Feastday – Sept 5/18
Zacharias was a holy prophet of God. His father was Barachias, a priest of the Lord. Zacharias was married to Elizabeth, one of the daughters of Aaron. Elizabeth was a sister to Anna, who was the mother of the Theotokos. This holy couple was filled with all the virtues, they were blameless in the laws of the Lord. Their son, Saint John the honorable and glorious prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, was the fruit of their righteousness and holy lives, as it is written in the Holy Bible: “Ye shall know them by their fruits; a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, and if the root be holy, so are the branches.”
It was during the reign of king Herod that Saint Zacharias was performing his priestly duties. His course of service was that of the eighth week in the temple. The descendants of Aaron were so many, that it was impossible for them to serve together in the temple at one time. So King David, the prophet, divided them into twenty-four divisions. Each group of priests would take turns performing its office at different times, so they were all able to serve in the temple. Only the most honorable priests among them were chosen as chiefs over each group, so that each division had its own head priest.
It was Zacharias’ duty to burn incense in the temple when it was his turn to serve the Lord. At one time while Zacharias was performing his priestly duties, and many people came to pray, an angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias, at the right side of the altar of incense. Great fear came over Zacharias, so the angel comforted him and said, “Fear not, Zacharias.” The angel told him that his prayer was well pleasing to God, and that the Lord would be merciful to Zacharias. The angel visited Zacharias’ wife and loosed the bonds of her barreness, even though she was quite old. The angel told Zacharias that Elizabeth would give birth to a son, and his name was to be John, whose name signifies grace. This birth would bring much joy, not only to his parents, but to a multitude of people. The angel said’ “And many shall rejoice at his birth.” ( Lk. 1) Zacharias was told many good things by the angel about his future son John. He was told that John would be great in the sight of the Lord, not in body, but in spirit, and no one would ever display such abstinence and fasting as he would. For as the Lord said, “John came neither eating nor drinking.” The angel told Zacharias that their son would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, and that because of him, many of the Isrealites would turn to the Lord. Zacharias was told by the angel that John would be the Forerunner of the Christ, going before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, making ready the people prepared for the Lord.
These words of the angel seemed unbelievable to Zacharias, and he marvelled, for Elizabeth was barren, and they were quite old. So he asked the angel, “Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man and my wife is well stricken in years.”
The angel then told him, “I am Gabriel, that stands in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and shew thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
The people began to wonder why Zacharias tarried so long in the altar. But when he came out and was not able to speak, they realized that he had seen a vision.
When Zacharias completed his days of ministry, he left from the temple and went to his home which was in the hill country of Hebron, a city of Judah. This city was appointed as the dwelling place of the priests.
When Saint John the Baptist, their son was born, Zacharias wrote John’s name on a tablet. His tongue was then loosed and he was able to talk. He spoke and praised the Lord. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied saying, ” Blessed be the Lord God of Isreal, for He hath visited and wrought redemption for His people, and hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spake by the mouth of His holy ones, the prophets of old. And thou, O child shalt be called the prophet of the Most High; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord, to prepare His ways.
Six months later, our Lord Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. And when the Magi came from the east, they told Herod of the birth of the newborn King. Now Herod had heard of the birth of Saint John and thought to himself, “What manner of child shall this be? Will this child be the King of the Jews?” He then decided to kill Saint John and sent his soldiers to Zacharias’ house. When the executioners were not able to find the baby, Herod had his soldiers slay all the little children who were 2 years old and under. This is when the slaughter of the children in Bethlehem began. The cries from the infants’ mothers became known to Saint Elizabeth, she quickly took her son, who was about two and a half years old, and fled to the mountains. During this time Zacharias was at the temple performing his priestly duties. Saint Elizabeth prayed to the Lord with many tears, imploring Him to protect her and her baby. She suddenly saw the soldiers from afar searching for them, she prayed, “O mountain of God, receive a mother with her child!” All of a sudden the mountain split open, and she was able to hide with her child, and not be found by the soldiers.
When the executioners returned to Herod without having killed Saint John. He sent word to Zacharias saying, “Surrender your son John to me!”
Then Saint Zacharias said, “I serve the Lord God of Israel. As for my son, I do not know where he is.”
When Herod sent his soldiers a second time to ask Zacharias the whereabouts of Saint John, Saint Zacharias again told them he did not know where his son was. The soldiers then told him that Herod would have him put to death for not surrendering Saint John. Saint Zacharias said, “You will kill my body, but the Lord will receive my soul.”
