battlements), and they bristled them with ramparts and pallisades. Knowing how hostile many were to the idea of strengthening the princely power and the unification of Rus, the princess herself lived constantly “on the hill” over the Dneipr, behind the trusty battlements of Kievan Vyshgorod (“Verkhna-gorod” or “Upper-city”), surrounded by her faithful retainers. Two thirds of the gathered tribute, as the chroniclers testify, she gave over for the use of the Kiev “veche” (city-council), and the remaining one third went “to Olga, for Vyshgorod” -- for the needs of building fortifications. And to the time period of Olga, historians note the establishment of the first state frontiers of Russia -- to the west, with Poland. Heroic outposts to the south guarded the peaceful fields of the Kievans from the peoples of the Wild Plains. Foreigners hastened to Gardarika (“the land of cities”), as they called Rus, with merchandise and craftwares. Swedes, Danes, Germans all eagerly entered as mercenaries into the Russian army. The foreign connections of Kiev spread. This furthered the developement of construction with stone in the city, the beginnings of which was initiated under Olga. The first stone edifices of Kiev -- the city palace and Olga’s upper enclosure -- were discovered by archaeologists only but in this century. (The palace, or more properly its foundations and remains of the walls were found in excavations during the years 1971-1972).
But it was not only the strengthening of the civil realm and the improvement of domestic norms of the manner of life for people that attracted the attention of the wise princess. Even more urgent for her was the fundamental transformation of the religious life of Rus, the spiritual transfiguration of the Russian nation. Rus had become a great power. Only two European realms could compare with it during these years in significance and might: in Eastern Europe -- the ancient Byzantine empire, and in the West the kingdom of Saxony.
The experience of both empires, connected with the exaltation in spirit of Christian teaching, with the religious basis of life, showed clearly, that the way to the future greatness of Rus lay not through military means, but first of all and primarily through spiritual conquering and attainment. Having entrusted Kiev to her teenage son Svyatoslav, and seeking grace and truth, Great-princess Olga in the Summer of 954 set off with a great fleet to Constantinople. This was a peaceful “expedition”, combining the tasks of religious pilgrimage and diplomatic mission, but the political considerations demanded that it become simultaneously a display of the military might of Rus on the Black Sea, which would remind the haughty “Romaioi” [Byzantine Greeks] of the victorious campaigns of Askold and Oleg, who in the year 907 advanced in their shields “to the very gates of Constantinople.”
The result was attained. The appearance of the Russian fleet in the Bosphorus created the necessary effect for the developing of Russo-Byzantine dialogue. In turn, the southern capital struck the stern daughter of the north with its variety of beauty and grandeur of architecture, and its jumbled mixture of pagans and peoples from all over the world. But a great impression was produced by the wealth of Christian churches and the holy things preserved in them. Constantinople, “the city of the imperial Caesar,” the Byzantine Empire, strove in everything to be worthy of the Mother of God, to Whom the city was dedicated by St Constantine the Great (May 21) in 330 (see May 11). The Russian princess attended services in the finest churches of Constantinople: at Hagia Sophia, at Blachernae, and others.
In her heart the wise Olga found the desire for holy Orthodoxy, and she made the decision to become a Christian. The sacrament of Baptism was made over her by the Constantinople Patriarch Theophylactus (933-956), and her godfather was the emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitos (912-959). At Baptism she was given the name Helen in honor of the holy Equal of the Apostles Helen (May 21), the mother of St Constantine, and she also had been the discoverer of the Venerable Wood of the Cross of the Lord. In an edifying word spoken at the conclusion of the rite, the Patriarch said: “Blessed are you among Russian women, for you have forsaken the darkness and have loved the Light. The Russian people shall bless you in all the future generations, from your grandson and great-grandson to your furthermost descendants.” He instructed her in the truths of the Faith, the churchly rules and the rule of prayer, he explained the commands about fasting, chastity and charity. “She, however,” says the Monk Nestor, “bowed her head and stood, literally like a sponge absorbing water, listening to the teaching, and bowing down to the Patriarch, she said, “By your prayers, O Master, let me be preserved from the wiles of enemies”.
