Saint Thais – October 8
There was a certain harlot called Thais who was so beautiful that many for her sake sold all that they had and reduced themselves to utter poverty.
When Abba Paphnoutius heard about it, he put on secular clothes and went to see her in a certain city. He handed her a silver piece as the price for committing sin. She accepted the price and said, “Let us go inside.” When he went in, he sat down on the preciously adorned bed and invited her, saying, “If there is a more private chamber, let us go in there.” She said, “There is one, but if it is people you are afraid of, no one ever enters this room; except, of course, for God, for there is no place that is hidden from the eyes of divinity.”
When the old man heard this, he said to her, “So you know there is a God?” She answered him, “I know about God and about the eternal kingdom and also about the future torments of sinners”. “But if you know this,” he said, “why are you causing the loss of so many souls so that you will be condemned to render an account not only of your own sins but of theirs as well?” When Thais heard this, she threw herself at the feet of Paphnoutius and begged him with tears, “Give me a penance, Father, for I trust to find forgiveness by your prayers. I beg you to wait for just three hours, and after that, wherever you tell me to go, I will go, and whatever you tell me to do, I will do it.”
So Paphnoutius arranged a meeting place with her, and she went out and collected together all the goods that she had received by her sins, and piled them all together in the middle of the city, while all the people watched, saying, “Come here, all of you who have sinned with me, and see how I am burning whatever you gave me.”
When it was all consumed, she went to the place that the father had arranged with her. Then he sought out a monastery and took her into a small cell, sealing the door and leaving only a small opening through which food could be passed to her and he ordered her to be given daily a little bread and a little water by the sisters of the monastery. When Thais realized that the door was sealed, she asked him how she should pray to God, and he said to her, “You are not worthy to name God, or to take his divine name upon your lips, or to lift up your hands to heaven, for your lips are full of sin and your hands are stained with iniquity; only stand facing towards the east and repeat often only this: ‘You who made me, have mercy upon me.’”
When she had been in her cell for three years, Paphnoutius began to be anxious, and so he went to see Abba Antony, to ask him if her sins had been forgiven by the Lord. When he arrived, he recounted the affair and Abba Antony called together all his disciples to keep vigil all night and to persist in prayer so that God might reveal to them the truth of the matter about which Paphnoutius had come. Each retired to his cell and took up continuous prayer.
Then Paul, the great disciple of St. Antony, suddenly saw in the sky a bed adorned with precious cloths and guarded by three angels whose faces shone with brightness. Then Paul said to them; “Surely so great a glory can only be for my father Antony”, but a voice spoke to him saying, “This is not for your father Antony, but for the harlot Thais.” Paul went and reported what he had heard and seen, and Paphnoutius recognized the will of God and set off for the monastery.
He began to open the sealed door, but she begged to be left shut in there. When the door was open he said to her, “Come out, for God has forgiven you your sins.” She replied, “I call God to witness that since I came in here my sins have always been before my eyes as a burden; they have never been out of my sight and I have always wept to see them.” He said to her, “God has forgiven your sins not because of your penances, but because you have always had the remembrance of your sins in your soul.” When he had taken Thais out, she lived for fifteen days and then passed away in peace.
The Holy Empress Theodora – February 11
The Holy Empress Theodora was from Paphlagonia, and was the daughter of a military commander. She was the wife of the Roman Emperor Theophilos the iconoclast (829-842), but, virtuous and pious, she did not share in the heresy of her husband. As long as her husband lived, she privately venerated icons, despite his displeasure. After the death of her husband, Theodora ruled wisely for fifteen years because her son, Michael, was still a child. She convened a synod at which the Iconoclasts were condemned, and the veneration of icons was reinstated. Theodora established the annual celebration of this event, the Triumph of Orthodoxy, on the first Sunday of Great Lent. Saint Theodora did much for the Holy Church, and fostered a firm devotion to Orthodoxy in her son, Michael.
When Michael came of age in 857, she retired from governing and spent eight years in the Monastery of Saint Euphrosyne, where she devoted herself to ascetic struggles and reading books that nourished her soul.
A copy of the Gospels that she wrote personally, and known as ‘Empress Theodora’s Codex’ or otherwise as ‘Miniscule 565’, exist till this day (Russian National Library - Gr.53). It is a Greek miniature manuscript of gold ink on purple parchment. Theodora reposed in the Lord peacefully in the year 867.
