The Precious Cincture of the Theotokos

The cincture of the Blessed Virgin Mary, today divided into 3 pieces, is 1 of 3 remaining relics of her earthly life, the others being her veil & her tunic. According to tradition, the cincture was made out of camel-hair by the Vir-gin Mary herself, & after her Dormition, at her Assumption, she entrusted it to the Apostle Thomas. During the early centuries of the Christian era it was kept at Jerusalem & in the 4th century we hear of it at Zela in Cappadocia. In the same century, Theodosius the Great brought it back to Jerusalem, & from there his son Arcadius took it to Constantinople. There it was origin-ally deposited in the Chalcoprateion church, whence it was transferred by the Emperor Leo to the Vlachernae church (458). During the reign of Leo VI ‘the Wise’ (886-912), it was taken to the Palace, where it cured his sick wife, the Empress Zoe.

The following is a more detailed account of this healing, which is recounted on Aug. 31st. The Placing of the Venerable Cincture of the all-holy Theotokos in a church of Constantinople’s Chalcoprateia district took place during the reign of Emperor Theodosius the Younger. Before this the holy relic, entrusted to the Apostle Thomas by the Mother of God herself, was kept by pious Christians at Jerusalem after Her Dormition. During the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise, his wife Zoe was afflicted with an unclean spirit, & he prayed that God would heal her. The empress had a vision that she would be healed of her infirmity if the Cincture of the Mother of God were placed upon her. The emperor then asked the Patriarch to open the coffer containing the precious Cincture. The Patriarch removed the seal & opened the coffer, & the Cincture of the Mother of God appeared completely whole & undamaged by time. The Patriarch placed the cincture on the sick empress, & immediately she was freed from her infirmity. They sang hymns of thanksgiving to the all-holy Theotokos, then they placed the venerable Cincture back into the coffer & resealed it. She, as an act of thanksgiving to the Mother of God, embroidered the whole girdle with gold thread, giving it the appearance which it bears today.

In the 12th century, in the reign of the Emperor Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180), the Feast of the Holy cinc-ture on 31 Aug. was officially introduced; previously it had shared the Feast of the Vesture of the Virgin on 1 July. The Cincture itself remained in Constantinople until the 12th century, when, in the course of a defeat of the Byzantine Emperor Isaacius by the Bulgar King Asan (1185), it was stolen & taken to Bulgaria, & from there it later came into the hands of the Serbs. It was presented to Vatopaidi by the Serbian Prince Lazarus I (1372-1389), together with a large piece of the True Cross. Since then it has been kept in the sanctuary of the monastery’s main church. Under Turkish rule, the brethren of the Monastery took it on journeys to Crete, Macedonia, Thrace, Constantinople & Asia Minor, to distribute its blessing, to strength-en the morale of the enslaved Greeks & to bring freedom from infectious diseases.

The miracles performed by the Holy Cincture throughout the ages are innumerable. The following are but a few examples:

At one time, the inhabitants of Ainos called for the presence of the Holy Cincture & the Vatopaidi monks accompanying it received hospitality at the house of a priest, whose wife surreptitiously removed a piece of it. When the fathers embarked to leave, although the sea was calm, the ship remained immobile. The priest’s wife, seeing this strange phenomenon, realized that she had done wrong & gave the monks the piece of the cincture, whereupon the ship was able to leave immediately. It was because of this event that a 2nd case was made. The piece in question has been kept in this down to the present.

During the Greek War of Independence of 1821, the Holy Cincture was taken to Crete at the request of the islanders, who were afflicted by the plague. When, however, the monks were preparing to return to the Monastery, they were arrested by the Turks & taken off to be hanged, while the Holy Cincture was re-deemed by the British Consul, Domenikos Santantonio. From there the Cincture was taken to the island of Santorini, to the Consul’s new home. News of this quickly spread throughout the island. The local bishop informed the Vatopedi Monastery & the Abbot, Dionysios, was sent, in 1831, to Santorini. The Consul asked the sum of 15,000 piastres to hand over the Cincture, & the people of the island, with touching eagerness, managed to collect together the money. Thus the Holy Cincture was bought back & Abbot Dionysios returned it to Vatopaidi.  

What had happen with the priest’s wife of Ainos was repeated in the case of the Consul’s wife. She too, unbeknown to her husband, cut off a small piece of the Holy Belt before it was handed back to the Abbot Dionysios. Within a very short period her husband died suddenly & her mother & sister became gravely ill. In 1839, she wrote to the Monas-tery asking that representatives should be sent to take possession of the piece which she had removed.

In 1864, the Holy Cincture was taken to Constantinople, since there was a cholera epidemic among the inhabitants. As soon as the ship bearing it approached the harbor, the cholera ceased & none of those already suffering from it died. This strange miracle excited the curiosity of the Sultan, who had the Cincture brought to the Palace so that he could reverence it.

During the time when the Holy Cincture was at Constantinople, a Greek of Galata asked that it should be taken to his house, since his son was seriously ill. When, however, the Holy Cincture arrived at his house, his son was already dead. The monks, however, did not give up hope. They asked to see the dead boy, & as soon as the Cincture was placed on him, he was raised from the dead.

In 1894, the inhabitants of Madytos in Asia Minor sought that the Holy Cincture should be taken there be-cause a plague of locusts was destroying their trees & crops. When the ship carrying the Cincture came into the harbor, the sky was filled with clouds of locusts, which then began to fall into the sea, so that it was difficult for the vessel to anchor. The people of Madytos, seeing the miracle, kept up a constant chant of Kyrie eleison from the shore.

