Holy Nativity Fast: A Time for Prayer and Fasting

Martyr Samonas of Edessa

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


+In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, You accepted the children to come to You, accept also from the lips of Your child this evening prayer. Cover me under the protection of Your wins that I may lay down to sleep in peace; raise me up at the appropriate time to glorify You, as the Only Good and Loving God.


Lord, our God, if I have sinned this day in any way, by word, deed or thought, forgive me everything as a Good and Loving God. Grant me a peaceful and undisturbed sleep; deliver me from every attack and influence of the evil one. Raise me up at the appropriate time to glorify You, for You are Blessed, together with Your Only-Begotten Son, and Your All-Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.



On November 16th Our Holy Orthodox Church commemorates, honors and entreats the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers and of every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew; Holy Martyr Ifigeneia; St. Fulvianus, Prince of Ethiopia; Saint Lubuinus, missionary to Friesland; Saint Sergius, Egoumenos (Abbot) of Malopinega.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Missionaries, Holy Princes, Holy Ascetics, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.


Please note: Something unusual happened this evening when I went to conduct the Holy Vespers service for Saint Matthew the Holy Apostle at our Saint Nektarios Chapel. As always I went on line to print the service. After I vested and started the holy service of Vespers, I realized that I was not conducting the Vespers of Saint Matthew but that of the Holy Martyr Ifigeneia. I looked at the Typikon and there was not even a mention that on November 16th the feast of Saint Ifigeneia is also celebrated. I continued with the Vespers for the Holy Martyr Ifigeneia which I happily completed. The hymns of the Vespers service honoring her, revealed the greatness of our Holy Mother and Martyr Ifigeneia. According to the hymns Saint Ifigeneia suffered horrific tortures which she bore with a smile. The following are some of her inhumane tortures: the pagan torturers first cut her breasts by sword, they used iron claws to tear off her flesh, then they proceeded to dismember her holy body and even attempted to literally tear them off. While her torturers were tormenting her, she continued praying to the Almighty God to forgive them. The Holy Martyr surrendered her soul to her Bridegroom and Lord Jesus Christ Who personally crowned her with a heavenly crown and clothed her with the light of holiness. According to the hymns she was baptized by the Holy Apostle Andrew through which she received the grace of God. Her parents were pious Christians who glorified the Lord for crowning their beloved daughter with the baptism of Martyrdom. All indications are that she was very young.

I looked at my personal library to find the life of the Holy Martyr Ifigeneia and others sources and found nothing written about her. Because of this unusual experience I feel that it was appropriate for me to share it with all of you. May the holy intercessions of the Holy Martyr Ifigeneia bless us all. Amen.

HOLY APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST MATTHEW. The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew, was also named Levi (St. Mark 2:14; St. Luke 5:27); he was one of the Twelve Holy Apostles (St. Mark 3:18; St. Luke 6:45; Acts 1:13), and was brother of the Apostle James Alphaeus (St. Mark 2:14). He was a publican, or tax-collector for Rome, in a time when the Jews were under the rule of the Roman Empire. He lived in the Galilean city of Capernaum. When Saint Matthew heard the voice of Jesus Christ: "Come, follow Me" (St. Matt. 9:9), left everything and followed the Savior. Christ and His disciples did not refuse St. Matthew's invitation and they visited his house, where they shared table with the publican's friends and acquaintances. Like the host, they were also publicans and known sinners. This event disturbed the Pharisees and scribes a great deal.

Publicans who collected taxes from their countrymen did this with great profit for themselves. Usually greedy and cruel people, the Jews considered them pernicious betrayers of their country and religion. The word "publican" for the Jews had the connotation of "public sinner" and "idol-worshipper." To even speak with a tax-collector was considered a sin, and to associate with one was defilement. But the Jewish teachers were not able to comprehend that the Lord had "come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (St. Matt. 9:13).

Saint Matthew, acknowledging his sinfulness, repaid fourfold anyone he had cheated, and he distributed his remaining possessions to the poor, and he followed after Christ with the other Apostles. Saint Matthew was attentive to the instructions of the Divine Teacher, he beheld His innumerable miracles, he went together with the Twelve Apostles preaching to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (St. Matt. 10:6). He was a witness to the suffering, death, and Resurrection of the Savior, and of His glorious Ascension into Heaven.

Having received the grace of the Holy Spirit, which descended upon the Holy Apostles on the day of Pentecost, St. Matthew preached in Palestine for several years. At the request of the Jewish converts at Jerusalem, the Holy Apostle Matthew wrote his Gospel describing the earthly life of the Savior, before leaving to preach the Gospel in faraway lands.

In the order of the books of the New Testament, the Holy Gospel of St. Matthew comes first. Palestine is said to be the place where the Gospel was written. Saint Matthew wrote in Aramaic, and then it was translated into Greek. The Aramaic text has not survived, but many of the linguistic and cultural-historical peculiarities of the Greek translation give indication of it.

The Holy Apostle Matthew preached among people who were awaiting the Messiah. His Gospel manifests itself as a vivid proof that Jesus Christ is the Messiah foretold by the Prophets, and that there would not be another (St. Matt. 11:3).

The preaching and deeds of the Savior are presented by the Evangelist in three divisions, constituting three aspects of the service of the Messiah: as Prophet and Law-Giver (Ch. 5-7), Lord over the world both visible and invisible (Ch. 8-25), and finally as High Priest offered as Sacrifice for the sins of all mankind (Ch. 26-27).

