Saint Nicephorus, Confessor And Patriarch Of Constantiniople Nicephorus was a nobleman of Constantinople. His father, Theodore, a high- ranking official of the imperial court, was wealthy and pious. Nicephorus served at the court for several years in the same profession as his father. Seeing all the vanity of the world, he withdrew to the shores of the Bosphorus and founded a monastery. The monastery was quickly filled with monks and he governed it; but he was not willing to receive the monastic tonsure, under the pretext that he was not worthy, even though in all things he served as a model to all. Before that, he had participated in the Seventh Ecumenical Council [Nicea, 787 A.D.] as a layman, at the wishes of the emperor and the patriarch, and the Council had benefited greatly by his superior knowledge of Sacred Scripture. When Patriarch Tarasius died, Nicephorus was elected patriarch against his will. Immediately following his election in the year 806 A.D., he received the monastic tonsure and, in succession, all the ecclesiastical ranks. He was enthroned as patriarch in the Church of the Divine Wisdom of God [Hagia Sophia]. This took place during the reign of Emperor Nicephorus, who immediately after that went to war against the Bulgarians and was slain. His son Stauracius reigned only two months and died. After him there ruled the good Emperor Michael, surnamed Rangabe, but he reigned for only two years, until he was overthrown by Leo the Armenian and banished into exile. When Leo was to be crowned, the patriarch sent him a book of the Orthodox Confession of Faith to sign (according to the custom of all Byzantine emperors which was considered an oath that they would uphold and defend the True Faith). The emperor did not sign it but rather postponed signing it until after the coronation. When the patriarch crowned him, Leo refused to sign the book, and he quickly proved himself to be a heretic, an iconoclast. The patriarch attempted to advise him and restore him to the True Faith, but in vain. The emperor forcibly banished Nicephorus to the island of Proconnesus, where he remained for thirteen years, enduring every kind of misery and privation, and he entered into eternity in the year 827 A.D. He governed the Church of Christ as patriarch for nine years.
The Holy Neo-Martyr Constantine Constantine was born of Muslim parents on the island of Mitylene. Having been healed of a grave illness with the help of holy water in church, and having witnessed other miracles of the Faith of Christ, he was baptized on Mt. Athos in the Scete of Kapsokalyvia. Later, Constantine fell into the hands of the Turks, who hanged him in Constantinople on June 2, 1819 A.D. after forty days of cruel tortures.
The Holy Martyr John The New Of Suceava John was a nobleman from Trebizond. He was accused by an envious Latin and suffered for Christ in the city of Akerman in the year 1492 A.D. After being tortured for refusing to embrace the Persian religion (for the mayor of the town was an adherent of that faith), St. John was tied to the legs of a horse and dragged through the town. Upon seeing John, an evil Jew ran up to him and slaughtered him. That night many saw a fiery pillar over his body and three light-bearing men around it. With great honor the Moldavian commander Joalexander later translated his honorable body to the town of Suceava and buried it in the metropolitanate church, where it reposes even today, miraculously saving men from various pains and illnesses. John suffered honorably and was glorified on June 2, 1492 A.D.
The Priestly-Martyr Erasmus Of Ohrid This saint was born in Antioch and lived during the reigns of Emperors Diocletian and Maximian. He lived a strict life of asceticism on Mt. Lebanon and was endowed by God with the great gift of working miracles. As a bishop, he went out to preach the Good News (Gospel). Arriving at the town of Ohrid, Erasmus, by his prayers, resurrected the son of a man named Anastasius and baptized him. Through this fortuitous circumstance Erasmus baptized many other pagans and destroyed the altars of the idols in Ohrid. For this he was denounced before Emperor Maximian, who was residing at that time in Illyria. The emperor brought him before a copper idol of Zeus and ordered him to offer sacrifice and worship the idol. St. Erasmus manifested so great a power that a horrible dragon emerged from the idol, terrifying the people. Again the saint manifested great power and the dragon died. The saint then preached Christ and baptized twenty thousand souls. The embittered emperor ordered that all twenty thousand be beheaded, and he subjected Erasmus to severe tortures and cast him into prison. An angel of God appeared to Erasmus, as once to the Apostle Peter, and led Erasmus out of the prison. After that, this servant of God departed for Campania, where he preached the Gospel to the people, and then he returned to the town of Hermelia, where he retreated to a cave, in order that he might live a life of asceticism there until his death. Before his repose, he bowed down three times toward the east and with uplifted arms prayed to God that He forgive the sins and grant eternal life to all those who would with faith call upon his name. At the completion of his prayer a voice from heaven was heard: “Let it be as you prayed, my little healer Erasmus!” Uttterly joyful, the saint gazed up at the heavens once more and saw a wreath of glory descending upon him and choirs of angels, prophets, apostles and martyrs coming toward him to receive his holy soul. At last he cried out: “O Lord, receive my spirit!” and died, in about the year 303 A.D. The cave, with a small church dedicated to St. Erasmus, exists today not far from Ohrid, and from it the great power of the God-pleaser Erasmus the priestly-martyr is manifested even today.() () In the Slavonic Prologue and Menaion, St. Erasmus is commemorated on May 4, while in the Greek Synaxarion on June 2. The latter is more correct, since this saint has been commemorated in Ohrid on June 2 from time immemorial.