Until our own times, the Holy Cincture has continued to work many miracles, particularly in the case of infertile women, who, when they request it, are given a piece of cord from the case holding the Girdle &, if they have faith, become pregnant.

“Most Holy Mother of God, Save Us!” The Cincture of the Virgin Mary Comes to Russia
An account of the 2011 pilgrimage of the portion of the Cincture of the Virgin Mary perserved at Vatopedi Monastery through Russia.

Winter is on in Russia, or rather the foretaste of Russian winter. Not the hard frost that freezes away all moisture, but rain mixed with snow wind-driven against you. You can still stand outside for a day without getting frostbite, but you would need some clear motivation. And that motivation is your love for the Mother of God & sure hope in her intercession.

It began with a heartfelt request by the Russian Fund St. Andrew the 1st-called to the abbot of Vatopedi Monastery on Mt. Athos, Archimandrite Ephraim, & a blessing from His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow & All Russia, who announced on Russian television:

“Thousands of pilgrims visit Vatopedi Monastery just to pray before this holy relic, to kiss this frag-ment of the garments of the all-holy Theotokos. People pray before the Cincture of the Theotokos for healing from illnesses. Many incurable illnesses, including cancer, recede at people’s fervent prayers before this holy relic. In Vatopedi Monastery the monks make small copies of this Cincture, & we know that some women who suffer from infertility wear these little sashes. If to this is added repen-tance, fervent prayer & strong faith, then this prayer reaches the throne of the Heavenly Queen; many incidents have been recorded of women subsequently being able to have children.

“This is a serious problem for our country (Russia), & an important subject. I hope very much that the men & women who visit this holy relic while it is on Russian soil will fervently pray before it, venerate it & ask the Heavenly Queen for help in their lives, including for the birth of children. May the presence of the Cincture of the Theotokos help many to understand the power of Divine grace & the heavenly world’s closeness to us.”
On Nov. 20, Patriarch Kirill celebrated his 65th birthday. He & the primates of several local Churches served Divine Liturgy in the cathedral, & the Holy Cincture’s presence lent even more solemnity to the service attended by thousands of people.

This revered relic of the Mother of God is brought down from the Holy Mountain once a year to towns & cities in Greece, accompanied everywhere by bishops, clergy, soldiers & hundreds of the faithful strewing laurel leaves before the procession. But despite requests from other countries such as Romania, Bulgaria & the United States, Vatopedi monastery, which is so closely associated with the relic that it is nicknamed “agiozonite”, or “that of the holy Cincture”, has not previously consented to release the relic—that is, if you don’t count Turkey.

The relic has been piously preserved in Vatopedi Monastery since the 14th century. Even the Turkish Sultans recognized its miraculous qualities. Therefore in 1872, when Constantinople was beset by a cholera epidemic, Sultan Abdul-Aziz requested that the Cincture be brought to the city, & he sent a ship to take it. No sooner had the ship approached the city when the epidemic abated. The amazed Muslim Sultan ordered the relic brought to his palace for veneration.

Now the relic has been brought to Russia by Archimandrite Ephraim & 20 monks from Vatopedi. Transportation & logistics were organized by the Fund of St. Andrew the First-Called. The response has been phenomenal. As of Sat., Nov. 26, nearly 2,000,000 Russians have come to cathedrals in major cities to receive their grace of the all-holy Theotokos. The original route included arrival in St. Petersburg (were Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met the delegation at the airport) on Oct. 20, Ekaterinburg, Norilsk, Vladivostok, Krasnoyarsk, Diveyevo, Saransk, Samara, Rostov-on-the-Don, Kaliningrad & finally Moscow, from which the delegation will return to Mt. Athos. But there were so many people in this vast country who ardently de-sired to venerate this holy relic of the Mother of God that more cities were added to the list: Tiumen, Volgograd & Stravropol. Even the number of days in Moscow was extended by decision of the Vatopedi brotherhood when they understood how many people were arriving to venerate.

Archimandrite Ephraim has been to Russia a number of times prior to this momentous visitation & has given talks in the monasteries. He was equally gracious even on this long, difficult journey, & in Ekaterinburg he communicated his inspiration to those assembled before the holy relic:

“We have come from the Holy Mountain of Athos -— a place of asceticism, silence, prayer, repentance, the Protectress & Directress of which is the Mother of God. The Holy Mountain is still called the Garden of the Mother of God, & therefore all the monasteries are dedicated to the Theotokos.

“Vatopedi monastery is the only monastery in the world that is adorned with 7 miracle-working icons of the Mother of God, & the Honorable Cincture (Cincture, in Greek, Zoni) of the Most Holy Theotokos. We have 3 reliquary cases with portions of the holy Cincture, given to the monastery by an emperor & a prince. The first was John Cantacuzen, the Byzantine emperor, who was closely connected with the monastery: his spiritual father lived there, the saint of our Orthodox Church, Savva the Fool-for-Christ. This saint lived several years in Constantinople before coming to the monastery, & the emperor understood that this was a man of God, thus taking him as his spiritual counselor. They say that the emperor himself became a monk in our Vatopedi monastery at the end of his life. The 2nd person to give a portion of the holy Cincture to the monastery was Grand Prince Lazar of Serbia, who suffered for the sake of Christ, & is now the protector & great martyr of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

“Apparently the Theotokos chose Vatopedi Monastery to be particularly adorned by her mercy: two donors who did not even know each other were enlightened by grace at the same time & gave this great holy relic to one & the same monastery. Our spiritual father, Elder Joseph of Vatopedi, who reposed 2 years ago, often said to us: ‘Where else would it please the Theotokos to preserve her holy Cincture but on the Holy Mountain, which is a place of purity, chastity, obedience—a place of virginity?’ You know, the Cincture was symbolic even under the Law of Moses. We know from the Old Testament that virgins wove them-selves Cinctures, & when the official wedding day arrived, a virgin would give this Cincture to her husband as a symbol of her virginity.