In 1456, her incorrupt and wonderworking relics were given by the Turks to the people of Kerkyra (Corfu). They remain in the Church of the Most Holy Theotokos of the Cave, in the capital city of the island, and are a place of pious pilgrimage by Orthodox faithful to this day.
Saint Anthony the Great – January 17
Anthony was born in 250 AD in a wealthy Christian family. His parents died when he was a young man and he was left to care for a much younger sister. One day he entered the Church when the gospel was being read and heard the words “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell that you have and give to the poor; and you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me” (Matt. 19:21), which he felt Christ addressed to him. So he decided to sell all he had and give the money to those in need. He placed his sister in the care of a convent and began the quest for holiness of life. Anthony lived alone, working to support himself and began to visit holy people to learn from them how to live a holy life.
As Anthony began his ascetic life, he was tormented by desires of the flesh. The Devil, seeing his resistance, one night took the form of a woman who tempted him, but Anthony was able to resist through faith, prayer and fasting. His ascetic life was strict. He often slept on the floor or kept vigil all night, ate bread once a day and drank only water.
One day Anthony moved to the nearby desert to live in an abandoned tomb. People he knew would bring him bread periodically. While there, the Devil tried to weaken his resolve to live a virtuous life by severe beatings. Seeing that neither lust nor blows weakened his resolve, the Devil tried to frighten him.
One night many evil spirits made such an uproar that an earthquake seemed to shake the place, then they appeared in the likeness of wild beasts in threatening postures. Anthony remained watching with unshaken soul. In mockery he said, “If there had been any power in you, it would have sufficed had one of you come, but since the Lord has made you weak you attempt to terrify me by numbers: and a proof of your weakness is that you take the shapes of brute beasts.” And again with boldness he said, “If you are able, and have received power against me, delay not to attack; but if you are unable, why trouble me in vain? For faith in our Lord is a seal and a wall of safety to us”. So the evil spirits left and Anthony saw a ray of light coming from the unopened roof; feeling well again he asked the Lord why he had not come sooner to relieve his pains. And a voice came to him, “Anthony, I was here, but I waited to see your fight; wherefore since you have endured, and have not been beaten, I will ever be a succour to you, and will make your name known everywhere.'"
Anthony travelled to a mountain east of the Nile where he found an abandoned fort full of reptiles which left at his presence. He had some bread with him and found water inside. There he dwelt as a hermit, praying and disciplining his soul. Anthony received loaves of bread let down from above every six months. Relatives would come to visit him but he refused to let them in, so they would stay outside. On one occasion they heard voices and crying, “Go from what is ours. What do you even do in the desert? You cannot bear our attack.” At first, those outside thought there were some men fighting with him, and that they had entered by ladders; but when stooping down they saw that nobody was there, they were afraid, realising they were demons, they called to Anthony who came to the door, told them to make the sign of the cross and leave.
After almost 20 years, many who desired to imitate his discipline came and broke down the door of his dwelling. When they saw him they marvelled because his body was like it had been 20 years earlier, despite fasting and his struggle with demons. His soul was free from blemish, for he was not given over to excesses and pleasures of the flesh. He was guided by faith and reason, and abiding in a natural state.
Through Anthony, the Lord healed many in body and cleansed others from evil spirits.
Saint David of Thessalonica – June 26
Our Venerable and God-bearing Father David of Thessalonica, (c 450-540AD), was a renowned ascetic of Thessalonica in Byzantine Greece, who lived as a dendrite for three years, in a form of asceticism similar to that of the Stylite saints.
Saint David hailed from Northern Mesopotamia. He travelled to Thessalonica together with the monk Adolas and became a monk at the Monastery of Sts. Theodore and Mercurius (Koukouliaton Monastery), between 465-470AD.
The examples of holy men of the Old Testament, in particular the Prophet King David, inspired the Venerable David to live his ascetic labours by climbing up an almond tree and living there funtil the Lord would reveal His will to him, and grant him wisdom and humility. This number 3 corresponds to the three-year span in which the Prophet David gained goodness, education, and prudence, after his request to God.
For three years David endured the bitter cold of the winter and the burning heat of the summer, being fully exposed to the elements. At the end of the three years an angel of the Lord appeared to him, assuring him that his prayers had been heard, and that the period of his trial as a dendrite had ended. The angel instructed him to descend from the tree, and continue the ascetic life in silence in a cell. He was foretold by the angel that he would "accomplish one other act of love" before he died. Thus, David came down from the tree and entered a cell prepared by his disciples.