It is in precisely this way, with a slightly bowed head, that St Olga is depicted on one of the frescoes of the Kiev Sophia cathedral, and likewise on a Byzantine miniature contemporary to her, in a manuscript portrait of the Chronicles of John Scilitius in the Madrid National Library. The Greek inscription, accompanying the miniature, terms Olga “Archontissa (i.e. ruler) of Rus,” “a woman, Helga by name, who came to the emperor Constantine and was baptized”. The princess is depicted in special head attire, “as a newly-baptized Christian and venerable deaconess of the Russian Church.” Beside her in the same attire of the newly-baptized -- is Malusha (+ 1001), the future mother of the Equal of the Apostles St Vladimir (July 15).
For one who had originally so disliked the Russians as did the emperor Constantine Porphyrigenitos, it was no trivial matter for him to become the godfather to the “Archontissa of Rus”. In the Russian chronicles are preserved narratives about this, how resolutely and on an equal footing Olga conversed with the emperor, amazing the Greeks by her spiritual depth and wisdom of governance, and displaying that the Russian nation was quite capable of accepting and assimilating the highest attainments of the Greek religious genius, the finest fruition of Byzantine spirituality and culture. And thus by a peaceful path St Olga succeeded in “taking Constantinople”, something which no other military leader before her had ever been able to do. According to the witness of the chronicles, the emperor himself had to admit, that Olga “had given him the slip” (had outwitted him), and the popular mind, jumbling together into one the traditions about Oleg the Wise and Olga the Wise, sealed in its memory this spiritual victory in the bylina or folk-legend entitled “Concerning the Taking of Constantinople by Princess Olga”.
In his work “About the Ceremonies of the Byzantine Court,” which has survived to the present day in just one copy, Constantine Porphyrigenitos has left us a detailed description of the ceremony surrounding the stay of St Olga at Constantinople. He describes a triumphant reception in the famed Magnaura palace, beneathe the singing of bronze birds and the roars of copper lions, where Olga appeared with an impressive retinue of 108 men (not counting the men of Svyatoslav’s company). And there took place negotiations in the narrower confines of the chambers of the empress, and then a state dinner in the hall of Justinian. And here during the course of events, there providentially met together at one table the four “majestic ladies”: the grandmother and the mother of holy Equal of the Apostles St Vladimir (St Olga and her companion Malusha), and the grandmother and the mother of St Vladimir’s future spouse Anna (the empress Helen and her daughter-in-law Theophano). Slightly more than half a century would pass, and at the Desyatin church of the Most Holy Theotokos at Kiev would stand aside each other the marble tombs of St Olga, St Vladimir and “Blessed Anna”.
During the time of one of these receptions, as Constantine Porphyrogenitos relates, the Russian princess was presented a golden plate inset with jewels. St Olga offered it to the vestry of the Sophia cathedral, where at the beginning of the thirteenth century it was seen and described by the Russian diplomat Dobrynya Yadeikovich (who afterwards was to become the Novgorod archbishop Anthony): “The large golden official plate of Olga of Russia, when she took it as tribute, having come to Constantinople; upon the plate be precious stones, and upon it is written in these stones the name Christ”.
Moreover, the wily emperor, after reporting such details as would underscore how “Olga had given him the slip”, also presents a difficult riddle for historians of the Russian Church. This is it: St Nestor the Chronicler relates in the “Tale of Bygone Years” that the Baptism of Olga took place in the Biblical year 6463 (955 or 954), and this corresponds to the account of the Byzantine chronicles of Kedrinos. Another Russian Church writer of the eleventh century, Yakov Mnikh, in his work “Eulogy and Laudation to Vladimir... and how Vladimir’s Grandmother Olga was Baptized”, speaks about the death of the holy princess (+ 969) and he notes that she lived as a Christian for fifteen years, and he places the actual date of Baptism as the year 954, which corresponds within several months to the date indicated by Nestor. In contrast to this, describing for us the stay of Olga at Constantinople and providing the precise dates of the receptions given in her honor, Constantine Porphyrogenitos has us to understand in no uncertain terms that all this occurred in the year 957.
