For more on the superstition of the Holy Perpuce (Foreskin), see here and here.
Source: The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church (January), translated by Holy Apostles Convent, p. 3.
On the eighth day after His Nativity, our Lord Jesus Christ was circumcised in accordance with the Old Testament Law. All male infants underwent circumcision as a sign of God's Covenant with the holy Forefather Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 17:10-14, Lev. 12:3).
After this ritual the Divine Infant was given the name Jesus, as the Archangel Gabriel declared on the day of the Annunciation to the Most Holy Theotokos (Luke 1:31-33, 2:21). The Fathers of the Church explain that the Lord, the Creator of the Law, underwent circumcision in order to give people an example of how faithfully the divine ordinances ought to be fulfilled. The Lord was circumcised so that later no one would doubt that He had truly assumed human flesh, and that His Incarnation was not merely an illusion, as certain heretics (Docetists) taught.
In the New Testament, the ritual of circumcision gave way to the Mystery of Baptism, which it prefigured (Col. 2:11-12). Accounts of the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord continue in the Eastern Church right up through the fourth century. The Canon of the Feast was written by St Stephen of the St Sava Monastery (October 28 and July 13).
In addition to circumcision, which the Lord accepted as a sign of God's Covenant with mankind, He also received the Name Jesus (Savior) on the eighth day after His Nativity as an indication of His service, the work of the salvation of the world (Mt.1:21; Mark 9:38-39, 16:17; Luke 10:17; Acts 3:6, 16; Phil 2:9-10). These two events, the Lord's Circumcision and Naming, remind Christians that they have entered into a New Covenant with God and "are circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ" (Col. 2:11). The very name "Christian" is a sign of mankind's entrance into a New Covenant with God.
Saint Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, "belongs not to the Church of Caesarea alone, nor merely to his own time, nor was he of benefit only to his own kinsmen, but rather to all lands and cities worldwide, and to all people he brought and still brings benefit, and for Christians he always was and will be a most salvific teacher." Thus spoke St Basil's contemporary, St Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium.
St Basil was born in the year 330 at Caesarea, the administrative center of Cappadocia. He was of illustrious lineage, famed for its eminence and wealth, and zealous for the Christian Faith. The saint's grandfather and grandmother on his father's side had to hide in the forests of Pontus for seven years during the persecution under Diocletian.
St Basil's mother St Emilia was the daughter of a martyr. On the Greek calendar, she is commemorated on May 30. St Basil's father was also named Basil. He was a lawyer and renowned rhetorician, and lived at Caesarea.
Ten children were born to the elder Basil and Emilia: five sons and five daughters. Five of them were later numbered among the saints: Basil the Great; Macrina (July 19) was an exemplar of ascetic life, and exerted strong influence on the life and character of St Basil the Great; Gregory, afterwards Bishop of Nyssa (January 10); Peter, Bishop of Sebaste (January 9); and Theosebia, a deaconess (January 10).
St Basil spent the first years of his life on an estate belonging to his parents at the River Iris, where he was raised under the supervision of his mother Emilia and grandmother Macrina. They were women of great refinement, who remembered an earlier bishop of Cappadocia, St Gregory the Wonderworker (November 17). Basil received his initial education under the supervision of his father, and then he studied under the finest teachers in Caesarea of Cappadocia, and it was here that he made the acquaintance of St Gregory the Theologian (January 25 and January 30). Later, Basil transferred to a school at Constantinople, where he listened to eminent orators and philosophers. To complete his education St Basil went to Athens, the center of classical enlightenment.
After a four or five year stay at Athens, Basil had mastered all the available disciplines. "He studied everything thoroughly, more than others are wont to study a single subject. He studied each science in its very totality, as though he would study nothing else." Philosopher, philologist, orator, jurist, naturalist, possessing profound knowledge in astronomy, mathematics and medicine, "he was a ship fully laden with learning, to the extent permitted by human nature."
At Athens a close friendship developed between Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian (Nazianzus), which continued throughout their life. In fact, they regarded themselves as one soul in two bodies. Later on, in his eulogy for Basil the Great, St Gregory the Theologian speaks with delight about this period: "Various hopes guided us, and indeed inevitably, in learning... Two paths opened up before us: the one to our sacred temples and the teachers therein; the other towards preceptors of disciplines beyond."
About the year 357, St Basil returned to Caesarea, where for a while he devoted himself to rhetoric. But soon, refusing offers from Caesarea's citizens who wanted to entrust him with the education of their offspring, St Basil entered upon the path of ascetic life.
After the death of her husband, Basil's mother, her eldest daughter Macrina, and several female servants withdrew to the family estate at Iris and there began to lead an ascetic life. Basil was baptized by Dianios, the Bishop of Caesarea, and was tonsured a Reader (On the Holy Spirit, 29). He first read the Holy Scriptures to the people, then explained them.
Later on, "wishing to acquire a guide to the knowledge of truth", the saint undertook a journey into Egypt, Syria and Palestine, to meet the great Christian ascetics dwelling there. On returning to Cappadocia, he decided to do as they did. He distributed his wealth to the needy, then settled on the opposite side of the river not far from his mother Emilia and sister Macrina, gathering around him monks living a cenobitic life.
