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A common belief is that “Georgia” , the western name for our country, is named after Saint George. There is significant conjecture amongst historians on this point however, One school of thought is that the ancient Greeks referred to Colchis and Iberia as “The Land of Farmers”, having witnessed relatively well organised agricultural activity here when they engaged in trade and establishment of their colonies on the Black Sea coast, and developed the name Georgia from the Greek word georgos (γεωργός) .  Other writers suggest the word is of Persian origin, which is possible given that much of Georgia has been under Persian influence culturally and linguistically for 2500 years.

Regardless of the origin of the name, there is no dispute that Saint George has a special place in the hearts of Georgian people. Having originated in Cappadocia in Anatolia, it is believed that he was the cousin of Saint Nino, the Enlightener of the Georgians, and we are already familiar with the great reverence in which she is held. Tradition holds that Saint Nino taught the people of Iberia about the many martyrs of the persecutions of Diocletian, including her cousin Saint George.

This account expands upon our previous post on Saint George, which focussed upon his tortures on the wheel prior to his martyrdom.

17th-century-georgian-manuscript-depicting-st-georges-life-and-martyrdom_4

The Holy GreatMartyr George the Victory-Bearer, was a native of Cappadocia (a district in Asia Minor), and he grew up in a deeply believing Christian family. His father had accepted a martyr’s death for Christ, when George was yet a child. His mother, owning lands in Palestine, resettled there with her son and raised him in strict piety.

Having grown up, Saint George entered into the service of the Roman army. He was handsome, brave and valiant in battle, and he came to the notice of the emperor Diocletian (284-305) and was accepted into the imperial guards with the rank-title of “comites” – one of the higher military officer ranks.

The pagan emperor, while having done much for the restoration of Roman might, and who was quite clearly concerned, as to what sort of danger the triumphing of the Crucified Saviour might present for pagan civilisation, in especially the final years of his reign intensified his persecution against the Christians. Upon the advice of the Senate at Nicomedia, Diocletian afforded all his governors full freedom in their court proceedings over Christians and in this he promised them all possible help. 

Saint George, having learned about the decision of the emperor, distributed to the poor all his wealth, set free his servants, and then appeared in the Senate. The brave soldier of Christ spoke out openly against the emperor’s designs, he confessed himself a Christian and appealed to all to acknowledge the true faith in Christ: “I am a servant of Christ, my God, and trusting on Him, I have come amidst ye at mine own will, to witness concerning the Truth”. “What is Truth?” – one of the dignitaries said, in repeating the question of Pontius Pilate. “Truth is Christ Himself, persecuted by ye”, – answered the saint.

Stunned by the bold speech of the valiant warrior, the emperor – who loved and had promoted George, attempted to persuade him not to throw away his youth and glory and honours, but rather in the Roman custom to offer sacrifice to the gods. To this followed the resolute reply of the confessor: “Nothing in this inconstant life can weaken my resolve to serve God”. Then by order of the enraged emperor the armed-guards began to jostle Saint George out of the assembly hall with their spears, and they then led him off to prison. But the deadly steel became soft and it bent, just as the spears would touch the body of the saint, and it caused him no hurt. In prison they put the feet of the martyr in stocks and placed an heavy stone on his chest.

The next day at the interrogation, powerless but firm of spirit, Saint George again answered the emperor: “Thou wilt become exhausted sooner, tormenting me, than I being tormented of thee”. Then Diocletian gave orders to subject Saint George to some very intense tortures. They tied the GreatMartyr to a wheel, beneathe which were set up boards inset with sharp pieces of iron. With the turning of the wheel the sharp edges tore at the bared body of the saint. At first the sufferer loudly cried out to the Lord, but soon he quieted, not letting out even a single groan. Diocletian decided that the tortured one was already dead, and he gave orders to remove the battered body from the wheel, and set off then to a pagan temple to offer a thank-offering. But at this very moment it got dark all over, thunder boomed, and a voice was heard: “Fear not, George, for I am with thee”. Then a wondrous light shone, and at the wheel appeared an Angel of the Lord in the form of a radiant youth. And just as he lay his hand upon the martyr, saying to him: “Rejoice!” ‑- Saint George stood up healed. And when the soldiers led him off to the pagan temple, where the emperor was, the emperor could not believe his own eyes and he thought, that in front of him was some other man or even a ghost. In confusion and in terror the pagans looked Saint George over carefully, and they became convinced, that actually a miracle had occurred. Many thereupon came to believe in the Life-Creating God of the Christians. Two illustrious officials, Saints Anatolios and Protoleon, – secretly Christians, therewith openly confessed Christ. And right away, without a trial, by order of the emperor they were beheaded with the sword. Present also in the pagan temple was the Empress Alexandra, the wife of Diocletian, and she too knew the truth. She was on the point of glorifying Christ, but one of the servants of the emperor took her and led her off to the palace.