To reconcile the cited chronicles, on the one hand, with the testimony of Constantine on the other hand, Russian Church historians are led to suppose one of two things: either St Olga made a second journey to Constantinople in the year 957 to continue negotiations with the emperor, or she was not baptized at Constantinople, having previously been baptized at Kiev in 954, and that she was merely making a pilgrimage to Byzantium, since she was already a Christian. The first supposition is the more credible.
As for the immediate diplomatic outcome of the negotiations, there were basic matters for St Olga that had been left unsettled. She had gained success on questions concerning Russian trade within the territories of the Byzantine Empire, and also the reconfirmation of the peace accord with Byzantium, concluded by Igor in the year 944. But she had not been able to sway the emperor on two issues of importance to Rus: the dynastic marriage of Svyatoslav with a Byzantine princess, and the conditions for restoring an Orthodox metropolitan to Kiev as had existed at the time of Askold. The evidently inadequate outcome of her mission is detected in her answer, when she had already returned home, which was given to emissaries sent out by the emperor. To the emperor’s inquiry about promised military aid, StOlga curtly replied through the emissaries: “If you had spent time with me at Pochaina, as I did at the Court, then I would send the soldiers to help you.”
Amidst all this, in spite of her failed attempts at establishing the Church hierarchy within Rus, St Olga, after becoming a Christian, zealously devoted herself to efforts of Christian evangelization among the pagans, and also church construction: “demanding the distressing of demons and the beginning of life for Christ Jesus”. She built churches: of St Nicholas and the church of the Holy Wisdom at Kiev, of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos at Vytebsk, and of the Holy Life-Creating Trinity at Pskov. Pskov from that period has been called in the chronicles the Domicile of the Holy Trinity. The church, built by Olga at the River Velika at a spot pointed out to her from on high, according to the chronicler, by a “light-beam of the Thrice-Radiant Divinity”, stood for more than one and an half centuries. In the year 1137 holy Prince Vsevolod-Gabriel (February 11) replaced this wooden temple with one made of stone, which in turn in 1363 was rebuilt and replaced finally with the presently existing Trinity cathedral.
Another very important monument of Russian “Monument Theology”, as Church architecture frequently is termed, connected with the name of St Olga, is the temple of the Wisdom of God at Kiev, which was started soon after her return from Constantinople, and consecrated on May 11, 960. This day was afterwards observed in the Russian Church as a special Church feastday.
In the Mesyatseslov (calendar supplement)of a parchment Epistle-book from 1307, under May 11 is written: “On this day the consecration of St Sophia took place at Kiev in the year 6460.” The date is indicated in the so-called “Antiochian” rather than generally-accepted Constantinople chronology, and it corresponds to the year 960 from the Birth of Christ.
It was no mere coincidence that St Olga received in Baptism the name of St Helen, who found the Venerable Wood of the Cross at Jerusalem (March 6). The foremost sacred item in the newly built Kiev Sophia temple was a piece of the Holy Cross, brought by this new Helen from Constantinople, and received by her in blessing from the Constantinople Patriarch. The Cross, by tradition, was hewn out from an entire piece of the Life-Creating Wood of the Lord. Upon the Cross-Wood was inscribed: “The Holy Cross for the Regeneration of the Russian Land, Received by Noble Princess Olga.”
St Olga did much to memorialize the first Russian confessors of the Name of Christ: over the grave of Askold the St Nicholas church was built, where according to certain accounts, she herself was afterwards interred. Over the grave of Dir was built the afore-mentioned Sophia cathedral, which stood for half a century and burned in the year 1017. On this spot Yaroslav the Wise later on built a church of St Irene in 1050, but the sacred items of Olga’s Sophia temple were transferred into a stone church of the same name now standing as the Kiev Sophia, started in 1017 and consecrated about the year 1030. In the Prologue of the thirteenth century, it says about the Olga Cross: “for It is now at Kiev in St Sophia in the altar on the right side.” The plundering of Kiev’s holy things, which after the Mongols was continued by the Lithuanians who captured the city in 1341, did not spare even this. Under Jagiello in the period of the Liublin Unia, which in 1384 united Poland and Lithuania into one state, the Olga Cross was snatched from the Sophia cathedral and carried off by the Catholics to Lublin. Its further fate is unknown.
