|St. Neophytos of Nicaea (Feast Day - January 21)|
Neophytos rooted out the earthly tree,
Planting one new and beautiful even as a child.
The Holy Martyr Neophytos was born in Nicaea of Bithynia, to Christian parents who were named Theodore and Florentia, and lived during the reign of Diocletian (284-305). From early infancy he was full of the grace of God.
One day when he was nine years old he was in the company of other children who were all thirsty, and while praying at the door of a church he struck a rock with a finger, which caused a spring of water and milk to pour forth and quenched their thirst as well as that of a large crowd that came to see the wonder. Instead of becoming vainglorious over such a display of the power of God through his prayers, Neophytos was humbled and strove to conceal his virtuous way of life.
As much as the child sought to conceal his virtue, the Lord all the more sought to reveal His favor and make him known as a vessel of grace. Not long after this event, his mother Florentia was praying one night to know what God had in store for her son, and suddenly she saw a dove come down from heaven and perched on Neophytos's empty bed. When she asked why the dove had rested upon the bed of her son, the dove replied miraculously in a human voice, "The Holy Spirit sent me to hover over the bed of Neophytos, so that I should cast out every assault of the enemy and preserve his bedding pure and blameless." This was followed by an ineffable light that descended. Overwhelmed by the sights and sounds, the poor woman fell down dead. When Neophytos returned home and was informed by neighbors that his mother expired, he did not grieve as one without hope, but consoled his father who came running with tears from the field, then taking his dead mother by the hand, he said, "Rise up, O mother, forasmuch as the Lord has willed it, you have slept enough." Thereupon her soul returned to her body, and after her recovery she told everyone present that she saw a dove over the bed of Neophytos, which they then all saw and heard say to Neophytos that he must depart from his home and live a life dedicated to God.
Taking to heart what he had heard from the dove, ten year old Neophytos went to Mount Olympus in Bithynia accompanied by the dove and became one of the earliest hermits in the region, which centuries later became a monastic stronghold. Guided by the dove, Neophytos reached a lofty height and entered a cave. There the youth encountered a fearsome lion, which departed the cave in peace when the child commanded it to do so. In this cave Neophytos lived a life of prayer, fasting and asceticism, contemplating the wonderful things of God, and sustained by heavenly bread brought by an angel. A year later, when he was eleven, he received a heavenly order to return to his homeland and assist his parents who were at the end of their lives. While in Nicaea he did not cease to live the life he lived as a hermit in Olympus. Upon the death of his parents, he distributed all of his inheritance to the poor and returned to his cave.
When Neophytos was fifteen years old, an angel of the Lord commanded Neophytos to return again to Nicaea in order to be perfected through glorious martyrdom. Eagerly he went and stood before the tyrannical governor Maximus in the amphitheater, whose persecution of Christians brought terror to the city. There he proclaimed Christ as the true God and the ignorance and vanity of worshiping idols. For this the radiant youth was seized and brought to be tortured. Stripped naked he was suspended by a rope and scraped and flayed. Then he received five hundred blows with rods and again was scraped and flayed. Taking him down the executioners applied vinegar and salt to his wounds to usher bitter pain. Meanwhile, Neophytos did not cease preaching the gospel of Christ to his executioners.
Enduring all his torments with a steadfast faith, Neophytos was then subjected to having all of his bodily members damaged and dismembered, leaving nothing without injury. However, the tyrant was in despair when he found out that even after such torment, he could not bring the beardless boy to renounce Christ and sacrifice to the idols. Then he was taken to the gymnasium of Hercules, where a great and terrifying furnace was lit, and he had Neophytos cast within the fiery furnace for three days in order to be thoroughly consumed. To the terror of all the pagans, however, Neophytos emerged from the furnace three days later healthy and uninjured, as well as completely unsinged.
Next the Holy Martyr was consigned to be mauled by three wild beasts that had not been fed for five days, but like Adam in Paradise Neophytos calmed the ferocity of the bear, the leopard and the lion (which was the same lion he encountered in his cave). Then the tyrant, who was more mindless than the irrational beasts, commanded that the body of Neophytos be pierced with spits until he died. However, although filled with tormenting spits, Neophytos remained standing and fearless. This enraged Maximus to the extent that he took a spear himself and rushed against Maximus, penetrating his heart. After such unspeakable torments Neophytos obtained the crown of martyrdom.
Apolytikion in Plagal of the First Tone
Thou wast filled with divine grace from thine infancy, and thy youthful soul was a dwelling-place of the Trinity. Thou didst work wondrous miracles, and wast steadfast in contest, O prize-winning Neophytos. Pray unceasingly that our souls may be saved.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
O Great Martyr Neophytos, thou didst shine forth from the mountain and as an athlete glorify Christ in the stadium. Wherefore thou didst receive the unfading crown.