Hymn Of Praise
Great was Nicephorus, great among the saints;
Great was Nicephorus, like a giant among men.
But [Leo] the emperor with the name of a lion was small;
Of spite and malice his [Leo’s] entire “glory” consisted.
An emperor is to lead the affairs of the state,
Not the dogmas of the Orthodox Faith to judge.
The dogmas for him, Patriarch Nicephorus interpreted,
But the arrogant little emperor pretended to be wise.
Though emperor he had become, a simple shudra(*) he remained,
Not heeding the counsels of the wise saint.
The emperor banished the patriarch to a desolate, distant place,
And he himself, divine truth, began to interpret.
Great was Nicephorus, great in exile,
As also on the throne in his dignity.
From within, was all of his greatness,
And not false and incidental, changing from day to day.
Nicephorus, by faith and purity, a saint became,
By strong faith, fasting and humble simplicity.
And Emperor Leo was slain–terribly slain.
Perhaps he would have repented, but it was too late.
(*) Shudra: one of the four original castes in India, whose members engaged in the lowest professions. –Trans.
The veneration of icons is an integral part of Orthodoxy, from which it cannot be separated. That the veneration of icons appears to some people the same as idolatry is no proof against icons. To the Jews it seemed that Christ worked miracles by the power of Satan and not God, and to the Romans it seemed that Christian martyrs were ordinary sorcerers and magicians. Saint Nicephorus said to Leo the Armenian, the iconoclastic emperor: “An icon is a divine thing, but not to be worshipped.” Then he explained how God commanded Moses to make a serpent of brass and to raise it in the wilderness, even though just before this He had commanded: Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image (Exodus 20:4). The latter He commanded in order to save the chosen people from the idolatry of the Egyptians, and He commanded the former that He, the One and Most High God, might manifest His power through a visible thing. In the same manner He manifests His power through icons. This is His holy will and our aid for salvation. If icons are things of little significance or even idolatry, why would many of the holiest and most spiritual men and women in the history of the Church have suffered to the death for icons?
To contemplate the miraculous healing of the leper: And behold, there came a leper and worshipped him saying, Lord, if You will, You can make me clean (St. Matthew 8:2):
- How the leper implored the Lord to heal him and how the Lord touched him with His hand and he was healed;
- How I, too, am leperous from sin, and how the Lord can touch my soul and heal it, if I pray to Him.
About how wisdom proclaims itself everywhere
“Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the open squares she raises her voice; down the crowded ways she calls out, at the city gates she utters her words” (Proverbs 1:20-21).
The Wisdom of God is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, through Whom every created thing was created. All that was created manifests its All-wise Creator, both that which is in the fields and that which is in the city. In the fields is pure and bright nature, while in the city is man with his trades and skills. The Wisdom of God cries out–and does not whisper–through all of nature and through all beneficial trades and skills of man. She [Wisdom] has covered all the fields; she has filled the entire city; she is above the earth and under the earth, in the starry firmament and in the depths of the seas. He who wants to hear her can hear her in every place; he who wants to learn from her and be delighted by her can be taught and delighted in every place; he who wants to be corrected and built up by her can be corrected and built up by her in every place. Thus the Wisdom of God is clear and evident in all created things in the world from its very beginning. But the Wisdom of God is clearer and more evident in the prophets and in other men of God who were made worthy to approach her [Wisdom] outside created nature. Through their mouths, the Wisdom of God has been proclaimed in the fields, in the cities, on the streets of the cities, and at the doors of men. But the Wisdom of God is most audible and most clear in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Wisdom of God was manifested in the flesh and demonstrated to men in Its miraculous power and beauty. This Wisdom of God does not speak through things nor through men, but speaks of Itself and from Itself alone, personally and directly. By His wisdom the Lord has filled the entire world through His Holy Church, so that it can be said that today, just as twenty centuries ago in Palestine, He cries out in the fields, on the streets, to the greatest throngs in the world, throughout the cities, and before all doors, through the servants of the Word. O my brethren, let us open the doors of our souls to the Wisdom of God, incarnate in the Lord Jesus Christ! O Lord Jesus, Wisdom and Power of God, open our souls and abide in them.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.