But even in Olga’s time there were at Kiev among the nobles and retainers no few people who, in the words of Solomon, “hated Wisdom”, and also St Olga, for having built Wisdom’s temple. Zealots of the old paganism became all the more emboldened, viewing with hope the coming of age of Svyatoslav, who decidedly spurned the urgings of his mother to accept Christianity, and even becoming angry with her over this. It was necessary to hurry with the intended matter of the Baptism of Rus. The deceit of Byzantium, at the time not wanting to promote Christianity in Rus, played into the hands of the pagans. In search of a solution, St Olga looked to the west. No contradiction here yet existed. St Olga (+ 969) belonged still to the undivided Church (i.e. before the Great Schism of 1054), and she had scant possibility to study the theological points involved between the Greek and Latin Creeds. The opposition of West and East presented itself to her first of all as a political rivalry, of secondary importance in comparison with her task, the establishment of the Russian Church and the Christian enlightenment of Rus.
Under the year 959, the German chronicler named “the Continuant of Reginon,” records: “to the king came emissaries of Helen, queen of the Russes, who was baptized in Constantinople, and who sought for their nation to have bishop and prieSts” King Otto, the future founder of the German Empire, willingly acceded to Olga’s request, but he urged that the matter not be decided in haste. It was only on Nativity of the following year 960, that there was established a Russian bishop Libutius, from the monastery brethren of Anatolius Alban am Mainz. But he soon died (March 15, 961). In his place was ordained Adalbert of Trier, whom Otto “generously furnishing all needs” finally sent to Russia. It is difficult to say what would have happened, had the king not delayed for so long a while, but when in 962 when Adalbert showed up at Kiev, he “did not succeed in the matter for which he had been sent, and did consider his efforts to be in vain.” Furthermore, on the return journey “certain of his companions were murdered, and the bishop himself did not escape mortal danger.”
It turned out that after the passage of years, as Olga indeed had foreseen, matters at Kiev had twisted ultimately in favor of paganism, and Rus having become neither Orthodox nor Catholic, had second thoughts about accepting Christianity. The pagan reaction thus produced was so strong, that not only did the German missionaries suffer, but also some of the Kiev Christians who had been baptized with Olga at Constantinople. By order of Svyatoslav, St Olga’s nephew Gleb was killed and some of the churches built by her were destroyed. It seems reasonable, that this transpired not without Byzantium’s secret diplomacy: given the possibility of a strengthened Rus in alliance with Otto, the Greeks would have preferred to support the pagans, with the consequent intrigues against Olga and various disorders.
The collapse of the mission of Adalbert had providential significance for the future Russian Orthodox Church, escaping papal dominion. St Olga was obliged to accede to the humiliation and to withdraw fully into matters of personal piety, handing over the reigns of governance to her pagan-son Svyatoslav. Because of her former role, all the difficult matters were referred over to her in her wisdom of governance. When Svyatoslav absented himself from Kiev on military campaigns and wars, the governance of the realm was again entrusted to his mother. But the question about the Baptism of Rus was for a while taken off the agenda, and this was ultimately bitter for St Olga, who regarded the good news of the Gospel of Christ as the chief matter in her life.
She meekly endured the sorrow and grief, attempting to help her son in civil and military affairs, and to guide matters with heroic intent. The victories of the Russian army were a consolation for her, particularly the destruction of an old enemy of the Russian state—the Khazar kaganate. Twice, in the years 965 and 969, the armies of Svyatoslav went through the lands of “the foolish Khazars,” forever shattering the might of the Jewish rulers of Priazovia and lower Povolzhia. A subsequent powerful blow was struck at the Mahometan Volga Bulgars, and then in turn came the Danube Bulgars. Eighteen years were spent on the Danube with the Kiev military forces. Olga was alone and in worry: it was as though, absorbed by military matters in the Balkans, Svyatoslav had forgotten about Kiev.
In the Spring of 969 the Pechenegs besieged Kiev: “and it was impossible to lead out the horses to water, for the Pechenegs stood at the Lybeda.” The Russian army was far away, at the Danube. Having sent off messengers to her son, St Olga herself headed the defense of the capital. When he received the news, Svyatoslav rode quickly to Kiev, and “he hugged his mother and his children and was distressed, with what had happened with them from the Pechenegs.” But after routing the nomads, the warrior prince began anew to say to his mother: “It does not please me to sit at Kiev, for I wish to live at Pereslavl’ on the Dunaj (Danube) since that is the center of my lands.”
