Departure of St. Zechariah the Monk
On this day we commemorate the departure of St. Zechariah the monk.
His father was Karyos and he had a son Zechariah and a daughter, yet Karyos longed for the monastic life. He told his wife about what was on his mind and she agreed to it. He left his wife and the children and went to the desert of Scete and became a monk at the hands of a holy elder.
After a while, there was a great famine in the country and the wife took the two children and came to the desert where her husband Karyos was. She complained to him about the tribulation which had come upon her through the famine and handed him the children.
But Karyos told her: "God has divided the two children between us. You take the girl and leave the boy with me". She took the girl and departed. He kept his son Zechariah and brought him to the elders who prayed over him and they prophesied that he would become a perfect monk.
Zechariah was brought up well in the desert, and advanced in every virtue. Because he was exceedingly handsome and had a lovely face there were many murmurs in the desert because of him and they said: "How is it, a boy like that dwells in the desert among the monks?" When Zechariah heard that, he went to the Lake El-Natroun (which was very salty) without telling anyone. He took off his apparel, plunged his body into the lake, and remained in it for many hours. The color of his skin became black and he looked like a leper. Then he went forth from the water, put on his apparel and came to his father who did not recognize him until he had stared at him closely. He told his father what he had done.
When it was Sunday, he went with his father to the church to partake of the Holy Mysteries. The Lord disclosed to St. Isidore, the Priest of Scete, what St. Zechariah had done. He marvelled and said unto the monks: "Zechariah received the offering last Sunday as a man, but now he has become an angel".
This saint possessed many virtues, especially the virtue of humility in which he had reached such a degree of perfection that his father said about him: "I have laboured greatly, but I have never attained the extent of my son Zechariah".
Zechariah lived a strenuous life for forty-five years. When he came to the desert, he was seven years old. He departed in peace at the age of fifty two.
The Martyr Aretha and with him 4299 Martyrs suffered for the Lord Jesus Christ in the VI Century. Aretha was governor of the city of Negran in Arabia, the inhabitants of which were Christian. The Arabian (or Omirite) king, Dunaan, who was Jewish, decided to extirpate Christianity from the land, and he issued an edict that all followers of Christ were to be put to death. The inhabitants of Negran remained faithful to the Lord, and Dunaan came with a large army to destroy the city. At the city-walls of Negran the king's heralds announced, that Dunaan would let live only those who renounced the Crucified Galileian and His Cross, as a "sign of malediction." Not daring to assault the Christian city by force, Dunaan resorted to a ruse, swearing an oath that he would not force the Christians into Judaism, but would merely impose a tribute-tax on Negran. The inhabitants of the city would not heed the advice of Saint Aretha [his name in Greek means "virtue", as if here literally to suggest that the people "would not heed the voice of virtue"], and putting their trust in Dunaan, they opened wide the city-gates.
The very next day Dunaan gave orders to start
up an immense bon-fire and throw in it all the clergy of the Church
of the city, so as to frighten all the rest of the Christians.
Thus were burnt 427 men. The governor Aretha and the other chief
men were thrown into prison. Then the oppressor sent out through
the city his messengers, to convert the Christians to Judaism.
And Dunaan himself conversed with those inhabitants brought forth
from the prisons, saying: "I do not demand of you that ye
should renounce the God of heaven and earth, nor do I want that
ye should worship idols, but I want merely that ye do not believe
in Jesus Christ, since the Crucified One was a man, and not God."
The holy martyrs replied to this, that Jesus -- is God the Word,
the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Who for the salvation of
mankind had become flesh from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.
"We shalt not abjure Christ, since that He is for us -- Life,
and death for Him -- is the finding of Life", declared the
sufferers to Dunaan. And more than four thousand Christians --
men, women, both the aged and children -- from the city of Negran
and surrounding villages accepted a martyr's death for Christ.
The Monks Aretha, Sisoi and Theophil, Hermits of Pechersk (XII-XIII), pursued asceticism at the Kievo-Pechersk monastery and were buried in the Nearer Caves.
The Monk Aretha was from Polotsk. While living at the monastery, he kept in his cell much wealth. One time robbers made off with it. Grieving over his lost riches, the Monk Aretha began to murmur against God, for which he was stricken with a serious illness. Being at the very brink of death, he saw, how both Angels and devils had come for him and were arguing between them. The devils asserted, that for his avarice and complaints against God he ought to be given over to them, while the Angels in turning to him bewailed: "Thou hapless man, if thou had given thanks to God for the pilfered riches, this would have been accounted in charity for thee." After this vision the Monk Aretha was restored to life. His final days he spent as an hermit, in distress and repentance over his sins, having renounced everything earthly. Saint Aretha died not later than the year 1190. In the Iconographic Originals, the monk is described thus: "In appearance stooped over, beard in length of some Kozmina, monastic robes."
The Monk Sisoi, an hermit, in the general service to the Monks of the Antoniev Caves is called "radiant in fasting."
The Monk Theophil in the same service is called "in miracles resplendid."
The commemoration of all the monks is also
on 28 September and on the 2nd Sunday of Great Lent.
Elezboi, Emperor of Ethiopia, lived
during the time when Arabia was ruled by the oppressor of Christians,
Dunaan. Pious Elezboi was unable to look on indifferently as believers
in Christ were being massacred, and he declared war on Dunaan.
