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December 31, 2018

The Best of December 2018 by the Mystagogy Resource Center (MRC)

Below is the monthly review for the month of December of the ten most popular articles from the previous month on, then all the posts made on the other websites of the Mystagogy Resource Center.

1. Seven Men Who Tried To Paganize the Origins of Christmas But Failed

2. Origins of the Icon of the Nativity of Christ

3. The Singing Emperor Who Was Murdered in Church on Christmas Day

4. "I Grew Up With Saint Porphyrios"

5. The Institution of Autocephaly in the Orthodox Church

6. The Debate Over the Declaration of Autocephaly in a Church

7. When St. Iakovos of Evia Celebrated Christmas in the Forest

8. Daniel the Stylite and the Stylites of Constantinople

9. When Saint Savvas the Sanctified Shamed a Lion

10. The Controversy Over the Bathing Scene in Nativity Icons of the Holy Mountain

1. The Orthodoxy of Maria Callas: 12 Facts

2. Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" as a Reimagining of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

3. Christ at the Castle: Papadiamantis’ Tale Captures the Genuine Spirit of Christmas

4. "Massacre of the Innocents" (a silent film from the 1910's)

1. The Views of Orthodox Theology on Bioethical Issues (2 of 6)

1. The Prophecy of Abba Ischyrion

2. Last Things First: The Eschatological Community of the Parish

1. Christ Antiphonetes: The Icon That Allegedly Could Foretell the Future

2. Why Monsters Haunt Christmas in Europe but not America

3. The Cultural Impact Of "The Exorcist" (Released December 26, 1973)

The Controversy Over the Bathing Scene in Nativity Icons of the Holy Mountain

On Byzantine images of the Nativity of Christ, it is well known that there are several secondary elements represented in the rocky countryside, even though Christ and the Mother of God remain the main figures. Among these elements, we find angels in the upper-left corner; the shepherds listen to the good news in the upper-right corner; the Wise Men, in the middle-left section, are getting close to Bethlehem; Joseph, in deep, disturbing reflection, is shown in the lower-left corner; and the bathing of the divine Child is in the lower-right corner. We sometimes see the bathing scene represented in the middle of the lower section, right beneath the seated Mother of God; sometimes, the scene is in the lower-left corner while Joseph occupies the lower-right corner. In the bathing scene itself, we see two women with their sleeves rolled up. The older woman is seated holding the Child on her knees or in her arms he is ready to be washed. The young woman stands holding a jar and pours water into a deep basin placed between the midwives. The young woman, sitting, extends her hand to check the temperature of the water. She is preparing the bath. On other icons, we see the young woman plunge the Child into the water up to his neck. In these cases, we have the actual bathing scene.

Holy Martyr Gaudentius


Altogether inexperienced in the battles of the contest,
Even though by this Gaudentius breathed his last.

The Colosseum of Rome, built on the site of Nero's "Golden House" by the Flavian Emperors, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian, opened for use in the year 80 A.D. At its dedication, there were battles and combats of gladiators, and five thousand animals were slain within its circuit. The show was crowned with the flooding of the arena and a sea-fight. Nothing is known with certainty as to the architect of the Colosseum, though tradition ascribes the building to Gaudentius, a Christian who, afterwards, suffered on the spot and became its first of many martyrs.

Holy Martyr Busiris

St. Busiris the Martyr (Feast Day - December 31)


The flesh of Busiris, was the loom for needles,
By which a new robe was weaved for the Lord.

The Holy Martyr Busiris met his end by being pierced by women with needles.

Holy Martyr Nemi

St. Nemi the Martyr (Feast Day - December 31)


A man with a sword did not frighten Nemi,
Even though it was a sharp sword.

The Holy Martyr Nemi met her end by the sword.

Holy Martyr Olympiodora

St. Olympiodora the Martyr (Feast Day - December 31)


On the way to the contest by fire of Olympiodora,
She offers a hymn as a gift, and not an Olympic garland.

The Holy Martyr Olympiodora met her end by fire.

Holy Ten Virgins of Nicomedia

Holy Ten Virgins of Nicomedia (Feast Day - December 31)


Double the contest with piercings and scrapings,
The chorus of two times five virgins knew.

The Holy Ten Virgins, who were from Nicomedia, met their end by having their eyes pierced out, and their sides scraped.

Venerable Gaius

Venerable Gaius (Feast Day - December 31)


Gaius endured many divine labors,
And now he has the radiant honors of the labors.

Venerable Gaius met his end in peace.

This may be the Abba Gaius we read about in the Life of Abba Longinus by Bishop Basil of Oxyrhynchos. There we read that Abba Gaius was originally from Corinth and eventually became head of the monastery by the ninth milestone mark from Alexandria, which became known as the Monastery of Abba Gaius, and was included as one of the Hennaton monasteries.

December 30, 2018

Venerable Leo the Archimandrite

Venerable Leo the Archimandrite (Feast Day - December 30)


Leo departed this life O Christ,
Who saw you as a cub of a lion from Judah.