The soldiers immediately fell upon Zacharias and killed him between the temple and the altar. His blood was spilled on the marble floor. It became hard as rock, and was a testimony against Herod and a witness to his eternal condemnation.
In the meantime, Saint Elizabeth and Saint John remained hidden. The Lord had commanded a cave to be formed inside the mountain. He caused a spring of water to spring up so they could have fresh water to drink, and a date palm tree filled with dates for them to eat. When they were hungry, the date tree would bend down so they could easily pick the dates, and then the tree would stand up straight again when they had finished.
Forty days after the martyrdom of her husband Saint Zacharias, Saint Elizabeth reposed, and from then on an angel would come to feed Saint John until he grew up. He remained in the desert until the time of his preaching to the Isrealites.
Saint Susanna was married to Varsken, prince of Georgia, the ruler of Hereti. She was raised in a pious Christian family, and she had much love and the fear of God.
During that time Kartli was under heavy political pressure from Persia. So Prince Varsken went to visit the Persian king Peroz hoping to acquire a more friendly relationship between their countries. He willingly chose to deny the true Orthodox Faith, and converted to the worship of fire (Zoroastrianism). He told the Persian king that his to wife and children would also convert to this pagan religion upon his return to Hereti.
When Varsken reached the border of Hereti, he sent his messengers to Tsurtavi, the city that he ruled, to make sure that his subjects met him with due respect. When Saint Susanna found out that her husband betrayed the true Orthodox Faith, she fell to the ground and wept over him with bitter tears. She then took their four children, deserted the palace, and found refuge in a nearby church.
That night, Susanna was visited by her spiritual father, elder Iakob. He predicted that Varsken was going to treat her with cruelty and mercilessness. He said, “know that terrible trials await you. Will you be firm and unbending in your position?” Susanna said, “I would rather die than unite with him and destroy my soul!” she answered.
After three days the prince arrived in Tsurtavi. And just as he promised, he tried to make Susanna convert, but she said firmly, “As you have renounced your Creator, so I am renouncing you. I will no longer take part in your affairs, no matter what suffering I must endure!”
Then Varsken sent his younger brother Jojik and Bishop Apots to convince Susanna to come back to the palace. She refused, but after a while she gave in to their persuasion. Susanna then went back to the palace with the Holy Gospel and the Lives of the Saints, and when she arrived she locked herself in a small cell.
Varsken returned a couple days later to the palace and invited Susanna, his brother Jojik, and his sister-in-law to supper. But the queen, could not bring herself to share a meal with one who had betrayed Christ. When Jojik’s wife offered her a cup of wine, the woman of God said sternly, “Whenever has it been the custom for men and women to drink and dine together?” So she stretched out her hand and spilled the contents of the glass. This made Varsken very angry, and he then began to beat his wife mercilessly. He kicked her with his foot. Then he took a piker from the fireplace and hit her on the head, cracking her skull, and injuring one of her eyes. He was so terribly violent with her that his brother Jojik got up from the table and attempted to protect Saint Susanna. Jojik finally was able to get Susanna away from Varsken’s powerful grasp, she was like a lamb in the jaws of a wolf. He then had her locked up, and told the guards not to let anyone in to see or come near her.
Susanna’s spiritual father then went to the prison and talked to the prison guard into letting him in to see her. When Father Iakob Susanna, he wepted bitterly. But she told him, “Weep not for me, since this night has been for me the beginning of joy.” The holy elder said, “Let me wash the blood from thy face and the dust which has fallen into thine eyes. I can apply ointment and medicine that I have brought with me. Allow me to attend thee with this small ministration, for I beg God that thou mayest recover.” But the saintly Susanna replied, “Do not propose that my father, as this blood is for the cleansing of my sins.” Father Iakob then tried to persuade her to take some food that had been sent by Bishops Samuel and John, who secretly watched over her and saw to her welfare. Saint Susanna then told her spiritual father that she wasn’t able to eat because her lower and upper jaws and several of her teeth were broken. So he gave her some bread moistened with wine, and she partook a little of this.
Saint Susanna spent a total of six years in prison. And during that time she gladly gave all her jewelry back to her husband. She helped the poor that came to her, and through her prayers the sick were healed and children were born to the childless.
