Prologue entry for 12/15/23 (read on 12/28/23 on the Old Calendar)
1. The Holy Hieromartyr Eleutherius
From a good tree comes good fruit. This wonderful saint had noble and greatly eminent parents. Eleutherius was born in Rome, where his father was an imperial proconsul. His mother Anthia heard the Gospel from the great Apostle Paul and was baptized by him. Having been left a widow early, she entrusted her only son for study and service to Anicetus the Bishop of Rome. Seeing how Eleutherius was gifted by God and illumined by the grace of God, the bishop ordained him a deacon at the age of fifteen, a priest at the age of eighteen, and a bishop at the age of twenty. Eleutherius’s God-given wisdom made up for what he lacked in years, and this chosen one of God was appointed Bishop of Illyria with his seat in Valona (Avlona), Albania. The good shepherd guarded his flock well and increased their number day by day. Emperor Hadrian, a persecutor of Christians, sent the commander Felix with soldiers to seize Eleutherius and bring him to Rome. When the raging Felix arrived in Valona and entered the church, he saw and heard the holy hierarch of God; suddenly his heart changed, and he became a Christian. Eleutherius baptized Felix and departed for Rome with him, returning joyfully as if he were going to a feast and not to trial and torture. The emperor subjected the noble Eleutherius to harsh torture: flogging, roasting on an iron bed, boiling in pitch, and burning in a fiery furnace. But Eleutherius was delivered from all these deadly tortures by God’s power. Seeing all this, Caribus the Roman eparch declared that he also was a Christian. Caribus was tortured and then beheaded, and so was Blessed Felix. Finally, the imperial executioners cut off the honorable head of St. Eleutherius. When his mother, the holy Anthia, came and stood over the dead body of her son, she also was beheaded. Their bodies were translated to Valona, where even today St. Eleutherius glorifies the name of Christ by his many miracles. He suffered during the reign of Hadrian in the year 120 A.D.
2. Saint Stephen The Confessor Of Sourozh
Stephen was born in Cappadocia and educated in Constantinople under the Patriarch, St. Germanus. He withdrew into solitude and lived hidden from the world. An angel appeared to St. Germanus and ordered him to appoint Stephen bishop of the town of Sourozh (now Sudak in the Crimea), and the patriarch did so. The zealous Stephen converted many to Christianity. He suffered bitterly under Emperor Leo the Isaurian for the sake of icons. He prophesied to the emperor his impending death. Following this wicked emperor’s evil death, Stephen was returned to his diocese, where he fed his God-pleasing flock and died peacefully at the end of the eighth century.
3. The Venerable Paul Of Latros
Paul was born in Pergamum. He lived a life of asceticism on a mountain called Latros in Asia Minor. Glorified because of his asceticism and many miracles, he entered peacefully into rest in old age and took up his habitation with the Lord in the year 950 A.D.
4. The Venerable Pardus The Hermit
In his youth Pardus was a cart-driver, but because of an unintentional sin, he left the world and withdrew to the desert to live in asceticism. He lived in Palestine in the sixth century.
Hymn Of Praise
The Holy Hieromartyr Eleutherius
Eleutherius, saint of God,
You did not conceal God's truth from men,
But with God's truth you enlightened men
And offered salvation to each and all.
Let the Church of God rejoice;
Let all of Illyria rejoice.
Behold, God sent to her a wonderful man:
Eleutherius, a true saint.
His very name means "freedom":
Eleutherius bears freedom,
True freedom from the slavery of sin.
True freedom does not exist without Christ.
Let the town of Valona also rejoice.
In her the relics of the saint repose:
Miraculous relics that heal the sick,
A flame from which the demons flee.
Blessed is the mother who gives birth to a saint.
St. Anthia, thrice blessed,
Now is comforted in the garden of Paradise,
And gazes upon her son, Eleutherius.
O Eleutherius, pray for us,
That the gracious God may have mercy on us also.
For unintentional murder, the earthly court frees the murderer. The Church, however, imposes a penance on someone who commits murder unintentionally: a penance much lighter than that for a voluntary murder, but does not leave him without a penance. If a priest kills unintentionally, the Church places him under a lifelong suspension of priestly functions. Christians with sensitive souls and keen consciences impose upon themselves a more difficult penance than the Church would impose. St. Pardus once came to Jericho as a cart-driver. Leaving his mules in front of an inn, he entered it. At that moment, a child fell under the mule, and the mule trampled the child with its hooves and killed it. When Pardus saw the bloody and dead child killed by his mule, he was so crushed in heart that he felt himself intentionally responsible for the child’s death. And this man of conscience imposed the harshest penance upon himself. He abandoned his trade, left the world and, even though he was relatively young, withdrew to the harsh wilderness, where he undertook a life of difficult asceticism consisting of physical and spiritual labor and repentance. With many tears, he offered repentance to God for the murder of the child. He desired to pay for the life of the child with his own life, and he prayed to God that He would somehow make this possible. He teased a lion so that the lion would tear him apart, but the lion fled from him. He lay on the narrow path on which the lion walked so that he would be killed by the beast, but the lion leapt over him and would not touch him. Seeing, therefore, that it was God’s will for him to live and not perish, he was at peace with himself but remained a contrite penitent until his death. Is not this a sensitive, man-loving and God-fearing soul? Is not this the refined and sharpened conscience of a true Christian?
Contemplate the powerful faith of Abraham (Genesis 15):
- How God promised the childless and aged Abraham many descendants;
- How God promised him as many descendants as the stars in the heavens;
- How Abraham believed God, despite everything, and how God counted this for righteousness.
And Joseph left his garment in her hand, and fled outdoors (Genesis 39:12). The innocent and chaste Joseph endured two great and difficult temptations and overcame them: the temptation of wicked envy on the part of his blood brothers, and the temptation of adulterous passion from the Egyptian temptress. Jealousy sold him as a slave, and the passion of adultery drove the innocent one to prison. In both cases he returned good for evil: he gave food to his hungry brothers and preserved the life, throne and people of frightened Pharaoh. His brothers thought to slay him, but God saved him; the adulterous woman thought to destroy him, but God saved him. Out of slavery and imprisonment, God crowned him with glory and unlimited authority. And him whom his evil brothers could have killed with one stroke and whom Potiphar’s powerful wife could have crushed in an instant, God made the unlimited master over the lives of millions of people and the only nourisher of his starving brothers. Such is the wondrous mercy of God toward the righteous. Thus does the Lord know how to save and glorify the innocent and the chaste. In the greatness of the destiny of Joseph, we see the greatness of God’s mercy. There is one eye that never sleeps, my brethren. Let us cling to God and not fear anyone. Let us be innocent and chaste and not fear evil, or slander, or prison, or ridicule, or misfortune. On the contrary, let us rejoice when all of this befalls us because of our innocence and chastity; let us rejoice and await with faith the revelation of God’s wonders toward us. Let us, in every storm, await the thunder of God’s justice–and afterward the calm. O mysterious Lord, Who secretly but vigilantly accompanies the righteous in slavery and in prison, and manifests Thy mercy in Thine own time, help us to be innocent and chaste. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.