“The Cincture which many have already venerated & which many more will venerate was woven by the hands of the Theotokos. This Cincture was made of camel’s wool (which was, incidentally, scientifically investigated), embroidered with gold thread. Empress Zoe, wife of the Byzantine emperor Leo VI the Wise, embroidered it. Empress Zoe was seriously ill & saw the Mother of God in a dream. The Theotokos told her that she must persuade the Patriarch to take the Cincture out of its sealed reliquary, & if she puts it around her waist she will be healed. Although the holy reliquary was sealed by the Patriarch as early as the 4th century, Zoe’s husband the Emperor had the influence to make the Patriarch unseal it. The Cincture was placed on the sick Empress, & she was healed. As a sign of her gratitude, she herself embroidered the en-tire Cincture with gold thread. By the way, scholars say that this was also God’s Providence, because if the Cincture had not been sewn over with gold it would not have survived to this day.

“We have brought you this holy relic because we believe that its presence in your city will bring a great blessing & relief, much grace, protection, & strength. Venerating this holy Cincture we feel that the Theotokos herself is in our midst, she is in the heart of each one of us. Even those who say that they do not believe—know that they are only deceiving. I have personal experience of this—my father said that he does not believe, but when he fell sick I remember how he continually said, ‘My Theotokos, my Theotokos’ —- for she is in the heart & conscience of an Orthodox person…

“We once met a family in Athens -— today they are elderly. They told us how 60 years ago the Cincture was brought to Athens & it was in their home. They remembered this for so many years, were filled with joy over this, told people about it & were filled with grace … When the Cincture was again in Athens 12 years ago it was placed on a table, & the tablecloth on which it lay still exudes a fragrance. I pray that the grace of the Theotokos would fill your hearts also, & that you would understand what a great honor it is that we are Orthodox Christians, members of the Church & children of God.”

This outpouring of grace of the Mother of God was indeed felt throughout Russia over the period of the Holy Cincture’s presence here. Indeed all the Orthodox cannot but hold our Lord’s Mother dear—this is not a theory or a dogma but a fact. But perhaps nowhere was the Cincture so sought after as it was in the capital city of Moscow, where not only Muscovites endured many hours of waiting in the cold, but also people from around the country. Moscow is the hub of the transportation wheel in this highly centralized nation, & so for people not living close to the other cities on the delegation’s route, it was easier to come here to pray before the relic. The Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a beloved Moscow religious landmark, hosted the precious Cincture during its stay here.

From the day the Cincture arrived in the capital city on Nov. 19, around 700 buses were arriving from all over central Russia to meet it. Traffic was closed on Sat. & Sun. along the banks of the Moscow River so that “warm-up” buses could stand by unhindered. The wait-ing lines were divided into sectors, so that one measured group at a time could be calmly allowed into the cathedral. 133 buses were parked along the waiting line for people to warm themselves in, free food & hot tea were offered ‘round the clock at 69 different stations, & 440 chemical toilets were lined up for use. Even a local up-scale restaurant opened its doors to the pilgrims. The waiting line reached up to 4 kilometers in length.
It is no trifling matter to wait as long as 2 full days in line on a wintry street but these determined people continually felt the care of the Mother of God, & the organizers. Impromptu Akathists sounded here, there & every-where, punctuated by heartfelt sighs of “O Most Holy Mother of God save us!” A visit to the Cathedral was truly a visit to Holy Russia—bearded old men leaning on canes, stout, all-enduring babushkas, mothers with their children, the poor, the blind and the lame. Clergy led their flocks, monks & nuns were interspersed with & serving the many-thousand-fold worshippers. The uniformed police in their fur caps who guarded everyone’s safety even seemed more like angels than men. Moscow churches & monasteries saw a continual stream of people obviously fresh from provincial parts, carrying their bundles. Many described the experience as “Christmas, or Pascha”. It was like a combination of both of these great feasts -— the joy of Pascha, the luminous warmth amidst the fluttering snowflakes of Christmas; the light amidst the darkness, the glorious protection of the Mother of God that lightens every burden. It was impossible to deny the feeling that the Most Holy Mother of God was close, was visiting & blessing her children; & as Fr. Ephraim said in Ekaterinburg, this blessing will undoubtedly last, & even mark a change in the life of the city, perhaps even the whole country.

The media has been informing people for weeks prior to the event about how to venerate in an orderly manner. The line moves slowly forward until each person has his or her cherished moment of quickly kissing the reliquary, & they are then gently guided away by someone at a post. Several women efficiently hand out a “Cincture” blessed on the original, then a small paper icon & finally a paper triptych of the Mother of God with photographs on either side of the sacred reliquary.

Fri., Nov. 25. It is clear to all that at the current pace, many will leave without receiving the blessing of venerating the Holy Cincture in the Christ the Savior Cathedral. The organizers make the decision to raise the sacred relic on an arc to allow the faithful to pass underneath it & prayerfully receive its grace. The news-papers report that although the line is no shorter, the speed of entry has increased. The organizers announce that they will continue to distribute ribbons blessed on the Holy Cincture even after the delegation’s departure.