By his letters, Basil drew his good friend Gregory the Theologian to the monastery. Sts Basil and Gregory labored in strict abstinence in their dwelling place, which had no roof or fireplace, and the food was very humble. They themselves cleared away the stones, planted and watered the trees, and carried heavy loads. Their hands were constantly calloused from the hard work. For clothing Basil had only a tunic and monastic mantle. He wore a hairshirt, but only at night, so that it would not be obvious.
In their solitude, Sts Basil and Gregory occupied themselves in an intense study of Holy Scripture. They were guided by the writings of the Fathers and commentators of the past, especially the good writings of Origen. From all these works they compiled an anthology called Philokalia. Also at this time, at the request of the monks, St Basil wrote down a collection of rules for virtuous life. By his preaching and by his example St Basil assisted in the spiritual perfection of Christians in Cappadocia and Pontus; and many indeed turned to him. Monasteries were organized for men and for women, in which places Basil sought to combine the cenobitic (koine bios, or common) lifestyle with that of the solitary hermit.
During the reign of Constantius (337-361) the heretical teachings of Arius were spreading, and the Church summoned both its saints into service. St Basil returned to Caesarea. In the year 362 he was ordained deacon by Bishop Meletius of Antioch. In 364 he was ordained to the holy priesthood by Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea. "But seeing," as Gregory the Theologian relates, "that everyone exceedingly praised and honored Basil for his wisdom and reverence, Eusebius, through human weakness, succumbed to jealousy of him, and began to show dislike for him." The monks rose up in defense of St Basil. To avoid causing Church discord, Basil withdrew to his own monastery and concerned himself with the organization of monasteries.
With the coming to power of the emperor Valens (364-378), who was a resolute adherent of Arianism, a time of troubles began for Orthodoxy, the onset of a great struggle. St Basil hastily returned to Caesarea at the request of Bishop Eusebius. In the words of Gregory the Theologian, he was for Bishop Eusebius "a good advisor, a righteous representative, an expounder of the Word of God, a staff for the aged, a faithful support in internal matters, and an activist in external matters."
From this time church governance passed over to Basil, though he was subordinate to the hierarch. He preached daily, and often twice, in the morning and in the evening. During this time St Basil composed his Liturgy. He wrote a work "On the Six Days of Creation" (Hexaemeron) and another on the Prophet Isaiah in sixteen chapters, yet another on the Psalms, and also a second compilation of monastic rules. St Basil wrote also three books "Against Eunomius," an Arian teacher who, with the help of Aristotelian concepts, had presented the Arian dogma in philosophic form, converting Christian teaching into a logical scheme of rational concepts.
St Gregory the Theologian, speaking about the activity of Basil the Great during this period, points to "the caring for the destitute and the taking in of strangers, the supervision of virgins, written and unwritten monastic rules for monks, the arrangement of prayers [Liturgy], the felicitous arrangement of altars and other things." Upon the death of Eusebius, the Bishop of Caesarea, St Basil was chosen to succed him in the year 370. As Bishop of Caesarea, St Basil the Great was the newest of fifty bishops in eleven provinces. St Athanasius the Great (May 2), with joy and with thanks to God welcomed the appointment to Cappadocia of such a bishop as Basil, famed for his reverence, deep knowledge of Holy Scripture, great learning, and his efforts for the welfare of Church peace and unity.
Under Valens, the external government belonged to the Arians, who held various opinions regarding the divinity of the Son of God, and were divided into several factions. These dogmatic disputes were concerned with questions about the Holy Spirit. In his books Against Eunomios, St Basil the Great taught the divinity of the Holy Spirit and His equality with the Father and the Son. Subsequently, in order to provide a full explanation of Orthodox teaching on this question, St Basil wrote his book On the Holy Spirit at the request of St Amphilochius, the Bishop of Iconium.
St Basil's difficulties were made worse by various circumstances: Cappadocia was divided in two under the rearrangement of provincial districts. Then at Antioch a schism occurred, occasioned by the consecration of a second bishop. There was the negative and haughty attitude of Western bishops to the attempts to draw them into the struggle with the Arians. And there was also the departure of Eustathius of Sebaste over to the Arian side. Basil had been connected to him by ties of close friendship. Amidst the constant perils St Basil gave encouragement to the Orthodox, confirmed them in the Faith, summoning them to bravery and endurance. The holy bishop wrote numerous letters to the churches, to bishops, to clergy and to individuals. Overcoming the heretics "by the weapon of his mouth, and by the arrows of his letters," as an untiring champion of Orthodoxy, St Basil challenged the hostility and intrigues of the Arian heretics all his life. He has been compared to a bee, stinging the Church's enemies, yet nourishing his flock with the sweet honey of his teaching.
The emperor Valens, mercilessly sending into exile any bishop who displeased him, and having implanted Arianism into other Asia Minor provinces, suddenly appeared in Cappadocia for this same purpose. He sent the prefect Modestus to St Basil. He began to threaten the saint with the confiscation of his property, banishment, beatings, and even death.
