Beloved brothers and sisters in Our Risen Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ,
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!
PRAYER TO THE GUARDIAN ANGEL
O Holy Angel, my good guardian and protector! With broken heart and ailing soul I stand before thee, entreating: Hearken unto me, thy sinful servant (Name); with loud wailing and bitter weeping, I cry: Remember not mine iniquity and unrighteousness, through which I, a wretched one, have angered thee every day and hour, and have made myself loathsome before our Lord the Creator; show me loving-kindness and leave not me, the defiled, even until mine end. Awaken me from the sleep of sin, and enable me, through thine intercessions, to pass the remaining time of my life without stain, and bring forth fruits worthy of repentance; and above all preserved me from deadly falls into sin, lest I perish in despair, and mine enemy rejoice in my ruin. I know truly and confess with my mouth that there is no other friend and intercessor, protector and champion, such as thou, O holy Angel; for, standing before the Throne of the Lord, thou intercedest for me, the useless and most sinful of all, lest the Most Good One take my soul in the day of my despair and in a day of evil doing. Cease not, therefore, to entreat mercy of my most kind-hearted Lord and God, that He forgive mine offences, which I have committed throughout all my life, in deed, word, and all my senses, and by judgments which He knoweth, that He save me; that He may chasten me here according to His ineffable mercy, but that He may not expose and put me to trial there in accordance with His simple justice; that He may deem me worthy to bring repentance, and with penitence to worthily receive Divine Communion; for this above all I make entreaty, and I desire such a gift with all my heart. And in the terrible hour of death, be not far from me, my good guardian, driving away the demons of darkness, who have the power to terrify my trembling soul, defend me from their net, when I shall pass through the aerial tollhouses, in order that, being guarded by Thee, I may attain the desired paradise, where the choirs of the saints and the celestial hosts unceasingly praise the all-honorable and majestic name in Trinity of God glorified: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to Whom is due honor and worship unto the ages of ages. Amen.
On May 5th 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: Great and holy Martyr Irene of Thessaloniki; Holy Martyrs Neophytos, Gaius, and Gianus; St. Barlaam of Serpukhov; St. Adrian of Monzensk; New holy Martyr Ephraim of Nea Makri in Attica.
SAINT IRENE (EIRINI), GREAT AND HOLY MARTYR OF THESSALONIKI. The holy Great Martyr was born in the city of Magedon in Persia during the 4th century. She was the daughter of the pagan king Licinius, and her parents named her Penelope.
Penelope was very beautiful, and her father kept her isolated in a high tower from the time she was six years old so that she would not be exposed to Christianity. He also placed thirteen young maidens in the tower with her. An old tutor by the name of Apellian was assigned to give her the best possible education. Apellian was a Christian, and during her lessons, he taught the girl about Christ the Savior, the Christian faith, and Christian virtues.
When Penelope reached adolescence, her parents began to think about her marriage. One day, a dove flew through the window of Penelope's tower carrying an olive branch in its beak, depositing it upon a table. An eagle then swooped in with a wreath of flowers in its beak, and also placed it upon the table. Finally, a raven flew in carrying a snake, which it dropped on the table. Penelope was puzzled by these events and wondered what they meant.
Apellian explained that the dove signified her education, the olive branch stood for the grace of God received in Baptism, and the eagle with the wreath of flowers represented success in her future life. The raven and the snake foretold her future suffering and sorrow. Apellian further said that the Lord wished to betroth her in Himself and that Penelope would undergo much suffering for her Heavenly Bridegroom. After this, Penelope refused to marry, was baptized by the priest Timothy, and was renamed Ειρήνη (Irene) ["peace"]. She even urged her own parents to become Christians. Shortly afterwards, she destroyed all her father's idols.
Since Saint Irene had dedicated herself to Christ, she refused to marry any of the suitors her father had chosen for her. When king Licinius learned that his daughter refused to worship the pagan gods, he was furious. He attempted to turn her from Christ by having her tortured. She was tied up and thrown beneath the hooves of wild horses so that they might trample her to death, but the horses remained motionless, instead of harming her, one of the horses charged Licinius, seized his right hand, and tore it from his arm. The horse then knocked Licinius down and began to trample him. Saint Irene demanded to be untied, and through her prayers, Licinius her father was unharmed with his hand still intact.
Seeing such a miracle, Licinius, his wife, and over 3,000 others professed Christ and turned from the pagan gods. Resigning his administrative duties, Licinius devoted himself to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. Saint Irene lived in the house of her teacher, Apellian, and began to preach Christ among the pagans, converting them to the path of salvation.
When Sedecius, the new Prefect of the city, heard of this miracle, he summoned Apellian and questioned him about Irene's life. Apellian replied that Irene, like other Christians, lived in strict temperance, devoting herself to prayer and reading holy books. Sedecius summoned Irene, urged her to stop preaching about Christ, and attempted to force her to sacrifice to the idols. Saint Irene staunchly confessed her faith before the prefect, not fearing his wrath, and prepared to suffer for Christ.
