Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS AND IS AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
PRAYERS OF VESPERS
+In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to You, our God, glory to You.
Come, let us bow down and worship God our King. Come, let us bow down and worship Christ our God and King. Come, let us bow down and worship Christ Himself, our King and our God.
Receive, O Lord, the doxologies and praises, The blessings, thanksgiving and petitions Of Your sinful and unworthy servants, Such as we are able to make at this time. And grant to us the remission of our transgressions. Overshadow us with the protection of Your wings. Expel from us every enemy and adversary. Bring peace to our life. Deliver us from the darkness of the destructive passions. Dispel from us the gloomy desire of mortal pleasures. You Who know the content of our heart, Heal the latent wounds of our souls, which You alone observe, And strength the resolve of our mind To do Your will. Have mercy on us, help and protect us, O God, by Your grace, And make us worthy of Your heavenly Kingdom, Through the intercessions of our All-Pure Lady, the Theotokos, And for all Your Saints. For You are Blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.
On December 15th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreat the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Eleftherios and his holy mother Anthia; Saint Susanna the Deaconess; Saint Pardus of Palestine; Saint Stephen of Cappadocia; holy Martyr Jonah; Saint Joseph of Russia.
HOLY HIEROMARTYR ELEFTHERIUS AND HIS MOTHER ANTHIA. During the reign of Aelius Hadrian, pagan Roman emperor and zealous servant of the idols, the wondrous Eleftherius shone as a brilliant luminary. Saint Eleftherius, the son of wealthy, renowned parents, was from the great city of Rome. His father thrice held the rank of Proconsul, and his mother was even more estimable, for instructed by the hand of the holy Apostle Paul. Anthia, as Eleftherius' mother was called after Baptism, reared her son in piety. When St. Eleftherius attained a suitable age, she dedicated him to the Lord's service, entrusting him to Anicetus, Archbishop of the capital. Seeing that the youth's conduct was exemplary, the hierarch enrolled him among the clergy. Anicetus made Eleftherius a deacon at the age of fifteen. At eighteen St. Eleftherius was ordained presbyter, and he became Bishop of Illyricum when he was twenty. Like a candle set upon a candlestick, he shed the Light of Christ's word, illuminating many and leading them to the knowledge of the One God. Unable to endure this, the envious devil, uttering murderous threats against the Church, resolved to bring about the Saint's destruction.
The adversary incited the ungodly Hadrian to wage war against the truth and to persecute Christians. First of all the Emperor singled out St. Eleftherius, it being his intention to do away the foremost teacher of piety, cutting them down like ears of grain and casting them out of Christ's wheat-field. Without delay, he entrusted a threatening letter to an officer named Felix, whom he dispatched to bring Saint Eleftherius before the imperial tribunal. Upon arrival in Illyricum, Felix learned when the good shepherd of rational sheep would be teaching in the Lord's temple, nourishing his flock on the pasture of the word of God. Soldiers surrounded the church, which Felix entered in a rage, his eyes blazing fiercely. When, however, he heard Saint Eleftherius instructing his listeners in piety, his lips pouring out sweet teaching like a fountain, the officer halted. He stood unmoving and hearkened attentively as the Saint proclaimed Christ's power. The seed of God's word found good soil in his heart, and his anger quickly cooled. Once a wolf, he was transformed into a sheep: the persecutor was converted into a disciple, and the robber was changed by Christ into a good and faithful servant. Denying the Emperor's command, Felix fell at the feet of the holy Bishop, and from that time was inseparable from his teacher, to whose sayings he continuously gave ear and by whom he was confirmed in the faith.
Soon after Felix's return to Rome, the faithful there learned that he had been united to the Church of Christ. He related to them how Saint Eleftherius had convinced him that Christ was the True God. Meanwhile, the holy bishop had been taken to the Emperor, whom he faced without fear, as though he had been summoned not to trial, but to a feast. Hadrian saw that Saint Eleftherius was young and handsome, endowed with every perfection that nature can bestow upon a mortal, and asked the Saint, "Why, Eleftherius, have you abandoned our ancestral faith, shown disdain for the gods, and devoted yourself to the adoration of a new Deity, Who suffered the cruelest of deaths?"