Svyatoslav dreamed of creating a vast Russian holding from the Danube to the Volga, which would unite all Rus, Bulgaria, Serbia, the Near Black Sea region and Priazovia (Azov region), and extend his borders to those of Constantinople itself. Olga the Wise understood however, that all the bravery and daring of the Russian companies could not compare against the ancient Byzantine Empire, and that the venture of Svyatoslav would fail. But the son would not heed the admonitions of his mother. St Olga thereupon said, “You see that I am ill. Why do you want to forsake me? After you bury me, then go wherever you wish.”
Her days were numbered, and her burdens and sorrows sapped her strength. On July 11, 969 St Olga died: “and with great lament they mourned her, her son and grandsons and all the people.” In her final years, amidst the triumph of paganism, she had to have a priest by her secretly, so she would not evoke new outbursts of pagan fanaticism. But before death, having found anew her former firmness and resolve, she forbade them to make over her the pagan celebration of the dead, and she gave final instructions to bury her openly in accord with Orthodox ritual. Presbyter Gregory, who was with her at Constantinople in 957, fulfilled her request.
St Olga lived, died, and was buried as a Christian. “And thus having lived and well having glorified God in Trinity, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, having worshipped in the blessed faith, she ended her life in the peace of Christ Jesus, our Lord.” As her prophetic testament to succeeding generations, with deep Christian humility she confessed her faith concerning her nation: “God’s will be done! If it pleases God to have mercy upon my native Russian Land, then they shall turn their hearts to God, just as I have received this gift.”
God glorified the holy toiler of Orthodoxy, the “initiator of faith” in the Russian Land, by means of miracles and incorrupt relics. Yakov Mnikh (+ 1072), a hundred years after her death, wrote in his work “Memory and Laudation to Vladimir”: “God has glorified the body of His servant Olga, and her venerable body remains incorrupt to this day.”
St Olga glorified God with good deeds in all things, and God glorified her. Under holy Prince Vladimir, ascribed by some as occurring in the year 1007, the relics of St Olga were transferred into the Desyatin church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos and placed within a special sarcophagus, such as was customary to enclose the relics of saints in the Orthodox East. “And hear ye concerning a certain miracle about her: the grave of stone is small in the church of the Holy Mother of God, this church built by the blessed Prince Vladimir, and in the grave is the blessed Olga. And an opening was made in the tomb to behold Olga’s body lying there whole.” But not everyone was given to see this miracle of the incorrupt relics of the saint: “For whoever came with faith, the aperture opened up, and there the venerable body could be seen lying intact, and one would marvel at such a miracle -- the body lying there for so many years without decay. Worthy of all praise is this venerable body: resting in the grave whole, as though sleeping. But for those who did not approach in faith, the grave aperture would not open up, and they would not see this venerable body, but only the grave.”
Thus even after death St Olga espoused life eternal and resurrection, filling believers with joy and confounding non-believers. She was, in the words of St Nestor the Chronicler, “a precursor in the Christian land, like the dawn before sunrise or the twilight before the light.”
The holy Equal of the Apostles Great Prince Vladimir, himself giving thanks to God on the day of the Baptism of Rus, witnessed before his countrymen concerning Saint Olga with the remarkable words: “The sons of Rus bless you, and also the generations of your descendants.”
Saint Kyriake was the only child of Dorotheus and Eusebia. Since she was born on a Sunday (Kyriake, in Greek), she was named Kyriake.
One day a wealthy magistrate wished to betroth Kyriake to his son. Not only was she young and beautiful, but her parents were wealthy, and the magistrate wished to control that wealth. The magistrate went to her parents to request her hand, but St Kyriake told him that she wished to remain a virgin, for she had dedicated herself to Christ.
The magistrate was angered by her words, so he went to the emperor Diocletian to denounce the saint and her parents as Christians who mocked the idols, and refused to offer sacrifice to them.
