Holy Pentecost 2017
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
September 14th marks the Church’s annual observance of the Fast of the Exaltation
of the Holy and Life-giving Cross. This ancient feast, rooted in the Church’s history,
reminds us of the role of the Cross in the story of our salvation and invites us
to embrace the Cross as part of our daily lives. A brief story of the origins of
this feast follows here.
“The Holy Equal of the Apostles Emperor Constantine, having gained victory over his
enemies in three wars with God’s assistance, had seen in the heavens the Sign of
the Cross, and written beneath: “By this you shall conquer.” In 313, he issued the
Edict of Milan, legalizing the practice of the Christian Faith and ending the official
persecution of Christians.
Deeply desiring to find the Cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, Saint
Constantine sent his mother, the pious Empress Helen, to Jerusalem, in the hope of
discovering the Cross on which Our Savior shed His blood and won our salvation. Although
the holy empress Helen was already in her declining years, she set out on her long
journey with enthusiasm. Arriving in the Holy City, the empress gave orders to destroy
the pagan temples. Searching for the Life-Creating Cross, she made inquiry of Christians
and Jews, but for a long time her search remained unsuccessful. Finally, she was
directed to a certain elderly Hebrew by the name of Jude who stated that the Cross
was buried where the temple of Venus stood. They demolished the pagan temple and,
after praying, they began to excavate the ground. Soon the Tomb of the Lord was uncovered.
Not far from it were three crosses, a board with the inscription ordered by Pilate,
and four nails which had pierced the Lord’s Body. In order to discern on which of
the three crosses the Savior was crucified, Patriarch Macarius alternately touched
the crosses to a corpse. When the Cross of the Lord touched the dead one, he came
to life. Having beheld the raising of the dead man, everyone was convinced that the
Life-Creating Cross was found. Christians, hearing of this miracle, came in a huge
throng to venerate the Holy Cross, beseeching Saint Macarius to elevate the Cross,
so that even those far off might reverently contemplate it. Then the Patriarch and
other spiritual leaders raised up the Holy Cross, and the people, saying “Lord have
mercy,” reverently prostrated before the Venerable Wood. This solemn event occurred
in the year 326.”
In remembering this historical event as we do on this Feast, we also are invited
to a deeper reflection upon the Cross and call to mind the fact that, as Christians
who follow the Crucified and Risen Lord, we are called to “take up the Cross” and
follow in the footsteps of Christ. The Cross makes itself present in our lives in
any number of ways, in ways that are as unique as we are as individuals. As we enter
this new Church year (September 1 is the beginning of the Ecclesiastical/Church Year),
we also have in our thoughts and prayers all the people throughout the world who
are suffering and who embrace the Cross nonetheless. May our loves, prayers, and
support be with all those who suffer from persecution because of their faith in Christ,
those who are burdened by illness, all couples and families that suffer from family
strife, and all those in our own nation and throughout the world who are experiencing
loss from natural disasters that have seemingly overturned their lives. Let us pray
for them, assist them in whatever ways we can, and, as Simon of Cyrene helped the
Lord carry His Cross to the hill of Golgotha, let us help them bear their burdens.
And may each one of us, as a people striving to imitate the Lord, be ever more willing
to accept the Cross in whichever way it may be a part of our own lives.
With love in the Lord,
St. Abercius the Bishop and Wonderworker of Hieropolis, Equal of the Apostles
Commemorated on October 22
Saint Abercius, Bishop and Wonderworker of Hieropolis lived in the second century
in Phrygia. The city of Hieropolis was inhabited by many pagans and very few Christians.
The saint prayed to the Lord for the salvation of their souls and that they might
be numbered among God’s chosen flock. An angel appeared and bade Saint Abercius to
destroy the idols in the pagan temple. He fulfilled the command of God with zeal.
Hearing that the idol-worshippers wanted to kill him, the saint went to the place
where the people had gathered and openly denounced the failings of the pagans. The
pagans tried to seize the saint.
At this moment three demon-possessed youths in the crowd cried out. The people were
dumbfounded, as the saint expelled the devils from them by his prayers. Seeing the
youths restored to normal, the people of Hieropolis asked Saint Abercius to instruct
them in the Christian Faith, and then they accepted Holy Baptism.
After this the saint went to the surrounding cities and villages, healing the sick
and preaching the Kingdom of God. With his preaching he made the rounds of Syria,
Cilicia, Mesopotamia, he visited Rome and everywhere he converted multitudes of people
to Christ. For many years he guarded the Church against heretics, he confirmed Christians
in the Faith, he set the prodigal upon the righteous path, he healed the sick and
proclaimed the glory of Christ. Because of his great works, Saint Abercius is termed
“Equal of the Apostles.”