The emperor became all the more furious. But not having lost all hope of swaying Saint George, he gave him over to new quite fiercesome torments. Having thrown him down a deep pit, they covered it over with lime. Three days later they dug him out, but found him cheerful and unharmed. They shod the saint in iron sandals with red-hot nails, and with blows they drove him back to the prison. In the morning, when they led him back to the interrogation, cheerful and with healthy feet, he said to the emperor, that the sandals had fit him. Then they beat him with ox-thongs so much, that his body and blood became mingled with the ground, but the brave sufferer, strengthened by the power of God, remained unyielding.

Having decided, that magic was helping the saint, the emperor summoned the sorcerer Athanasias, so that he should try to deprive the saint of his miraculous powers, or else poison him. The sorcerer gave Saint George two goblets with drugged ingredients, the one of which should have quieted him, and the other – to kill him. But the drugs also did not work – and the saint as before continued to denounce the pagan superstitions and glorify the True God.

To the question of the emperor, what sort of power it was that helped the saint, Saint George answered: “Think not, that the torments do me no harm thanks to human powers, – I am saved only by calling upon Christ and His Power. Whoso believeth on Him hath no regard for tortures and is able to do the deeds, that Christ did” (Jn. 14: 12). Diocletian asked, what sort of deeds were they that Christ did. – “To give sight to the blind, to cleanse the leprous, to grant walking to the lame, and to the deaf – hearing, to cast out devils, and to raise up the dead”.

Knowing, that never whether by sorcery, nor by any of the gods known to him, never had they been able to resurrect the dead, and wanting to test the trust of the saint the emperor commanded him to raise up a dead person right in front of his eyes. To this the saint replied: “Thou wouldst tempt me, but for the salvation of the people which shalt see the deed of Christ, my God wilt work this sign”. And when they led Saint George down to the graveyard, he cried out: “O Lord! Show to those here present, that Thou art the One-Only God throughout all the world, let them know Thee as the Almighty Lord”. And the earth did quake, a grave opened up, the dead one came alive and emerged from it. Having seen with their own eyes the Almighty Power of Christ, the people wept and glorified the True God. The sorcerer Athanasias, falling down at the feet of Saint George, confessed Christ as the All-Powerful God and besought forgiveness of his sins, committed in ignorance. The obdurate emperor in his impiety thought otherwise: in a rage he commanded to be beheaded both the new-believer Athanasias and likewise the man resuscitated from the dead, and he had Saint George again locked up in prison. The people, weighed down with their infirmities, began in various ways to penetrate the prison and they there received healings and help from the saint. There resorted to him also a certain farmer named Glycerios, whose ox had collapsed. The saint with a smile consoled him and assured him, that God would restore his ox to life. Seeing at home the ox alive, the farmer began to glorify the God of the Christians throughout all the city. By order of the emperor, Saint Glycerios was arrested and beheaded.

The exploits and the miracles of the GreatMartyr George had increased the number of the Christians, and therefore Diocletian decided to make a final attempt to compel the saint to offer sacrifice to the idols. They began to set up a court at the pagan temple of Apollo. On the final night the holy martyr prayed fervently, and when he dozed off, he beheld the Lord Himself, Who raised him up with His hand, and hugged him in giving him a kiss of greeting. The Saviour placed on the head of the GreatMartyr a crown and said: “Fear not, but rather make bold and be vouchsafed My Kingdom”.

In the morning at the court the emperor offered Saint George a new test – he proposed to him to become his co-emperor. The holy martyr with a feigned willingness answered, that from the very beginning the emperor had seemed inclined not to torture him but rather shew mete mercy, and with this he expressed the wish to go forthwith into the pagan temple of Apollo. Diocletian decided, that the martyr was accepting his offer, and he followed after him into the pagan temple with his accompanying retinue and the people. Everyone waited, whether Saint George would offer sacrifice to the gods. He however, in going up to the idol, made the sign of the Cross and turned towards it, as though it were alive: “Thou wishest to receive from me sacrifice befitting God?” The demon inhabiting the idol cried out: “I am not God and none of those like me are God. The One-Only God is He Whom thou preachest. We are of those servant-angels of His, which became apostate, and in the grips of jealousy we do tempt people”. “How dare ye to be here, when hither have come I, the servant of the True God?” – asked the saint. Then was heard a crash and wailing, and the idols fell down and were shattered.