By order of Seducius, she was thrown into a pit filled with vipers and serpents. Saint Irene spent ten days in the pit and remained unharmed with an Angel of the Lord protecting her and bringing her food. Sedecius ascribed this miracle to sorcery, and subjected Saint Irene to many other tortures. However, she remained unharmed. Under the influence of her preaching and miracles even more people were converted to Christ and turned away from the worship of idols.
Soon, Sedecius was overthrown by his son, Savorus, who persecuted Christians with an even greater zeal than his father. Saint Irene traveled to her hometown of Magedon in Persia to meet Savorus and his army to ask him to end the persecutions. When he refused, St. Irene prayed and the entire army was blinded. She prayed again and they received their sight once more. In spite of this, Savorus refused to recognize the power of God. Because of his insolence, he was struck and killed by a bolt of lightning.
After this, Saint Irene walked into the city and performed many miracles. She returned to the tower built by her father, accompanied by the priest Timothy. Through her teaching, she converted 5,000 people to Christ.
Later, Saint Irene traveled to the city of Callinicum (on the Euphrates River in Syria). King Numerian, the son of Sebastian, was the ruler. When St. Irene began to teach about Christ, she was arrested and tortured by the pagan authorities. She was placed into three bronze ovens which were heated by fire. She was transferred from one to another, but miraculously remained uninjured. Thousands of idolaters embraced Christianity as a result of this wondrous event. King Numerian instructed his men to continue torturing the Saint in order to force her to sacrifice to idols. Once again, the tortures were ineffective, and many people turned to Christ.
Saint Irene then traveled to the city of Constantina, forty miles Northeast of Edessa. By 330, Persian king Sapor II had heard of St. Irene's great miracles. To prevent her from winning more people to Christ, Sapor ordered that she be arrested, beheaded, and then buried. However, God sent an Angel to raise her up again, and she then traveled to the city of Mesembria. After seeing her alive and hearing her preach, the local king was baptized along with many of his subjects.
Wishing to convert even more pagans to Christianity, Saint Irene traveled to Ephesus, where she taught and performed many miracles. At this place, the Lord revealed to her that the end of her life was approaching. Saint Irene left the city accompanied by six people, including her former teacher, Apellian. On the outskirts of the town, she found a new tomb in which no one had ever been buried. After making the Sign of the Cross, she went inside, directing her companion to close the entrance to the cave with a large stone. When Christians visited the cave four days later, the body of Saint Irene was nowhere to be found.
The holy, glorious Great Martyr Irene is invoked by those wishing to affect a swift and happy marriage. In Greece, she is also the Patron Saint of policemen. Saint Irene is also one of the twelve Virgin Martyrs who appeared to Saint Seraphim of Sarov and Diveyevo Nun Efpraxia on the Feast of the Annunciation. [source: Orthodox Church in America]
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of Saint Irene the Great Martyr - Fourth Tone
Following in the steps of the Prince of Peace, O pious one, you were shown to be named after peace by divine inspiration; for fleeing from the snares of the warring enemy, as a wise virgin you supernaturally endured the contest. Therefore, Great-Martyr Irene, pray for peace for us,
SAINT EPHRAIM THE NEWLY-REVEALED WONDERWORKER OF NEA MAKRI
[Whose Martyrdom Occurred On May 5th and Holy Relics Were Discovered On January 3rd]
The holy New Martyr and wonderworker Ephraim was born in Greece on September 14, 1384. His father died when the Saint was young, and his pious mother was left to care for seven children by herself.
When St. Ephraim reached the age of fourteen, the All-Good God directed his steps to a monastery on the mountain of Amoman near Nea Makri in Attica. The monastery was dedicated to the Annunciation and also to Saint Paraskevi. Here he took on his shoulders the Cross of Christ, which all His followers must bear (St. Matthew 16:24).
Being inflamed with love for God, Saint Ephraim eagerly placed himself under the monastic discipline. For nearly twenty-seven years he imitated the life of the great Fathers and ascetics of the desert. With divine zeal, he followed Christ and turned away from the attractions of this world. By the grace of God, he purified himself from soul-destroying passions and became an abode of the All-Holy Spirit. He was also found worthy to receive the grace of the Priesthood, and served at the altar with great reverence and compunction.
On September 14, 1425, the barbarous Turks launched an invasion by sea, destroying the monastery and looting the surrounding area. Saint Ephraim was one of the victims of their frenzied hatred. Many of the monks had been tortured and beheaded, but Saint Ephraim remained calm. This infuriated the Muslim Turks, so they imprisoned him in order to torture him and force him to deny Christ.
They locked him in a small cell without food or water, and they beat him every day, hoping to convince him to become a Muslim. For several months, he endured horrible torments. When the Turks realized that the Saint remained faithful to Christ, they decided to put him to death. On Tuesday May 5th, 1426, they led him from his cell. They turned him upside down and tied him to a mulberry tree, then they beat him and mocked him. "Where is your God," they asked, "and why doesn't he help you?" The Saint did not lose courage, but prayed, "O God, do not listen to the words of these men, but may Thy will be done as Thou hast ordained."
