Prologue entry for 12/18/23 (read on 12/31/23 on the Old Calendar)
1. The Holy Martyr Sebastian And Those With Him
This glorious saint was born in Italy and brought up in the city of Milan. While still young, he dedicated himself to military service. Being educated, handsome and courageous, he received the favor of Emperor Diocletian, who appointed him captain of his imperial guard. Secretly he confessed the Christian Faith and prayed to the Living God. As an honorable, just and merciful man, Sebastian was greatly beloved by his soldiers. Whenever he could, he saved Christians from torture and death, and, when he was unable to do so, he exhorted them to die for Christ the Living God without turning back. Two brothers, Marcus and Marcellinus, who had been imprisoned for Christ and were already on the verge of denouncing Him and worshiping idols, were confirmed in the Faith by Sebastian, who strengthened them for martyrdom. As he spoke with them, encouraging them not to fear death for Christ, his face was illumined. Everyone saw his shining face, like that of an angel of God. Sebastian also confirmed his words by miracles: he healed Zoe, the jailer Nicostratus’s wife, who had been mute for six years; he brought her, Nicostratus and his entire household to baptism; he healed the two ailing sons of Claudius the commander and brought him and his household to baptism; he healed Tranquillinus, the father of Marcus and Marcellinus, of gout and pains in his legs which had troubled him for eleven years, and brought him to baptism together with his entire household; he healed the Roman eparch Chromatius of the same illness and brought him and his son Tiburtius to baptism. The first of them to suffer was St. Zoe, whom they seized at the tomb of the Apostle Peter, where she was praying to God. After torturing her, they threw her into the Tiber River. They then seized Tiburtius, and the judge placed live coals before him, telling him to choose between life and death, that is, either to cast incense on the coals and to cense the idols or to stand barefoot on the hot coals. St. Tiburtius made the sign of the Cross, stood barefoot on the hot coals, and remained unharmed. After this, he was beheaded. Nicostratus was killed with a stake, Tranquillinus was drowned, and Marcus and Marcellinus were tortured and pierced with spears. Then Sebastian was brought before Emperor Diocletian. The emperor rebuked him for his betrayal, but Sebastian said: “I have always prayed to my Christ for your health and for the peace of the Roman Empire.” The emperor ordered that he be stripped naked and shot through with arrows. The soldiers shot him through with arrows until the martyr was so completely covered with arrows that his body was not seen because of them. When all thought that he was dead, he appeared alive and completely healthy. Then the pagans killed him with staves. He suffered gloriously for Christ his Lord and took up his habitation in the Kingdom of Christ in the year 287 A.D. at the time of Diocletian the Emperor and Gaius the Bishop of Rome.
2. Saint Florus, Bishop Of Amisus
Florus lived at the time of the Emperors Justin Ii and Maurice (565-602). He was the son of nobles. He renounced the commotion and vanity of the world and withdrew to a monastery in order to live a life of asceticism for the salvation of his soul. Later he was chosen bishop of the town of Amisus in the province of Cappadocia. And as an ascetic and a hierarch, Florus pleased God, and he peacefully took up his habitation in the Kingdom of God.
3. Saint Modestus, Patriarch Of Jerusalem
Modestus was only five months old when his parents died, but by God’s providence he was brought up in the spirit of Christianity. When he became an adult, he was sold as a slave to a pagan in Egypt. However, he succeeded in converting his master to the Christian Faith, and his master granted him freedom. Modestus withdrew to Mount Sinai, where he lived a life of asceticism until the age of fifty-nine. He was then chosen as Patriarch of Jerusalem and fed the flock of Christ as a true shepherd. He entered peacefully into rest in the year 633 A.D., at the age of ninety-seven.
Hymn Of Praise
The Holy Martyr Sebastian
Holy Sebastian was covered with arrows—
With a hair shirt of arrows his body was clothed.
But, beneath the arrows, his soul was unscathed;
His heart was raised to the heavens in prayer.
Sebastian endured suffering for Christ.
What are mighty kingdoms, what are great riches,
Compared with this honor, compared with this illumination—
To be struck by arrows for the sake of the Living God?