At this time during one of the Great Fasts, Varsken left to campaign against the Huns. While he was gone, Saint Susanna found the opportunity to stay in a small cell near a church. But when her husband returned from fighting, he went to see Bishop Photios and demanded his wife to be given back to him. He then took her back with him to the palace by force. She was like a lamb and did not fight with him. He then had her beaten again and made fun of the true Orthodox Faith saying, “Now dost thou realize that thy Church is of no help? Where are thy Christian supporters and their God?” She neither moaned or complained. Varsken then had her thrown into prison again. She was led forth outside, walking barefoot with her hair all messed up. She looked more like a peasant than a queen. No one dared to cover her head, because her husband followed behind her. Many cried bitterly for her, but Saint Susanna said, “Weep not, my brothers, my sisters, and my children, but remember me in your prayers now that I am taking leave of you from this world. For you will not see me leave the castle alive. Saint Susanna was then put into a small dark hut near the castle. Chains were left round about her neck and the rest of her body. Varsken then departed.
Eventually her husband allowed the chain around her neck to be taken off of her, but not the chains from the rest of her body. Susanna was not released from the rest of her shackles til the time of her death. Susanna blossomed forth with her religious observances. She always fasted and kept vigil. Without warying, she read holy books. The whole palace was made radiant and beautiful by the lyre of her spirit.
Before her death, Holy Martyr Susanna blessed those around her. Men and women would come to her for the fulfillment of their vows. Whatever they needed was bestowed upon them through her holy prayers. She then was informed that all her children had been converted to the pagan religion of their father. With a steady flow of tears, she offered up entreaties to God. Suasanna made many prostrations, striking her head upon the ground as she groaned, “I give thanks to Thee, O Lord God of mine! For my children were not mine but gifts from Thee! As Thou wilt, let Thy will be done, O Lord! Save me from the schemes of the evil one!”
Varsken then let Susanna know through his messengers that if she did not submit to him, he would send her to the Persian court. She then sent word to him saying, “O wretched and stupid man, if thou shouldest send me to the Persian court, who knows if some good would not come to me and this evil would be averted?” Her husband thought about this and realized that perhaps one of the princes might take the former vicereine to wife. From then on he allowed no one to go near her. But tried one more time to make her come back to him. She refused.
After being in prison for six years, excessive weariness from her struggles, and devotion brought sickness upon her. The prison was infested with fleas and lice. The summer heat and sun burned like fire. The winds were torrid and the waters were infected. Even the inhabitants of this region were afflicted with various diseases. Their lives were brief, for nobody reached old age in that district.
In the seventh year of Saint Susanna’s imprisonment, she was afflicted with an ulcer of the flesh, and suffered terribly. Because of her tireless acts of piety, her feet swelled up, and the ulcers became large and infested with worms. She took one of these creatures and held it in her hand, and showed her spiritual father. She gave thanks to God, saying, “Father, do not let the sight of this upset thee. There, in the fiery everlasting puishment of Gehenna, the worm is not only greater but never dies.” Father Iakob wepted bitterly. But Susanna told him, “Father, why art thou sorrowing? Rather than being eaten by those deathless worms, it is better to be consumed here in this life by mortal ones!”
When her brother-in-law heard that she was near to death, he went with his wife, their children, and their servants. They asked for her forgiveness, and to receive her blessings. When Susanna forgave them and blessed them, she said, “All the present life is transient and inconstant, it is a life of a flower of the fields. One plants it, and another is pleased. One squanders it on trivia, while another gathers.” She told them “to walk worthily of God Who calleth you to His own kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2:12).” Susanna then let them go in peace. Many others including those of high nobility came to recieve a blessing from her also, and to pay their last respects. They bade farewell to their mistress as their eyes were filled with tears. They then all offered up praise to God for her glorious works.
The day arrived when she was to be called from this earthly life. Knowing of her coming translation, she called to her side the Bishop Photios , and her spiritual father (who was the biographer of Saint Susanna’s life), and requested that she be buried at the place from which her unbelieving husband had first dragged her to, from the palace. She then told them, “Though I am but a worker of the eleventh hour in the vineyard, yet, if I should have any merit, you shall be blessed forever and ever.” Then Susanna gave thanks to God, saying, “Blessed is our Lord God! In peace in the same place I shall lay me down and sleep. For Thou, O Lord, alone hast made me to swell in hope (Ps. 4:9)” She then entrusted her soul to the Lord Jesus.
This happened in the year 475. The clergy and people alike wept bitterly over Susanna’s tragic fate. Her holy relics were buried in according to her will.
Varsken was captured and killed only a few years after Saint Susanna’s repose. His assassination was followed by a rebellion directed at the Persian rule in southern Georgia.
In 578, with the blessing of Catholicos Kirion I, St. Susanna’s holy relics were translated to Tbilisi, where they remain today, in the Metekhi Church of the Most Holy Theotokos. This church symbolically resembles the church built over the Virgin Mary’s tomb in the Garden of Gethsemane at Jerusalem.
