The Fourth Sunday of Lent is dedicated to Saint John of the Ladder (Climacus), the author of the work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. The abbot of Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai (6th century) stands as a witness to the violent effort needed for entrance into God’s Kingdom…
Hieromartyr Mark, Bishop of Arethusa, suffered for his faith in Christ under the emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363). By order of the emperor Constantine (May 21), Saint Mark had once destroyed a pagan temple and built a Christian church. When Julian came to the throne, he persecuted Christians…
The historian Theodoritus relates that during the reign of Saint Constantine the Great, Saint Cyril destroyed many idols and pagan temples in Heliopolis, Phoenicia. He was put to death for this during the reign of Julian the Apostate. Pagans cut open his stomach and, like wild beasts, they ate his…
Saint John the Anchorite: During a persecution against Christians, the devout widow Juliania of Armenia hid from pursuers together with her two young children John and Themistea. She taught her children to pray and to read the Holy Scriptures. From time to time John secretly visited a nearby…
Saint Eustathius the Confessor, Bishop of Bithynia, was already at the beginning of his spiritual struggle a pious monk, meek and wise, filled with great faith and love for his neighbor. For his virtuous life he was made bishop of the city of Bithynia (a Roman province in northwest Asia Minor) and…
Saints Mark, Jonah and Bassa are venerated as the founders of the Pskov Caves monastery. It is not known exactly when the first hermit monks settled by the Kamenets stream in the natural caves of the hill, which the local inhabitants called “the holy hill.” The monastery Chronicle…
The holy Schema-monk Niketas was born in the city of Orel in 1695. From childhood, he loved to go on pilgrimages to the holy places. As a youth, he left his parents and lived about a mile or so from the White Bluff (Beloberezhsk) Hermitage. It is not known when he received the monastic tonsure, or…
1. SAINT MARK, CONFESSOR AND BISHOP OF ARETHUSA IN SYRIA
We are told about Mark's suffering by St. Gregory the Theologian and by Blessed Theodorit. According to this report, Mark, during the reign of Emperor Constantine, destroyed a pagan temple and converted many to the Faith of Christ. When Julian ascended the throne and, shortly thereafter, apostatized from the Faith of Christ, a citizen of Arethusa then also denied Christ and reverted to paganism. Then they rose up against Mark because he destroyed their temple, seeking that he either rebuild the temple or pay a large sum of money. Since the aged Mark refused to do either of the two, he was flogged, mocked and dragged through the streets. After that they severed his ears with a thin but strong thread. They then stripped him, rubbed him with honey, and left him tied to a tree in the heat of summer so that he would be bitten by wasps, mosquitoes, and hornets. The martyr of Christ endured all without moaning. Mark was very old, but in his countenance he shone like an angel. The pagans reduced the price for their temple even more and finally sought from Mark an insignificant sum, which he could have easily given, but he refused to give even one coin for this purpose. His patience made an enormous impression on the citizens, and they began to admire him for it and to feel sorry for him. They then lowered the cost of the temple to practically nothing, in order to allow him to live. Finally, they permitted him to go free, and one by one they all received instruction from him and returned to the Faith of Christ. At the same time, in the city of Heliopolis at the foot of Mt. Lebanon Cyril a deacon, suffered for a similar act. During the time when Christianity enjoyed freedom, Cyril destroyed some idols and under Julian the Apostate, was brutally tortured. So embittered were the pagans against him that when they killed him, they tore and ripped open his entrails with their teeth. The same day on which St. Cyril suffered, many others also suffered. The spiteful pagans carved up their bodies into pieces, mixed them with barley and feed it to the swine. Punishment reached them swiftly: all of their teeth fell out and an unbearable stench emitted from their mouths.
