Prologue entry for 12/05/23 (read on 12/18/23 on the Old Calendar)
1. The Venerable Sava The Sanctified
The unknown village of Mutalaska, in the province of Cappadocia, became famous through this great luminary of the Orthodox Church. Sava was born there of his parents John and Sophia. At the age of eight, he left the home of his parents and was tonsured a monk in a nearby monastic community called Flavian’s. After ten years, he moved to the monasteries of Palestine and remained longest in the Monastery of St. Euthymius the Great (January 20) and Theoctistus. The clairvoyant Euthymius prophesied of Sava that he would become a famous monk and a teacher of monks and that he would establish a lavra greater than all the lavras of that time. After the death of Euthymius, Sava withdrew to the desert, where he lived for five years as a hermit in a cave shown to him by an angel of God. Afterward, when he had been perfected in the monastic life, he began by divine providence to gather around him many who were desirous of the spiritual life. Soon, such a large number gathered that Sava had to build a church and many cells. Some Armenians also came to him, and for them he provided a cave where they would be able to celebrate services in the Armenian language. When his father died, his aged mother Sophia came to him, and he tonsured her a nun. He gave her a cell located at a distance from his monastery, where she lived a life of asceticism until her death. This holy father endured many assaults from all sides: from those who were close to him, from heretics, and from demons. But he triumphed over them all: those close to him, by kindness and indulgence; the heretics, by his unwavering confession of the Orthodox Faith; the demons, by the sign of the Cross and calling upon God for help. He had a particularly great struggle with demons on Mount Castellium, where he established his second monastery. In all, Sava established seven monasteries. He and Theodosius the Great, his neighbor, are considered to be the greatest lights and pillars of Orthodoxy in the East. They corrected emperors and patriarchs in matters of the Faith, and to everyone they served as an example of saintly humility and the miraculous power of God. After a toilsome and very fruitful life, St. Sava entered into rest in the year 532 A.D., at the age of ninety-four. Among his many wondrous and good works, let it at least be mentioned that he was the first to compile the Order of Services for use in monasteries, now known as the Jerusalem Typicon.
2. The Venerable Martyrs Of Karyes
They suffered at the hands of the Papists at the time of the Union of Lyons , which was the work of Emperor Michael Palaeologus (1260-1281) and the pope. The Protos of the Holy Mountain was hanged, and the others were beheaded. (For details about this, see October 10.)
3. The Venerable Nectarius Of Bitola
Nectarius was born in Bitola and lived a life of asceticism in the Monastery of the Holy Unmercenary Physicians Cosmas and Damian, together with his father, Pachomius, who was also tonsured. After that he went to Karyes, where he continued his asceticism in the Cell of the Holy Archangels under the guidance of Elders Philotheus and Dionysius. After conquering human envy, demonic assaults and difficult illnesses, he entered into rest in the Kingdom of Christ on December 5, 1500 A.D. His incorrupt and fragrant relics rest in this same cell.
4. The Venerable Karion And Zacharias
Karion and Zacharias were father and son, and both were great Egyptian ascetics. Karion left his wife and two children and set off to become a monk. As a child, the young Zacharias was taken into the monastery, and in his ascetic labors he surpassed both his father and many other notable ascetics. When they asked Zacharias, “Who is a true monk?” he replied: “He who constantly applies himself to the fulfilling of God’s commandments.”
Hymn Of Praise
Saint Sava The Sanctified
Venerable Sava, chief of monks,
Spiritual commander of Christ's heroes,
Was glorified by fasting, vigils and meekness,
By prayer and faith and blessed mercy.
You taught the monks to not be concerned with bread;
You entrusted yourself to heaven, with labor and prayer.
You sought neither precedence nor rank of any kind.
Most rarely did you taste of oil and wine.
You kept all the services at the appointed time.
"Let the service be a joy and not a heavy burden,"
St. Sava told the monks,
And he showed this to all by his example.
Like a wise gardener, he enclosed the garden,
And carefully planted many young men.
The young men grew and brought forth fruit:
A regiment of monks, to the glory of Sava.