O Holy Shushanik, because of thy husband’s transgression thou wast adorned with a martyr’s crown, and thou didst deny the rank of earthly queen in favor of the Heavenly Kingdom. Now thou dost stand boldly before the Bridegroom, the Immortal Christ. Protect us who praise thy name!
Saint Phanourios is the hero of our biography. But no one knows where he came from, what his parentage is, what time or during which reign he struggled. We only know the following: When the Hagarenes ruled the island of Rhodes (because of our sins), they wanted to rebuild the city walls, because of previous battles that had left them in ruins. From these ruins the Hagarenes gathered up stones for the construction.
At the site where they were digging, a beautiful church was found underground. As they dug down deeper and deeper they found many holy icons that were either destroyed or unrecognizable. But one icon they found was whole and unharmed. It looked like it had just been painted. With these discoveries , the hierarch of the island, Neilos (1355-1369), a holy and learned man, came to study the inscription on the icon, which read: “Saint Phanourios”.
In the icon the saint is portrayed as a young man in military garb, holding a cross with his right hand. A lighted taper is depicted on the top of the cross. The icon is quite large. And all around the perimeter there are twelve scenes from the martyrdom of Saint Phanourios.
Bishop Neilos asked the governor of that place if he would be able to restore the church, but he was denied his request. The hierarch then went to Constantinople, and it was there that he was given permission to carry out the restoration of the church. This church is there until this very day. It is located outside of the city. Many miracles have happened and are still happening, to the delight of pious Orthodox Christians who love and reverence Saint Phanourios.
At one time when the island of Rhodes was ruled by the Latins, those who were Orthodox and wanted to enter holy orders had to go to the island of Kythera for ordination. There happened to be three deacons on one such occasion that left from Crete to go to Kythera, and were going to be ordained to the priesthood. After their ordination on their voyage back to Crete, they were captured by Hagarenes, who kidnapped them and took them to Rhodes to sell them as slaves. Those poor newly ordained priests lamented their misfortune day and night.
Eventually the three priests learned of the wonderworkings of the Great Martyr Saint Phanourios. At once they prostrated themselves, shedding bitter tears before the saint, and besought Saint Phanourios to deliver them from slavery. At this time the three priests did not know the whereabouts of each other, since they were sold to different masters. But by the dispensation of the Lord Jesus Christ, each priest was given permission from his master to offer veneration at the church of Saint Phanourios, and by the grace of God they happened to be at the church at the same time. They venerated the saints holy icon, and wept so profusely, that the floor of the church was completely watered with their tears. Together with supplications they prayed to Saint Phanourios to deliver them from the Hagerenes. When the time came for them to return to their masters, they felt somewhat consoled. During that same night, the saint appeared to each of the Hagarene masters in their sleep and said, “Let the slave of God go and let him offer veneration in my temple lest some evil should befall thee.” Each one of the Hagarene masters thought that some kind of sorcery had been performed. So they loaded down each priest with heavy chains, making their sufferings very burdensome.
That night Saint Phanourios went and removed the chains from the three priests. Encouraging them he said, “By all means it must be that tomorrow I will free you.” Then Saint Phanourios appeared to the Hagarenes and rebuked them severely and said, ” Peradventure that even tomorrow thou shouldest not release the captive priest, thou shalt behold the power of God.” Then the saint departed. All the Hagarenes in each of the three households awoke to find themselves blind and paralyzed, and they were all greatly tormented. Out of their grief they called for the three priests and ask them, “Perhaps thou art able to render a cure?” Each priest answered, “I shall supplicate God, and let His will be done.”
Three nights later Saint Phanourios appeared to each Hagarene once again, since the three priests were not set free. He told each one of them, “Peradventure thou shouldest not dispatch to my house the writ of the priest’s liberty, then thou shouldest expect to possess neither health nor sight. the much-desired light of thine eyes will not be restored until the priest is set free.” Each Hagarene had their relatives deliver a written paper to the saint’s icon stating that the three priests were to be set free. Behold the marvel! Even before these papers were delivered the blind and paralyzed Hagarenes were healed. From their profound happiness, the Hagarenes paid for the voyage of the three priests , so they could go back to their homeland. While the priests were waiting for preparations to be made for their trip home, they made an icon of Saint Phanourios. This icon they brought back with them to Crete, and each year is celebrated the memory of the saint, by whose hallowed intercessions, O Christ God, have mercy on us. Amen.