Venerable Leo the Archimandrite met his end in peace.

Holy Martyr Philetairos of Nicomedia and Those With Him

St. Philetairos of Nicomedia (Feast Day - December 30)


To Philetairos.
Philetairos suffered according to the law of athletes,
And he departed as an athlete from life.

To the Seven Martyrs.
It was a good meeting on the path beyond,
Of these seven who arrived in the heavens.

The Holy Martyr Philetairos of Nicomedia twice suffered torture for Christ under the co-Emperors Diocletian (284-305) and Maximian (286-305). When Diocletian arrived in Nicomedia, Philetairos, who was tall and handsome, with golden hair and beard, was put on trial. Seeing him, the emperor was awe-struck and compared him to one of the pagan gods. When questioned about where he was from, his social rank and family, the martyr answered, “I am from here in Nicomedia, the son of an eparch. I am a Christian by faith, and my name is Phileraitos.”

December 29, 2018

Saint George, Bishop of Nicomedia, Composer of Canons and Troparia

St. George of Nicomedia (Feast Day - December 29)


Panegyrist of things beyond comprehension,
Now George applauds with the Angels.

Venerable George Of Nicomedia lived in the latter half of the ninth century, and was a deacon and keeper of the archives (chartophylax) of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. He was a close friend and correspondent of Patriarch Photios, with whom he shared mutual interests, and became Bishop of Nicomedia sometime before 867 till sometime after 877. He reposed sometime after 880.

The Bronze Tetrapylon and the Church of the Holy Forty Martyrs in Constantinople

Reconstruction of the Bronze Tetrapylon

1. Tetrapyla in Constantinople

An architectural structure on four columns, as its name literally means, the tetrapylon had a long-established meaning of a triumphal structure in the Mediterranean tradition. Established as triumphal structures in pagan tradition, situated at the intersection of major thoroughfares within the street grid, monumental quadrifrons (four-way arches) and tetrapyla were imperial markers over the locus mundi, the navel of the world. Comprised of four single pillars identical in size and shape, standing apart from each other and forming a coherent square plan, sometimes connected with an entablature, and occasionally toped by vaults, quadrifrons and tetrapyla were essentially colossal canopies (ciboria). In the Mediterranean these Late Antique structures were usually associated with the canopied throne of the Emperor in the audience hall and symbolized the presence of the Roman Emperor even in his absence.

Synaxarion of our Venerable Father Thaddeus the Confessor (+ 818)

St. Thaddeus the Confessor (Feast Day - December 29)


Although Thaddeus was of a barbarian race,
He rebuked the impious with boldness.

Our Holy Father Thaddeus became the first slave to the most-venerable Theodore* who, by imperial decree, received the Monastery of Stoudios and converted it into a coenobium. Afterwards he was liberated from slavery, and the hairs of his head were tonsured in this Monastery of Stoudios, becoming a monk. Because he pursued conduct that was pleasing to God, he was beloved by all. He occupied himself with fasting and many vigils, had self-control over his tongue, payed attention to divine discourses, practiced sleeping on the ground, surpassed all in obedience, and was great in poverty, for the thrice-blessed one had nothing except the clothes he wore. Because at that time with the consent of God there ruled impious and iconoclast emperors, Michael the Stammerer (820-829) and his son Theophilos (829-842),** all the pious Bishops and Abbots of monasteries, as well as others, were imprisoned, while others were exiled. One of these was the great struggler Theodore, the master and abbot of Venerable Thaddeus. One time the Venerable One went with Saint Theodore to the imperial palace. Having become inflamed with divine zeal, he rebuked the impious emperor before the leader of the senate. The emperor ordered that the holy icon of the Savior be brought forth, and to be placed on the ground. The Venerable One was also forced to be held by strong brave men, and to be placed on top of the holy icon. There he stood without moving, standing on it against his will.

December 28, 2018

The Singing Emperor Who Was Murdered in Church on Christmas Day

Emperor Leo V leading the chanting at Christmas,
12th-century Madrid Skylitzis, Fol. 23r top.

By John Sanidopoulos

On Christmas morning in the year 820, while the iconoclast Emperor Leo V the Armenian was chanting in the palace chapel of Saint Stephen to celebrate the birth of the Lord, he was brutally murdered in the sanctuary. This took place because his friend Michael II the Stammerer became disgruntled with Leo V, when the Emperor divorced Michael's sister-in-law, and he began a plan to dethrone him. On Christmas Eve 820, Leo V accused him of conspiracy, jailed him, and sentenced him to death. Leo concocted a scheme where Michael was to be tied to an ape and cast into the bathhouse furnace of Zeuxippos, to be either maimed by the monkey or die from burning or dehydration under the heated bathhouse floor. It was the empress Theodosia, we are told, who fatefully interceded for Michael, imploring Leo not to taint his rule with such a savage act on the sacred feast of Christmas day. Leo too was troubled by the judgement he had passed upon his former friend and spent a sleepless night. He agreed to put off the execution until after the Christmas festivities. It would prove a fatal delay. During the night, Michael’s supporters put a conspiracy into action. Under the pretext of the prisoner wishing to confess his sins, a priest was sent for from the city. The servant sent to bring the priest summoned a number of conspirators who, disguised as monks, made their way into the Daphne palace complex and entered the Chapel of Saint Stephen, where the emperor would celebrate Christmas liturgy at dawn.

