Joy of All Who Sorrow

Lives of the Saints: 6th Sunday after Pentecost

We are fortunate in having the example of so many saints to demonstrate the character and quality of a life devoted entirely to Christ. Today the Calendar of Saints gives us a wide spread of names covering many centuries. The earliest is the Holy Martyr Hyacinth, who was martyred early in the 2nd Century. Today Hyacinth is usually considered to be a girl’s name, but in antiquity it was a boy’s name. Hyacinth’s date of birth is unknown but he was clearly highly placed in society since he was at the court of the Emperor Trajan (reigned AD 98-117). However, Hyacinth was a Christian and refused to offer sacrifices to the pagan idols. For this, he was denounced and brought before the emperor, who urged him to renounce Christ. Hyacinth firmly refused and was severely beaten and thrown into prison, where he was given no food. Eventually he was given food that had been offered to the idols. Although starving, he refused it and died in the prison. Tradition records that the whole prison was filled with radiance as two angels covered the saint’s body and crowned him with a wreath of glory. This happened in the year 108.

Also today we commemorate two saints who served the Lord in the 5th Century. St Alexander, the Founder of the Monastery of the “Unsleeping Ones”, received his education in Constantinople. At first he embarked on a military career but soon felt the call of the monastic life, so he retired to one of the wilderness monasteries near Antioch. He spent four years there in strict obedience to Igumen Elias. Then he led a solitary life in the desert, taking nothing with him except the Gospel. After struggling alone for seven years, the Lord directed Alexander to preach to pagans. He converted a local ruler named Rabul, who subsequently became the bishop of Edessa, in which capacity he served God for thirty years. All the local people followed Rabul and were baptised but only after burning their idols in the city square. Later, Alexander preached to a gang of robbers, who repented and were baptised. They subsequently formed themselves into a monastic community.

St Alexander desired the solitary life and withdrew further into the wilderness, yet this did not stop seekers after solitude being drawn to him. Thus a monastic community formed around him with some 400 monks. The saint divided them into 24 groups, who were each on duty for one hour throughout day and night, during which time they sang the Psalms. This was only interrupted at times of divine service. Thus, the monastery became known under the designation of the Unsleeping Ones because the praises of God were being sung in the church continuously, both day and night. After twelve years, the saint left his monastery in the care of Igumen Trophimus, and travelled to Antioch where he lived for a while. There he built a church and a hospice for sick and homeless people with monies donated by the rich inhabitants of the city. The intrigues of some jealous observers forced him to move to Constantinople where he established another monastery with the same rule of unceasing praise. The Nestorians caused much trouble for the saint because he preached against their heresy. Yet, the Nestorian heresy was condemned and St Alexander reposed in the Lord in the year 430. He is also commemorated on 23 February.

Tradition records that St Germanus was the nephew of St Patrick. Germanus was born in about the year 410 in Brittany. He travelled to Ireland to study with St Patrick and later spent some time in St Illtud’s monastery in Wales. He returned to Ireland to be ordained by St Patrick. As a bishop, Germanus settled on the Isle of Man where he established his diocese in about the year 447. It is reported that in 2012 a bishop’s seal was discovered buried in a field in the north of the island. It has the inscription – “Let the prayers to God of Germanus and Patricius help us” upon it. St Germanus went to his heavenly reward in about the year 474.

Moving forward in time, we come to Blessed John, the Fool for Christ. He was born on the outskirts of Vologda and, in his youth, he toiled in the salt works. In his piety, he combined strict fasting with his heavy manual labour. In Rostov, he adopted the custom of wearing iron chains with heavy iron crosses and, on his head, he even wore an iron cap. In Moscow, he was scantily clad and barefoot, even in the most severe weather. He foretold the great misfortune that would fall upon Russia, the Time of Troubles, proclaiming, “In Moscow will be many visible and invisible devils”. Before his death, the holy man indicated the place where he wanted to be buried. Preparing himself, he removed his chains and poured water over his body three times. Before his repose (circa 1589), John received the gift of healing. In Moscow he is venerated as a great wonderworker.

Today we also remember the translation of the relics of the Holy Hieromartyr Philip, Metropolitan of Moscow. His feast day fell on the Sunday after Theophany this year and we published details of his life in that edition of the weekly notes. At first the holy martyr was buried at the Otrocha monastery in Tver. Before becoming Metropolitan of Moscow, St Philip had been the igumen of the Solovki monastery. The monks received permission to transfer his mortal remains to Solovki in 1591 and he was reburied near to the grave of Staretz Jonah (Shamin), Philip’s monastic mentor. In 1652 Metropolitan Nikon of Novgorod (later to become patriarch) proposed that the three martyred hierarchs, Metropolitan Philip and Patriarchs Job and Germogen, be transferred to Moscow. Thus, on this day in 1652, the relics of the saint were received at Moscow’s Dormition Cathedral and were venerated by the faithful for ten days before being suitably enshrined. All day, from morning until night, the bells rang as if it were Pascha.

Today we commemorate the very ancient ikon of the Holy Theotokos, known as the “Milk-giver”, which was in the monastery of St Savva the Sanctified during the time of the founder. The holy abbot predicted that there would be an illustrious visitor, having the same name as himself. The ikon was to be given to the visitor as a blessing. In the 13th Century Archbishop Savva of Serbia visited the monastery as a pilgrim. As he approached the reliquary, the saint’s staff fell at his feet. When the monks discovered his identity, they gave the ikon to the pilgrim as instructed by their founder. The holy archbishop took the ikon to Hilandar Monastery on Mount Athos.