Saint Phanourios whose name is similar to the Greek word “to make manifest” (faneros) is famous for his discovery of lost persons, animals, or things – even the most hopeless of cases. He is a remarkable swift intercessor for those with the loss of anything. It is a tradition out of gratitude for help from the Saint to offer a sweet bread or cake (phanouropita), for the soul of Saint Phanourios’ mother. Why his mother? There is a tradition concerning his mother that she was a great sinner. And he loved his mother so much that he prayed for her incessantly. He didn’t even forget about her during his martyrdom. So he prayed to the Lord, “For the sake of these my sufferings, Lord, help all those who will pray to Thee for salvation of Phanourios’ sinful mother.” Phanouropita is not baked for the saint himself, but for the soul of his mother. According to some accounts, the Phanouropita is to be given to the poor as alms in the name of Saint Phanourios’ mother. Saint Phanourios is not only invoked for lost persons and articles, but also for helping those in affliction and sickness. Through the intercessions of Thy Saint, O Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Feastday – Aug. 15/28
After the Ascension of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Mother of God was the one consolation for His disciples. Everything that Panagia had laid up in her heart from the beginning, she then told them. She told the disciples about the glad tidings of Archangel Gabriel regarding the seedless conception and the Birth of Christ from her virgin womb. She told them about His early years before His Baptism by Saint John the Baptist.
She was together with all the disciples at the Lord’s Ascension and Holy Pentecost. The Theotokos was filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit in greater abundance than all the apostles, for she had been a worthy temple of Christ in which He dwelt. Panagia possessed all the holy virtues. She is higher than the Apostles, Prophets, and all the Saints. According to Saint Gregory Palamas, “Mary is the cause of what had gone before, the pioneer of what has come after her; she distributes eternal goods. She is the thought of the prophets, the head of the apostles, the support of the martyrs, the certainty of the holy fathers. She is the glory of the earth, the joy of heaven, the ornament of creation. She is the summit and the fulfillment of all that is holy. “No divine gifts can reach either angels or men, save through her mediation.” Saint Gregory Palamas says that Panagia received gifts of knowledge precociously. The mutual love between her and Jesus was perfect.
The Dormition of our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary: After the Ascension of the Lord, the Mother of God remained in the care of the Apostle John the Theologian, and during his journeys She lived at the home of his parents, near the Mount of Olives. She was a source of consolation and edification both for the Apostles and for all the believers. Conversing with them, She told them about miraculous events: the Annunciation, the seedless and undefiled Conception of Christ born of Her, about His early childhood, and about His earthly life. Like the Apostles, She helped plant and strengthen the Christian Church by Her presence, Her discourse and Her prayers.
The reverence of the Apostles for the Most Holy Virgin was extraordinary. After the receiving of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the Apostles remained at Jerusalem for about ten years attending to the salvation of the Jews, and wanting moreover to see the Mother of God and hear Her holy discourse. Many of the newly-enlightened in the Faith even came from faraway lands to Jerusalem, to see and to hear the All-Pure Mother of God.
During the persecution initiated by King Herod against the young Church of Christ (Acts 12:1-3), the Most Holy Virgin and the Apostle John the Theologian withdrew to Ephesus in the year 43. The preaching of the Gospel there had fallen by lot to the Apostle John the Theologian. The Mother of God was on Cyprus with St Lazarus the Four-Days-Dead, where he was bishop. She was also on Holy Mount Athos. St Stephen of the Holy Mountain says that the Mother of God prophetically spoke of it: “Let this place be my lot, given to me by my Son and my God. I will be the Patroness of this place and intercede with God for it.”
The respect of ancient Christians for the Mother of God was so great that they preserved what they could about Her life, what they could take note of concerning Her sayings and deeds, and they even passed down to us a description of Her outward appearance.
According to Tradition, based on the words of the Hieromartyrs Dionysius the Areopagite (October 3), Ignatius the God-Bearer (December 20), St Ambrose of Milan (December 7) had occasion to write in his work “On Virgins” concerning the Mother of God: “She was a Virgin not only in body, but also in soul, humble of heart, circumspect in word, wise in mind, not overly given to speaking, a lover of reading and of work, and prudent in speech. Her rule of life was to offend no one, to intend good for everyone, to respect the aged, not envy others, avoid bragging, be healthy of mind, and to love virtue.”