Saint Babylas the Mime of Tarsus

Venerable Babylas (Feast Day - December 28)


Casting aside the burden of all material things Babylas,
Immaterially you came to the place of immateriality.

By St. John Moschos

(The Spiritual Meadow, 32)

There was a certain mime in Cilician Tarsus called Babylas and with him were two concubines, one called Cometa, the other Nicosa. They lived in a very self-indulgent style, doing whatever the demons might put into their minds. One day, however, by divine providence they went into a church and heard the Gospel being read, where it says: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:2). Conscience-stricken, he wept with horror, crying out against his miserable self for the sins he had done. He ran out of the church and called to his two companions.

Holy Martyr Secundus

St. Secundus the Martyr (Feast Day - December 28)


Become Secundus a martyr by the sword,
And the beautiful things of martyrs receive as gifts.

This Saint Secundus may be Secundus of Asti. He lived in the second century and was a young man of noble lineage, probably a soldier, who visited the jails of Asti. There he was converted to Christianity by Calocerus, a Christian imprisoned by Sapricius, prefect of the city. Secundus was a friend of Sapricius. They traveled together to the city of Tortona, where Secundus met the city's first bishop, Marcian, who was imprisoned there and later martyred under Hadrian. Secundus' meeting with Marcian influenced his decision to become a Christian; his meeting with Faustinus and Jovita, imprisoned in Milan, further influenced his conversion and they baptized him. His friend Sapricius attempted to make him abjure his newfound faith. Secundus refused, and was tortured and decapitated.

December 27, 2018

Miracles of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr in Sixth Century France

By St. Gregory of Tours

(Glory of the Martyrs, 33)

Stephen was the first deacon of the holy church and the first martyr at Jerusalem, as the sacred history of the apostles relates. He was stoned to death for the holy name of Christ whom he saw at the right hand [of God] in a spiritual vision of power; he begged the mercy [of God] for his persecutors.

Near Tours there is an oratory that people long ago dedicated in Stephen's name and that I ordered to be enlarged a bit. When the reconstruction was completed, we moved the altar forward, exactly as it had been before. But while we were looking in its reliquary, we found none of the holy relics that tradition claimed [to be there]. I sent one of the abbots to fetch relics of Stephen for us from the oratory of the church house, but I forgot to give him the key for the reliquary, which was hanging on my belt. Once the abbot arrived, he removed the seal from the cupboard but found the reliquary locked. He was uncertain about what to do or how to act. If he returned to me, it would require much time to go and come back; if he brought the entire reliquary, he knew I would be annoyed, because in it were the relics of many saints; if he did nothing, he would not obey the order he had received. Why say more? When he took the reliquary hesitantly in his hand, the bolts clicked back and he saw that it was unlocked. He gave thanks, took the relics, and with great amazement brought them to me. At God's command I transferred them [to the altar] during the celebration of liturgy. Many days later I returned to Tours; there I found the reliquary just as I had left it, locked and again bolted.

Venerable Luke of Trigleia

St. Luke of Trigleia (Feast Day - December 27)


The mind of Luke was raised above the earth,
Now he delights in the clear vision of God.

Venerable Luke of Trigleia, which is in Moudania, met his end in peace.

December 26, 2018

Seven Men Who Tried To Paganize the Origins of Christmas But Failed

Painting shows “The Triumph of Christianity Over Paganism” by Gustave Doré, painted perhaps in 1868.

Every Christmas season, the usual myths are hauled out and distributed for popular consumption. You know them. We’ve all heard or read them.

- That Christmas celebrations were stolen from the Romans
- The Christmas tree is a pagan hangover
- That other gods had virgin births
- That Yule and the mistletoe are all about Odin

These falsehoods are repeated often and loudly, under the guise of being “historical truths.” And strangely they still stump most Christians, who are then filled with doubt about what they believe.

Of course, these myths were designed to elicit precisely this sort of reaction from believers.

Saint Nicodemus of Tismana (+ 1406)

St. Nicodemus of Tismana (Feast Day - December 26)

Even today, Saint Nicodemus (Nikodim) of Tismana is a very prominent and respected Saint among Serbs and especially Romanians. He is best known as the founder of the Vodita and Tismana monasteries, but he was also a well-known copyist and translator, which made him one of the forefathers of literacy and literature in the Middle Danube region. Nicodemus was also one of the most prominent followers of the monastic learning and tradition known as hesychasm, which spread from the Roman/Byzantine Empire to other Orthodox counties and regions in the 14th century. According to Dimitri Obolensky, Nicodemus of Tismana was a lively example of a cosmopolitan culture centered in Byzantium that was solidified by hesychasm, and had both permeated and connected the Eastern European Orthodox lands. Saint Nicodemus was also a very important figure for Serbian medieval history as well, both as a conveyor of hesychastic monastic traditions, and as a member of an important diplomatic and ecclesiastical mission to Constantinople in 1375, and has thus been held in high regard in Serbian Orthodox tradition throughout the centuries.