Saint Abercius returned home to Hieropolis, where he soon rested from his labors.
After his death, many miracles took place at his tomb. He wrote his own epitaph,
and it was carved on his tombstone, which is now in the Lateran Museum.
7 Holy Youths “Seven Sleepers” of Ephesus
Commemorated on October 22
The Seven Youths of Ephesus: Maximilian, Iamblicus, Martinian, John, Dionysius, Exacustodianus
(Constantine) and Antoninus, lived in the third century. Saint Maximilian was the
son of the Ephesus city administrator, and the other six youths were sons of illustrious
citizens of Ephesus. The youths were friends from childhood, and all were in military
When the emperor Decius (249-251) arrived in Ephesus, he commanded all the citizens
to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. Torture and death awaited anyone who disobeyed.
The seven youths were denounced by informants, and were summoned to reply to the
charges. Appearing before the emperor, the young men confessed their faith in Christ.
Their military belts and insignia were quickly taken from them. Decius permitted
them to go free, however, hoping that they would change their minds while he was
off on a military campaign. The youths fled from the city and hid in a cave on Mount
Ochlon, where they passed their time in prayer, preparing for martyrdom.
The youngest of them, Saint Iamblicus, dressed as a beggar and went into the city
to buy bread. On one of his excursions into the city, he heard that the emperor had
returned and was looking for them. Saint Maximilian urged his companions to come
out of the cave and present themselves for trial.
Learning where the young men were hidden, the emperor ordered that the entrance of
the cave be sealed with stones so that the saints would perish from hunger and thirst.
Two of the dignitaries at the blocked entrance to the cave were secret Christians.
Desiring to preserve the memory of the saints, they placed in the cave a sealed container
containing two metal plaques. On them were inscribed the names of the seven youths
and the details of their suffering and death.
The Lord placed the youths into a miraculous sleep lasting almost two centuries.
In the meantime, the persecutions against Christians had ceased. During the reign
of the holy emperor Theodosius the Younger (408-450) there were heretics who denied
that there would be a general resurrection of the dead at the Second Coming of our
Lord Jesus Christ. Some of them said, “How can there be a resurrection of the dead
when there will be neither soul nor body, since they are disintegrated?” Others affirmed,
“The souls alone will have a restoration, since it would be impossible for bodies
to arise and live after a thousand years, when even their dust would not remain.”
Therefore, the Lord revealed the mystery of the Resurrection of the Dead and of the
future life through His seven saints.
The owner of the land on which Mount Ochlon was situated, discovered the stone construction,
and his workers opened up the entrance to the cave. The Lord had kept the youths
alive, and they awoke from their sleep, unaware that almost two hundred years had
passed. Their bodies and clothing were completely undecayed.
Preparing to accept torture, the youths once again asked Saint Iamblicus to buy bread
for them in the city. Going toward the city, the youth was astonished to see a cross
on the gates. Hearing the name of Jesus Christ freely spoken, he began to doubt that
he was approaching his own city.
When he paid for the bread, Iamblicus gave the merchant coins with the image of the
emperor Decius on it. He was detained, as someone who might be concealing a horde
of old money. They took Saint Iamblicus to the city administrator, who also happened
to be the Bishop of Ephesus. Hearing the bewildering answers of the young man, the
bishop perceived that God was revealing some sort of mystery through him, and went
with other people to the cave.
At the entrance to the cave the bishop found the sealed container and opened it.
He read upon the metal plaques the names of the seven youths and the details of the
sealing of the cave on the orders of the emperor Decius. Going into the cave and
seeing the saints alive, everyone rejoiced and perceived that the Lord, by waking
them from their long sleep, was demonstrating to the Church the mystery of the Resurrection
of the Dead.
Soon the emperor himself arrived in Ephesus and spoke with the young men in the cave.
Then the holy youths, in sight of everyone, lay their heads upon the ground and fell
asleep again, this time until the General Resurrection.
The emperor wanted to place each of the youths into a jeweled coffin, but they appeared
to him in a dream and said that their bodies were to be left upon the ground in the
cave. In the twelfth century the Russian pilgrim Igumen Daniel saw the holy relics
of the seven youths in the cave.
There is a second commemoration of the seven youths on October 22. According to one
tradition, which entered into the Russian PROLOGUE (of Saints’ Lives), the youths
fell asleep for the second time on this day. The Greek MENAION of 1870 says that
they first fell asleep on August 4, and woke up on October 22.
There is a prayer of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus in the GREAT BOOK OF NEEDS (Trebnik)
for those who are ill and cannot sleep. The Seven Sleepers are also mentioned in
the service for the Church New Year, September 1.