St Basil said, "If you take away my possessions, you will not enrich yourself, nor will you make me a pauper. You have no need of my old worn-out clothing, nor of my few books, of which the entirety of my wealth is comprised. Exile means nothing to me, since I am bound to no particular place. This place in which I now dwell is not mine, and any place you send me shall be mine. Better to say: every place is God's. Where would I be neither a stranger and sojourner (Ps. 38/39:13)? Who can torture me? I am so weak, that the very first blow would render me insensible. Death would be a kindness to me, for it will bring me all the sooner to God, for Whom I live and labor, and to Whom I hasten."
The official was stunned by his answer. "No one has ever spoken so audaciously to me," he said.
"Perhaps," the saint remarked, " that is because you've never spoken to a bishop before. In all else we are meek, the most humble of all. But when it concerns God, and people rise up against Him, then we, counting everything else as naught, look to Him alone. Then fire, sword, wild beasts and iron rods that rend the body, serve to fill us with joy, rather than fear."
Reporting to Valens that St Basil was not to be intimidated, Modestus said, "Emperor, we stand defeated by a leader of the Church." Basil the Great again showed firmness before the emperor and his retinue and made such a strong impression on Valens that the emperor dared not give in to the Arians demanding Basil's exile. "On the day of Theophany, amidst an innumerable multitude of the people, Valens entered the church and mixed in with the throng, in order to give the appearance of being in unity with the Church. When the singing of Psalms began in the church, it was like thunder to his hearing. The emperor beheld a sea of people, and in the altar and all around was splendor; in front of all was Basil, who acknowledged neither by gesture nor by glance, that anything else was going on in church." Everything was focused only on God and the altar-table, and the clergy serving there in awe and reverence.
St Basil celebrated the church services almost every day. He was particularly concerned about the strict fulfilling of the Canons of the Church, and took care that only worthy individuals should enter into the clergy. He incessantly made the rounds of his own church, lest anywhere there be an infraction of Church discipline, and setting aright any unseemliness. At Caesarea, St Basil built two monasteries, a men's and a women's, with a church in honor of the Forty Martyrs (March 9) whose relics were buried there. Following the example of monks, the saint's clergy, even deacons and priests, lived in remarkable poverty, to toil and lead chaste and virtuous lives. For his clergy St Basil obtained an exemption from taxation. He used all his personal wealth and the income from his church for the benefit of the destitute; in every center of his diocese he built a poor-house; and at Caesarea, a home for wanderers and the homeless.
Sickly since youth, the toil of teaching, his life of abstinence, and the concerns and sorrows of pastoral service took their toll on him. St Basil died on January 1, 379 at age 49. Shortly before his death, the saint blessed St Gregory the Theologian to accept the See of Constantinople.
Upon the repose of St Basil, the Church immediately began to celebrate his memory. St Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium (November 23), in his eulogy to St Basil the Great, said: "It is neither without a reason nor by chance that holy Basil has taken leave from the body and had repose from the world unto God on the day of the Circumcision of Jesus, celebrated between the day of the Nativity and the day of the Baptism of Christ. Therefore, this most blessed one, preaching and praising the Nativity and Baptism of Christ, extolling spiritual circumcision, himself forsaking the flesh, now ascends to Christ on the sacred day of remembrance of the Circumcision of Christ. Therefore, let it also be established on this present day annually to honor the memory of Basil the Great festively and with solemnity."
St Basil is also called "the revealer of heavenly mysteries" (Ouranophantor), a "renowned and bright star," and "the glory and beauty of the Church." His honorable head is in the Great Lavra on Mount Athos.
In some countries it is customary to sing special carols today in honor of St Basil. He is believed to visit the homes of the faithful, and a place is set for him at the table. People visit the homes of friends and relatives, and the mistress of the house gives a small gift to the children. A special bread (Vasilopita) is blessed and distributed after the Liturgy. A silver coin is baked into the bread, and whoever receives the slice with the coin is said to receive the blessing of St Basil for the coming year.
- A New Year's Eve Story by Photios Kontoglou
- Basil the Great and Disfigured Christianity
- On the Circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ
HYMN OF PRAISE: THE CIRCUMCISION OF OUR LORD AND GOD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST & SAINT BASIL THE GREAT
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich
You, Who, gave the Law to the world and to man,
You, the Law-giver, placed Yourself under the Law,
Others, you enjoined by impostition - Yourself, voluntarily.
That is why on the eighth day, in the flesh, You were circumcised.
In fulfilling the Law, with a new one You replaced it:
Circumcision of the flesh, was replaced with a spiritual one.
That impure passions we cut off from ourselves
And with a spirit pure, to gaze upon You.
That, with the spirit, the will of the body to cut and to constrict,
Your will, O Savior, by the spirit we fulfill it -
To this circumcision, the saints learned,
Their fiery example, to us, they left.
Wonderful Basil, to a glowing ray, similar,
To such circumcision, generations, he teaches.
To Basil, be glory, Your servant,
Great, because of You, humble and constrained He became.
That is why he became great,
Great He remained.
Apolytikion in the First Tone
Our human form hast Thou taken on Thyself without change, O greatly-compassionate Master, though being God by nature; fulfilling the Law, Thou willingly receivest circumcision in the flesh, that Thou mightest end the shadow and roll away the veil of our sinful passions. Glory be to Thy goodness unto us. Glory be to Thy compassion. Glory, O Word, to Thine inexpressible condescension.