Synaxis of the Panagia Antivouniotissa in Kerkyra

Synaxis of the Panagia Antivouniotissa (Feast Day - December 26)

1.From the Church history to the Museum

The building complex dedicated to the Most Blessed Virgin – Our Lady of Antivouniotissa (“Kyrá Antivouniótissa”) is one of the city’s oldest and richest ecclesiastical monuments. Located in the heart of the historic center of Corfu in the area of Campiello, it is accessible both from Pros-forou Street as well as from the monumental “skalináda” (flight of steps) that starts from Arseniou Street, which is today a coastal road lying atop the now-demolished north-ern sea walls of the city known as the “Mouráyia”. The name “Antivouniotissa” comes from a toponym, indicating the church’s location on the hill called “Antivoúni”. It lies opposite the neighboring hill of Ovriovoúni, the area where the Jews had initially settled before the creation of the Jewish quarter on the outskirts of the New Fortress in the late sixteenth century. We do not know whether the church was dedicated to the Virgin from the outset, something about which we may conjecture from the presence of an overpainted wall painting with a representation of Christ Pantocrator on the right side of the templon. In Corfu, the icon of the saint to whom a church is dedicated is normally placed in this position. However, from very early on the church must have been dedicated to the Virgin, and to the Theotokos ton Epilochíon" (Virgin of Confinement), a feast day honored by the Orthodox Church on December 26 with the name “Synaxis of the Virgin”. This is also shown by the traditional liturgy held in the church on this day, and the antimension (see pp. 270-1).

Synaxarion of our Venerable Father Euarestos

Venerable Euarestos (Feast Day - December 26)


Euarestos hastened in word and deed,
Until the end he pleased you O Word.

He lived during the reign of Emperor Leo the Armenian (813-820) who was an iconoclast, and was from the province of Galatia, the son of notable parents. After Leo was killed by the sword, Michael the Stammerer succeeded him in the year 820. Because he also was most-shameful and of the same habits as his predecessor Leo, for this reason he received a suitable punishment. When the Saint reached a prime age, he was given over to learn sacred letters. And having learned letters, he became all the beautiful things to everyone. That is to say, he became obedient to his parents, to his friends and neighbors he became graceful, and to foreigners and indigenous he became receptive. In short, he showed by true deeds his name, for he became pleasing to all.*

December 25, 2018

The Word Became Flesh: A Christmas Sermon of St. Justin Popovich

By St. Justin Popovich

On the day of Christmas the Word became flesh (Jn. 1: 14). This is the first and greatest “Good News,” the Great "Gospel," which God could give to man and heaven to the earth .

If you like, the entire Gospel of heaven and earth consists of four words: "The Word became flesh.” Outside this and without this, there is no other Gospel that exists for man, neither in this nor in the other world.

Here, there is to be found everything that human existence eternally needs in all the world, a unique and joyous message for matter in all its forms; from the harder and thicker material of a diamond to the most minute and inconspicuous electron and proton.

When St. Iakovos of Evia Celebrated Christmas in the Forest

By Haralambos Bousias

"Yes, my good children! My joy was so great from the Nativity of Christ, that I couldn't keep it to myself. I said to myself, 'Dumb Iakovos, go into the forest to chant [Christ is born, glorify Him].' And as I was chanting the birds came and chanted together with me."

St. Ephraim the Syrian on Christ's Divine and Human Natures

By St. Ephraim the Syrian

(Excerpt from the Homily on the Transfiguration)

The facts themselves bear witness and his divine acts of power teach those who doubt that he is true God, and his sufferings show that he is true man. And if those who are feeble in understanding are not fully assured, they will pay the penalty on his dread day.

If he was not flesh, why was Mary introduced at all? And if he was not God, whom was Gabriel calling Lord?

If he was not flesh, who was lying in the manger? And if he was not God, whom did the Angels come down and glorify?

If he was not flesh, who was wrapped in swaddling clothes? And if he was not God, whom did the shepherds worship?

December 24, 2018

St. John Chrysostom's Second Homily on the Birth of our Savior Jesus Christ

By St. John Chrysostom

I see a strange and novel mystery: shepherds sound all around my ears, not piping a barren tune, but singing a heavenly hymn. Angels are singing, archangels are dancing, the cherubim are hymning, the seraphim are glorifying, all are celebrating, since they see God upon the earth, man[2] in Heaven. [I see] the one who is on high lower because of His plan,[3] the one who is below on high because of His love for humanity. 