There began a general confusion. In a frenzy pagan-priests and many of the throng pounced upon the holy martyr, they tied him up and began to beat him and demand his immediate execution.

Into the noise and the shouts rushed the holy empress Alexandra. Pushing her way through the crowd, she cried out: “Thou God of George, help me, in as Thou Alone art All-Powerful”. At the feet of the GreatMartyr the holy empress glorified Christ, Who had humiliated the idols and those worshipping them.

Diocletian in a rage immediately pronounced the death sentence against the GreatMartyr George and the holy Empress Alexandra, who without being accompanied, followed Saint George to execution. Along the way she collapsed and slumped senseless against a wall. Everyone thought, that the empress was dead. Saint George offered up thanks to God and he prayed, that he should end his path worthily. At the place of execution the saint in heated prayer besought the Lord, that He would forgive the torturers that knew not what they did, and that He would lead them to the knowledge of Truth. Calmly and bravely, the holy GreatMartyr George bent his neck beneathe the sword. This occurred on 23 April 303.

In confusion the executioners and the judges catch glimpse of their Conqueror. In a bloody agony and mindless thrashing about ended the era of paganism. It lasted for all of ten years more – up until the time of the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Constantine, who was one of the successors to Diocletian upon the Roman throne, and who gave orders to imprint the Cross on his military-banners, as a testament also sealed by the blood of the GreatMartyr George and that of the blood of thousands of unknown martyrs: “By this sign thou wilt conquer”.

Of the many miracles, worked by the holy GreatMartyr George, the most famous are depicted in iconography. In the native-region of the saint, at the city of Beirut, were many idol-worshippers. Outside the city, near Mount Lebanon, was situated a large lake, in which lived an enormous dragon-like serpent. Coming out of the lake, it devoured people, and there was nothing the people could do, since from one of its nostrils it infected the very air.

On the advice of the demons inhabiting the idols, the ruler there adopted this decision: each day the people would draw lots to give over as food their own children, and when the turn reached him, he promised to hand over his only daughter. That time indeed did come, and the ruler, having dressed her in her finest attire, sent her off to the lake. The girl wailed bitterly, awaiting the moment of death. Unexpectedly for her, the GreatMartyr George rode up on his horse and with spear in hand. The girl implored him not to leave her, lest she perish. But the saint, having caught sight of the serpent, signed himself with the Sign of the Cross and with the words “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, he rushed off after it. The GreatMartyr George pierced the throat of the serpent with his spear and trampled it with his horse. Then he bid the girl bind the serpent with her sash, and like a dog, lead it into the city. The people fled in terror, but the saint halted them with the words: “Be not afraid, but rather trust on the Lord Jesus Christ and believe in Him, since it be He Who hath sent me to you, to save you”. Then the saint killed the serpent with a sword, and the people burned it outside the city. Twenty-five thousand men, not counting women and children, were then baptised, and there was later built a church in the name of the MostHoly Mother of God and the GreatMartyr George.

Saint George went on to become a talented military officer and to amaze the world by his military exploits. He died, when he was not even 30 years old. Hastening to unite with the Heavenly army, he entered into the history of the Church as the Victory-Bearer.

from Orthodox Liurgical Calendar, Saint John of Kronstadt Press

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As we have mentioned before, there is evidence that the Apostle Matthias was martyred in Colchis  (the ancient name for Georgia’s Black Sea regions) and buried in Gonio, near Batumi. Today is his feast day.