Apolytikion in the First Tone
Enthroned on high with the Eternal Father and Your divine Spirit, O Jesus, You willed to be born on earth of the unwedded handmaid, your Mother. Therefore You were circumcised as an eight-day old Child. Glory to Your most gracious counsel; glory to Your dispensation; glory to Your condescension, O only Lover of mankind.
Kontakion in the Third Tone
Now the Lord of all that is doth undergo circumcision, in His goodness cutting off the sins and failings of mortals. He this day doth give salvation unto the whole world; and the hierarch and bright daystar of the Creator now rejoiceth in the highest, Basil the wise and divine initiate of Christ.
Apolytikion in the First Tone
Your voice resounded throughout the world that received your word by which, in godly manner, you taught dogma, clarified the nature of beings, and set in order the character of people. Venerable father, Royal Priesthood, intercede to Christ God to grant us great mercy.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
For the Church art thou in truth a firm foundation, granting an inviolate lordship unto all mortal men and sealing it with what thou hast taught, O righteous Basil, revealer of heavenly things.
By St. Dimitri of Rostov
Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and if the root be holy, so are the branches. Not surprisingly, then, the excellent fruit of sanctity and admirable sprouting of piety, the venerable Melania, was the child of devout Christian parents. She was granddaughter to Saint Melania the Elder, who visited many holy fathers on Mount Nitria in Egypt. The elder Melania provided for the saints out of her own resources, and for thirty-seven years also supplied the needs of pilgrims in Jerusalem, equaling Abraham in generosity. Oh, to how many strangers from east and west, north and south, did she offer hospitality! She was the benefactress of churches and monasteries, fed a vast number of monks and nuns, and saw to it that those in prison lacked nothing. Numerous men and women of Rome owed their salvation to her, for it was she who put them on the path to the eternal kingdom by her edifying counsel. Great indeed was the life, great were the God-pleasing deeds of the senior Melania, whose husband and son (Melania the Younger’s father) were foremost senators in old Rome.
Reaching maturity, the younger Melania fervently desired to keep her virginity and repeatedly begged her parents not to force her to marry, but she was their only child, and they wished to have descendants to inherit their vast wealth. Therefore, when the maiden was fourteen years old, she was wed to a youth of seventeen named Apinianus, who was of consular rank. Having agreed to marriage, Melania still yearned to live chastely, even if circumstances had forced her to surrender her virginity. She employed every argument she knew to encourage her husband to curb his desires, frequently exhorting him with tears in her eyes: "How happy we would be if we lived together in continence, laboring for God in our youth without enjoying conjugal pleasures! From the beginning I wished for this. If you are not strong enough to control a young man’s fiery lusts, find another wife, but leave me in peace to live as I wish. As ransom for my freedom I offer you everything I own: menservants and maidservants, gold and silver, and riches astounding the imagination. Take it all, but set me free."
At first Apinianus would not agree to restrain his yearnings, and replied affectionately, "For now this cannot be. When we have an heir, I will permit you to do as you wish. I realize that it is unseemly for a man to lag behind his wife in a good and godly undertaking. Be patient, and when the Lord grants fruit to our marriage, we shall, in perfect oneness of mind, enter upon a life such as you desire."
Melania reconciled herself to this suggestion, and God gave the couple a daughter. The blessed one dedicated the child’s virginity to God at birth, as though she were paying her debt for having entered (albeit unwillingly) into wedlock. In this way she made certain her daughter would not undergo the distress that was her own lot.
Meanwhile, Melania prepared for her new life, fasting and mortifying her flesh more, and stifling every craving of the body. She stopped wearing beautiful clothes and jewelry, and avoided visiting baths. Whenever compelled by her husband or parents to go, she would not disrobe, but would wash only her face, giving money to the servant-maids so that they would remain silent. She repeatedly reminded her husband of their agreement, saying, "We have an heir. Why have you not done as you said?’ So much did she long for God and a chaste life that she conceived the notion of taking refuge in a foreign land, abandoning father, mother, husband, daughter, and wealth. She would have left immediately, had not certain holy men cited to her the words of the Apostle: Unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband, and, How knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? This gave her hope of assisting Apinianus to save his soul, and she abandoned the notion of flight. Nevertheless, it was only with the greatest suffering that she continued bearing the yoke of wedlock. She wore a hair shirt, removing it whenever her husband was in the house. Her aunt, however, discovered that she was vexing her body thus, and mocked and reproached the saint, who tearfully begged her to tell no one the secret.
It came to pass that Melania conceived again, and on the eve of the feast of the holy martyr Lawrence went into labor. That night she did not sleep at all, but chanted psalms and made prostrations in spite of her discomfort. Morning found her still at prayer, and she continued making supplications on bended knee until pain overwhelmed her. With great difficulty she gave birth to a son, who was baptized and quickly departed this world for the heavenly homeland. After her delivery, the blessed Melania became very ill and almost died. Standing by her bed and witnessing her agony, Apinianus felt sick from worry and grief. He ran to church, fell down before God, and shedding copious tears, begged that his beloved wife be spared. Seizing the opportunity to persuade him to keep his commitment, Melania sent this message to him while he was still in church: "If you want me to remain alive, swear before God to live out your days chastely, and never touch me again."