Today Bethlehem resembled Heaven: in place of stars it received angels hymning, in place of the sun it contained the righteous One[4] without confining [Him].[5] And do not ask how: for where God wills it, nature’s order is overcome. For He willed it, He had the power, He came down, He saved – all things follow upon God.[6] 

Today, He who Is[7] is born, and He who Ιs becomes what He was not. For being God, He becomes human, though He did not cease from being God. For He hasn’t become human by separating[8] from His divinity,[9] nor again has He become God by advancing[10] from a human. But, being Word, because He could not suffer [as Word], [11] He became flesh, His nature[12] remaining unchanged. But when, on the one hand, He was born, Jews denied the strange birth, and Pharisees misinterpreted the divine Books, and scribes spoke what was in opposition to the Law. 

Reflection on the Nativity of the Lord (St. Theophan the Recluse)

By St. Theophan the Recluse

Glory to Thee, O Lord! Once again we greet the awaited bright days of Christ’s Nativity. Let us be glad and rejoice. In order to raise our festivities to a higher level in these days, the Holy Church has intentionally instituted a preceding fast—a certain amount of difficulty, so that when we enter the festive period we might feel as though liberated. Nevertheless, the Church in no way desires that we should give ourselves over to purely sensual delights and fleshly pleasures. Since the Church has from olden times called these days sviatki, or the “holy days,” these days require that our very festivity be holy, as they are holy. So that those who rejoice might not forget themselves, the Church has placed a short song upon our lips to glorify the born Christ, by which the flesh is restrained and the soul is uplifted, showing the proper occupations for these days. It says, “Christ is Born, give ye glory,” and the rest. Glorify Christ; glorify Him, so that by this glorification the heart and soul would delight, and thereby silence any urge for various other deeds and occupations that might promise certain consolations. Glorifying Christ does not mean devising lengthy songs of praises to Christ. But if when contemplating or hearing about the birth of Christ the Savior you involuntary shout from the depths of your soul, “Glory to Thee, O Lord, that Christ is born!”—this is sufficient. This will be a quiet song of the heart, which nevertheless reaches the heavens and enters in to God Himself. Repeat a little more clearly to yourself what the Lord has wrought for us, and you will see how natural this exclamation now is. So that this might be easier for us, we shall compare it to the following incident.

Venerable Aphrodisios the Sabaite

Venerable Aphrodosios the Sabaite (Feast Day - December 24)


The soul of Aphrodisios was exceedingly beautiful,
Having died he never tasted sexual lust.

In the Life of Savvas by Cyril of Scythopolis we read about the Venerable Aphrodisios (Ch. 44). There is written the following about him:

A brother of the monastery of blessed Theodosios, Asian by birth and called Aphrodisios, who had been given the office of muleteer, was able unassisted to lift from the ground the load for a mule, that is, twelve measures of corn, and place it on his shoulders; for in bodily size he surpassed all in the cenobium. It happened that once on the road he lost his temper, struck with his hand the face of the mule and broke it; when the animal instantly fell down dead, Aphrodisios lifted its load and the saddle onto his shoulders and returned to the monastery. Expelled by the great Theodosios for killing the animal, he went down to the Jordan and laid his offense before the holy John the Egyptian, who was then refulgent with virtues at Choziba. On being told by him, "If you want to be saved, go to our Abba Savvas and do what he tells you," he went to Savvas in haste, confessed his offense and begged to hear a word of salvation from him. Our father Savvas gave him a cell with the words, "Be content with your cell, do not visit any other cell or go outside the lavra, exercise control over your tongue and belly, and you will be saved." Accepting this command and not infringing it in any respect, Aphrodisios for thirty years neither went outside the lavra nor visited a cell, never possessed an earthen or copper pot, an oven or mattress, drank no wine or mixed drink, and did not possess two tunics. Instead, he slept in straw on a rush-mat and patchwork cloak and, getting palms from the steward, supplied the guest-master with ninety completed baskets each month. Taking the left-overs of the cooked food, whether greens or pulses or roughage, he would put them in a single bowl and take a little from the bowl each day, and was satisfied with this. If the food in the bowl began to smell or produced worms, he did not throw it away but simply added more cooked left-overs. His wailing throughout the night left his neighbors no peace.

Holy Martyr Achaikos


All manner of distress was placed on the soul of Achaikos,
With complete joy he gave his head to the sword.

The Holy Martyr Achaikos met his end by the sword.

December 23, 2018

Holy Martyr Schinon

St. Schinon the Martyr (Feast Day - December 23)


You were not unknown Martyr Schinon,
Not unknown, as one whose head was cut off.

The Holy Martyr Schinon met his end by the sword.

December 22, 2018

The Incarnation of God as the Opposite to Today’s Sinfulness

Archimandrite Ephraim,
Abbot of the Vatopaidi Monastery

Beloved Fathers and brothers, today we celebrate the greatest event of all time and all ages: the birth of Christ, the ‘capital of all feasts’, according Saint John Chrysostom. God enters our life, in time, in history as ‘Jesus Christ the man’ (I Tim. 2, 5).