When did She ever hurl the least insult in the face of Her parents? When was She at discord with Her kin? When did She ever puff up with pride before a modest person, or laugh at the weak, or shun the destitute? With Her there was nothing of glaring eyes, nothing of unseemly words, nor of improper conduct. She was modest in the movement of Her body, Her step was quiet, and Her voice straightforward; so that Her face was an expression of soul. She was the personification of purity.
All Her days She was concerned with fasting: She slept only when necessary, and even then, when Her body was at rest, She was still alert in spirit, repeating in Her dreams what She had read, or the implementation of proposed intentions, or those planned yet anew. She was out of Her house only for church, and then only in the company of relatives. Otherwise, She seldom appeared outside Her house in the company of others, and She was Her own best overseer. Others could protect Her only in body, but She Herself guarded Her character.”
According to Tradition, that from the compiler of Church history Nicephorus Callistus (fourteenth century), the Mother of God “was of average stature, or as others suggest, slightly more than average; Her hair golden in appearance; Her eyes bright with pupils like shiny olives; Her eyebrows strong in character and moderately dark, Her nose pronounced and Her mouth vibrant bespeaking sweet speech; Her face was neither round nor angular, but somewhat oblong; the palm of Her hands and fingers were longish…
In conversation with others She preserved decorum, neither becoming silly nor agitated, and indeed especially never angry; without artifice, and direct, She was not overly concerned about Herself, and far from pampering Herself, She was distinctly full of humility. Regarding the clothing which She wore, She was satisfied to have natural colors, which even now is evidenced by Her holy head-covering. Suffice it to say, a special grace attended all Her actions.” (Nicephoros Callistus borrowed his description from St Epiphanius of Cyprus (May 12), from the “Letter to Theophilus Concerning Icons.”
Saint Dionysios the Areopagite upon beholding the Virgin Mother of our Lord was filled with great and immeasurable spiritual joy. He then wrote a letter to Saint Paul about his visit to the Theotokos: “I have seen with my own eyes the most holy Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, who surpasses in sanctity all the angels of heaven. By the grace of God, the good favor of the Apostles, and the unutterable goodness and mercy of the gracious Virgin, I was granted this meeting. Again I confess before the almighty God, before the grace of the Saviour, before the great glory of the Virgin, His Mother, that when I was introduced to the beautiful and most pure Virgin, together with John-the first among the evangelists and prophets, who, while living in the flesh, shines like the sun in heaven-a great divine radiance shone about me from without and lit up my soul. At the same time, I sensed such a wonderful fragrance that my spirit and body could hardly bear this manifestation of glory and foretaste of everlasting bliss. From divine grace and glory, my heart and spirit were prostrated. “I bear witness before God, Who dwelt in that most honorable virginal womb, that I would have taken her for the true God and would have honored her with the adoration due to God alone, if my newly-enlightened soul had not retained thy divine instructions and laws. No honor and glory of men can compare with that beatitude that I experienced, unworthy though I be. That moment in time for me was one of extreme happiness. I thank my most high and most gracious God, the Divine Virgin, the great Apostle John, and thee, O Paul, the adornment of the Church and invincible leader, for having mercifully granted me such a great blessing!”
The circumstances of the Dormition of the Mother of God were known in the Orthodox Church from apostolic times. Already in the first century, the Hieromartyr Dionysius the Areopagite wrote about Her “Falling-Asleep.” In the second century, the account of the bodily ascent of the Most Holy Virgin Mary to Heaven is found in the works of Meliton, Bishop of Sardis. In the fourth century, St Epiphanius of Cyprus refers to the tradition about the “Falling Asleep” of the Mother of God. In the fifth century, St Juvenal, Patriarch of Jerusalem, told the holy Byzantine Empress Pulcheria: “Although there is no account of the circumstances of Her death in Holy Scripture, we know about them from the most ancient and credible Tradition.” This tradition was gathered and expounded in the Church History of Nicephorus Callistus during the fourteenth century.
At the time of Her blessed Falling Asleep, the Most Holy Virgin Mary was again at Jerusalem. Her fame as the Mother of God had already spread throughout the land and had aroused many of the envious and the spiteful against Her. They wanted to make attempts on Her life; but God preserved Her from enemies.
Day and night She spent her time in prayer. The Most Holy Theotokos went often to the Holy Sepulchre of the Lord, and here She offered up fevent prayer. More than once, enemies of the Savior sought to hinder Her from visiting her holy place, and they asked the High Priest for a guard to watch over the Grave of the Lord. The Holy Virgin continued to pray right in front of them, yet unseen by anyone.