Living as a recluse in his cell, the Saint was considered as an angel for his unparalleled ascetic feats. Many came to seek his prayers and many healings of demonic possession, diseases and suffering are reported. In one such case, a certain youth had a demon and came to the cell of the Righteous David crying out: "Release me, O David, servant of the eternal God, for fire comes forth from your cell and burns me." Upon hearing this, David reached out his hand through a small window and held the youth, saying: "Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, commands you to go forth from His creature, O unclean spirit!" After making the sign of the Cross over the youth, the demon was immediately expelled and all marvelled glorifying God who glorifies those who please Him with God-pleasing works.
Saint David's silence was interrupted when Archbishop Dorotheos died. His successor, Archbishop Aristeides, together with a multitude of clergy and faithful came to the Saint's cell pleading that he travel to Constantinople so as to entreat Emperor Justinian (527-565) to not demote the status of Thessalonica.
David submitted to the pleadings of the Archbishop and the people of Thessalonica out of obedience to the bishop and the love of the people of Thessalonica, thus fulfilling the prophecy of the angel. After many years of seclusion he emerged from his cell. His appearance had changed. His hair had grown to his lower back and his beard fell all the way down to his feet. Together with his disciples, Theodore and Demetrios, they left during the night for Constantinople.
When they arrived in Constantinople his fame preceded him and he was received with honours by the people of the city. The Empress Theodora welcomed him with much reverence and respect. Justinian was awe-struck at his holy appearance.
Prior to addressing the senate, David took a live coal with incense in his bare hands and censed the Emperor and the entire senate. His hand did not burn even though he was praying and blessing for about an hour. After this, David pleaded the case of Archbishop Aristeides and Justinian submitted to his wishes and the status of Thessalonica was maintained.
The Saint returned by ship to Thessalonica. However, when he arrived at Thermes at a place called Emvolos, he gave up his spirit to the Lord after making his request known to his disciples that he be buried at his monastery. Hearing the news of his departure, the Archbishop, together with a large crowd gathered to pay their respects and by procession led him to the Monastery of Sts. Theodore and Mercurius where his relics were enshrined in a wooden coffin according to his wishes.
About 150 years after the Saint's death, the abbot of the monastery Demetrios opened his tomb in order to receive a portion of his relics. In doing so however, the plaque on the tomb fell and broke into many pieces. This was seen as a sign that it was not the wishes of Saint David for his relics to be portioned.
A monk under Demetrios by the name of Sergius eventually became Archbishop of Thessalonica. He was present at the opening of the tomb of the Saint. Honouring this occurrence, Sergius opened the tomb which emitted a beautiful fragrance from the incorrupt relics and took care to only remove some hair from the beard and head of the Saint in order to distribute to the faithful to increase their faith and help aid in their salvation.
The tomb of the Saint remained undisturbed until the Fourth Crusade in 1204. In 1236 it was taken by Crusaders to Pavia, Italy and from there transferred to Milan in 1967.
Finally, on September 16 1978, the sacred relics of Saint David were triumphantly returned to Thessalonica and housed first in the Basilica of Saint Demetrios and now in a chapel of the Monastery of Saint Theodora in the centre of Thessalonica.
Saint Basil the Great – January 1
Our father among the saints, Basil the Great (ca. 330 - Jan 1, 379), was bishop of Caesarea, and a leading churchman. The Church considers him a saint and one of the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Saints Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom.
Basil's memory is celebrated on January 1; he is also remembered on January 30 with the Three Holy Hierarchs. In Greek tradition, because of his generosity and care for the poor and needy, he is supposed to visit children and give presents every January 1. This festival is also marked by the baking of Saint Basil's bread, or ‘Vasilopita’, a sweetbread with a coin hidden inside.
Basil was born about 330 at Caesarea in Cappadocia. He came from a wealthy and pious family which gave a number of saints, including his mother Saint Emilia, grandmother Saint Macrina the Elder, sisters Saint Macrina the Younger and Theosebia, and brothers Saints Gregory of Nyssa and Peter of Sebaste.
He was brought up by his grandmother, Macrina. Eager to learn, Basil went first to Constantinople and then to Athens, where he had the future emperor Julian as a fellow student, and became friends with Gregory the Theologian. Both Basil and Gregory were deeply influenced by Origen, and compiled an anthology of uncondemned writings of Origen known as the Philokalia.
It was at Athens that he seriously began to think of religion. Basil resolved to seek out the most famous hermit saints in Syria and Arabia, in order to learn from them how to attain enthusiastic piety and how to keep his body under submission by asceticism.