2. VENERABLE JOHN THE HERMIT
John was the son of Juliana, a Christian woman in Armenia. As a young boy, he left his mother and withdrew into the wilderness, completely enflamed with love toward Christ the Lord. In the wilderness, he first surrendered himself to the guidance of a spiritual director, Pharmutius, who had been found so worthy before God that an angel of God brought him bread daily. Afterwards, the young John distanced himself and withdrew into solitude. He lowered himself into a dry well where he spent ten years in fasting, prayer and vigils. St. Pharmutius brought bread from the angel and gave it to him. So that John would not become proud, the angel of God did not want to give bread to the young John personally, but rather through his spiritual father Pharmutius. After ten years of difficult mortification in the well, St. John presented himself to the Lord. His relics revealed itself to be wonder-working. He lived and was glorified by God and men in the fourth century.
HYMN OF PRAISE
THE LORD, HERO OF HEROES
The Hero Lord, all heroes gathers He,
All who can maintain the Faith,
Faithful to God, and to death remain;
And who can, sufferings to endure
Offering thanksgiving to God
And of their sufferings being proud;
And, who others can forgive,
And insults to receive as praise;
And still, who others can instruct
From the sinful path to righteousness return
With a sorrowful, compassionate soul,
And who can be merciful,
In the joy of others, to rejoice,
And with a weeping heart to cry;
And who can, himself restrain
From evil deeds, words and thoughts,
From over-indulging in drink and food
Who, his body, does not please
But considers it a temporary dustbin
On the battlefield, from which he struggles
His God-given soul to preserve,
To preserve the Christian Faith,
So that into the city of Paradise to enter,
Where the Kingdom of the Lord of Heroes is,
Where, with heroes, the Hero reigns,
With heroes, not of this world.
Spiritists of our day accept every manifestation from the spiritual world as though sent by God, and immediately they boast that God has been "revealed" to them. I knew an eighty year old monk whom everyone respected as a great spiritual director. To my question: "Have you ever in your life seen anything from the spiritual world?", the monk answered me, "No, never, praise be to God's Mercy." Seeing that I was astonished at this, he said, "I have constantly prayed to God that nothing appear to me, so that, by chance, I would not succumb to pride and receive a fallen devil as an angel. Thus far, God has heard my prayers." This recorded example shows how humble and cautious the elders were. The devil, clothed in the light of an angel, appeared to a certain monk and said to him: "I am the Archangel Gabriel and I am sent to you." To that, the brother responded, "Think! Were you not sent to someone else, for I am not worthy to see an angel?" The devil instantly became invisible and vanished.
To contemplate the Lord Jesus in death:
1. How darkness encompasses everyone;
2. How fear enters into everyone present beneath the cross;
3. How the frightened captain of the guard cried out: "Truly, this was the Son of God!" (St. Matthew 27:54).
4. How the prophecy of our Lord's death was fulfilled.
About the miraculous opening of the graves
"Tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised" (St. Matthew 27:52).
O, what a great sign! The dead bodies of holy men and women recognized Him, Who, on the cross, died in pain; but the dead souls of the elders of the Jews did not recognize Him. The whole of creation trembled, but only the criminal souls of Anna, Caiphas and Herod did not tremble. Dead saints showed themselves more sensitive than living sinners. How could the dead saints remain indifferent toward their Creator on the cross when not even the dead stones could not remain indifferent? How is it that during this event from which the earth quaked and the sun darkened, the bodies of those righteous could sleep in the graves, those who fulfilled His Dispensation of Old, those who hoped in Him for life, those who prophesied about Him and, with hope in Him, closed their eyes?
O, what a great sign! O, what a great comfort it is for us who hope in the resurrection! For according to our weakness and little faith, we could say, "Truly, Christ is Risen." But will we also be resurrected? Christ resurrected by His Own power but, how shall we resurrect? Who knows if God will resurrect us by His own Power. Here is consolation, here is proof: "Tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised." This means that death was unable to annihilate even ordinary man. This means that those who are much lower than Christ are not dead as stones, rather are alive as angels. This means that one day even our bodies will arise from the tombs, that we will live also. All that our Lord said is substantiated and overflowing with countless testimonies. Knowing the weakness of our faith, He proved the prophecy of His resurrection not also by His particular resurrection, but also by His raising many bodies from the tombs at the time of His own death.
O brethren, not one of us will have the least excuse for not believing in life after death.
O Lord, All-Merciful, strengthen the faithful in the Faith and return the unfaithful to the Faith.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.