In one such visit to Golgotha, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Her and announced Her approaching departure from this life to eternal life. In pledge of this, the Archangel gave Her a palm branch. With these heavenly tidings the Mother of God returned to Bethlehem with the three girls attending Her (Sepphora, Abigail, and Jael). She summoned Righteous Joseph of Arimathea and other disciples of the Lord, and told them of Her impending Repose.
The Most Holy Virgin prayed also that the Lord would have the Apostle John come to Her. The Holy Spirit transported him from Ephesus, setting him in that very place where the Mother of God lay. After the prayer, the Most Holy Virgin offered incense, and John heard a voice from Heaven, closing Her prayer with the word “Amen.” The Mother of God took it that the voice meant the speedy arrival of the Apostles and the Disciples and the holy Bodiless Powers.
The faithful, whose number by then was impossible to count, gathered together, says St John of Damascus, like clouds and eagles, to listen to the Mother of God. Seeing one another, the Disciples rejoiced, but in their confusion they asked each other why the Lord had gathered them together in one place. St John the Theologian, greeting them with tears of joy, said that the time of the Virgin’s repose was at hand.
Going in to the Mother of God, they beheld Her lying upon the bed, and filled with spiritual joy. The Disciples greeted Her, and then they told her how they had been carried miraculously from their places of preaching. The Most Holy Virgin Mary glorified God, because He had heard Her prayer and fulfilled Her heart’s desire, and She began speaking about Her imminent end.
During this conversation the Apostle Paul also appeared in a miraculous manner together with his disciples Dionysius the Areopagite, St Hierotheus, St Timothy and others of the Seventy Apostles. The Holy Spirit had gathered them all together so that they might be granted the blessing of the All-Pure Virgin Mary, and more fittingly to see to the burial of the Mother of the Lord. She called each of them to Herself by name, She blessed them and extolled them for their faith and the hardships they endured in preaching the Gospel of Christ. To each She wished eternal bliss, and prayed with them for the peace and welfare of the whole world.
Then came the third hour (9 A.M.), when the Dormition of the Mother of God was to occur. A number of candles were burning. The holy Disciples surrounded her beautifully adorned bed, offering praise to God. She prayed in anticipation of Her demise and of the arrival of Her longed-for Son and Lord. Suddenly, the inexpressible Light of Divine Glory shone forth, before which the blazing candles paled in comparison. All who it saw took fright. Descending from Heaven was Christ, the King of Glory, surrounded by hosts of Angels and Archangels and other Heavenly Powers, together with the souls of the Forefathers and the Prophets, who had prophesied in ages past concerning the Most Holy Virgin Mary.
Seeing Her Son, the Mother of God exclaimed: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God My Savior, for He hath regarded the low estate of His Handmaiden” (Luke 1:46-48) and, rising from Her bed to meet the Lord, She bowed down to Him, and the Lord bid Her enter into Life Eternal. Without any bodily suffering, as though in a happy sleep, the Most Holy Virgin Mary gave Her soul into the hands of Her Son and God.
Then began a joyous angelic song. Accompanying the pure soul of the God-betrothed and with reverent awe for the Queen of Heaven, the angels exclaimed: “Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee, blessed art Thou among women! For lo, the Queen, God’s Maiden comes, lift up the gates, and with the Ever-Existing One, take up the Mother of Light; for through Her salvation has come to all the human race. It is impossible to gaze upon Her, and it is impossible to render Her due honor” (Stikherion on “Lord, I Have Cried”). The Heavenly gates were raised, and meeting the soul of the Most Holy Mother of God, the Cherubim and the Seraphim glorified Her with joy. The face of the Mother of God was radiant with the glory of Divine virginity, and from Her body there came a sweet fragrance.
Miraculous was the life of the All-Pure Virgin, and wondrous was Her Repose, as Holy Church sings: “In Thee, O Queen, the God of all hath given thee as thy portion the things that are above nature. Just as in the Birth-Giving He did preserve Thine virginity, so also in the grave He did preserve Thy body from decay” (Canon 1, Ode 6, Troparion 1).
Kissing the all-pure body with reverence and in awe, the Disciples in turn were blessed by it and filled with grace and spiritual joy. Through the great glorification of the Most Holy Theotokos, the almighty power of God healed the sick, who with faith and love touched the holy bed.
Bewailing their separation from the Mother of God, the Apostles prepared to bury Her all-pure body. The holy Apostles Peter, Paul, James and others of the Twelve Apostles carried the funeral bier upon their shoulders, and upon it lay the body of the Ever-Virgin Mary. St John the Theologian went at the head with the resplendent palm-branch from Paradise. The other saints and a multitude of the faithful accompanied the funeral bier with candles and censers, singing sacred songs. This solemn procession went from Sion through Jerusalem to the Garden of Gethsemane.