‘Christ appeared in the flesh’ (I Tim. 3, 16). God empties Himself, is humbled, belittles Himself, diminishes in an inconceivable manner and becomes an infant. An infant divine and human. He becomes a human person, like us, with flesh and blood, with soul and body, mind and will. Christ, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, is perfect Man and perfect God.

December 21, 2018

Origins of the Icon of the Nativity of Christ

Nativity of Christ, Chora Church, Istanbul, 14th cent.

By John Sanidopoulos

The most familiar artistic depictions of the Nativity of Christ include the full cast of characters from the New Testament infancy narratives: Joseph the betrothed and the mother Mary, a swaddled baby lying in a manger, shepherds, magi, a bright star and angels. Yet the oldest known representations (from around 320 A.D.) focus primarily on the arrival of the magi. These images depict the Virgin Mary, seated on a high-backed chair, holding the baby Jesus on her lap and receiving the gift-bearing visitors. The Magi are shown wearing Persian dress of trousers and Phrygian caps, usually in profile, advancing in step with their gifts held out before them. These images adapt Late Antique poses for barbarians submitting to an Emperor, and presenting golden wreaths, and indeed relate to images of tribute-bearers from various Mediterranean and ancient Near Eastern cultures going back many centuries. The earliest are from catacomb paintings and sarcophagus reliefs of the fourth century.

Saint Macarius the Faster, Abbot of the Khakhuli Monastery (+ 1034)

St. Macarius the Faster (Feast Day - December 21)

In the second half of the tenth century King Davit Kuropalates constructed the Khakhuli Church in southern Georgia. He also founded Khakhuli Monastery, which in later centuries would become a center of spirituality, science, and education. Today this monastery is located on Turkish territory, but the grace of the ascetic labors of the fathers who labored there in the past pours forth hope upon the Georgian people to this day.

Many holy and wonderworking fathers labored at Khakhuli Monastery, including Saint Basil the son of King Bagrat III, the brothers George and Saba of Khakhuli, Saint Hilarion of Tvali and many other God-fearing ascetics, whose righteousness and spiritual feats were guided by the holy abbot Macarius.

Saint Procopius of Vyatka, Fool for Christ (+ 1627)

St. Procopius of Vyatka (Feast Day - December 21)

Saint Procopius of Vyatka, the son of devout peasants, first feigned madness at the age of twenty to escape a marriage that was being urged on him. Secretly he had fled to the city of Khlynov where he took upon himself the feat of foolishness.

He spent his life in the streets half-naked, slept wherever night overtook him and would never accept the shelter of a house. He used signs to make himself understood and never spoke a word, except to his spiritual father, with whom he would converse normally as a man in possession of all his faculties.

December 20, 2018

The Ecclesiology of St. Ignatius of Antioch

By John S. Romanides

Atlanta 1956

The key to understanding the ecclesiology of St. Ignatius is clearly his presuppositions concerning salvation. As will be indicated, the Church as the body of Christ exists, according to St. Ignatius, for the sole purpose of salvation in Christ. Thus his ecclesiology without at least a general examination of his soteriology would be incomprehensible.

In the extant writings of St. Ignatius one cannot find any systematic exposition of soteriology. This is quite natural since he is writing to baptized Christians primarily concerning internal Church unity and order, against certain heretics, and also concerning his impending martyrdom. Nevertheless, in order that the soteriological basis of St. Ignatius' doctrine of the visible manifestation of the Church be understood, this paper shall deal with: 1) salvation (from corruption) and ethics, 2) the appropriation of salvation in Christ and the mystical conception of the Church, 3) the Church and the Eucharist, 4) the Church or the Community, 5) the clergy, 6) relative observations concerning the origin and basis of the episcopate, 7) the basis for the equality of bishops, and 8) concluding remarks.

Saint Daniel II, Archbishop of Serbia (+ 1337)

St. Daniel II of Serbia (Feast Day - December 20)

Saint Daniel (Danilo) of Serbia, the only son of rich and renowned parents, was a close associate of the Serbian king Stephan Urosh Milutin. Having renounced a secular career, he received monastic tonsure from the abbot of the Saint Nicholas Monastery at Konchul near the River Ibar. Saint Daniel’s ascetic life was an example for all the brethren.

Archbishop Eustathius of Serbia ordained him presbyter and took him into his cell. When it was time to choose the abbot for the Hilandar Monastery on Mount Athos, Saint Daniel received the appointment. The Saint was abbot at a most difficult time for the Holy Mountain. After the Crusaders were expelled from Palestine, they joined with the Arabs to plunder and loot the Athonite monasteries, “not sparing anything sacred.”