Wishing to emulate Christ, Who at His Passion remained silent before Pilate and Herod, Saint Eleftherius intended to make no reply to these foolish words. But the Emperor demanded, "Answer! How could you have accepted the ludicrous faith of the Christians? Submit to me, and sacrifice to the invincible gods! If you do as I say, I will confer on you great honors, but if not, I will torture you mercilessly."
Saint Eleftherius called upon the Lord, Who said, "Settle it before in your hearts, not to meditate before what you shall answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay or resist" (St. Luke, ch. 27). Then he replied to the Emperor, "How can you expect me to worship gods such as yours? I should rather counsel you to forsake them, but since you will not heed me, it is only left for me to weep for you...Not knowing what is pleasing to the Lord, we wage war against Him, regarding our true enemies, the demons, as deities and benefactors; and we offer them adoration and sacrifice. What stupidity! But as for me, I will cling to my God and serve Him; I will remain united to Christ. I regard honor and dishonor as a child's playthings. Your tortures terrify me no more than the threats of an infant, for "the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal., ch. 6), as my teacher Paul says. For me to die for Christ is delight and joy. "
At these words the Emperor was filled with anger and commanded that burning coals be placed under a brass bed. On this couch the holy Martyr was to be stretched out and burned to death. As soon as the bed was ready, St. Eleftherius lay upon it. Meanwhile, the people who had gathered to behold the spectacle reviled the Emperor for his cruelty, murmuring, "Why is this wise nobleman being put to death as a malefactor?"
God looked down from above and eased the holy Martyr's suffering, so that it seemed to St. Eleftherius that he was only being bedewed and sweetly scented. After some time Hadrian, having satisfied his wrath a little, ordered the Saint removed from the bed. The Emperor thought that Saint Eleftherius was dead, but the holy Martyr rose completely unharmed, chanting, "I will exalt Thee, O my God, my King, and I will bless Thy Name for every, yea, forever and ever" (Psalm 144).
Although bested in his first encounter with Saint Eleftherius, Hadrian devised new torments, for his pride was wounded by the Martyr's fearless words. He had an iron grill brought, beneath which a roaring fire was kindled. Oil was poured over the fire to make it burn as fiercely as possible, but God's grace did not abandon Saint Eleftherius. As soon as the Saint was placed on the gridiron, the flames were extinguished and the embers grew cold, as if water had been poured on them. And was the Emperor's rage also dampened by this? Not in the least...He therefore ordered that a pan filled with wax, pitch, and tallow, and heated over a fire. When the contents were boiling, the holy Martyr was shown what awaited him. "Do not delay, Eleftherius, but make your choice", said the Emperor, "You stand between life and death. Your disobedience is proud, vain, and useless. I am concerned for you, however, and do not wish to see you perish miserably, for I love you like a son. By the gods, I swear that I have no desire to witness the destruction of a man so noble, good, eloquent, and handsome."
The holy Martyr replied by heaping insults upon the Emperor and calling him an Arabian wolf which consumed Christ's sheep. "Whatever you may do, you will not convince me to forsake my Lord!" he replied.
Hadrian commanded that the Martyr be placed in the pan, but the fire beneath it was quenched, and a cool breeze refreshed the brave sufferer. Then, seeing that nothing was turning out as he intended, Hadrian sat down to think. Now the Eparch of the city, whose name was Caribus, happened to be present. Seeing Hadrian disconcerted, Caribus advised him to heat a brass over studded with sharp spikes and toss Eleftherius into it. As this was being stoked, the holy Martyr lifted up the eyes of his soul and body. His mind took wing to heaven, he was filled with divinely inspired joy, and he cried, "I thank Thee, O Lord Jesus Christ my God, that Thou hast deemed me worthy of such numerous blessings! By thy mighty hand Thou girded me with power, enabling me to endure sufferings for Thy Holy Name's sake. Do Thou now look down from heaven, behold how mine enemies have taken counsel against me, and deliver my soul from their arrows. Since Thou are good, preserve me from men of blood, that all may know, even unto the ends of the earth, that Thou alone art God." Then, like the holy Protomartyr Stefanos, who interceded for those who stoned him, the Saint prayed for his tormentors: "Touch their hearts, O greatly merciful Master, and reveal the power of Thy Holy Name. led them to do Thy Sacred Will, that they may forsake pernicious worship of idols and confess Thee as the only true God, for blessed art Thou unto the ages. Amen."