With the start of the procession there suddenly appeared over the all-pure body of the Mother of God and all those accompanying Her a resplendent circular cloud, like a crown. There was heard the singing of the Heavenly Powers, glorifying the Mother of God, which echoed that of the worldly voices. This circle of Heavenly singers and radiance accompanied the procession to the very place of burial.
Unbelieving inhabitants of Jerusalem, taken aback by the extraordinarily grand funeral procession and vexed at the honor accorded the Mother of Jesus, complained of this to the High Priest and scribes. Burning with envy and vengefulness toward everything that reminded them of Christ, they sent out their own servants to disrupt the procession and to set the body of the Mother of God afire.
An angry crowd and soldiers set off against the Christians, but the circular cloud accompanying the procession descended and surrounded them like a wall. The pursuers heard the footsteps and the singing, but could not see any of those accompanying the procession. Indeed, many of them were struck blind.
The Jewish priest Athonios, out of spite and hatred for the Mother of Jesus of Nazareth, wanted to topple the funeral bier on which lay the body of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, but an angel of God invisibly cut off his hands, which had touched the bier. Seeing such a wonder, Athonios repented and with faith confessed the majesty of the Mother of God. He received healing and joined the crowd accompanying the body of the Mother of God, and he became a zealous follower of Christ.
When the procession reached the Garden of Gethsemane, then amidst the weeping and the wailing began the last kiss to the all-pure body. Only towards evening were the Apostles able to place it in the tomb and seal the entrance to the cave with a large stone.
For three days they did not depart from the place of burial, praying and chanting Psalms. Through the wise providence of God, the Apostle Thomas was not to be present at the burial of the Mother of God. Arriving late on the third day at Gethsemane, he lay down at the tomb and with bitter tears asked that he might be permitted to look once more upon the Mother of God and bid her farewell. The Apostles out of heartfelt pity for him decided to open the grave and permit him the comfort of venerating the holy relics of the Ever-Virgin Mary. Having opened the grave, they found in it only the grave wrappings and were thus convinced of the bodily ascent of the Most Holy Virgin Mary to Heaven.
On the evening of the same day, when the Apostles had gathered at a house to strengthen themselves with food, the Mother of God appeared to them and said: “Rejoice! I am with you all the days of your lives.” This so gladdened the Apostles and everyone with them, that they took a portion of the bread, set aside at the meal in memory of the Savior (“the Lord’s Portion”), and they exclaimed : “Most Holy Theotokos, save us”. (This marks the beginning of the rite of offering up the “Panagia” (“All-Holy”), a portion of bread in honor of the Mother of God, which is done at monasteries to the present day).
The sash of the Mother of God, and Her holy garb, preserved with reverence and distributed over the face of the earth in pieces, have worked miracles both in the past and at present. Her numerous icons everywhere pour forth signs and healings, and Her holy body, taken up to Heaven, bears witness to our own future life there. Her body was not left to the vicissitudes of the transitory world, but was incomparably exalted by its glorious ascent to Heaven.
The Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos is celebrated with special solemnity at Gethsemane, the place of Her burial. Nowhere else is there such sorrow of heart at the separation from the Mother of God, and nowhere else such joy, because of Her intercession for the world.
The holy city of Jerusalem is separated from the Mount of Olives by the valley of Kedron on Josaphat. At the foot of the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane, where olive trees bear fruit even now.
The holy Ancestor-of-God Joachim had himself reposed at 80 years of age, several years after the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple (November 21). St Anna, having been left a widow, moved from Nazareth to Jerusalem, and lived near the Temple. At Jerusalem she bought two pieces of property: the first at the gates of Gethsemane, and the second in the valley of Josaphat. At the second locale she built a tomb for the members of her family, and where also she herself was buried with Joachim. It was there in the Garden of Gethsemane that the Savior often prayed with His disciples.
The most-pure body of the Mother of God was buried in the family tomb. Christians honored the sepulchre of the Mother of God, and they built a church on this spot. Within the church was preserved the precious funeral cloth, which covered Her all-pure and fragrant body.
The holy Patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem (420-458) testified before the emperor Marcian (450-457) as to the authenticity of the tradition about the miraculous ascent of the Mother of God to Heaven, and he sent to the empress, St Pulcheria (September 10), the grave wrappings of the Mother of God from Her tomb. St Pulcheria then placed these grave-wrappings within the Blachernae church.