Apinianus loved his wife deeply and was more concerned for her survival than for his own satisfaction and pleasure, so he vowed in the temple before God to live with her in chastity. The messenger returned to Melania with word of her husband’s promise, and she quickly began to recover. Her spirit rejoiced and her pain subsided: spiritual gladness overcame bodily infirmity. Glorifying God, the saint looked forward to a life of abstinence.
Soon after Melania rose from her sick-bed, the virgin shoot, her beloved daughter consecrated to God from birth, departed to heaven. Her death and Melania’s continuous exhortations increased Apinianus’ determination to restrain his fleshly appetites. "Do you see how God encourages us to exercise self-control?" Melania would ask. "If He wanted us to share a bed, He would not have taken away our children." Thus, the holy couple, after experiencing carnal gratification, was joined in a loftier union: fasting, prayer, labors, and the mortification of the flesh. Each incited the other to greater struggles, and finally they decided to entrust their wealth to Christ through the hands of the poor, to renounce the world, and to embrace the monastic life. Melania’s parents, however, were violently opposed to this.
One night, Apinianus and Melania were discussing how to escape the multiform snares of the world. Suddenly, divine grace overshadowed them, and a wondrous fragrance, impossible to describe or even imagine, descended from heaven. So greatly were they consoled, that they forgot their sorrows. Thenceforth, they longed unceasingly for celestial blessings, dying to the world and everything in it. They hoped to embrace monasticism, but there seemed to be no possibility of this unless they secretly left the country. In the event, this proved unnecessary, because God opened the way for them: Melania’s father soon died, leaving them free to do as they wished. Nonetheless, they could not leave the world at once, since they possessed great wealth, which they had promised to Christ. They remained in the city while distributing a large part of their fortune among the needy, after which they retired to their country estates nearby. There they resumed their labors with fervor, carefully avoiding any lapse of continence. Apinianus was twenty-four years old and Melania twenty at the time of their remarkable and God-pleasing withdrawal from society. Oh, what a wondrous marvel! Once, the children were preserved unharmed in the Babylonian furnace; now this holy couple, remaining together, supernaturally prevails over the scorching flames of carnal attraction. Blessed Melania, the Lord’s wise handmaiden, kept a careful watch over both herself and her husband, for she was his teacher and guide, always taking the initiative as she led him on the way of the Lord.
While matters were thus flourishing and the poor were enjoying their good fortune, the following trial befell the Lord’s favorites. Severus, Apinianus’ brother, became envious of the couple’s ardor for God; moreover, he hoped to enrich himself at their expense. He began by appropriating some of their possessions. Encountering no resistance, he prepared to seize all their estates. Apinianus and Melania, being strangers to guile, put their hope in God. Only one thought distressed them: that the needy would be robbed and valuables they had promised to Christ would fall into the predator’s hands. As it happened, God defended His servants, delivering them from the oppressor. The devout Empress Serena, hearing of Melania’s virtue, summoned her and received her with honor. Amazed by the saint’s worthless clothing and profound humility, she embraced Melania and exclaimed, "How blessed you are for having chosen such a life!" promising also to punish Severus.
Melania did not wish to return evil for evil, and entreated Serena not to harm her brother-in-law. She asked only that Severus not be permitted to do further evil. "It is better to suffer than to give offense," said the blessed one. "The divine Scriptures command us to turn the other cheek. Accept my thanks, lady, for your gracious protection, but do not pay back Severus for his injustice. We ask only to be left in peace so that we may continue to feed Christ’s servants, orphans, widows, and paupers, with what is Christ’s." Besides this, Melania and Apinianus (who had accompanied his wife) begged the Empress to give them leave to sell the towns and villages they owned near Rome, in Sicily, Spain, Gaul, and Britain. It was necessary for them to obtain authorization for this, because Melania’s inheritance had made her and her husband the wealthiest private citizens in the Western Empire. They received full warrant to do as they wished. Melania tried to give Serena an expensive present, but the Empress would not accept it, counting it robbery to take something promised to Christ. Finally, the estimable couple left the palace.
Some notion of the wealth God entrusted to the saints may be gained from the fact that no one in Rome could find the means to purchase their house there. It was only after the city fell to barbarians and the house had been damaged by fire that it was sold, at a reduced price. The proceeds were used to feed the poor. It would be no exaggeration to say that Melania and her husband surpassed Job in obedience to God. Job thanked the Lord for involuntary loss, but our saints gladly forsook enormous riches on their own and embraced poverty.
Once, the devil attempted to prevent the sale of a certain village belonging to the Lord’s favorites, and failing in that, tried to stir up avarice in their hearts, for they received an enormous quantity of gold for the property. In vain did the beguiler labor, for Melania was ever on the watch for him. Counting the money as less valuable that dirt, she quickly distributed it to the destitute, thereby crushing the serpent’s head. The blessed one related, "I had a fine home with a beautiful view near a village I owned. Together, house and hamlet constituted the best of my properties. On one side lay the sea, on which ships could be seen sailing and fishermen casting and drawing nets; on the other there were virgin forests full of game, green fields, gardens, and vineyards. Fresh water was provided by a splendid pool and delightful springs, to which came birds of every kind, singing wonderful songs. The adversary put it into my head not to sell that lovely domain, but to keep it as my residence. By the grace of God, I understood that the foe was leading me astray, and without further hesitation I sold the manor, giving the price to my Christ."