After this, we find him at the head of a convent near Arnesi in Pontus, in which his mother Emily, now a widow, his sister Macrina, and several other ladies, gave themselves to a pious life of prayer and charitable works. Basil championed the homoousios cause in opposition to the Arian heresy. He was ordained presbyter of the Church at Caesarea in 365, and used his knowledge against the Arian teachings, which were favoured by the Arian emperor Valens.
In 370, Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, died, and Basil was chosen to succeed him. It was then that his great powers were called into action. Hot-blooded and somewhat imperious, Basil was also generous and sympathetic. His zeal for orthodoxy did not blind him to what was good in an opponent.
In the person of Saint Basil, we see the true model of an Orthodox Christian. We see orthodox faith coupled with Christian acts of loving kindness. His love for God and his fellow person were manifested in acts of charity and love. The cakes in which he would hide money (vasilopites) and distribute to the poor stand as a perpetual reminder of his care for the poor and a reminder of our duty to provide for those in need. Let us imitate this great saint of the Church for the Glory of God and the salvation of our souls.
Saint Euphemia – September 16
During the reign of Emperor Diocletian, in the year 304, the Chalcedon governor, Priscus, circulated an order that all come to a festival to worship and sacrifice to an idol of Ares, threatening torments for anyone who didn't come. Nonetheless, the Christians hid themselves and offered prayer to the true God, our Lord Jesus Christ. Learning of this, Priscus ordered they be found and tortured.
In one particular place, there were 49 Christians concealed. Because of their refusal to sacrifice, the 49 were brought before the Proconsul, who attempted to entice them and instil fear of torments in them. Nevertheless, the saints – including the holy virgin Euphemia, the daughter of well-respected parents – stood strong in their faith.
For nineteen days, the martyrs were tortured and tormented, but none wavered in their faith. Angered, the persecutor sent them for trial to the emperor. He kept the youngest, the virgin Euphemia, and tried to entice her with gifts and promises, attempting to lure her virginal heart. Failing in this, however, his vile love for the martyr was transformed into hate, and he ordered she be tortured, fastened to a wheel with sharp knives. Her body was mangled, but Euphemia prayed fervently to God, and the wheel stopped, and the Proconsul’s henchmen collapsed. An angel of God came down and wrecked the wheel and healed her. Nevertheless, those watching, unable to perceive the workings of the true God, declared her a sorceress. Then, the tormentor ordered the saint be cast into a furnace. The holy martyr prayed fervently and signed herself with the Cross. At that moment, two of the soldiers, Victor and Sosthenes, who had been ordered to hurl the martyr into the flames, saw an apparition in the fire: an angel of God. Having seen this, they declared to the Proconsul that they would rather suffer his wrath than harm Euphemia and receive the wrath of the man in the fire.
Thus, the Proconsul imprisoned them and had others hurl the virgin into the furnace. As they did, great flames leaped forth, burning them to ashes. But the saint, rejoicing in the furnace, chanted the hymn of the Three Youths. When the furnace was extinguished, the saint emerged, unharmed. He then had the soldiers, Victor and Sosthenes brought to him.
Declaring their faith in the true God, they were condemned to be consumed by wild beasts. Praying fervently to God, immediately, a voice from heaven summoned them and they joyfully surrendered their souls into the hands of God.
The next morning, Saint Euphemia was brought from prison, chanting joyously as she came. Before the tribunal, she was questioned and tortured in an attempt to make her sacrifice. Failing again, the persecutor ordered wounds upon her, which miraculously healed.
Then, a pit was dug and filled with water, and a multitude of venomous serpents were placed in it, the torturer commanding that Saint Euphemia be cast in. Praying and signing herself with the Cross, the vipers bore her on their backs so she would not sink. The persecutor, adamant that Euphemia was a sorceress, decided she had to be taken by surprise to be killed. As such, he ordered a pit be dug, in which sharp blades were driven into the ground with their pointed ends upward. After the top of the pit had been covered with branches and earth, he commanded the martyr walk across the concealed pit. But the saint crossed over the pit unharmed. The saint praised God, and the Proconsul unsuccessfully attempted, yet again, to entice Euphemia, before resorting again to more tortures.
Finally, Euphemia was handed over to be consumed by wild beasts. As the saint was being led into the arena where she was to be fed to the beasts, she prayed to God that He put an end to her suffering. Bears and lions were then released upon her, but they merely licked her feet. One she-bear, however, slightly wounded her foot. Then, a voice came from above, summoning her to heaven, and immediately she surrendered her spirit to the Lord. As her soul departed, the earth trembled, the city was shaken, its walls tumbled down, and its temples fell to the ground. The people were terrified, and fled from the arena in fear as the saint’s holy body lay in the sand. Euphemia’s parents came and took their holy daughter and reverently buried her near the city.