Sat., Nov. 26. The waiting lines are still several kilometers long & access to the Cathedral is due to close at 9:00 pm tomorrow. Again the Mt. Athos monks demonstrate their ascetical mercy & agree to extend the closing time to 4:00 am Monday…

Throughout the time of the Holy Cincture’s travels to the major Russian cities, you could see such English language headlines as “Russians queue to worship Greek ‘fertility’ relic”. Well, what can we say, that is how they see it. (One has to wonder why an aged man leaning on his cane would queue up for a “fertility relic”.) But while other headlines were appearing such as “Black Friday turns violent at 9 U.S. Walmart stores; at least 24 people injured”, people both inside the Christ the Savior Cathedral & outside it in the cold were praying to the Mother of God. Not all were praying for “fertility”, or even for good health. Most were praying to the Most Holy Mother of God to “save our souls” in eternity, amen.

A Brief Life of St. Eanswythe, Abbess of Folkestone

Eanswythe was born around 614 in an Anglo-Saxon England that was largely pagan. She was the only daughter of King Eadbald of Kent and his wife Emma, who was a Frankish princess. At the time of Eanswythe’s birth, her father was probably a pagan, while her mother was almost certainly a Christian. Thus, it is highly likely that Eanswythe was baptized and raised as a Christian. When she was two years old, her paternal grandfather, King Ethelbert of Kent, died. Ethelbert, who later would be remembered as a saint, had been baptized at St. Martin’s Church in Canterbury by St. Augustine of Canterbury.

Eanswythe’s father, King Eadbald offered no opposition to Christianity while his father was alive. However, after St. Ethelbert died, Eadbald’s attitude changed. Not only did he embrace idolatry, he also married his father’s second wife. While this practice was prohibited by Church law, it was then quite common among the pagan royalty. Also at that time, King Sabert of the East Saxons (and a convert to Christianity) passed away leaving his realm to his three sons who were pagans. Thus, pagan idolatry returned to the territory of southeast England.

With the return of paganism, the missionary monks, including Laurence of Canterbury, who had carried out their work under the protection of King Ethelbert, came to despair and made plans to return to Gaul. The night before he was to leave Canterbury, Laurence decided to sleep in the church of Ss. Peter and Paul. St. Peter appeared to him and rebuked him for even thinking of leaving his flock. After his confrontation with St. Peter, Laurence remained with his flock and even converted King Eadbald, Eanswythe’s father. King Eadbald then ended his unlawful marriage and was baptized.

From her childhood, Eanswythe showed little interest in worldly pursuits, for she desired to dedicate her virginity to God and to serve Him as a nun. Her father, on the other hand, wanted her to marry. Eanswythe told him that she would not have any earthly suitor whose love for her might also be mixed with dislike. The young princess told her father that she had chosen an immortal Bridegroom Who would give her unceasing love and joy, and to Whom she had dedicated herself. She went on to say that she had chosen the good portion (Luke 10:42), and she asked her father to build her a cell where she might pray.

Eadbald ultimately gave in to his daughter, and built her a monastery in Folkestone in Kent. While the monastery was under construction, a pagan prince came to Kent seeking to marry Eanswythe. King Eadbald, whose sister Ethelburga married the pagan King Edwin a few years before, recalled that this wedding resulted in Edwin’s conversion. Perhaps he hoped that something similar would happen if Eanswythe married the Northumbrian prince. Eanswythe, however, insisted that she would not exchange heavenly blessings for the things of this world, nor would she accept the fleeting joys of this life in place of eternal bliss.

The construction of the monastery at Folkestone was completed about the year 630. This was the first women’s monastery to be founded in England. Eanswythe lived there with her companions in the monastic life, and they may have been guided by some of the Roman monks who had come to England with St. Augustine in 597. As she was only sixteen years old at the time, Eanswythe was not made the abbess initially. While the abbesses before Eanswythe are not known, there may have been a few experienced nuns from Europe who taught the others the monastic way of life with a temporary Superior appointed until the nuns were able to elect their own abbess.

There are many stories of St. Eanswythe’s miracles before and after her death. Among other things, she gave sight to a blind man, and cast out a demon from one who had been possessed.

Following the monastic Rule, Eanswythe prayed to God day and night. When she was not in church, she spent her waking hours reading spiritual books and in manual labor. This may have consisted of copying and binding manuscripts. The nuns probably wove cloth for their clothing and church vestments. In addition to the daily routine of cooking and cleaning, they cared for the sick and aged nuns of their own community, as well as the poor and infirm from outside.

According to Tradition, St. Eanswythe fell asleep in the Lord on the last day of August 640 when she was only in her mid-twenties. Her father King Eadbald also died in the same year.

Excerpt from the homily on the Dormition of the Theotokos by St. Germanos of Con­stantinople

“It is time, My Mother,” says the Lord, “to take thee to Myself. Just as thou hast filled the earth & all who dwell in it with joy, O thou who enjoyest such grace, come, & make the heavens joyful once again. Make My Father’s dwelling-place radiant; be a spiritual guide for the souls of the Saints. For when they see thy glorious passage here to My side, escorted by angels, they will be convinced in their faith that their own place, too, through thee, will be to dwell here in My light. Come, then, in exultation; rejoice now, as thou didst rejoice at the archangel’s greeting. In every way thou now hast the dignity of thy title, ‘Full of Grace.’ As when thou wast about to conceive Me thou wast invited to rejoice, so rejoice again in My de-sire to take thee to Myself. Do not be disturbed at leaving behind the corruptible world, with all its de-sires. Forget about its power of corruption. For thou wilt not leave those who live in the world bereft of thy protection; but just as I, Who am not of the world, watch over those who live in it & take care of them, so thy patronage will not be taken away from those who live in the world, until its consummation.