Diocletian sent soldiers to arrest the family and have them brought before him. He asked them why they would not honor the gods which he himself honored. They told him that these were false gods, and that Christ was the one true God.
Dorotheus was beaten until the soldiers grew tired and were unable to continue. Since neither flattery nor torment had any effect, Diocletian sent Dorotheus and Eusebia to Melitene on the eastern border between Cappadocia and Armenia. Then he sent St Kyriake to be interrogated by his son-in-law and co-ruler Maximian at Nicomedia.
Maximian urged her not to throw her life away, promising her wealth and marriage to one of Diocletian’s relatives if she would worship the pagan gods. St Kyriake replied that she would never renounce Christ, nor did she desire worldly riches. Enraged by her bold answer, Maximian had her flogged. The soldiers who administered this punishment became tired, and had to be replaced three times.
Shamed by his failure to overcome a young woman, Maximian sent St Kyriake to Hilarion, the eparch of Bithynia, at Chalcedon. He told Hilarion to either convert Kyriake to paganism, or send her back to him.
Making the same promises and threats that Diocletian and Maximian had made before, Hilarion was no more successful than they were. St Kyriake challenged him to do his worst, because Christ would help her to triumph. The saint was suspended by her hair for several hours, while soldiers burned her body with torches. Not only did she endure all this, she also seemed to become more courageous under torture. Finally, she was taken down and put into a prison cell.
That night Christ appeared to her and healed her wounds. When Hilarion saw her the next day, he declared that she had been healed by the gods because they pitied her. Then Hilarion urged her to go to the temple to give thanks to the gods. She told him that she had been healed by Christ, but agreed to go to the temple. The eparch rejoiced, thinking that he had defeated her.
In the temple, St Kyriake prayed that God would destroy the soulless idols. Suddenly, there was a great earthquake which toppled the idols, shattering them to pieces. Everyone fled the temple in fear, leaving Hilarion behind. Instead of recognizing the power of Christ, the eparch blasphemed the true God as the destroyer of his pagan gods. He was struck by a bolt of lightning and died on the spot.
St Kyriake was tortured again by Apollonius, who succeeded Hilarion as eparch. When she was cast into a fire, the flames were extinguished. When she was thrown to wild beasts, they became tame and gentle. Therefore, Apollonius sentenced her to death by the sword. She was permitted time to pray, so she asked God to receive her soul, and to remember those who honored her martyrdom.
Just as St Kyriake ended her prayer, angels took her soul before the soldiers could strike off her head. Pious Christians took her relics and buried them in a place of honor.
Saint Sisoes the Great (+ 429) was a solitary monk, pursuing asceticism in the Egyptian desert in a cave sanctified by the prayerful labors of his predecessor, St Anthony the Great (January 17). For his sixty years of labor in the desert, St Sisoes attained to sublime spiritual purity and he was granted the gift of wonderworking, so that by his prayers he once restored a dead child back to life.
Extremely strict with himself, Abba Sisoes was very merciful and compassionate to others, and he received everyone with love. To those who visited him, the saint first of all always taught humility. When one of the monks asked how he might attain to a constant remembrance of God, St Sisoes remarked, “That is no great thing, my son, but it is a great thing to regard yourself as inferior to everyone else. This leads to the acquisition of humility.” Asked by the monks whether one year is sufficient for repentance if a brother sins, Abba Sisoes said, “I trust in the mercy of God that if such a man repents with all his heart, then God will accept his repentance in three days.”
When St Sisoes lay upon his deathbed, the disciples surrounding the Elder saw that his face shone like the sun. They asked the dying man what he saw. Abba Sisoes replied that he saw St Anthony, the prophets, and the apostles. His face increased in brightness, and he spoke with someone. The monks asked, “With whom are you speaking, Father?” He said that angels had come for his soul, and he was entreating them to give him a little more time for repentance. The monks said, “You have no need for repentance, Father” St Sisoes said with great humility, “I do not think that I have even begun to repent.”
After these words the face of the holy abba shone so brightly that the brethren were not able to look upon him. St Sisoes told them that he saw the Lord Himself. Then there was a flash like lightning, and a fragrant odor, and Abba Sisoes departed to the Heavenly Kingdom.