Fifteen hundred years have passed,
Yet Sava's spiritual garden still blooms:
One thousand monks, a hundred thousand,
Have been raised up by Sava's community up to now.
St. Sava, glorious recluse,
O God-pleaser, pray for us also.
A man may be great in some skill, as a statesman or a military leader, but no one among men is greater than a man who is great in faith, hope and love. How great St. Sava the Sanctified was in faith and hope in God is best shown by the following incident: One day, the steward of the monastery came to Sava and informed him that the following Saturday and Sunday he would be unable to strike the semantron, according to tradition, to summon the brethren to the communal service and meal because there was not a trace of flour in the monastery nor anything at all to eat or drink. For this same reason, even the Divine Liturgy was not possible. The saint replied without hesitation: “I shall not cancel the Divine Liturgy because of the lack of flour; faithful is He Who commanded us not to be concerned about bodily things, and mighty is He to feed us in time of hunger.” And he placed all his hope in God. In this extremity, he was prepared to send some of the ecclesiastical vessels or vestments to be sold in the city so that neither the divine services nor the brother’s customary meal would be omitted. However, before Saturday some men, moved by divine providence, brought thirty mules laden with wheat, wine and oil to the monastery. “What do you say now, Brother?” Sava asked the steward. “Shall we not strike the semantron and assemble the fathers?” The steward was ashamed because of his lack of faith and begged the abbot for forgiveness. Sava’s biographer describes this saint as “severe with demons but mild toward men.” Once, some monks rebelled against St. Sava, and for this they were driven from the monastery by order of Patriarch Elias. They built themselves huts by the river Thekoa, where they endured privation in all things. Hearing that they were starving, St. Sava loaded mules with flour and brought it to them personally. Seeing that they had no church, he built one for them. At first, the monks received him with hatred, but afterward they responded to his love with love and repented of their former misdeeds toward him.
Contemplate the sinful fall of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3):
- How the All-gracious God called out to sinful Adam, Where art thou?
- How God showed Himself to be the Good Shepherd, Who, even in Paradise, called out for His lost sheep;
- How, even now, God calls out to every sinner, Where art thou? (desiring by these words to reproach him and to warn him).
on the absence of evil in God’s works
And God saw that it was good (Genesis 1). Brethren, the first revelation about this world that Holy Scripture communicates to us is that the world proceeded from good and not from evil, from God and not from some power contrary to God and not from some imagined primordial mixture of good and evil. The second revelation, brethren, about this world is that everything that the good God created is good. The light is good; the firmament of heaven is good; the land is good; the sea is good; the grass, the vegetation and the fruitful trees are good; the heavenly lights-
- the sun, moon and stars–are good; the living creatures in the water and the birds in the air are good; all living beings according to their kind are good; the cattle, the small animals and the beasts of the earth are good. Finally, man–the master, under the lordship of God, over all created things–is also good. And God saw that it was good. The appraiser of the value of this world is not and cannot be someone who views this world superficially and partially, but can only be He who views all of creation together and each part individually, He who knows their number, name, composition and essence incomparably better than all men on earth. And God saw that it was very good (Genesis 1:31). But, nevertheless, there have been men who have slandered the work of God, saying that this world is evil in its essence, that each individual creation is evil, and that matter, from which all earthly beings are formed, is evil. However, evil is found in sin, and sin is from the evil spirit; therefore, evil dwells in the spirit of evil and not in matter. This spirit, fallen from God, is the sower of evil in the world, from whence come the tares in God’s wheat. The spirit of evil strives to use both the human spirit and material things in general as his weapons of evil. He is also the one who instills in the human mind the thought that the whole created world is evil and that matter, from which creation was formed, is fundamentally evil. He slanders God’s works in order to conceal his own works; he accuses God in order not to be accused. O my brethren, let us guard ourselves from the cunning of the evil spirit. Let us guard ourselves in particular from the evil thoughts that he sows in our minds. O Lord Jesus Christ, our true Enlightener and Savior, into Thy hands we give over our minds and our hearts. Do Thou illumine us with Thy true light. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.