Icon of the Mother of God the “Rescuer of the Drowning”

Synaxis of the Icon of the Mother of God the “Rescuer of the Drowning” (Feast Day - December 20)

In the village of Lenkov on the bank of the Desno River near Novgorod, Russia, there was a dangerous whirlpool, which made the river difficult to cross. Often, the powerful swirling waters would cause the demise of ships and their passengers. It was at that dangerous site that an Icon of the Mother of God was discovered, resting on the riverbank. In time, a church dedicated to the Mother of God was erected on the site, and the Icon of the Mother of God, the "Rescuer of the Drowning," was enshrined therein. Those who journeyed along the Desno River customarily stopped at Lenkov to offer prayers in the icon's presence, imploring the Mother of God to grant them a safe journey despite the dangerous whirlpool. It had been said that after the icon had been discovered, mishaps to sailors were rare, and later completely ceased.

December 19, 2018

The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

One of the basic phrases associated with St Andrew the First-Called Apostle is his statement to his brother Simon, the Apostle Peter: “We have found the Messiah (which is translated, the Christ)" (John 1:41).

This raises the question of how St Andrew understood the word ‘Messiah’ and what exactly he meant. Is he referring to a messianic expectation that existed in his time among the Jews, and to the appearance of a political leader to liberate them from Roman domination? Or is this a matter of empirical faith, which is connected with Christ as the true God Who took flesh?

Before he said these words, the Apostle Andrew, together with St John the Theologian, had been in the company of St John the Forerunner. He had heard him say of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36), and he had followed Him. At some point “Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, ‘What do you seek?’” They asked Him where He was staying. Christ replied, “Come and see.” And “they came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day” (John 1:38-40).

Holy Martyr Tryphon

St. Tryphon the Martyr (Feast Day - December 19)


Tryphon physically went up to the willow,
And in spirit went to the great heaven above.

The Holy Martyr Tryphon met his end by being hanged from a willow tree.

December 18, 2018

Saint Michael the Synkellos and Confessor (+ 846)

St. Michael the Synkellos (Feast Day - December 18)


Death was a stranger to you Michael,
But by death you live, even live worthily.

Michael was born at Jerusalem around 761 into an Arab family of pious Christians and at the age of three was dedicated to the service of God by his parents. Around 786 he became a monk at the Lavra of Saint Savvas. After the death of his father, he persuaded his mother and sisters to go to a monastery in Jerusalem.

Venerable Michael lived in the monastery for twelve years, subjecting himself for eighteen years to every form of hardship, eating a few vegetables two or three times a week, and allowing himself a little bread on the weekends. The abbot then chose Michael to be ordained a priest on account of his virtuous way of life. Following this, he received permission from the abbot to withdraw into a quiet cave.

Consecration of the Church of the Theotokos in Chalkoprateia

On this day, the 18th of December, was performed the Consecration of the revered Temple of our Most Glorious Lady the Theotokos in the Chalkoprateia.


The sanctified tent is now consecrated,
By he who consecrated the nature of mortal men.

The Church of Theotokos Chalkoprateia (later known as Acem Agha Mosque) was once one of the most important churches of Constantinople dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was located about 100 meters west of Hagia Sophia, a short distance from the Basilica Cistern. It was constructed entirely out of brick and was a three-aisled basilica with a polygonal apse, a narthex and an atrium. The church complex had other structures, including a surviving octagonal structure with fragmentary frescoes.

Saint Sophia the Wonderworker

St. Sophia the Wonderworker (Feast Day - December 18)


Sophia loved the wisdom of God,
Wherefore she received also the grace to work wonders.

We have no information about Saint Sophia the Wonderworker.

Holy Martyrs Phokas and Hermylos

Sts. Phokas and Hermylos the Martyrs (Feast Day - December 18)


I myself am decapitated first Hermylos said,
Phokas refused. But Phokas Hermylos.

The Holy Martyrs Phokas and Hermylos met their end by the sword.

December 17, 2018

Holy Martyr Niketas the New

St. Niketas the New Martyr (Feast Day - December 17)


A new athlete of our times,
Equal to the athlete Niketas of old.

The Protovestiarios and Grand Logothete Theodore Mouzalon (d. 1294) wrote an Encomium to this Saint, which is our only source of information about him. He writes that Niketas was born with the name Theodore in Ancyra of Galatia and when he was ordained a Reader he was renamed Niketas in honor of Saint Niketas the Goth. With two merchants he traveled to Nyssa, then in Seljuk hands, when he was twenty, in order to visit his aunt, sister and her husband. When they arrived in Nyssa it was the month of Ramadan and Niketas with his two companions were observed drinking wine. For this Niketas and his two companions were arrested and brought before the judge.

Holy Martyr Iakchos

St. Iakchos the Martyr (Feast Day - December 17)


Iakchos mastered himself and had his head decapitated,
Decapitation was registered and his head was crowned.

The Holy Martyr Iakchos met his end by the sword.

