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 Χριστός έν τώ μέσω ημών. Και ήν και έστι και έσται.
PRAYER OF SAINT BASIL THE GREAT
O Master, Lord Jesus Christ our God, You have led us to the present hour, in which, as You hung upon the life-giving Tree, You made a way into Paradise for the penitent thief, and by death destroyed death: Cleanse us, Your unworthy servants, for we fall into sin continuously and are not worthy to lift up our eyes and look upon the heights of heaven. Forgive us for departing from the path of righteousness and following the desires of our own hearts. We implore Your unending goodness: Spare us, O Lord, according to the multitude of Your mercies, and save us for Your Holy Name's sake, for our days are passing away in vanity. Take us from the hand of the adversary and forgive our sins, and mortify in us all impure thoughts. Help us to lay aside our old ways so that we may be clothed with new resolve and may dedicate our lives to You, our Master and Benefactor, so that by following Your Commandments, we may come to the eternal rest which is the abode of all those who rejoice. For You are the true joy and exultation of those who love You, O Christ our God, and to You we ascribe glory, together with the Father Who is without beginning and Your All-Holy God and Life-Giving Spirit, Now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
On February 14th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics and Teachers of Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Auxentios of Bithynia; St. Peter, Patriarch of Alexandria; St. Abrames, Bishop of Carrhae; Holy Martyr Philemon of Gaza; St. Theodore of Chernigov; New Holy Martyr George of Mitylene (1693); St. Cyril, Equal-to-the-Apostles and teacher of the Slavs; New Martyr Nicholas of Psari; St. Ilarion the Georgian; St. Isaac of the Kiev Caves; St. Damian the New holy Martyr of Philotheou; Saint Valentine the priest-Martyr.
HIEROMARTYR VALENTINE: In the ancient city of Rome there lived a humble and gentle man. His clothes were not as fine as the noblemen's, and his leather sandals were worn thin. He did not live in a grand house made of smooth marble, but in a small dwelling in a crowded part of the city. The man's friends and neighbors called him Valentine. Valentine was a physician and practiced his trade in the tiny second room of his home. In that room stood a cabinet full of bowls and jars that held herbs and powders. There were glass and ceramic pots filled with animal fat and beeswax, and jugs of wine, milk, and honey that Valentine mixed with his medicines so they would not taste bitter. When the ill or injured came to see Valentine, he would show them into the tiny room and examine them carefully. He cleaned wounds with wine and vinegar and bandaged them with fresh cloth. Or he might grind up herbs and roots in a small bowl to ease a visitor's pain. When it came time for the patient to pay, Valentine would only accept what could be offered: a jug of wine, baked bread, or a new pair of sandals. If the patient had nothing, Valentine would say, 'It was but a few herbs and prayer that have healed you, my friend', and send him on his way. Prayer was an important part of Valentine's life too, but where most people in the city prayed to the many Roman gods, Valentine, and a small group of others, prayed to a single God. The Romans did not like these people, called Christians, who worshipped only one God. Whenever anything bad happened in the city, the Romans almost always blamed the Christians, even if they had nothing to do with it. Sometimes the Christians were put in prison or killed. Knowing the danger of his beliefs, Valentine, who was a priest of the Christians, prayed for each of his patients, but only after nightfall. One afternoon a man with a small child came to Valentine's door. The man worked as a jailer at the Emperor's prison and had heard about the priest's healing powers. Valentine took the girl's hand and led her and her father into his examining room. The child seemed well, but when Valentine held up the oil lamp for a closer look, he realized why the father had come. 'She has been blind since birth', said the jailer, 'Can you give her sight?' Although he knew that blindness was one of the most difficult things to cure, Valentine vowed to do his best. From the cabinet he took down a precious copper box filled with a wet, waxy paste and dabbed a little in each corner of the child's eyes. The jailer thanked Valentine and tried to pay, but the priest refused. "I cannot accept payment when it is doubtful the child will regain her sight. Bring her again next week and I will apply more ointment." The jailer and his daughter thanked the priest and were gone. That night, like every night, Valentine prayed for his patients, but he prayed longest for the jailer and his child. The father and daughter returned the following week and again the week after. Each time, Valentine applied a small amount of the waxy paste, but the child's eyes remained sightless. After so many visits the three soon became good friends. Sometimes while the jailer stood guard at the prison, the priest took the child along with him while he gathered herbs and plants for his medicines. Together they walked outside the city gates and down the old stone road until they reached the countryside. In spring the fields were covered with bright golden crocuses, the first flowers to bloom in Rome after winter. While Valentine gathered white mandrake root for curing headaches, the child would gather bouquets of yellow and orange crocuses to give to her father when the priest brought her home. Weeks went by until one day Valentine, who was expecting the knock of the jailer and his daughter at the door, heard instead heavy pounding of Roman soldiers. The soldiers burst in and began to destroy everything in the physician's home. They smashed to pieces the cabinet full of medicine. The precious copper box with the eye ointment spilled to the floor. Before he knew what had happened, Valentine was led to the Emperor's prison and put in a dark, cold cell. When the jailer heard of the priest's arrest, he hurried to the cell. "There has been an uprising in the streets and the Christians are being blamed," he told Valentine. "Many have been imprisoned. The Emperor has ordered it. There is nothing I can do." Valentine slowly nodded and asked for a pen and ink and something to write on, which the jailer hurried to get. When he came back, the priest quickly wrote on the scrap of papyrus and handed it back to the jailer. "Please give this to your child." he said, and grasped the man's hand in farewell. Later two soldiers came to Valentine's cell and took the priest away as the jailer watched helplessly. When the jailer returned home that day, he was greeted by his daughter. He slid the scrap of papyrus out of his waist belt, unrolled it, and handed it to the child. "What does it say, father?" asked the child as a yellow crocus fell from the small scroll into her hand. "From your Valentine," her father read. Slowly the child held up the blossom before her face and for the first time watched its color dazzle like the rays of the afternoon sun. Saint Valentine was executed on February 14th, 270 A.D., during one of the persecutions ordered by the pagan Emperor Claudius II Gothicus. Pope Julius I supposedly built a basilica (a Christian church with Roman features) over Saint Valentine's grave. In 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius I named February 14th as Saint Valentine's Day.