The theological content of the Gospel, besides the Christological themes, includes also the teaching about the Kingdom of God and about the Church, which the Lord sets forth in Parables about the inner preparation for entering into the Kingdom (Ch. 5-7), about the worthiness of servers of the Church in the world (Ch. 10-11), about the signs of the Kingdom and its growth in the souls of mankind (Ch. 13), about the humility and simplicity of the inheritors of the Kingdom (St. Matt. 18:1-35; 19:13-30; 20:1-16; 25-27; 23:1-28), and about the eschatological revelations of the Kingdom in the Second Coming of Christ within the daily spiritual life of the Church (Ch. 24-25).

The Kingdom of Heaven and the Church are closely interconnected in the spiritual experience of Christianity: the Church is the historical embodiment of the Kingdom of Heaven in the world, and the Kingdom of Heaven is the Church of Christ in its eschatological perfection (St. Matt. 16:18-19; 28:18-20).

The Holy Apostle brought the Gospel of Christ to Syria, Media, Persia, Parthia, and finishing his preaching in Ethiopia with a Martyr's death. This land was inhabited by tribes of cannibals with primitive customs and beliefs. The Holy Apostle Matthew converted some of the idol-worshippers to faith in Christ. He founded the Church and built a temple in the city of Mirmena, establishing there his companions Platon as bishop.

When the Holy Apostle was fervently entreating God for the conversion of the Ethiopians the Lord Himself appeared to him in the form of a youth. He gave him a staff, and commanded him to plant it at the doors of the church. The Lord said that a tree would grow from this staff and it would bear fruit, and from its roots would flow a stream of water. When the Ethiopians washed themselves in the water and ate the fruit, they lost their wild ways and became gentle and good.

When the Holy Apostle carried the staff towards the church, he was met by the wife and son of the ruler of the land, Fulvian, who were afflicted by unclean spirits. In the Name of Christ the Holy Apostle healed them. This miracle converted a number of the pagans to the Lord. But the ruler did not want his subjects to become Christians and cease worshipping the pagan gods. He accused the Holy Apostle of sorcery and gave orders to execute him.

They put Saint Matthew head downwards, piled up brushwood and ignited it. When the fire flared up, everyone then saw that the fire did not harm Saint Matthew. Then Fulvian gave orders to add more wood to the fire, and frenzied with boldness, he commanded to set up twelve idols around the fire. But the flames melted the idols and flared up toward Fulvian. The frightened Ethiopian turned to the Saint with an entreaty for mercy, and by the prayer of the Holy Martyr the flame went out. The body of the Holy Apostle remained unharmed, and he fell asleep in the Lord.

The ruler Fulvian deeply repented of his deed, but still he had doubts. By his command, they put the holy body of Saint Matthew into an iron coffin and threw it into the sea. In doing this Fulvian said that if the God of Matthew would preserve the body of the Apostle in the water as He preserved him in the fire, then this would be proper reason to worship this One True God.

That night the holy Apostle Matthew appeared to Bishop Platon in a dream, and commanded him to go with clergy to the shore of the sea and to find his body there. The righteous Fulvian and his retinue went with the bishop to the shore of the sea.  The coffin carried by the waves was taken to the church built by the holy Apostle.  Then Fulvian begged forgiveness of the holy Apostle Matthew, after which Bishop Platon baptize him, giving him the name Matthew in obedience to a command of God.

Soon Saint Fulvian-Matthew abdicated his rule and became a presbyter. Upon the death of Bishop Platon, the Apostle Matthew appeared to him and exhorted him to head the Ethiopian Church. Having become a Bishop, Saint Fulvian-Matthew toiled at preaching the Word of God, continuing the work of his heavenly patron. [Source: Orthodox Church in America]


Holy Epistle Lesson: Romans 10:11-21, 11:1-2
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 9:9-13


"Heaven and earth cannot contain the treasures of faith" (Saint Isaac the Syrian).


(The Philokalia, vol. A. p. 177 f.)

3. Prayer is the conversation of the mind with God.

4. Moses, who attempted to approach the burning bush on earth, was prevented until he had removed the sandals from his feet; how do you expect to see and to become conversant with the One Who is above every perception and every thought, if you do not remove from yourself every passionate thought?

5. First of all pray for the reception of tears; for through contrition and grief the wildness which co-exists in your soul may be softened, and, having confessed to the Lord your transgressions, you may receive forgiveness from Him.

6. Your Lord rejoices greatly when you pray with tears.

10. When the demons see you truly willing to pray ardently, they will present you with certain thoughts about things that are presumably important and then, after a short while, will remove them from your memory. But the mind, moved to pursue these thoughts and unable to find them, becomes greatly despondent and saddened. When at such a time you stand in prayer, they will remind you of these thoughts again so that the mind may be again distracted by them and thus bring about the loss of fruitful prayer.

11. During the time of prayer, struggle to make your mind deaf and dumb, and then you will be able to pray.

17. "Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor" (St. Matt. 19:21), take up the cross and deny yourself (St. Matt. 16:24), in order to be able to pray without distractions.

31. Do not pray that your wills be done; for they do not always agree with the Will of God. Rather, pray as you have been taught: "Thy Will be done" in me. And in everything ask God that this same will be done. For He wants what is good and beneficial for your soul, while you do not always seek this.

ON FASTING According to the Holy Scripture.


"Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly". (St. Matthew 6:16-18)

"Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting, and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment". (1 Corinthians 7:5)

"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, said, 'If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.' But He answered and said, 'It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God". (St. Matt. 4:1-4).

[Commentary: "Jesus fasted to overcome temptation, giving us an example of our own power and our limitations. The hunger of His flesh does not control Him; rather, He controls His flesh. Jesus' fasting forty days and nights is the foundation of the Church's forty-day Lenten observances before Holy and Great Week (and also of the Fast before the Christmas and Epiphany feasts). It is a spiritual preparation for the passion and resurrection of Christ." (Orthodox Study Bible, p. 10).

"And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, 'Why could we not cast it out?' So Jesus said to them, 'Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting" (St. Matt. 17:18-21).

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George