“The extravagant demands of the flesh will no longer disturb thee. Thou art ascending to a fuller life, to joyful rest, to unconquerable peace, to an existence untroubled by cares, to delights free of passion, to permanent freedom from distraction, to unending enjoyment, to a Light that never fades, to a Day without evening—to Me, the Creator of all that is, including thee. Where I am, there is eternal life, incomparable joy, a dwelling-place without parallel, an indestructible city. Where I am, then, thou wilt also be: a Mother inseparably one with her undivided Son. Where God is, there is all goodness of heart, all delight, all bril-liance. No one who knows My glory wishes to abandon it. No one who comes to My rest seeks again the things of the corruptible world. Ask Peter if there was any comparison or likeness between the world & Mount Tabor, when he gazed for a short time on My Glory.
“When thou didst live in the world of corruptible things, I revealed My power to thee in visions; now that thou art passing from that life, I will show Myself to thee face to face. Give the earth what belongs to it, without anxiety. Thy body belongs to Me, & since the ends of the earth are in My hand, no one can take anything from Me. Entrust thy body to Me, just as I placed My divinity trustingly in thy womb. Thy soul, full of divine power, will see the Glory of My Father. Thine immaculate body will see the Glory of His only-begotten Son. Thy pure spirit will see the Glory of the all-holy Spirit.

“Death shall make no boast at thy expense, for thou hast given birth to Life Itself. Thou art My vessel; the mortal cracks caused by the fall shall not break thee apart. The overshadowing gloom shall not rob thee of sight. Come eagerly to the One Whom thou broughtest into the world. I want to make thee happy, as a son should do—to pay thee the pension due a Mother’s womb, to recompense thee for feeding My milk, to reward thee for thy nurture, to give thy maternal love its full return. Thou begot Me, Mother, as thy only Son; now make the choice to come & live with Me, for I know thy heart is not divided by love for another child. I revealed thee as My Virgin Mother; now I will make thee a Mother who rejoices in her Son. I will show the world now to be thy debtor, & when thou come to Me, I will glorify thy name still more. I shall build thee into the wall of the universe, into a bridge for those who are awash in the waves, an ark of salvation, a staff for the disabled, an advocate for sinners, a ladder to Heaven strong enough to bear the weight of all humanity as it climbs.

“Come, then, with joy! Open up Paradise, which thine ancestor Eve, thy natural sister, had locked. Enter into the joy of thy Son. Let go of the Jerusalem that is below, & hasten up to the Heavenly City; for the Jerusalem below, ‘lamentation will soon be multiplied,’ as Scripture has it, “like the lamentation for the pomegranate grove cut down in the plain” (Zach 12:11 [LXX]). Lie down to rest, if only in appearance, in Gethsemane, the place of thy tomb. I will not leave thee alone there for long. I will come to thee very quickly, when thou hast been buried in the sepulchre—not to dwell in thee again by being conceived, as I once was, but rather to take thee now to dwell with Me. Rest thy body confidently in Gethsemane, as once I rested My knees there in human prayer, before My Passion. I gave thee an image of thine own death, bending on that very ground the knees I took from thy body. As I came forth willingly, then, after that prostration, to a death on the Cross that was the Source of Life, thou, too, will pass immediately into Life when thy remains have been laid in the earth.

“Behold, My disciples are coming to receive thee; they, My spiritual sons who are filled with My light, will bury thee in all reverence & piety. I have bestowed on them the grace of adoption as sons, as thou thyself can testify (see John 19:26f). Se when thou art laid by them in the tomb, consider that it is My hands which are caring for thee; for it is not fitting that thou shouldest be laid to rest by anyone else but My Apostles, in whom the Holy Spirit makes His home & who represent My own Person. Only they can do honor to thou passing, O all-immaculate one!”

The 7 Holy Youths of Ephesus

The 7 Youths of Ephesus: Maximilian, Iamblicus, Martin-ian, John, Dionysius, Exacustodianus (Constantine) & Antoninus, lived in the 3rd century. St Maximilian was the son of the Ephesus city administrator, & the other 6 youths were sons of illustrious citizens of Ephesus. The youths were friends from childhood, & 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 & death awaited anyone who disobeyed. The 7 youths were denounced by informants & were sum-moned to reply to the charges. Appearing before the emperor, the young men confess-ed their faith in Christ.
Their military belts & 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 & 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 & went into the city to buy bread. On 1 of his ex-cursions into the city, he heard that the emperor had returned & was looking for them. St Maximilian urged his companions to come out of the cave & 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 & thirst. 2 of the dignitaries at the blocked en-trance to the cave were secret Christians. Desiring to preserve the memory of the saints, they placed in the cave a sealed container containing 2 metal plaques. On them were inscribed the names of the 7 youths & the details of their suffering & death.

The Lord placed the youths into a miraculous sleep lasting almost 2 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 2nd 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 & live after 1,000 years, when even their dust would not remain.” Therefore, the Lord revealed the mystery of the Resurrection of the Dead & of the future life through His 7 saints.

The owner of the land on which Mount Ochlon was situated, discovered the stone construction, & his workers opened up the cave entrance. The Lord had kept the youths alive, & they awoke from their sleep, unaware that almost 200 years had passed. Their bodies & 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 & went with other people to the cave.

At the entrance to the cave the bishop found the sealed container & opened it. He read upon the metal plaques the names of the 7 youths & the details of the sealing of the cave on the orders of the Emperor Decius. Going into the cave & seeing the saints alive, everyone rejoiced & 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 & spoke with the young men in the cave. Then the holy youths, in sight of everyone, lay their heads upon the ground & 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 & said that their bodies were to be left upon the ground in the cave. In the 12th century the Russian pilgrim Igumen Daniel saw the holy relics of the 7 youths in the cave.

