Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
PSALM 82 
God stands in the congregation of the mighty, He judges among the gods. How long will you judge unjustly, And show partiality to the wicked? Defend the poor and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; Free them from the hand of the wicked.
They do not know, nor do they understand; They walk about in darkness; All the foundations of the earth are unstable.
I said, You are gods, And all of you are children of the Most High. But you shall die like men,
And fall like one of the princes.
Arise, O God, judge the earth; For You shall inherit all nations.
[Please note: This psalm is sung on Holy Saturday at the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, and again at Vespers with v. 8 repeated as a refrain after each verse. In the context of the Resurrection coming the following day, this psalm is the Church's confident invitation to God to judge her. Verse 6 is quoted by Christ in St. John 10:34 and is God's promise to supply us, by grace, with what He is by nature. In the Orthodox Church, this process of regaining the image
and likeness of God is called theosis (Gr.), meaning deification.]
On February 23rd 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, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint and Holy Martyr Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna; Saint Gorgonia, sister of Saint Gregory the Theologian; Saints John, Antiochos, Antoninos, Zevinas, and Polychronius, Moses, and Damian of Syria; Saint Alexander, founder of the Unsleeping Ones; Saint Damianos the New of Philotheou; Saint Damianos of Esphigmenou, Mt. Athos (Holy Mountain); Saint Moses of White Lake; Venerable Polycarp of Briansk.
BLESSED HIEROMARTYR POLYCARPOS, BISHOP OF SMYRNA. Saint Polycarp (Polycarpos) was born at Ephesus about the year 70 in the time of the pagan Roman Emperor Vespasian. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, who was his disciple, says that the glorious Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostles and acquainted with those who had seen the Lord. His holy parents, before fulfilling their martyrdom, had entrusted their son to Callista, a devout and noble laywoman, who brought him up in the fear of God and love of the holy virtues. Moved to compassion, the child was so thorough in carrying out the commandment of almsgiving that he would empty his adoptive mother's pantry in order to feed the poor. Since time and again her provisions were miraculously renewed, Callista changed his name from Pancratius to Polycarpos, meaning abundant fruit.
When Saint Polycarp grew up, he became a disciple of Saint John the Theologian and Evangelist, who was proclaiming the Good News in the province of Asia, together with Saint Bucolus (+6 Feb.) and Saint Ignatius the Godbrearer (+20 Dec.). Imbued with the teaching of the Beloved Disciple and with everything that could bring the Lord's life to remembrance, St. Polycarp eagerly shared all his tribulations prior to his exile on the Greek island of Patmos. When Saint John consecrated Bucolus as bishop of the illustrious city of Smyrna, he appointed St. Polycarp as his assistant and fellow worker. On reaching Smyrna, St. Polycarp was ordained priest and given charge of the orphans, a responsibility that he fulfilled until the day when Saint Bucolus, aware that his own death was at hand, designated the humble Polycarp as his successor.
As shepherd of the Church of Smyrna, Saint Polycarp walked exactly in the footsteps of the Holy Fathers. He rehearsed their works with fidelity, and those which they had received from the mouth of the Lord Himself. From his exile on Patmos, Saint John addressed praises to the Angel of the Church of Smyrna, encouraging him to be "faithful unto death in order to receive the crown of eternal life" (Revelation 2:10). Clothed in divine grace, Saint Polycarp wrought many miracles. By his prayer, he put out a fire that had raged over the countryside for a week; he brought welcome rain to end a long drought; he delivered the possessed and healed the sick, so that, thanks to him, a great many pagans were converted.
Saint Polycarp had not long been a bishop when Saint Ignatius passed through Smyrna in chains on his way to Rome, where he was to be delivered to the beasts. He embraced Saint Polycarp with joy and wrote to him on reaching Troas, to thank him for his hospitality and to commit the Church of Antioch to his care. At the same time, he conveyed to him these divinely inspired counsels on the duties of a pastor:
"I glorify the Lord for having accounted me worthy of contemplating your blameless countenance. Justly your dignity as bishop by the thoroughness of your care for flesh and spirit. Let your first concern by unity, for there is nothing to be preferred to it. Bear patiently with all the brethren as the Lord bears with you. Carry patiently with all the brethren as the Lord bears with you. Carry the infirmities of everyone like a trained athlete. The present time is crying out for you in order to obtain God, as the pilot prays for the wind, and the storm-tossed mariner the harbor." [Epistle to Polycarp]
Saint Polycarp exhorts the Philippians to continue in the long-suffering that they have seen in the Martyrs, and he sets out for them the animating principles of a loving Christian community:
"Faith is the mother of us all; it is the well-spring of hope and it is preceded by love of God, of Christ and of neighbor. Whoever dwells in these virtues has fulfilled the precepts of Righteousness, for whoever has charity is far from all sin."
He led his Church in this truly Apostolic way for more than fifty years. About the year 154 A.D., as an old man full of years, he travelled to Rome to consult Pope Anacletos on the defense of the true Faith against heresies, and about the controversy between Rome and the Churches of Asia over the date of Pascha (Easter).
Soon after his return to Smyrna, all the Churches of Asia endured the fierce persecution unleashed by the Proconsul Stratius Quadratus. It was then that a group of twelve Christians from Philadelphia fulfilled their martyrdom. They were followed by Saint Polycarp, who on Holy and Great Saturday, at the age of 86, met a glorious death like unto the Passion of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
While the valiant Philadelphian holy Martyrs were suffering torments of all kinds for the sake of Christ before being thrown as food to the wild beasts, the most Venerable Polycarp retained his customary serenity and was unwilling to leave the city and his spiritual flock. He prayed night and day for the whole of mankind and for the Churches throughout the world. Three days before his arrest, he was standing in prayer when he had a vision of his pillow ablaze. Turning towards those with him, he told them calmly that he was soon to give his life for Christ by fire.