A river of money from the sale of Melania’s properties flowed to the ends of the earth. The beneficiaries were monasteries, convents, hostels, hospitals, widows, orphans, and prisoners in Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, and elsewhere. The saints also provided ransoms for numerous captives. In short, the whole of the West and East shared the bounty. It is said that Melania and Apinianus purchased a number of deserted islands and built monasteries on them, richly endowing these communities. Churches everywhere were adorned with gold and silver and received splendid priestly vestments as gifts.
Having sold most of their lands in Italy, the holy couple, with Melania’s mother, took ship for Sicily, to view and sell their holdings there and to visit their spiritual father, the blessed Paulinus, on the way. Not long after their departure, barbarians devastated Italy, plundering and burning throughout the peninsula. It then became obvious what wisdom the saints had shown in selling their properties, with God’s help, before the invasion. What they would have lost utterly, they exchanged for a hundredfold reward in the kingdom of heaven. Moreover, by leaving Italy they escaped danger, saving themselves like Lot fleeing Sodom. After staying for some time with Saint Paulinus, they arrived in Sicily and attended to affairs there, then continued on to Carthage and Libya.
While Melania and Apinianus were at sea, a fierce storm arose, lasting many days. The ship was crowded with oarsmen and servants, and the water supply failed. Saint Melania understood that it was not God’s will that they go directly to their intended destination. She ordered the sail spread to catch the wind and trusted the Lord to guide the vessel wherever He wished. The ship made its way to an island on which barbarians had landed just a few days before. The enemies had seized a large number of men, women, and children and were demanding an enormous ransom from the islanders still at liberty. They planned to put the captives to the sword if they were not paid. The people wept bitterly: the free because they did not have the means to redeem their relatives, the prisoners because death awaited them. Hearing that a ship from Rome had arrived, the Bishop hurried to beg assistance in raising the ransom. Saint Melania and her husband were moved by the plight of the people and gave more than anyone expected was possible, enough to obtain the release of every captive. The sea was calm and the wind fair when the saints resumed their voyage. Before long they were entering Carthage’s harbor. No sooner had they disembarked than they began showering alms upon churches, monasteries, the poor, and the ill. For some time the saints lived in the town called Thagaste, not far from Carthage. An eloquent, learned presbyter named Alypius lived there, who greatly edified everyone who heard him teach. Melania and Apinianus became very fond of this man, adorned his church with rich offerings, and endowed it with several villages. They also founded a monastery nearby for eighty monks and a convent for 130 nuns, providing both with adequate incomes.
Saint Melania gradually became accustomed to strict fasting and an abstinent way of life. At first she ate every other day, then every third day, then only on Saturdays and Sundays. She occupied herself with copying manuscripts, being a skilled calligrapher. The money she received for the books she transcribed she gave to the poor, for whom she also sewed clothes. She was extremely devoted to the reading of the divine Scriptures. Whenever she wearied of writing or sewing, she read, and when she tired of reading, would ask another to read to her. Three times a year she read the entire Old Testament and the New, memorizing the most important passages so that she could quote them readily. She limited herself to two hours of sleep daily. Her bed was a rough mat on the floor. "We should always keep watch, for we do not know at what hour the thief (that is, death) will come," she would say. Not only did she teach her serving-maids to live a vigilant life; she also succeeded in persuading many youths to remain virgins, and converted numerous unbelievers to God.
Saint Melania spent seven years in Cathage and the surrounding region, then decided to visit the Holy Places in Jerusalem. With her mother and her former husband (now her spiritual brother and fellow ascetic), she sailed first to Alexandria. There she visited and enjoyed spiritual conversation with Saint Cyril, archbishop of the city, and a clairvoyant elder named Theodore. Afterwards, she took ship to Palestine. Arriving in Jerusalem, she made the rounds of the Holy Places sanctified by the footsteps of our Lord and the most pure Mother of God, venerating them with ineffable joy and a contrite heart. While in Jerusalem, blessed Melania prayed every night from sunset to sunrise, locked in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Oh, what fervent prayers she offered to Christ on bended knee, weeping, embracing the Tomb, and kissing it lovingly!
While Melania and Apinianus were in Jerusalem, a trusted friend sold the last remnants of their Italian properties. He sent the proceeds to them in Palestine. Shortly thereafter, they decided to visit the desert fathers of Egypt and give them alms. They left behind in the Holy City Melania’s aged mother, with instructions to build them a house on the Mount of Olives. Once in Egypt they made the rounds of anchorites’ cells, discussing matters profitable to the soul with the fathers, to whom they showed great generosity. Many of the ascetics, however, refused to accept anything, because they fled from gold as from a serpent’s bite. Coming to the hermitage of one Hephaistion, they begged him to take a little gold, but he declared that he would have none of it. The blessed Melania peered into his hut, where she saw nothing but a rush mat, a water-pot, a few dry biscuits, and a little basket of salt; so she hid several gold coins in the salt before leaving. Her ruse did not deceive the elder. Snatching the money, he ran after Melania and Apinianus, shouting, "Wait! Wait!" When he caught up with them, he opened the hand clutching the coins and demanded to know, "What am I to do with these? I have no use for them. Keep what is yours."