There is a 2nd commemoration of the 7 youths on Oct. 22. According to 1 tradition, which entered into the Russian PROLOGUE (of Saints’ Lives), the youths fell asleep for the 2nd time on this day. The Greek MENAION of 1870 says that they first fell asleep on Aug. 4, & woke up on Oct, 22.

There is a prayer of the 7 Sleepers of Ephesus in the GREAT BOOK OF NEEDS for those who are ill & cannot sleep. The 7 Sleepers are also mentioned in the service for the Church New Year, Sept. 1.

Sayings of Our Righteous Father Sisoes the Great of Egypt

  • A brother whom another brother had wronged came to see Abba Sisoes and said to him, “My brother has hurt me and I want to avenge myself.”  The old man pleaded with him saying, “No, my child, leave vengeance to God.”  He said to him, “I shall not rest until I have avenged myself.”  The old man said, “Brother, let us pray.”  Then the old man stood up and said, “God, we no longer need you to care for us, since we do justice for ourselves.”  Hearing these words, the brother fell at the old man’s feet saying, “I will no longer seek justice from my brother, forgive me, abba.”
  • He also said, “When there is someone who takes care of you, you do not give him orders.”
  • A brother asked Abba Sisoes, “What shall I do, abba, for I have fallen?”  The old man said to him “Get up again.”  The brother said, “I have got up again, but I have fallen again.”  The old man said, “Get up again and again.”  So the brother said, “How many times?”  The old man said, “Until you are taken up either in virtue or in sin.  For a man presents himself to judgement in the state in which he is found.”
  • Abba Sisoes said, “Let yourself be despised, cast your own will behind your back, and you will be free from care and at peace.”

Our Righteous Father Sisoes the Great of Egypt is commemorated on 6 July.

 

On the Veneration of the Saints

On the Veneration of the Saints1

by Fr Georges Florovsky

CHRIST HAS CONQUERED THE WORLD. This victory is further unveil-ed & fulfilled in the fact that He built His Church. In Christ & through Christ the unity of mankind was brought about truly for the 1st time, for those who believed in His Name become the Body of Christ. And through uniting with Christ they unite likewise with each other in a most sincere concord of love. In this great unity all empirical distinctions & barriers are done away with: differences of birth in the flesh are effaced within the unity of a spiritual birth. The Church is a new people filled with grace, which does not coincide with any physical [geographical] boundaries or any earthly nation —neither Greeks nor Jews, & a struggle of faith, through the “Mystery of water,” through a union with Christ in the “Mysterious font,” through the “grace of becoming sons”; i.e. “sons of God” for Whom were all things created that are in heaven & that are in earth.” In Holy Christening the one to be enlight-ened leaves “this world” & forsakes its vanity, as if freeing himself & step-ping out of the “natural” order of things; from the order of “flesh & blood” one enters an order of grace. All inherited ties & all ties of blood are severed. But man is not left solitary or alone. For according to the expression of the Apostle “by 1 Spirit are we all baptized,” neither Scythians nor Barbarians–& this nation does not spring through a relationship of blood but through freedom into 1 Body. The whole meaning of Holy Christening consists in the fact that it is a mysterious ac-ceptance into the Church, into the City of God, into the Kingdom of Grace. Through Christening the believer becomes a member of the Church, enters the “1 Church of angels & men,” becomes a “co-citizen of the Saints & ever with God,” according to the mysterious & solemn words of St. Paul–one comes “to mount Zion & to the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem & to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly & Church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven & to God the Judge of all & to the spirits of just men made perfect.” And in this great throng he is united unto Christ. For, unus Christianus-nullus Christianus[“one Christian-no Christian”].

The essence of the Church is in its unity, for the Church is the Mansion of the One Spirit. This is not an ex-ternal & empirical unity or catholicity. The Ecumenical2 character of the Church is not something external, quantitative, spatial, not even any geographical quality & does not at all depend on the universal dispersal of believers. The visible unity of the Church is merely a result but not a foundation for the catholicity of the Church. Geographical “universality” is a derivative & not an essential necessity. The catholicity3 of the Church was not diminished in the 1st ages of Christianity when communities of the faithful were scattered like small islands, almost lost in the immense world of unbelief & resistance. It is likewise not diminished now when the majority of mankind is not with Christ. “Though a town or even a province fall away from the Ecumenical Church,” says Metropolitan Philaret (Metropolitan of Moscow, +1867), “the Ecumenical Church will always remain a complete & incorruptible body.” Likewise the Church will remain Ecumenical in the “last days” when it will be compressed into the “little flock,” when the mystery of “retreat” will be revealed & when faith will hardly be found on earth. For the Church is Catholic according to its nature.

If one seeks for external definitions, then perhaps the Ecumenical nature of the Church is best expressed by the feature of its “all-timeness” (of its running through all times). For believers of all ages & all generations, who are alive now, who lived & who will be born, belong to it in the same way. They all form 1 body, & through the same prayer are united into 1 before the 1 throne of the Lord of Glory. The experience of this unity through all times is revealed & sealed in the whole cycle of Divine worship. In the Church time is myste-riously overcome. The outpouring of grace seems to stop time, to stop the run of minutes & seasons, to overcome even the general order of consecutiveness & the disconnectedness of those things which took place at different times. In a unity with Christ through grace, in the gift of communion with the One, differ-ent epochs & generations are bound together in the communion of the one Spirit; all the members of the Church throughout all the ages become our living contemporaries. Christ reigns equally in the Church among the departed & among the living, for God is not God of the dead but of the living.

