Saint Sophronius, Patriarch Of Jerusalem Sophronius was born in Damascus of distinguished parents. Having acquired worldly wisdom, he was nevertheless unsatisfied and went to seek and acquire spiritual wisdom. In the Monastery of St. Theodosius, he found himself in the company of a monk, John Moschus, whom he chose as his teacher. Together with him, Sophronius traveled about and visited the monasteries and ascetics in Egypt. His watchword was: “Each day learn more spiritual wisdom.” All that they had learned they wrote down and later published in two books under the title, The Spiritual Meadow. Later they traveled to Rome, where Moschus died, leaving a testament with Sophronius to have his body taken either to Sinai or to the Monastery of St. Theodosius. Sophronius fulfilled the desire and wish of his teacher and translated his body to the Monastery of St. Theodosius. Thereafter he remained in Jerusalem, which had just been liberated from the Persians. He was present at the Translation of the Honorable Cross from Persia, which Emperor Heraclius carried on his shoulders into the Holy City. The aged Patriarch Zacharias, who had also returned from bondage, did not live long before he took up his habitation in the other world. Patriarch Zacharias was replaced by Modestus, who died in 634 A.D. Modestus was replaced by Blessed Sophronius. Sophronius governed the Church for ten years with exceptional wisdom and zeal. He rose up in defense of Orthodoxy against the heresy of Monotheletism, which he condemned at his Council in Jerusalem before it was condemned at the Sixth Ecumenical Council [Constantinople, 680-681 A.D.]. He wrote The Life of St. Mary of Egypt, complied The Order of the Greater Blessing of Water and introduced several new hymns and songs in the various liturgical services. When the Arab Caliph Omar captured Jerusalem, Sophronius begged him to spare the lives of the Christians, which Omar insincerely promised. When Omar immediately began to plunder and maltreat the Christians in Jerusalem, Sophronius, with lamentation, prayed to God to take him from among the living on earth, so that he would not witness the desecration of the holy places. God heard his prayer and took Sophronius to Himself, into His heavenly mansion, in the year 644 A.D.
The Holy Martyr Pionius And Others With Him Pionius was a priest from Syria. He suffered in Smyrna during the time of persecution under Decius. He was condemned to be crucified, for which he was exceedingly glad. As soon as the soldiers formed a cross and laid it upon the ground, Pionius freely laid himself upon it, stretched out his arms and ordered the soldiers to nail him in the hands with spikes. The cross was inserted in the ground upside down, and a fire was ignited under the head of the martyr. Many people gathered around. Pionius closed his eyes and prayed to God within himself. The flames of the fire did not even set aflame the hairs of his head. When at last the fire was extinguished and when everyone thought that Pionius was dead, he opened his eyes and cried out rejoicing, “O God, receive my soul,” and expired. This saint wrote The Life of St. Polycarp of Smyrna, with whom he rejoices in the Kingdom of Christ. He suffered and was glorified in the year 250 A.D.
The Venerable George The Sinaite George was the abbot of Mount Sinai, a great ascetic and a just man. On the vigil of Pascha [the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ], an angel of the Lord conveyed him to Jerusalem for the divine services and returned him to Sinai the same day. He reposed peacefully in the sixth century.
Hymn Of Praise Saint Pionius Pionius speaks while being tortured: “O citizens of famous Smyrna, Fellow townsmen of the renowned Omar, I know that which all of you know, But not one of you knows that which I know: I know the sweet pleasure of dying, And sweeter yet, of hoping in Christ. I know that death will not destroy me But only separate the body from the soul. I know that the angels are waiting for me In the mansions of the Heavenly King, Together with prophets and saints, Many armies of those chosen by God, And the wonderful martyrs for Christ. I know that I am returning to my homeland, Whence I came here. I know the goal of my suffering (But you know not why you are torturing me!) Seethe, O malice, and against me rage! With outstretched arms, the Savior awaits me. Strike me, all of you, with greater tortures. The more difficult the suffering, the sooner the dawn, The quicker the death, the more joyful the soul.”
Reflection “Good works are accomplished not by our efforts alone, but by the power and will of God. Nevertheless, God demands effort on our part in conforming to His will.” These are the words of Saints Barsanuphius and John–few words, but much is said in them. We are obliged to labor, cultivate and prepare every good thing, and if some good will take root, grow, and bring forth fruit, that is up to the power and will of God. We plow the furrows, and God sows–if He wills it. We cleanse the vessels of the Spirit, and God pours the Spirit into these vessels–if He wills it. He can do anything if He wills it. And He will do everything that answers to the highest wisdom and wholeness, that is, to His plan of man’s salvation. In interpreting the words of our Lord, Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16), St. John Chrysostom writes that our Lord gave this commandment to His disciples that “they themselves should cooperate in some way, so that it will not appear that all effort is of grace alone and so that they will not think that they received the wreaths of glory for nothing.” And so, both of them are indispensable for our salvation: our effort and the power of God’s grace.
Contemplation Contemplate the Lord at judgment before Caiaphas:
- How the Jewish high priest detains our Lord in his home, surrounded by men almost as wretched as he himself;
- How Peter sits outside in the courtyard by the fire; and how, before the servants, he denies our Lord Jesus three times;
- How even today it happens that some Christians, out of fear of the world, deny the Lord in this manner: they also purport not to be Christians, not to be familiar with the commandments of the Lord, and not to be concerned about the Lord.
Homily on the Second Coming of Christ “When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory” (Matthew 25:31). This is how our Lord spoke just before His most horrible humiliations, before being bound, before being spat upon, before being slapped, and before being ridiculed prior to His Crucifixion. In His darkest hour, He speaks about His greatest and most glorious hour. Before His most terrible and miserable departure from this world, He speaks about His Second Coming in His glory. At His first appearance, He came from the cave in Bethlehem, humble and unseen. The second time He will come on the clouds of His angels. The first time He appeared like a nobody from the earth, and the second time He will appear from the heavens. The first time He stood and knelt on the ground, and the second time He will sit on His throne of glory. When He comes again on His throne of glory, He will not be unseen by anyone. No one will ask, as did the Magi before his first coming: “Where is the King?” (Matthew 2:2). Everyone will see the King and recognize Him as the King. But this vision and recognition will be unto joy for some, and unto fear and terror for others. Just think of the joy of those who have fulfilled His commandments, those who have prayed in His name, those who have performed good works and especially those who have suffered for His name! Just think of the fear and terror of all those who have spat on Him, struck Him, and crucified Him in Jerusalem. O Merciful Lord, forgive all of us who call upon Thy name, and who, because of our weaknesses, sin against Thee; forgive us before that great and marvelous hour when Thou shalt appear in Thy glory with all Thy holy angels. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.