Wonderful Sebastian desired this:
To be crucified for the crucified Savior,
To confirm the truth by suffering and blood,
To witness the Faith before heaven and earth.
The All-seeing Lord, Who sees all creation,
Measured and counted every drop of blood,
And rewarded Sebastian in the Eternal Kingdom,
Showering him with blessings without measure.
O Martyr most-glorious, who suffered for Christ,
And by your suffering enlarged the Church:
Pray to God for the Church on earth,
That it become ever more beautiful, and all the more great.
In this life, man is given a choice: either the earthly kingdom or the Kingdom of Heaven. God imposes no pressure on this choice, but each one freely decides. When the brothers Marcus and Marcellinus were condemned to death, the pagan judge allowed them a month to contemplate either renouncing Christ and His Kingdom or being put to death. Then their kinsmen came to the prison with one kind of advice, and St. Sebastian with another. The kinsmen wept and implored them to do as the judge willed and to spare their youth. Their tearful father showed them his gray hairs and his infirmity; their mother swore by the food of her breasts by which she nourished them; their children wept around them. In essence, all of them proposed that they should renounce the Heavenly Kingdom for the sake of the earthly kingdom, but St. Sebastian counseled them to the contrary, saying: “O courageous soldiers of Christ, do you want to lose the eternal wreath for the sake of the flattery of your kinsmen? Do you want to relinquish the victorious banner for the sake of women’s tears? This life is transient; it is so unstable and unfaithful that it can never save even those who love it. What is this life worth even if one lives for a hundred years? When the last day arrives, do not all our past years and all earthly delights seem as though they had never existed? It is indeed unreasonable to fear to lose this quickly passing life, when one will receive that eternal life in which delights, riches and rejoicing begin and never end, remaining eternal to the ages of ages. Remember the Lord’s words: A man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” With these and many other words, St. Sebastian prevailed. The holy martyrs loved the Kingdom of Heaven more than the earthly kingdom, and they joyfully went to their deaths for Christ.
Contemplate Joseph’s chastity (Genesis 39):
- How Potiphar’s lustful wife urged Joseph to sin;
- How Joseph rejected her out of fear of God and respect for his master;
- How the woman grabbed his garment, but he left the garment and fled naked with his holy soul.
Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God … naught but death shall part thee and me (Ruth 1:16,17). These are wonderful words, whether they are spoken by a son to a father, a daughter to a mother, or a wife to a husband. But they are three times more wonderful when a daughter-in-law says them to her mother-in-law. Blessed Ruth spoke these words to Naomi, her sorrowful mother-in-law. When both of Naomi’s sons died in the land of Moab, where they lived as immigrants, the aged mother wanted to return to Bethlehem, her native land, and there to lay her bones to rest. And Naomi, noble in her grief, counseled her young daughters-in-law to remain in their own land and to remarry. Orpah remained, but Ruth said: Naught but death shall part thee and me. Behold a most beautiful example of how a mother-in-law can tenderly love her daughters-in-law, and again how a daughter- in-law can be wholeheartedly devoted to her mother-in-law. But in Bethlehem someone had to feed these two souls. Who would feed them? God and the diligent hands of Ruth. Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn (Ruth 2:2), said the daughter-in-law to the mother-in-law. And Naomi replied: Go, my daughter (Ruth 2:3). In a strange field, with strange reapers, she had to glean the ears of grain. That was not only toil but also shame. However, Ruth took upon herself both toil and shame out of love for her aged mother-in-law. The All-seeing God saw these two sweet souls and rejoiced. Their Creator rejoiced and rewarded and glorified them, as only He knows how to reward and glorify those who fear Him. And God, in His providence, provided that Ruth should enter the field of the wealthy Boaz to gather the gleaned ears of grain, and Boaz saw Ruth and asked Naomi for her hand in marriage. Of this marriage was born Obed, the father of Jesse and grandfather of David the King. So it was that Ruth had humbled herself to being a beggar but God made her the ancestress of the great king (David), from whom came many kings and finally the King of kings, our Lord Jesus Christ. O All-seeing and Gracious Lord, how wonderful art Thou in Thy providence toward the righteous and the merciful. Do Thou guide us also and have mercy on us. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.