"Give them to someone else," they replied.
The elder marveled, "Are you blind? This is a desert. Who needs money here, and for what?" Neither Melania nor Apinianus wished to take the gold, but he forced them to accept it and rushed back to his cell. The travelers continued on to Alexandria, thence to Nitria, everywhere visiting the habitations of holy men. Like bees they flew from flower to flower, collecting sweet nectar. Before long they were back in Jerusalem, greatly profited by the discourses of numerous desert-dwellers. They found their house on Olivet completed, and moved into it at once.
Melania secluded herself in a little cell and for fourteen years admitted no one, excepting only her mother and her spiritual brother Apinianius, whom she permitted to see her once a week. Then her mother, full of good works, fell asleep in the Lord. After giving her a fitting burial, Melania returned to her narrow cell for another year. Following her brief appearance to commit her mother to the earth, the saint’s fame spread everywhere. Many people began to visit her, seeking counsel. Concern for the salvation of others forced her to abandon solitude and found a convent of more than ninety virgins. Sinful women also flocked to her, and she showed them the path to salvation and taught them how to live in a God-pleasing manner. She refused the office of superior, preferring to serve everyone like a slave, while at the same time providing as a mother for the needs of all. The blessed one constantly instructed the sisters in moral excellence: firstly in chastity; secondly in love (without which it is impossible to attain perfection in any virtue); afterwards in humility, obedience, patience, and gentleness. She frequently recounted to the nuns the following story, intending to instill in them long-suffering and meekness.
"Once, a young man went to an elder and asked to become his disciple. Wishing to teach the youth what is required of a monk, the old man instructed him to kick one of the posts framing the entranceway and to beat it with a stick. The youth did as commanded; whereupon, the elder inquired, ’While you were beating the post, did it take offense or protest? Did it flee or fight back?’ ’No,’ answered the young man. The elder said, ’Strike it harder, and at the same time revile, reproach, and slander it in the harshest way.’ When the youth returned, the old man asked, ’Did the post become angry? Did it contradict or rebuke you, or complain?’ ’No, Father,’ the youth said. ’How can a post lose its temper or say anything at all? It is not alive.’ ’If you are able to imitate the post, never becoming annoyed or gainsaying when you are struck, ordered about, or reproved, but remaining untroubled by every sorrow, then stay and be my disciple,’ said the old man. ’Otherwise, do not darken my doorway with your shadow.’"
Saint Melania built a beautiful church in the convent. Enshrined there were relics of the prophet Zacharias, Saint Stephen the proto martyr, and the Forty Martyrs of Sebasteia. After it was completed, her spiritual brother and former husband, the blessed Apinianus, departed unto the Lord, ending his God-pleasing life in the monastic habit. Melania gave him an honorable burial, then began preparing for her own death, which she expected would soon follow. Providence, however, deigned to prolong her life for the salvation of others. The saint expended her last funds on the construction of a monastery and became truly poor, having long before attained poverty of spirit. At that time she received a letter from her uncle Volusianus, who had traveled from Rome to Constantinople, asking that she come to see him in the eastern capital. Initially, she did not want to go, since he was a pagan, but holy men advised her not to disdain the request; so she changed her mind, hoping to turn him to God.
Melania’s fame preceded her on the way to Byzantium. In every city and village she was greeted joyfully and shown the utmost esteem, for God glorifies them that glorify Him. Bishops and priests, abbots and abbesses, nobles and commoners came out to meet her, welcoming her as though she were sent from heaven. When the time came for the saint to depart the towns in which she stopped, clergy and laity invariably escorted her a long way before taking final leave of her. Thus, as a result of the journey, the light of Melania’s virtue and self-denial shone even further than before, reaching, like the sun’s rays, the very ends of the earth. When she arrived in Constantinople, the blessed one was received with great respect by the Emperor Theodosius the Younger, the Empress Eudocia, and the Most Holy Patriarch Proclus. Volusianus had meanwhile fallen ill. Seeing her clothed in monastic garb, her flesh wasted, the beauty of her countenance erased by fasting and austerities, the saint’s uncle cried out in astonishment, "How you have changed, Melania!" Her presence, demeanor, divinely inspired discourses, and edifying admonitions had a profound effect on Volusianus, as did the exhortations of Saint Proclus. Soon, he renounced Hellenic impiety and agreed to be baptized. Several days after first receiving the divine Mysteries, Volusianus surrendered his spirit into God’s hands and was buried by Melania.
While staying in Constantinople, the Lord’s favorite converted many from pestilent Nestorianism to Orthodoxy, and warned the faithful not to be deceived by false doctrines. Her God-given wisdom invariably prevailed over the sophistical argumentation of the heretics. The venerable one, who was full of the grace of the Holy Spirit, studied the Scriptures daily and knew them extremely well. From morning till night she was surrounded by people asking questions about the Orthodox faith. So profound were her replies that the entire city was amazed. She remained in Constantinople for some time, then returned to Jerusalem where she began preparing for her departure to heaven.