On Holy and Great Friday evening his pursuers burst into a second farmhouse in which he had just taken refuge. Refusing to flee, the bishop welcomed them with a gentle, cheerful countenance. He ordered them to be served with a good meal and they agreed to allow him some time to pray. The old man stood for two hours, filled with the Grace of God, commemorating all the people that he had know, great or small, together with the Church throughout the world. When the time came to leave, the soldiers, sad at having to arrest such a venerable old man, set him on a donkey in order to take him to the city. The chief officer aptly named Herod, went on ahead. He took Saint Polycarp into his carriage on the way and tried to persuade him to sacrifice to Caesar. Seeing that his efforts were in vain, he threw him out of the carriage so suddenly that the Saint hurt his shin as he alighted, but still made his way vigorously on foot.
As he entered the stadium full of a howling, bloodthirsty crowd, there came a voice from heaven addressed to the Saint and heard only by the Christians amid the tumult: "have courage Polycarp, and act like a man!" The Proconsul urged him to deny Christ saying: 'Have pity on your old age', and other things that the persecutors used to say like: 'Swear by Caesar's fortune and say "Down with the atheists!" Gazing at the crowd of pagans who filled the amphitheatre, Saint Polycarp replied with a sigh: "Yes, indeed, down with the atheists!" On being called on to curse Christ, he answered: "For eighty-six years I have been His servant, and He has never done me any harm. How could I blaspheme my King and Savior?" 'I have wild animals and I shall throw you to them unless you change your mind,' said the Proconsul. "Bring them on," Saint Polycarp answered, "for it is impossible for us to change our mind from the better to the worse, while it is good to change from evil to righteousness." 'Since you despise the beasts, I shall have you burned, unless you change your mind,' the Proconsul told him. Full of courage and joy, Saint Polycarpos replied: "You are threatening me with a fire that burns for a short time and then goes out, while you know nothing of the fire of the judgment to come and of the everlasting torment awaiting the wicked. But why wait any longer? Do whatever you will."
Placed on the wood like a choice whole burnt-offering, he raised his eyes heavenward and, in a final prayer, gave thanks to God for having deemed him worthy for sharing with all the holy Martyrs in the cup of Christ unto resurrection and everlasting life in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit.
When he had pronounced his Amen, the executioners lit the fire. All at once, a great flame arose which, taking the form of a vault or a sail swollen by the wind, made a marvelous wall around the holy Martyr's body. He stood in the midst, not as burning flesh but as baking bread or as gold and silver gleaming in the furnace, and sending forth a delightful scent as of incense or some other costly perfume.
Seeing that the fire would not consume the Saint's body, those evil men ordered one of the executioners to stab him with a lance through the flames. When this was done, a vast flow of blood gushed out and extinguished the whole fire, and his body remained whole and unburned.
The precious holy relics of the great Martyr were burnt at the instigation of the Jews who hated him greatly, but the faithful succeeded in gathering some fragments of bone which they laid in a suitable place, to which every year, on the anniversary of his birthday in heaven (the day of his Martyrdom), they would resort in order to keep a joyful feast. The glorious Martyrdom of Saint Polycarpos set a seal for a time on the persecution of the Christians. Saint Polycarp suffered in the year 167 A.D.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Great Martyrs, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: 2 Timothy 2: 11-19
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 18:2-8
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"Therefore, together with complete renunciation of ourselves, we should plant in our heart a perfect trust in God and a complete confidence in Him. In other words we should feel with our whole heart that we have no one to rely on except God, and that from Him and Him alone can we expect every kind of good, every manner of help, and victory." (Saint Theophan the Recluse)
LOVE IS THE MARK AND THE MEASURE OF OUR FAITH
by His Grace, Bishop Gerasimos (Papadopoulos) of Avidou of blessed memory [source: Orthodoxy: Faith and Life]
Love is the principle mark and measure of Christian faith. On the last night in His final farewell discourses, Christ told His disciples that the unique characteristic which would distinguish them from the rest of the world would be love. "A new commandment I give to you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another" (St. John 15:13). Since then the Gospel of Christ has been the gospel of love. The Christian owes no one anything "to love another; for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8-10). "The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Gal. 5:14).
LOVE IS THE GREATEST
This supremacy of love is beautifully expressed by Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. Saint Paul, it appears, was struggling for the faith and the unity of the Church which was in danger of being lost in the extravagant enthusiasm of the Corinthians. This is why he emphasize that all the virtues find their meaning and beauty in love. Without love all the virtues of the world are nothing. All will pass away. "Faith, hope, love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love."
How profound it is to be in the truth of Christ and in His Love! Love is divine. It is a heavenly flower transplanted on earth in Christ. It is difficult to understand it and more difficult it is to speak about it to others! Only Saint John who was immersed in the truth and love of Christ, as Saint Paul was, only he who saw Christ as "grace and truth," can tell us: "Dear friends," let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. "If we love each other, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us."
He who loves lives with love; he becomes love as God is love. Love is life. Either we love and have life, or her are nothing. Let us carefully examine our love to see where our faith in Christ stands. God is love, whoever lives in love, lives in God and God in him (1 John 4:7, 8, 12, 16).
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George