The Venerable John Of Rila This great ascetic and saint of the Orthodox Church was born near Sofia, Bulgaria, in the town of Skrino, during the reign of King Boris. He was of poor but honorable parents. After the death of his parents, John was tonsured a monk and withdrew to a mountain wilderness, where he lived a life of strict asceticism in a cave. There he endured many assaults, both from demons and men, robbers and his own relatives. Eventually he moved to Mount Rila and settled in a hollow tree. He fed only on herbs and beans, which, according to God’s providence, began to grow in the vicinity. For many years he did not see a man’s face until (again, by God’s providence) he was discovered by shepherds who were seeking their lost sheep. Thus the saint became known to the people, and they began to come to him, seeking help in sickness and in sufferings. Even the Bulgarian King Peter visited John and sought counsel from him. Many who were zealots for the spiritual life settled in the proximity of John. A church and monastery were soon built nearby. St. John reposed peacefully in the Lord on August 18, 946 A.D., at the age of seventy. After his death, he appeared to his disciples. At first his relics were transported to Sofia, then to Hungary, then to Trnovo, and finally to the Monastery of Rila, where they repose today. Through the centuries, the Monastery of Rila has been a beacon of light, a place of miracle-working power, and a spiritual comfort for the Christian people of Bulgaria, especially during the difficult time of bondage under the Turks.
The Holy Martyrs Florus And Laurus Florus and Laurus were brothers in the flesh, and in spirit and in vocation. Both were zealous Christians, and were stonecutters by occupation. They lived in Illyria. A pagan prince hired them for the building of a temple to the idols. It happened that, during their work, a piece of stone flew and struck the eye of the pagan priest Merentius’s son, who was observing the work of the builders with curiosity. Seeing his son blind and bloody, the pagan priest began to shout at Florus and Laurus and wanted to beat them. Then the holy brothers said to him that if he would believe in the God in whom they believed, his son would be healed. The pagan priest promised. Florus and Laurus prayed with tears to the one, living Lord God, and traced the sign of the Cross over the child’s injured eye. The child was immediately healed, and his eye became whole, just as it had been. Then Merentius and his son were baptized. Shortly after that, both suffered for Christ, being tortured by fire. When they completed the temple, Florus and Laurus placed a cross on it, summoned all Christians and consecrated it in the name of the Lord Jesus, with an all-night vigil of hymn-singing. Hearing of this, the Illyrian deputy burned many of those Christians, and had Florus and Laurus themselves thrown into a well. He then filled it with dirt to suffocate them. Their relics were later revealed and translated to Constantinople. These two wonderful brothers suffered, and were martyred for Christ and glorified by Him, in the second century.
The Priestly-Martyr Emilian, Bishop Of Trevi Emilian was born in Armenia. Seeking martyrdom, he traveled to Italy to preach Christ during the reign of Diocletian. He was elected bishop of Trevi. As a result of the many miracles worked by God during the time of Emilian’s torture, approximately one thousand pagans came to believe in Christ. He was slain by the sword, together with Hilarion, his spiritual father, and two brothers, Dionysius and Hermippus.
Hymn Of Praise
The Holy Martyrs Florus And Laurus
To two sons, two saints, one mother gave birth;
Blessed is such a mother that pleases God.
Wondrous Florus and Laurus cut through stone,
And with the Cross, the souls of men corrected.
What a chisel is to stone, the Cross is to the soul;
As they were hewn by the Cross, they also perished for it.
The pagan priest saw a miracle never before seen:
An eye destroyed, and then healed!
An unheard-of miracle! For him, that was enough,
And with the Cross he was baptized and a martyr became.
Wondrous Florus and Laurus, an idolatrous temple, built,
But in their hearts glorified Christ God.
The brothers, the new pagan temple, finished,
But topped it with a cross, and lo! it was a Christian church!
With hymns of praise to Christ they filled it,
And with the beauty of candles and incense pure.
One man is truly similar to another,
But one is humble, the other haughty.
They are much alike, in body and attire,
But much unlike in mind and spirit.
In one is Christ and holiness pure,
In the other, devilish suffering and emptiness.
May our bodies, given us by God,
Be temples of the Living Spirit of God,
Through the powerful prayers of the God-pleasers,
The brothers Florus and Laurus, the holy martyrs.
It is not a rare occurrence, especially in our time, for parents to be responsible for the spiritual death of their children. Whenever a child has an aspiration for the spiritual life and asceticism, and the parent curtails this aspiration instead of encouraging it, such a parent becomes the murderer of his child. And such children, as a punishment to their parents, often turn to the opposite side and become perverted. A boy named Luke, the nephew of St. John of Rila, heard about his uncle and was drawn by the desire for the spiritual life, so he visited his uncle in the mountain. John received Luke with love, and began to instruct and to strengthen him in asceticism. Then one day Luke’s father appeared at John’s cave, and furiously began to scold the saint for keeping his son in that wilderness. John’s words and counsels were of no avail. The father dragged the son home by force. On the way home, a serpent bit Luke and he died. The cruel father saw in this the punishment of God and repented, but it was all too late. He returned to John, mourning and condemning himself. But the saint said only to bury the child, and to return from wherever he came.
To contemplate God’s wondrous choosing of David as king (1 Samuel 16 [also known as 1 King 16]):
- How the Lord instructed Samuel to go to the home of Jesse and anoint one of his sons as king;
- How the Lord instructed Samuel to anoint David, a herder of sheep, the eighth and youngest son of Jesse;
- How Samuel anointed David, and how the Spirit of God descended upon David.
About peace between the wolf and the lamb
“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid” (Isaiah 11:6).
Thus, the true prophet foretold the truth. And he further added: The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; … and the lion shall eat straw like the ox (Isaiah 11:6-7). And the child will place his hand in the hole of a poisonous snake [asp], and the snake will not harm him. Brethren, when will this wonder occur? This has already occurred, when Christ the Wonder-worker appeared on earth. This is a reality of Paradise, which was restored among men with the coming of the Savior upon earth. The prophet speaks enigmatically, but, nevertheless, clearly; enigmatically–for the prophet does not speak about wild beasts but of men; and his prophecy was clearly fulfilled in Christ’s Church. Men, who by their habits were as wolves, wildcats, lions, bears, oxen, lambs, kids and serpents–all stand before the Child of Bethlehem, united by faith, tamed by grace, illumined by hope, and softened by love. The prophet further fortells why this would take place. For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9). When viewed physically, every man is earth. The man who believes in Christ, and who truly follows after Christ, becomes as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the sea is full of water. Such were many individuals. Such were even entire companies of ascetics in Egypt, on the Holy Mountain [Athos], on Cyprus, in Russia, in Armenia, and in other places. But this is not all. The knowledge of the Lord has spread today throughout the earth. Holy Scripture is distributed throughout all nations. There are few corners of the earth where the Gospel of Christ is not read, where the name of God is not known, and where the Bloodless Sacrifice of the Lord is not offered. Some deny Christ, others embrace Him; some abandon the true Faith, and others embrace it. Thus the world-wide struggle in the name of Christ continues. The overflowing waters pour out into empty valleys; the empty valleys become filled and rise to equal the high waters. The world is not fully illuminated as we Christians wish it to be, but the prophecy of Isaiah the Prophet has been gloriously fulfilled and accomplished most clearly. Oh, how wonderful is the vision of Isaiah, the son of Amos, the true prophet. O miracle-working Lord, tame the beastly nature of those men and people who are not tamed by the power of Your love–that all may be fruitful from Your abundance, and all may be glorious from Your Glory, and all may be alive from Your Immortal life. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.