December 16, 2018

Reflection for the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers (St. Theophan the Recluse)

By St. Theophan the Recluse

The Holy Forefathers — these are truly great people! If one were to generalize the thought which defines their greatness, only those who fulfill God’s will for the human race — a positive will — are truly great, for there is much that happens only by God’s allowance. There are also powerful figures who act apart from God’s will and even against it. These too can seem great, but not in and of themselves — only according to those great counteractions which God’s Providence puts forth to efface the evil caused by them. We know God’s direct will concerning eternal salvation; but God’s plans concerning the temporal sojourn of people on the earth are hidden from us. That is why it is difficult for us to determine who acts more straightly, or more precisely according to God’s will. One can only acknowledge one negative criteria as true: He who acts against God’s determination for the eternal salvation of people cannot be considered great, no matter how ostentatious his deeds; for it is evident that he is going against the obvious will of God. Though this known will does not concern temporal, but rather eternal things, it is doubtless that the one will of God cannot contradict another.

Reflection for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (St. Theophan the Recluse)

Homily for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
[Col. 1:12-18; Luke 14:16-24]

By St. Theophan the Recluse

"Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt. 22:14). All Christians are called; chosen are those Christians who believe and live in a Christian manner. In the first Christian times preaching called to faith; we are called by our birth from Christians and upbringing among Christians. And glory be to God! We pass half the road, that is, entrance into Christianity and the taking root of its principles in our heart from our very childhood, without any labour. It would seem that our faith should be all the stronger, and our life all the more correct throughout all the time that follows. It was this way; but from a certain point in time it has started to be different. Unchristian principles are permitted in our schools which ruin young people, and unchristian customs have entered into society, which corrupt them after leaving school. If according to the word of God there always have been only a few chosen, it is no surprise that in our time there are even fewer of them; such is the spirit of the age — antichristian! What will be next? If our manner of education and social customs are not changed, true Christianity will weaken more and more, and at last will entirely end; only the name of Christian will remain, but the spirit of Christianity will not be there. The spirit of the world will fill everything. What is one to do? Pray…

December 15, 2018

Holy Martyr Bacchus the New

St. Bacchus the New (Feast Day - December 15)


Not the second but Bacchus the new,
Is appointed among the athletes through the sword.

During the reign of Constantine VI (780-797) and Irene, restorers of the holy icons, the Holy Land was under the control of the Muslim Arabs. Many Christians there apostatized, putting honors and security in this world above their eternal joy. One of these was the father of this Saint, who brought up seven children as Muslims. His wife however, never renounced her Christian faith and prayed constantly for the conversion of her husband and children.

Holy New Hieromartyr Hilarion, Archbishop of Vereya (+ 1929)

The Holy Hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky), Archbishop of Vereya, was an outstanding theologian, preacher, and valiant defender of the Church of Russia who suffered during the first decade of Bolshevik rule in Russia. A compatriot of Patriarch Tikhon, he strongly defended the Church against the attacks of the communist regime and the Bolshevik backed Living Church, its renovationists policies, and the Gregorian schism. His feast day is December 15.

Born Vladimir Alexeyevich Troitsky on September 13, 1886 into a family of hereditary clergymen in the village of Lipitsa in the Kashira district of Tula Province, the future Archbishop Hilarion was an eager student from an early age. Vladimir was raised by his mother's sister Nadezha, who was a teacher, as his mother died while he was very young. He learned to read at an early age. He began his education in the local church school. Then, he continued on at the seminary in the Tula Province, before being sent to the Moscow Theological Academy.

Saint Tryphon of Pechenga and Kola (+ 1583)

St. Tryphon of Pechenga (Feast Day - December 15)

Venerable Tryphon of Pechenga and Kola, in the world Metrophanes, was born in June 1495 in the Novgorod region into a priestly family. The pious parents raised their son in the fear of God. From his early years Tryphon had resolved to devote his life to apostolic deeds and to go to the pagan Laplanders and proclaim the gospel of Christ. He knew of them only through the accounts of fish vendors.

Once, while praying in the forest he had heard a voice, “Tryphon, this is not your place. An empty and thirsty land awaits you.” Forsaking his parental home, the Saint went out onto the Kola Peninsula and halted at the banks of the Pechenga River, where the Lapps lived. There he began to carry on trade with them. The Saint first acquainted himself with the pagan beliefs of these people and studied their language, and then began to preach the Christian faith to them. The Lapps greeted the words of the Saint with great mistrust. The holy preacher suffered much hardship, enduring hostility and even beatings. But gradually, through his wise and kindly words and meekness, many were converted to Christ.

Saint Stephen the Confessor, Archbishop of Sourozh

St. Stephen of Sourozh (Feast Day - December 15)

Saint Stephen the Confessor, Archbishop of Surrentium (Sourozh), was a native of Cappadocia and was educated at Constantinople in the eighth century. After receiving the monastic tonsure, he withdrew into the wilderness, where he lived for thirty years in ascetic deeds.

Patriarch Germanos of Constantinople (May 12) heard of Stephen’s humility and virtuous life, and wished to meet him. He was so impressed with Stephen that he consecrated him Bishop of the city of Surrentium (presently the city of Sudak in the Crimea). Within five years, Saint Stephen’s ministry was so fruitful that no heretics or unbaptized pagans remained in Surrentium or its environs.