But his military campaign was unsuccessful. Wanting to learn the
reason for his defeat, Elezboi at the prompting from above turned
to a certain hermit, who revealed to the emperor, that he had
proceeded unrighteously in deciding to take revenge against Dunaan,
since the Lord had said: "Vengeance is Mine, and I shalt
mete it forth!" (Heb 10:30). The hermit counselled Blessed
Elezboi to devote his final days of life to God, so as to flee
the wrath of God for his self-willed revenge, and then to defeat
Dunaan. Saint Elezboi made a vow to the Lord, and having set off
with his army against the enemy, he defeated and captured and
executed him. After the victory the saint resigned as emperor,
secluded himself within a monastery and for 15 years he dwelt
in strict fast and ascetic deeds (+c.553-555).
The Holy Martyress Syncletia and her Two Daughters (VI) suffered under the Arabian king Dunaan. Saint Syncletia was descended from an illustrious family. Left widowed while still quite young, she devoted herself to the Christian upbringing of her daughters, and she herself led a life both chaste and virtuous. Dunaan in the meantime had started up a persecution, intending to extirpate Christians from his realm. He summoned Saint Syncletia and her daughters before him, and in urging her to forsake her "folly," he promised as reward to take her into the retinue of his wife. "How canst thou not be afraid, O king, to speak evil of That One Who hath given thee both royal crown and life?" -- replied the holy martyress.
Dunaan gave orders to lead the Martyress Syncletia and her daughters through the city as though they were criminals. Women, looking on at the disgrace of the saint, fell to crying, but she told them that this "shaming" for her was dearer than any earthly honour.
They again brought the martyress before Dunaan,
and he said: "If thou wishest to remain alive, renounce Christ".
"If I make renunciation, who then wilt deliver me from eternal
death?" -- replied the saint. In a rage the tormentor gave
orders first to kill the daughters of Saint Syncletia and force
their blood on her, and then to behead the mother with a sword.
Sainted Athanasias I, Patriarch of Constantinople (1289-1293; 1303-1311), in the world Alexios, was from Adrianopolis. While still in his youth, thriving upon the knowledge of the wisdom of Christ, he left his home and went to Thessalonika, where he was tonsured in one of the monasteries with the name Akakios. From there he soon withdrew to Holy Mount Athos and entered the brethren of the Esthygmena monastery, where for three years he served in the refectory. In his works and his ascetic deeds he acquired the gift of tears, and by his virtuous acts he won the overall good-will of the brethren. Shunning praise, Akakios in humility left Athos at first for the holy places in Jerusalem, and then to Mount Patra, where for a long time he asceticised as an hermit. From there the ascetic transferred to the Auxention monastery, and then to Mount Galanteia to the monastery of Blessed Lazarus, where he accepted the great angelic form with the name Athanasias, and received the priestly dignity and became ecclesiarch (holder of church keys). And here the saint was granted a Divine revelation: from a crucifix he heard the Voice of the Lord, summoning him to pastoral service.
After 10 years, wanting still more to strengthen his spirit in silence and prayer, Saint Athanasias again settled on Mount Athos. But because of disorders arising there he returned to Mount Galanteia. But here also he was not long to remain in solitude. Many people thronged to him for pastoral guidance, and so he organsied a women's monastery there. During this time the cathedra-chair of the Constantinople Church fell vacant after the disturbances and disorder of the period of the patriarch John Bekkos. At the suggestion of the pious emperor Andronikos Paleologos, the Council of hierarchs and clergy in 1289 unanimously chose Saint Athanasias to the cathedra of the Ecumenical Church.
Patriarch Athanasias began fervently to fulfill
his new obedience and did much for strengthening the Church. His
strictness of conviction roused the dissatisfaction of influential
clergy, and in 1293 he was compelled to resign the cathedra and
to retire again to his own monastery, where he asceticised in
solitude. In 1303 he was again entrusted the staff of patriarchal
service, which he worthily fulfilled for another 7 years. In 1308
Saint Athanasias established as Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus'
Sainted Peter, Primate of the Russian Church (commemorated 21
December). Again because of some sort of dissatisfaction, and
not wanting to be the cause of church discord, Saint Athanasias
in 1311 resigned the governance of the Church and departed to
his own monastery, devoting himself fully to monastic deeds. Towards
the end of his life the saint was again found worthy to behold
Christ: the Lord reproached him, that Athanasias had not carried
out his pastoral duty to the end. Gushing with tears, the saint
repented his cowardice and received from the Lord both forgiveness
and the gift of wonderworking. Saint Athanasias died at age 100.
The Monk John, Hermit of Pskov, asceticised during a terrible time of military troubles: in 1592 the Swedes besieged the city of Pskov, and from 1608 for seven years Polish forces made attack under the head of Lisovskii. It was only in the week before the death of the monk, through the intercession of the Pskovo-Pechersk Icon of the Mother of God and the Pskov Saints, that Pskov was delivered from the besieging army of the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus. The Monk John, as the chronicle relates, "lived within the city walls for 23 years; rancid was his fish and bread he ate not; he lived within the city as though in a wilderness, in great silence," and he died on 24 October 1616.