January 2, 2011

Saint Sylvester I, Pope of Rome (St. Nikolai Velimirovich)

St. Sylvester I, Pope of Rome (Feast Day - January 2)

                                                             By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Sylvester was born in Rome and from his early youth was learned in worldly wisdom and in the Faith of Christ. He always conducted his life according to the Gospel commandments. He benefited much from the instruction of Timothy the priest whose death for the Faith Sylvester himself witnessed and, observing the example of the heroic sacrifice of his teacher, was imbued with such a spirit throughout his entire life. At age thirty, he became the Bishop of Rome. He amended the customs of Christians. For example, he dispensed the fast on Saturdays, which was practiced by many Christians up to that time, and ordered that fasting be observed only on Holy and Great Saturday as well as on those Saturdays that fall within the fasting seasons. By his prayers and miracles Sylvester assisted in bringing Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena into the True Faith. They were later baptized. He participated with the Empress Helena in finding the Honorable Cross. He governed the Church of God for twenty years. His earthly life ended honorably and he was translated into the heavenly Kingdom.

A Reflection From His Life

God permits humiliation and ruin to befall a proud man when he thinks that his strength is secured forever. When the pernicious Roman Eparch [Governor] Tarquinius beheaded Blessed Timothy, he summoned St. Sylvester and threatened him with death if he did not reveal Timothy's inheritance and in addition immediately offer sacrifice to the idols. Without fear and trembling, this discerning saint responded to the eparch with the Evangelical words: "You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you" (Luke 12:20), "and that with which you boast that you will bring to me (i.e. death) will occur to you." The proud eparch shackled Sylvester in chains and threw him into a dungeon intending to kill him shortly. Having done this, the eparch sat down to eat lunch, but a fish bone caught in his throat. From noon to midnight, the physicians struggled to save his life but all was in vain. At midnight, Tarquinius gave up his proud soul in greatest torments. And so the prophecy of St. Sylvester was fulfilled, as also were the Biblical words: "Pride goes before disaster" (Proverbs 16:18).


O Lord, most wonderful, wonderful in Your saints, You are,
Mighty and Merciful, through Your saints, You appear.
As the sun through the stars, You shine through Your saints,
To the humble You give strength; To Paradise You raise them.
To the simple You impart wisdom; through them the wise, You shame,
To the unfortunate; you comfort with kindness; with heaven, You nourish the hungry.
Saints of every type, You have,
Among the saints, from every age, You receive
From every age and from every stock,
Without caste, without mark: the last or the first.
Pure from sin and, in good, fruitful,
Noble souls, kindred to Your Christ,
You call them saints. Everyone You call
To be a saint. Those who respond, You cleanse,
Wash them from sins that white as wool they become,
In such as these, all heaven rejoices with You,
Sylvester was such a one; In him You rejoice, and
Because of him, blessing You impart to us.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
The truth of things hath revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, an icon of meekness, and a teacher of temperance; for this cause, thou hast achieved the heights by humility, riches by poverty. O Father and Hierarch Sylvester, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
As a companion of the holy ascetics, thou O God-bearer, hast been worthily shown forth as a true priest of priests before our King and God. Wherefore, thou rejoicest now with the choirs of the Angels, filled with gladness and delight in the Heavens, O Father. Renowned Sylvester, famed shepherd of Rome, save them that honour with love thy memorial.