Saint Demetrios – October 26
Saint Demetrios contested for Christ in Thessalonica during the reign of Maximian (c. 306). He was born into a distinguished family of Macedonia and was admired for his nobility and grace, but, especially for his virtue, wisdom and goodness of heart.
His military expertise led Maximian to appoint him commander of the Roman forces in Thessaly and Proconsul for Hellas, but, since the love of Christ had touched his heart, all the glory of this world meant nothing to him, and he preferred nothing more than teaching and preaching the word of God.
Despite the persecution against the Christians, he brought a large number of pagans to the faith. His words convinced them because they saw in the righteousness, peace and brotherly love that marked his life an illustration of the truth of which he spoke.
Maximian had just won a series of battles and stopped at Thessalonica to receive the acclamations of the people and offer sacrifices to the idols. A number of pagans, envious of the success of the Saint, took advantage of the Emperor's presence in the city to denounce Demetrios as a Christian. Maximian's astonishment gave way to violent indignation when he was told that Demetrios was using his official position to spread the faith. Demetrios was summoned and confined to a cell, located in the basement of nearby baths.
Maximian arranged for gladiatorial combats to take place in the arena. He had brought with him a man of gigantic stature and great strength, a Vandal called Lyaios. Such was this man's strength and skill that no one could face him.
A young Christian called Nestor, observing the empty pride of the Emperor in the victories of his champion, made up his mind to show him that power belongs only to Christ. He ran to the baths where Demetrios was imprisoned and asked for his prayer in going to confront the giant. Demetrios made the sign of the Cross on the brow and the heart of the boy, and sent him like David before Goliath. He reached the arena as the heralds were crying out for someone to stand against Lyaios. Approaching the Emperor, Nestor took off his garments and cried, "God of Demetrios, help me!" As the giant rushed upon him, Nestor slipped aside and stabbed him to the heart. There was amazement at the marvel of how a mere child, relying neither on strength nor weapons, could so suddenly have brought down the giant.
Rather than yield to this sign of God’s power, Maximian flew into a rage and ordered the immediate arrest of Nestor and his beheading outside the city. He had heard Nestor calling upon the God of Demetrios and, supposing the Saint had used some kind of witchcraft, Maximian ordered his soldiers to go and thrust Demetrios through with their lances, without trial, in the depths of the prison. Christians, including Demetrios' servant Lupus, present at his martyrdom, reverently buried the Saint's body.
The Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebastia – March 9
In the year 313 AD, St Constantine the Great signed a law decreeing freedom of religious faith. His co-ruler, Emperor Licinius seconded this law; however, in the provinces subject to him, persecutions of Christians continued as before.
In the year 320 AD, the holy Martyrs, who came from various lands, were all soldiers under the same general, who tried to force them to bring a sacrifice to the idols, which they refused to do. Taken into custody for their faith in Christ, and at first interrogated by cruel means, they were then stripped of their clothing and cast onto the frozen lake which is at Sebastia of Pontus, at a time when the harsh and freezing weather was at its worst. This torment was made more difficult for them, since a warm bath was placed on the shore of the lake to tempt them to leave the freezing water.
They endured the whole night naked in such circumstances, encouraging one another to be patient and singing holy hymns to God until the end. The guard, named Aglaius, who was commanded to receive any of them that might deny Christ, had a vision in which he saw holy angels joyfully giving crowns to all of the Martyrs, except one.
One angel sorrowfully turned to return to heaven without having issued the crown. This crown would have belonged to one of the martyrs who, fearing death, chose to deny Christ and abandoned the contest to warm himself in the nearby bath. As soon as the warm air touched his body, he fell dead. The words of Jesus, “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt 16:25), were fulfilled. Seeing this sign, Aglaius professed himself a Christian and joined the Martyrs on the lake, the angel descended again joyfully and the number of forty remained complete.
In the morning, when they were almost dead from the cold, the torturers broke the martyrs' shins with mallets and cast them into fire, after which their remains were thrown into the river. Three days later, the torturers came to Bishop Peter of Sebastia and recounted their deeds. Bishop Peter gathered the bones of the martyrs and buried them with honour.
May the Holy Martyrs give us courage to be faithful in our faithless world.