However, the practice of sending love messages on February 14 does not originate solely from St. Valentine's note to the jailers blind daughter (who it was said truly did regain her sight). The tradition is tied instead to the ancient Roman feast of Lupercalia, which took place on February 15th. One of the customs on this occasion involved the writing of love messages by maidens. The crocus is the traditional flower of Saint Valentine. [The life of Saint Valentine was written by Robbert Sabuda, a graduate of Pratt Institute].
Please note: I personally have not come across any official Orthodox ecclesiastical source that speaks of Saint Valentine and his martyrdom, although at the time the Church was one and all the Saints are respected by the entire Church. Nevertheless it is a very sweet story. Happy St. Valentine's Day to all of you!
+ By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Martyrs, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: 1 John 3:9-22
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 14:10-42
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"God knows all those who belong to Him, always--no matter where they hide you, even if they squeeze you into some storage room or into some basement. When people want to make you invisible and totally insignificant by disregarding you and discarding you, God watches you. He knows you. He singles you out. You are His. Don't worry! What a great consolation this can be. God knows me. I am His, He knows me." (+Archimandrite Athanasios Mitilinaios)
"If you are tired and worn out by your labours for your Lord place your head upon His knee and rest awhile. Recline upon His breast (St. John 13:23), breathe in the fragrant spirit of Life, and allow Life to permeate your being. Rest upon Him, for He is a table of refreshment which will serve you the food of the Divine Father". [John of Dalyutha)
REMEMBERING OUR MORTALITY
By Saint John Climacus
Each day, in our morning and evening prayers, as we pray for the repose of our departed loved ones, we are introduced to the theme of Saint John's sixth step: The Remembrance of Death. Saint John has powerful things to say about this:
"Just as bread is the most necessary of all foods, so the thought of death is the most essential of all works... The man who lives daily with the thoughts of death is to be admired, and the man who gives himself to it by the hour is surely a Saint."
The remembrance of death--a sure and constant remembrance that I must die, that my death may come at any time, and that after death I must give an account for how I have lived this life--is a powerful incitement to godly living. Saint John records the story of Hesychius the Horebite for our edification:
"All his life he was careless and he paid not the slightest attention to his soul. Then a very grievous illness came on him, so that he was for a whole hour absent from the body. After he had revived, he begged us all to go away at once, built up the door of his cell, and remained twelve years inside without ever speaking to anyone and taking only bread and water. He never stirred and was always intent on what it was he had seen in his ecstasy. He never moved and had the look of someone who was out of his mind. And, silently, he wept warm tears. But when he was on the point of death, we broke in and asked him many questions. All he would say was this: "Please forgive me. No one who has acquired the remembrance of death will ever be able to sin."
As we think about those who have gone before us, let us always remember that very soon we shall join them in the grave. Death comes to all, and to many it comes early. In the grave, all the distinctions between men are obliterated. Where is the strong and where is the weak? Where is the rich and where is the poor? Where is the beautiful and where is the ugly? Where is the Ph.D. and where is the high-school dropout? Do they not all look the same as they decay in their graves? Will we not join them?
This life is very short. Why then do we spend so much time trying to make this short, passing life comfortable and happy? Why do we not spend more time preparing for the life which will follow? That life is eternal. That life will never end. And either we will enjoy Paradise because of how we labored here, or we will endure the fires of hell because of how we did not labor here.
We often live as if we will never die. We act as if we are immortal and there will always be time enough for God later. This is monstrously stupid! Let us embrace true wisdom. Let us remember our death, and in remembering our death, let us repent of our preoccupation with this world?
"Someone has said that you cannot pass a day devoutly unless you think of it as your last... This, then, is the sixth step. He who has climbed it will never sin. "Remember your last end, and you will never sin" (Ecclesiastes 7:36).
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George