Saint Melania possessed the gift of healing and cured numerous infirmities. Let us recount a few of her miracles, so that the reader may understand what manner of grace abode in her.
The Empress Eudocia went to Jerusalem to venerate the holy places and to visit Melania, her spiritual mother. While travelling, the Empress dislocated her foot. She was in great discomfort, but as soon as Saint Melania touched the foot, the pain vanished.
A young woman was tormented by a demon, which sealed her lips, altogether preventing her from speaking or eating. Between thirst, hunger, and the torments of possession, she was at death’s door. The godly Melania anointed her with holy oil and prayed for her, after which the demon was expelled and the woman could open her mouth and receive nourishment.
Another woman was pregnant, but could not deliver her child, which had died in the womb. Overwhelming pain rendered her incapable of uttering a sound. Were it not for Saint Melania’s intercession, she would certainly have perished. No sooner was the venerable one’s belt placed on her chest, than the dead child came forth. The woman felt immediate relief and could speak again.
Foreseeing her departure to God, the blessed Melania decided to visit the holy places in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee one last time. She attended the All-night Vigil at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, after which she said to one of the sisters, a cousin of hers who never departed her side, that she would not celebrate the feast of Christ’s birth again on earth. Hearing this, the woman wept bitterly. On the eve of Saint Stephen’s, Melania attended Vigil at the convent church where the protomartyr’s relics were enshrined. While reading his Passion to the sisters, Melania commented that they would never again hear the account together. The nuns understood that she was predicting her imminent departure, and lamented bitterly. The saint consoled them with divinely inspired counsel and used the occasion to deliver a discourse on the virtues. Then she returned to the church and prayed, "O Lord God, from the beginning I devoted myself to Thee and loved Thee more than wedlock or wealth, glory or pleasure. From infancy I entrusted my soul and body to Thee, and from fear of Thee my flesh hath cleaved to my bones. Thy right hand hath directed me, and Thy statutes have ever been my guide. Do Thou hearken unto my voice, and may my tears loose the floods of Thy mercy. Wash away the stains of my voluntary and involuntary sins; permit me to attain unto Thee without hindrance; do not allow the wicked spirits of the air to detain me. O Immortal One, Thou knowest the infirmity of our mortal nature; Thou knowest, O lover of mankind, that no man is without fault; Thou knowest that we all transgress every day, giving our enemies reason for claiming us as their own. But do Thou, Master, overlook mine offenses and cleanse me, that I may appear spotless before Thy judgement seat."
Having completed this prayer, Saint Melania began to weaken. She desisted from ascetic labors, but continued attending church and teaching the sisters. The Bishop of Eleutheropolis arrived with his clergy to visit, and imparted the divine and most pure Mysteries to her. Then, having consoled her cousin and the other sisters, Melania gave them a final kiss and uttered her last words: "May the Lord’s will be done." So saying, the venerable one surrendered her soul into God’s hands. She fell asleep in the Lord on the thirty-first of December, lying on her bed with her eyes closed and her hands crossed upon her breast in a dignified manner. All the monks and nuns living near Jerusalem assembled for her funeral. After chanting psalms the whole night long over her body, they buried her reverently. Her holy soul took up its abode in the courts of the Lord Whom she loved and for Whom she labored fervently throughout her life. There she boasts in glory with all the saints, praying for us sinners to the one God in Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to Whom be praise forever. Amen.
Abbreviated from Metaphrastes, whose narrative is supplemented by the account in The Lausiac History, Ch. 109
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
In thee the image was preserved with exactness, O Mother; for taking up thy cross, thou didst follow Christ, and by thy deeds thou didst teach us to overlook the flesh, for it passeth away, but to attend to the soul since it is immortal. Wherefore, O righteous Melania, thy spirit rejoiceth with the Angels.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
In your fervent desire for the angelic life, you renounced the comforts of this earth. In watchfulness you practiced sobriety and deep humility. Therefore, most wise Melania, you became a pure vessel filled by the Holy Spirit, who adorned you with gifts, attracting all to your divine fervor, leading them to the Master and Savior of our souls.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
You tread to the end of the path of virtue and were betrothed to God the Word. You rejoiced in the contest, O Anysia; and you, O Melania, shone with the light of dispassion, together, radiant with virtue in the world. And now we ask you to implore Christ the Lord that he may be gracious to us!
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Being illumined in thy soul with the bright rays of Him that hone forth unto us from a Virgin, with virtues wast thou brilliant, O all-lauded one; for having dispersed on earth thy corruptible riches, thou didst store up for thyself greater riches in Heaven; and in ascetic labours thou didst shine; hence, O Melania, with longing we honour thee.
Kontakion in the Third Tone
Like a lamp with two flames you illumine Christ’s Church with mystical radiance. In your martyr’s contest you brought forth fruits a hundred-fold, O Anysia; and you, O Melania, were resplendent in asceticism. You were found worthy of the incorruptible life of the blessed!