The Church is a Kingdom not of this world but an eternal Kingdom, for it has an eternal King–Christ. The Church is a kind of mysterious image of eternity & a foretaste of the Resurrection of all. For Christ the Head of the Body is “the Life & the Resurrection” of His servants & brothers. The measure of births has not yet been filled & the stream of time still flows. The Church is still in its historical wanderings but even now time has no power & no strength in it. It is as if the Apocalyptic4 moment is forestalled–when there shall be no more time & all time shall cease. Earthly death, the separation of the soul from the body, does not sever the tie between those who have faith, does not part & does not separate co-members in Christ, does not exclude the deceased from the limits & composition of the Church. In the prayer for the departed & in the order for burial we pray Christ “our immortal King & God” to send the souls of the departed to the habitations of the holy, “to the abodes of the righteous,” “to the bosom of Abraham,” where all the righteous are at rest. And with special expressiveness in these parting prayers we remember & call on the hosts of the righteous & on the Mother of God & on the powers of heaven [the angels] & on the holy Martyrs & on all the Saints as on our heavenly co-citizens in the Church. With powerful emphasis the all-timely & catholic consciousness of the Church is disclosed in the order of burial. The faithful who attain to a genuine union with Christ Himself in their struggle & in the saving “mysteries” cannot be parted from Him even by death. “Blessed are they who die in the Lord–their souls shall abide with the blessed.” And the prayers for the de-parted are a witness & measure of the catholic consciousness of the Church.

Reverently the Church watches for any signs of grace which witness & confirm the earthly struggle of the departed. By an inner sight the Church recognizes both the righteous living & the righteous departed, & the feeling of the Church is sealed by the witness of the priesthood of the Church. In this recognition of its brothers & members who have “attained to perfection” consists the mystical essence of that which in the Christian West is termed the “canonization of Saints” & which is understood by the Orthodox East as their glorification, magnification & blessedness. And firstly it is a glorification of God “Wonderous is the Lord in His Saints.” “God’s Saints,” said St. John of Damascus (theologian & hymnographer, Palestine, +749), “reigned over & mastered their passions & kept uninjured the likeness unto the image of God, according to which they were created; they of their own free will united themselves with God & received Him into the habitation of their heart; & having thus received Him in communion, through grace, they became in their very nature like unto Him.” In them God rests–they became “the treasures & the pure habitations of God.” In this the mystery was accomplished. For as the ancient fathers said–the Son of God became man so that men could be deified, so that sons of men should become sons of God. And in the righteous who attain to love this measure of growth & “likening” unto Christ is fulfilled. “The Saints in their lifetime already were filled with the Holy Spirit,” continues St. John of Damascus, “& when they died the grace of the Holy Spirit was still present with their souls & with their bodies in the graves & with their images & with their holy ikons not because of their nature but because of grace & its activity… the Saints are alive & with daring they stand before the Lord; they are not dead … the death of Saints is more like falling asleep than death,” for they “abide in the hand of God”; that is, in life & in light … And after He Who is Life itself & the Source of life was ranked among the dead, we consider no more as dead those who depart with a hope of resurrection & with faith in Him.” And it is not only to get help & intercession that the Holy Spirit teaches every believer to pray to the glorified Saints but also because this calling on them, through communion in prayer, deepens the consciousness of the Catholic unity of the Church. In our invocation of the Saints our measure of Chris-tian love is exhibited, a living feeling of unanimity & of the power of Church unity is expressed; &, con-versely, doubt or inability to feel the intercession of grace & the intervention of Saints on our behalf before God witnesses not only to a weakening of love & of the brotherly & Church ties & relationships but also to a decrease in the fullness of faith in the Ecumenical5 value & power of the Incarnation & Resurrection.

