Prologue entry for 12/13/23 (read on 12/26/23 on the Old Calendar)
1. The Holy Martyrs Eustratius, Auxentius, Eugene, Mardarius And Orestes
These five courageous men shone like five shining stars in the dark days of the Christ-persecuting Emperors Diocletian and Maximian. St. Eustratius was a Roman commander in the city of Satalionus; Eugene was his companion in the army; Orestes was likewise a distinguished soldier; Auxentius was a priest; and Mardarius was an ordinary citizen who came, like Eustratius, from the town of Arabrak. The imperial deputies Lysias and Agricolus tortured Auxentius first since he was a priest. Seeing the innocent suffering of Christians, Eustratius appeared in front of Lysias and declared that he was also a Christian. While Eustratius was being tortured, Eugene appeared before the judge and cried out: “Lysias, I too am a Christian.” When Eustratius was led through the town of Arabrak with the other martyrs, Mardarius saw them from the roof of his house. He took leave of his wife and two young children and rushed after the martyrs, shouting into the faces of the tormentors: “I too am a Christian, like my lord Eustratius.” When St. Orestes was target-practicing in the presence of Lysias, the cross he was wearing fell from his chest and Lysias realized that he was a Christian, after which Orestes openly confessed his faith. Orestes was a young and handsome soldier and towered above all the other soldiers in stature. Auxentius was beheaded, Eugene and Mardarius died while being tortured, Orestes expired on a red-hot iron grid, and Eustratius died in a fiery furnace. St. Blaise (February 11) administered Holy Communion to St. Eustratius in prison before his death. Their relics were later taken to Constantinople and buried in the church dedicated to them: The Holy Five Companions. They were seen alive in that church, and St. Orestes appeared to St. Dimitri of Rostov (October 28). A beautiful prayer by St. Eustratius is extant, which is read at the Midnight Service on Saturday: “Most highly do I magnify Thee, O Lord.”
2. The Holy Martyr Lucy The Virgin
With her mother, Lucy visited the grave of St. Agatha in Catania, where St. Agatha appeared to her. Her mother, who had dropsy, was then miraculously healed in the church. Lucy distributed all her goods to the poor, and this embittered her betrothed, who accused her of being a Christian before Paschasius the judge. The wicked judge ordered that she be taken to a brothel in order to defile her. However, by the power of God she remained immovable, as if rooted to the earth, and not even a multitude of people was able to move her from that spot. Then an enraged pagan pierced her throat with a sword and she gave up her soul to God and took up her habitation in the Kingdom of Eternity. Lucy suffered in the year 304 A.D.
3. The Hieromartyr Gavrilo, Patriarch Of Serbia
During the terrible period of Turkish rule over Serbia, this great hierarch traveled to Russia, where he participated in the Moscow Synod of 1655 A.D. Upon returning, he was accused of high treason. Certain evil Jews also accused him of having converted several Jews to the Christian Faith. In their accusation, the Jews cited that he was attempting to convert the Turks. The Jews did this to enrage the Turkish authorities even more. Brought before the tribunal, he was condemned and sentenced to embrace Islam. Since Gavrilo would not even hear of this, he was, after a period of imprisonment, sentenced to death and hanged in Brusa in the year 1659 A.D. Thus, he departed for his beloved Christ to receive from Him a double crown, that of a hierarch and that of a martyr.
Hymn Of Praise
The Holy Martyrs Eustratius, Auxentius, Eugene, Mardarius And Orestes
O Five Companions, soldiers of Christ,
Fearless heroes, honorable martyrs—
Mockery and tortures, fire and scaffolds
Were merely childish games for you.
None of you consented to the wantonness of Rome.
With joyful hearts you suffered for Christ.
Eustratius, the wonderful and heroic commander,
Despised imperial clemency and this weeping world.
With him, as with a living fire that burns leaves,
The other companions went to torture.
Auxentius the priest, a faithful servant of Christ,
Endured much mockery for the sake of Christ.
Eugene the soldier and wondrous Orestes
Ridiculed death, being conscious of the Resurrection.
Mardarius left his wife and children,
So that both they and he would be forever glorified.
O heroic clan, children of grace,
Only the Church can give such men as you;
Only the Spirit of God creates such hearts as yours—
He that transforms the dark abyss into flame!
Glorious martyrs, remember us also;
And by your prayers, strengthen the Church.
To give alms out of that which one needs: this is true almsgiving. Not to sin when one is most exposed to sinning: this has value before God. When St. Lucy saw her sick mother miraculously healed, she suggested to her that she use her possessions as alms for the needy. To this her mother replied that she did not want to part from her possessions until her death, but she agreed that after her death her possessions could be used for the good that Lucy wished. “First, cover my eyes with earth,” her mother said, “and then do what you wish with my possessions.” Lucy said: “It is not very pleasing to God for a person to give to Him that which he cannot take with him to the grave or which he himself does not need. But if you want to do a God-pleasing deed, give to Him that which you yourself need. Otherwise, after death, when you need nothing, you will be offering Him that which you could not take with you. But while you are still alive and healthy, give to Christ what you possess, and all of that which you intended for me begin even now to give to Him.” The good mother of the wise daughter agreed to this. When the torturer Paschasius was attempting to force this holy virgin to carnal sin, Lucy did not, even in thought, assent to this. And when the torturer threatened that his men would defile her by force, saying with a smirk, “When you become defiled, the Holy Spirit will flee from you,” Lucy, full of grace, replied: “The body cannot be defiled without the consent of the mind.” Thus St. Lucy went to her death, having distributed all her goods beforehand and guarded her young and pure body from defilement.
Contemplate the fulfillment of Noah’s words upon his descendants (Genesis 9):
- How the sons of Japheth spread throughout the whole world;
- How they settled in the tents of Shem, that is, in the Church, in the spiritual tent of Christ, which began with the Semites, the Jews.
And the Lord appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee (Genesis 26:24). Brethren, from time immemorial, the path upon which the righteous walk has always been difficult. From time immemorial, they have been hard pressed either by those who do not believe in God or by those who maintain an incorrect belief. Abel was hard pressed by his brother Cain; Noah and Lot, by a completely corrupt generation; and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, by the pagans. However, God does not forsake the righteous to walk the difficult path alone. This we also see with Isaac: I am the God of Abraham thy father; fear not. Isaac understood these very meaningful words. By these words, God encouraged and reminded him. He was saying: “Because of Abraham, I will bless thee also; and, as I protected Abraham among the pagans, so in a like manner will I protect thee.” And further: “Be faithful to Me as was Abraham thy father.” Isaac followed the example of his father and did not turn away from God at any time in his life. Isaac was a farmer and a cattle-breeder as was his father; he was righteous and meek, avoiding strife with men and doing good for people. We saw certainly that the Lord was with thee (Genesis 26:28), as his haters and persecutors finally had to admit. And Isaac was made worthy that God be called His God: just as God was called the God of Abraham, so later He was called the God of Isaac. O Lord, wondrous in Thy saints, remember our names also along with the names of Thy righteous ones and saints in Thy Kingdom. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.