Prologue entry for 12/16/23 (read on 12/29/23 on the Old Calendar)
1. The Holy Prophet Haggai
Haggai was born in Babylon during the time of the captivity of Israel. He was of the tribe of Levi and prophesied about 470 years before Christ. As a youth, he visited Jerusalem. He urged Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest to restore the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, prophesying for this Temple greater glory than the former Temple of Solomon, The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of Hosts (Haggai 2:9), for the Lord and Savior was to appear in this new temple. He lived long enough to see one part of the temple built by Zerubbabel. He died in old age and joined his ancestors.
2. Saint Nicholas Chrysoverges, Patriarch Of Constantinople
Nicholas governed the Church from 980 until 995 A.D. He ordained the great Simeon the New Theologian a presbyter when this spiritual giant was elected abbot of the Monastery of the Holy Martyr Mamas in Constantinople. During his times, a miraculous appearance of the Archangel Gabriel took place at Karyes [Mount Athos]. On this occasion, the archangel taught the monks to praise the Most-holy Theotokos with the hymn “It Is Truly Meet,” writing this hymn on a stone in a chapel of one of the kellia, which from that time has been called “It Is Truly Meet” (June 13). As an eminent and great hierarch, he peacefully entered into rest and took up his habitation in the Kingdom of God.
3. Saint Theophano The Empress
Theophano was born of eminent parents, Constantine and Anna, who were kin to several emperors. Her parents were childless for a long time and prayed to the Most-holy Theotokos to give them an offspring. And God gave them this daughter, Theophano. Imbued with the Christian spirit from her childhood, Theophano surpassed all her companions in all the Christian virtues. When she grew up, she entered into marriage with Leo, the son of Emperor Basil the Macedonian. She endured great hardships alongside her husband. Responding to slander–that Leo carried a knife in his boot and planned to kill his father at an opportune time–the gullible father, Basil, locked his son and daughter-in-law in prison. Thus, two innocent souls languished in prison for three years. Once, during the Feast of the Prophet Elias, the emperor summoned all his noblemen to his court for a banquet. Suddenly the emperor’s parrot unexpectedly spoke these words, “Alas, alas, my Lord Leo!” and repeated these words a number of times. This brought great anxiety to all of the imperial noblemen, and they all begged the emperor to release his son and daughter-in-law. The grieved emperor did so. After his father’s death, Leo became emperor and was called “the Wise.” Theophano did not consider her imperial dignity as anything, but, completely devoted to God, she cared only about the salvation of her soul, fasting and praying, distributing many alms, and restoring many monasteries and churches. Neither an untrue word nor an excessive word nor, least of all, slander proceeded from her lips. Before her death she called all her closest friends, took leave of them and gave up her soul to her God in the year 892 A.D. The Emperor Leo wanted to build a church over her grave in her name, but since the patriarch objected to this, he built a church to All Saints, saying that if Theophano became a saint, she would be glorified together with the other saints. The Feast of All Saints was then instituted to be celebrated on the Sunday after the Feast of the Holy Trinity.
Hymn Of Praise
Saint Theophano The Empress
From a royal throne, it is better seen:
The vanity of the world, clever vanity,
And the imperial throne is mercilessly struck
By the tumultuous waves of this world.
Theophano clearly examines
The insane, open sea of this world,
And her heart, her troubled heart,
Is firmly anchored to the Living God.
The kings of this world—are they kings?
They are but many sentries on a quick rotation!
Death counts and carries out the change of these sentries—
Kings of the world: passing shadows!
Theophano, like the wise virgins,
The lamp of her heart lit by the spirit,
Illumined the path with a wonderful light,
Happily avoiding the pits of sin.
Now blessed in the Eternal Kingdom,
Among the stars, and shining like one,
Where there is no pain or change,
Theophano now reigns.
The saints exerted great effort to subdue pride and selfishness in themselves and to accustom themselves to complete obedience and devotion, be it to their superiors when they had them, or to God Himself. The Monastery of St. Sava the Sanctified was distinguished by exceptional discipline, order and unmurmuring obedience. When St. John Damascene entered this monastery, not one of the eminent spiritual fathers would venture to take such a famous nobleman and writer as his novice. Then the abbot handed him over to a simple but strict elder. The elder ordered John not to do anything without his knowledge or approval. In the meantime it happened that a monk died who had a brother in this same monastery. The monk was in unspeakable grief over the death of his brother. For the sake of comforting the inconsolable brother, John wrote stichera for the departed monk–famous hymns that the Church uses even today at the funeral service. After composing them, John began to chant the hymns. When the elder heard the chanting, he became enraged and drove John away. Some of the brethren, hearing of John’s banishment, dared to go to the elder to beg him to forgive John and receive him back, but the elder remained unwavering. John wept bitterly and lamented because he had transgressed his elder’s command. Once again the brethren, on John’s behalf, begged the elder to impose a penance on him and after that forgive him. The elder then imposed the following penance upon his disciple: to clean and wash all the lavatories of every cell in the monastery with his own hands if he desired forgiveness. The sorrowful brethren reported this to John, thinking that he would leave the monastery rather than do this. But when John heard the elder’s message, he rejoiced greatly and with much joy carried out the elder’s command. Upon seeing this, the elder wept, embraced John and said through his tears: “Oh, what a sufferer for Christ have I given birth to! Oh, what a true son of holy obedience this man is!”
Contemplate the generosity of Abraham (Genesis 13, 14):
- How Abraham did not want to quarrel with Lot because of the strife between their herdsmen but rather suggested that they separate;
- How, before parting, he left it to Lot to choose which direction, be it to the left or the right;
- How Abraham, defeating the King of Sodom, refused the offered goods and would not take even a thread or sandal strap.
Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3). A chosen man, a great wonderworker, a type of the Lord Jesus Christ in his miracles, a victor in Egypt, a victor in the wilderness, the leader of a people–how could he not be proud? But if he had become proud, Moses would not have been all that he was. They become proud who think that they do their own works and not God’s in this world, and who think that they work by their own power and not by God’s power. But the great Moses knew that he was the doer of God’s works, and that the power with which He did them was God’s power and not his. That is why he did not become proud because of the awesome miracles he performed, or the great victories he obtained, or the wise laws that he gave to the people. The Lord is my strength and my song (Exodus 15:2), said Moses. Of the entire assembly of the Israelites in the wilderness, no one felt his own particular weakness as much as he, the greatest one of that assembly. In every task, in every place and in every moment, he expected help only from God. “What shall I do?” he cried to God, and he ceaselessly listened for God’s reply and sought God’s power. “Meek above all men on earth.” For all the others considered themselves as being something, trusted themselves as being something, but he–nothing. He was completely absorbed in God, completely humbled before God. If the people needed to be fed and given drink, he turned to God; if it was necessary to do battle with his enemies, he raised his hands to heaven; if it was necessary to calm an uprising among the people, he cried to God. The meek, the all-meek Moses! And God rewarded his faithful servant with great glory and made him worthy to appear on Mount Tabor with Elias alongside the Lord Savior. O Lord, the God of the meek, the Good Shepherd, make us also meek like Moses and the apostles. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.