1 of the most mysterious manifestations of the oneness of the Church found within Orthodox Tradition is the contemplation of the “Protecting Veil of the Mother of God (Feast, Oct. 1st & in Greece, Oct. 28th),” of Her constant standing in prayer for the world, surrounded by all the Saints, before the throne of God. “Today the Virgin stands in the Church & with hosts of Saints invisibly prays to God for us all; angels & high priests6 worship; Apostles & Prophets embrace each other–it is for us that the Mother of God prays unto the Eternal God!” Thus the Church remembers the vision which was once seen by St. Andrew, the fool for Christ’s sake (ascetic, Constantinople, +936). And that which was then visibly revealed remains now & will stand for all ages. The “Contemplation of the Protecting Veil” of the Mother of God is a vision of the celes-tial Church, a vision of the unbreakable & ever-existent unity of the heavenly & the earthly Church. And it is also a foreseeing that all existence beyond the grave, of the Righteous & the Saints, is 1 untiring prayer, 1 ceaseless intercession & mediation. For love is the “union of all perfection.” And the blessedness of the righteous is an abiding in love. The Great Eastern Saint, St. Isaac the Syrian (hermit, sometime bishop of Nineveh, Iraq, +ca. 700), with incomparable daring, bore witness to the all-embracing power which crowns a Christian’s struggles. According to his words this struggle for God acquires fullness & completeness & attains its aim in purity –& purity is “a heart which is merciful to every created being.” And what is a heart that has such mercy? asks the saint, & answers: “A burning of the heart for all creation for men, birds, beasts, demons & all creatures. And from remembrance of them & contemplation of them such a man’s eyes shed tears: be-cause of a great & strong compassion which possesses his heart & its great constancy, he is overwhelmed with tender pity & he cannot bear or hear of or see any harm or any even small sorrow which creatures suf-fer. And therefore he prays hourly with tears for the dumb animals & for the enemies of Truth & for those who harm him that they should be guarded & that they should be shown mercy; & also for all the reptiles he prays, from this great compassion which is constantly aroused in his heart in likeness to God.” And if even on earth so fiery is the prayer of Saints, even with a more fiery flame it burns “there” in the “embrace of the Father” on the bosom of Divine Love, close to God, Whose Name is Love, Whose care about the World is Love. And in the Church Trium-phant7 prayers for the whole Catholic Church do not cease. As St. Cyp-rian (martyred bishop of Carthage, North Africa, +258) said—Christian prayer is for all the world; everyone prays not only for himself but for all people, for all form 1, & so we pray not with a particular individual prayer but with 1 common to all, with 1 soul in all. The whole deed of prayer must be determined by an ecumenical consciousness & unanimous love, which includes likewise those whose names are known to God alone. It is not characteristic of a Christian to feel himself alone & separated from all, for he is saved only in the unity of the Church. And the crown of all pray-er is that flaming love which was expressed in the prayer of Moses: “For-give their sin; & if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written…” The center of Church worship is Eucharistic worship. Here the whole Church is united also. Here a sacrifice is made & prayers are offered “for all & for all things,” here the whole Church is remem-bered the militant & the triumphant. In the mystery-action of the Liturgy “the powers of heaven invisibly celebrate with us,” they are present & celebrate with the celebrating priest. And unto great Saints it was granted sometimes by God’s grace to contemplate in visible form that which is hidden from the sight of the sinful–the co-celebration of the angels. Thus it is known that St. Seraphim of Sarov (Russian ascetic, +1833) on 1 occasion was granted to see the triumphant entrance of the Lord of glory surrounded by hosts of angels. Such an entrance of the Lord of glory is often represented in ikon form on the walls of the holy Altar, & not only as a symbol but likewise as an indication that invisibly all this actually takes place. And all the ikon decoration of the Church generally speaks of the mysterious unity, of the actual presence of the Saints with us. “We picture Christ, the King & the Lord, without separating Him from His army, for, the army of the Lord are the Saints”–said St. John of Damascus. Holy ikons are not only images of remembrance, “images of the past & of righteousness,” not only pictures, but are actually sacred things with which, as the fathers explained, the Lord is “present” & by grace is “in communion with them”. There exists some mys-terious objective tie between the “image” & the “prototype,” between the likeness & he/she who is repre-sented, which is specially marked in miracle-working ikons which show God’s power. “A venerating wor-ship” of holy ikons clearly expresses the idea of the Church’s conception of the past: it is not only a remem-brance directed to something gone, but a vision by grace of something fixed in eternity, a vision of some-thing mysterious, a presence by grace of those who are dead & parted from us, “a joyful vision of a unity of all creation.”

All creation has a Head in Christ. And through His Incarnation the Son of God, according to the wonderful expression of St. Irenaeus of Lyons (bishop in southeastern France, +ca. 200), “again commenced a long line of humanity.” The Church is the spiritual posterity of the 2nd Adam (Christ); & in its history, His redemptive work is fulfilled & completed, while His love blossoms & flames in it. The Church is a fulfillment of Christ & His Body. According to the bold words of St. John Chrysostom (bishop of Constantinople, +407), “only then is the Fulfiller the Head when a perfect body shall be formed.” There is some mysterious movement–which started from the awe-filled day of Pentecost, when in the face of the 1st chosen few it was as if all creation received a fiery christening by the Spirit towards that last aim, when in all its glory the New Jerusalem shall appear & the Bridal Feast of the Lamb shall begin. In the stretch of ages, the guests & the chosen are being gathered. The people of the eternal Kingdom are being assembled. The Kingdom is being selected & set aside beyond the limits of time. The fulfillment shall be accomplished in the last resurrection–then the com-plete fullness & glory & the whole meaning of Church catholicity shall be revealed.

1 From Creation & Redemption, Vol. III of the Collected Works of Georges Florovsky (Belmont, MA: Nordland Publishing Co.), 1976, pp. 201.208.

2 The word “ecumenical” properly refers to the whole of the Orthodox Christian world. It should not be here understood in the sense of the modern, so-called, ecumenical movement, which seeks to the union of all who profess Christ, whether they do so rightly or not.

3 The word “Catholic” is a Greek term, which means literally “according to the whole”. Its first documented use is in the epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch (+107, to put him in context, St. John the Theologian, whom St. Ignatius knew very well, only wrote the Gospel which bears his name, his 3 epistles & Revelation ca. 90), where he uses the term to differentiate the true & authentic or “Catholic” Church from the gathering of heretical, so-called, Christians. It is used in this sense in the Creed where we profess our belief in the “One Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church”. In this sense we Orthodox Christians refer to ourselves as the Catholic Church. Since Roman Catholics also maintain that they are the true Church of Christ (a claim which we do not recognize), they too apply the term to themselves.

4The word “Apocalypse” is a Greek word meaning “revelation [of things hidden]”. It is used her to refer to the revelation of the events at the end of time.

5As the word “ecumenical” is used here, it does mean “universal”, encompassing not only all who are of the Catholic Church in this life, but also all who have been united in the “communion of the Holy Spirit” in their several times and ages but have departed this life. It also encompasses the faithful angels as well.

6 The term “High Priest” of the new, Christian, dispensation when used in Orthodox tradition refers to a bishop.

7The Church Triumphant consists of all the holy ranks of angels & the Saints & the righteous who now rest in the joys of Pa-radise, awaiting the Day of Judgment, when they will receive their reward. In contrast, the Church Militant designates us, the Catholic Church still in this world, struggling against the passions to achieve that great purity.