Caribus listened attentively to the holy Martyr's prayers, and at once his heart grew hot, the sparks of faith hidden in his soul bursting into a blaze. Suddenly he no longer seemed to be the same person who had devised the Saint's torture, and he reviled the Emperor. Hadrian was amazed to hear the Prefect speak like this, and angrily reproached him.
His heart filled with the grace of the Good Spirit, his mind enlightened by Saint Eleftherius' prayer, Caribus cried, "May your gold perish with you; may it be kindling for the fire that burns forever! Why do you choose to be blind; why do you attempt to shake the unshakable? You know very well that our gods are incapable of preserving anyone from the fire, but the God Whom Eleftherius worships has made him mightier than its power and enables him to prevail over every torture." Hadrian ordered that the Eparch be cast into the furnace prepared for Eleftherius. Caribus called out to Saint Eleftherius, "Pray for me, and arm me with the weaponry of Christ, with which you armed Felix!"
Saint Eleftherius made the sign of the Cross over Caribus, who was thrown into the furnace but remained unharmed, coming out after an hour without being touched by the flames. Wearied by his own tortures, Hadrian ordered the Eparch beheaded. In this way Caribus met his end, quickly obtaining the eternal treasure desired by many.
Saint Eleftherius was then hurled into the same furnace and dragged over the sharp spikes. Again the fire was extinguished and the oven grew cold, while the spikes bent over, as if doing reverence to the holy Martyr. The blindness of the persecutor was manifest to all, and those standing nearby, drawn to the Lord, Who worked these wondrous miracles, exclaimed, "Great is the God of the Christians, preached by Eleftherius!"
Next the persecutor ordered that the holy Martyr be tied to wild horses and dragged until he expired. The horses were set loose, but an Angel of the Lord descended from heaven, untied the Saint, and snatched him out of the hands of the torturers, leading him off to an uninhabited mountain not far from the city, where only beasts had their lairs. There the holy Eleftherius sent up praise to God and lived peaceably with the wild animals as though they were sheep. Lions would pass meekly by, and bears approached to lick him, following him as slaves follow their master, guarding and serving him. It was not long, however, before he became known to hunters seeking prey in the wilderness. Through them, word of him reached Hadrian, who immediately sent troops to capture the Saint. The soldiers tracked down St. Eleftherius, but found themselves under savage attack by the beasts, which would have destroyed them had not their master intervened, sending them off into the forest. Thereupon Saint Eleftherius departed with the soldiers, rejoicing as though he had been summoned to a banquet. On the way he spoke with the guards about the Kingdom of Heaven prepared for the righteous and the fire of Gehenna for idolaters, and after converting them to the faith, baptized them and others who had come to believe in Christ: five hundred persons in all.
Upon his return to Rome, Saint Eleftherius was taken to the Emperor and condemned to be consumed by wild animals. The Saint was led into the arena, and first a lioness and then a lion were loosed upon him, but they became meek and licked his feet. And how could they harm a man who, while living in the wilderness, was by God's command served by many beasts who acknowledged him as their master? Seeing this, some of the people shouted, "Great is the God of Eleftherius!" but others reviled the Saint, calling him a sorcerer. God's punishment quickly befell the latter, for a number of them were struck dumb.
Not knowing what else to do, the persecutor ordered the Saint's head cut off. The holy Martyr's mother Anthia was present at his execution and looked on joyfully as he completed his contest. She embraced and kissed his body, rejoicing in spirit and giving thanks that her blood, which ran through Saint Eleftherius' veins, had been shed for Christ; whereupon, she was herself beheaded by the unbelievers and fell dead over her son. Faithful Christians of Illyricum and Rome removed the sacred relics and gave them an honorable burial, praising God, to Whom be glory unto the ages. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God