The barbarians pulled the Saint's beard and tortured him until his strength ebbed. His blood flowed, and his clothes were in tatters. His body was almost naked and covered with many wounds. Still the Hagarenes were not satisfied, but wished to torture him even more. One of them took a flaming stick and plunged it violently into the Saint's navel. His screams were heart-rending, so great was his pain. The blood flowed from his stomach, but the Turks did not stop. They repeated the same painful torments many times. His body writhed, and all his limbs were convulsed. Soon, the Saint grew too weak to speak, so he prayed silently asking God to forgive his sins. Blood and saliva ran from his mouth, and the ground was soaked with his blood. Then he lapsed into unconsciousness.
Thinking that he had died, the Turks cut the ropes which bound him to the tree, and the Saint's body fell to the ground. Their rage was still not diminished, so they continued to kick and beat him. After a while, the Saint opened his eyes and prayed, "Lord, I give up my spirit to Thee." About nine o'clock in the morning, the holy martyr's soul was separated from his body.
These things remained forgotten for nearly 500 years, hidden in the depths of silence and oblivion until January 3rd, 1950. By then a women's monastery had sprung up on the site of the old monastery. Abbess Makaria (+April 23, 1999) was wandering through the ruins of the monastery, thinking of the martyrs whose bones had been scattered over that ground, and whose blood had watered the tree of Orthodoxy. She realized that this was a holy place, and she prayed that God would permit her to behold one of the holy Fathers who had lived there.
After some time, she seemed to sense an inner voice telling her to dig in a certain spot. She indicated the place to a workman whom she had hired to make repairs at the old monastery. The man was unwilling to dig there, for he wanted to dig somewhere else. Because the man was so insistent, Mother Makaria let him go where he wished. She prayed that the man would not be able to dig there, and so he struck rock. Although he tried to dig in three or four different places, he met with the same results. Finally, he agreed to dig where the Abbess [Egoumenissa or Gerondissa) had first indicated.
In the ruins of an old cell, he cleared away the rubble and began in an angry manner. The Abbess told him to slow down, for she did not want him to damage the body that she expected to find there. He mocked her because she expected to find the holy relics of a Saint. When he reached the depth of six feet, however, he unearthed the head of the man of God. At that moment an ineffable fragrance filled the air. The workman turned pale and was unable to speak. Mother Makaria told him to go and leave her there by herself. She knelt and reverently kissed the body. As she cleared away more earth, she saw the sleeves of the Saint's rasson. The cloth was thick and appeared to have been woven on the loom of an earlier time. She uncovered the rest of the body and began to remove the bones, which appeared to be those of a martyr.
Gerondissa Makaria was still in that holy place when evening fell, so she read the service of Vespers. Suddenly she heard footsteps coming from the grave, moving across the courtyard toward the door of the church. The footsteps were strong and steady, like those of a man of strong character. The nun was afraid to turn around and look, but then she heard a voice say, "How long are you going to leave me here?"
She saw a tall monk with small, round eyes, whose beard reached his chest. In his left hand was a bright light, and he gave a blessing, with his right hand. Gerondissa Makaria was filled with joy and her fear disappeared. "Forgive me," she said, "I will take care of you tomorrow as soon as God makes the day dawn." The Saint disappeared, and the Abbess continued to read Vespers.
In the morning after Orthros (Matins) Gerondissa Makaria cleaned the bones and placed them in a niche in the altar area of the church, lighting a candle before them. That night Saint Ephraim appeared to her in a dream. He thanked her for caring for his relics, then he said, "My name is Saint Ephraim." From his own lips, she heard the story of his life and martyrdom.
Since Saint Ephraim glorified God in his life and by his death, the Lord granted him the grace of working miracles. Those who venerate his holy relics with faith and love have been healed of all kinds of illnesses and infirmities, and he is quick to answer the prayers of those who call upon him.
As a Saint who helps troubled and despairing youth and protects against suicide, alcoholism, drugs and all sorts of harmful addictions.
The icon of Saint Ephraim was the last painted icon painted by the famous iconographer, Photios Kontoglou in 1964 (who I believe is also buried at Evangelismos (Annunciation) Monastery of Saint Ephraim). He had prayed to the Saint to reveal himself so that he could properly depict him, and his icon. His holy and new icon is depicted on the South wall of our St. Andrew church and we are most blessed to include this great holy Martyr of our Church among all other Saints. This has become the prototype of all the holy icons of Saint Ephraim of Nea Markri.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of Saint Ephraim - in the First Tone.
On Amomon Mountain, you shown forth like the sun, and O God-bearer, you left for God by Martyrdom; you endured barbarians' attacks, Ephraim, O great-Martyr of Christ, because of this you ever pour forth grace, to those who piously cry out to you, glory to Him who gave you strength, glory to Him you made wondrous, glory to Him Who grants through you, healings for all!
With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God