The elevation of Matthias from the Seventy to the Twelve Apostles is interesting, as it is one of the first written accounts of Apostolic Succession,. Saint Luke’s account of events in the Acts of the Apostles is;

“In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus— he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.” (With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms, ” ‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, ” ‘May another take his place of leadership.’ Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.” Acts 1:15-26

The Nicene Creed, developed in 325 at the First Ecumenical Council, describes the Church as being “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic”. Given that the Twelve Apostles all reposed almost two millennia ago, for outsiders this description may seem odd. Orthodox Christians believe in Apostolic Succession; tracing a direct line of apostolic ordination, Orthodox doctrine, and full communion of Orthodox jurisdictions from the Twelve Apostles to the current Episcopacy of the Orthodox Church. All three elements are integral to apostolic succession. It is through apostolic succession that the Church is the direct spiritual successor to the original body of believers in Christ as the Son of God, composed of the Apostles. This succession manifests itself through the unbroken succession of its bishops back to the Apostles.

Ordination of a bishop requires the presence of three other bishops. It is not mandatory that the candidate already be ordained as a priest or deacon, but in most jurisdictions that is the norm.

Elections of Patriarchs vary somewhat from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but it is generally performed by secret ballot. The repose of a Patriarch generally triggers the appointment of a caretaker Patriarch who organises elections as soon as possible. Each Patriarchate has its own statutes governing such elections, which may take into account dioceses abroad as well as consultation with the laity. National governments are often tempted to interfere with this process, which is generally quite vigorously resisted.

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Today is the feast day of Saint Nicholas, the 4th century bishop from Asia Minor who in the west is known as Santa Claus. As his feast day is quite close to the Nativity Feast, in the west the two events have become conflated in popular imagination. In the East, they are still celebrated as separate events.

Saint Nicholas was famed as a generous person, who often provided badly needed funds to the needy anonymously by dropping it through the window of the intended recipient while they slept. In one case, to save a distressed family from selling their daughters into prostitution, he dropped a purse of gold coins through their window anonymously.  He distributed his entire inheritance to the poor of his diocese. From this, the legend of the generous Saint Nicholas distributing gifts to children in their sleep arose. The Russian legendary figure, Grandfather Frost, Tovlis Babua in Georgian, replaced Saint Nicholas as the winter gift-giver during the Russian Imperial Era. Grandfather Frost now visits children at at New Year instead of on Saint Nicholas’ Day. The food associated with the feast of Saint Nicholas in Georgia, such as gozinaki, the sweet made with walnuts and honey, are now associated with New Year’s Day.

Saint Nicholas was the Patron Saint of the Russian Empire, and so his icons are ubiquitous in every Russian church and most Russian Christian homes. As the Georgian Church was forcibly incorporated into the Church of Russia during the Russian Colonial period, a certain Russian influence in Georgian iconography of Saint Nicholas may be noted. Icons of Saint Nicholas here are frequently rendered in a style closer to the Russian style (itself heavily influenced by Western European artistic norms) rather than the more Byzantine-influenced Georgian style.

Saint Nicholas was a distinguished theologian, and he participated actively in the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea, where the Arian Heresy was refuted by the Church and the Nicene Creed established as the concise exposition of the Christian Faith. He was a zealous activist against pre-existing pagan practices in his diocese and destroyed many pagan temples, converting their followers to Christianity. He was famed for his miracles during his life, and after his death, hence his moniker the Wonder-Worker.

From the Prologue of Ohrid by Saint Nikolai Velimirovch

This glorious saint, celebrated even today throughout the entire world, was the only son of his eminent and wealthy parents, Theophanes and Nona, citizens of the city of Patara in Lycia. Since he was the only son bestowed on them by God, the parents returned the gift to God by dedicating their son to Him.

St. Nicholas learned of the spiritual life from his uncle Nicholas, Bishop of Patara, and was tonsured a monk in the Monastery of New Zion founded by his uncle. Following the death of his parents, Nicholas distributed all his inherited goods to the poor, not keeping anything for himself. As a priest in Patara, he was known for his charity, even though he carefully concealed his charitable works, fulfilling the words of the Lord: Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth (Matthew 6:3).

When he gave himself over to solitude and silence, thinking to live that way until his death, a voice from on high came to him: “Nicholas, for your ascetic labor, work among the people, if thou desirest to be crowned by Me.” Immediately after that, by God’s wondrous providence, he was chosen archbishop of the city of Myra in Lycia.

Merciful, wise and fearless, Nicholas was a true shepherd to his flock. During the persecution of Christians under Diocletian and Maximian, he was cast into prison, but even there he instructed the people in the Law of God. He was present at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea [325] and, out of great zeal for the truth, struck the heretic Arius with his hand. For this act he was removed from the Council and from his archiepiscopal duties, until the Lord Christ Himself and the Most-holy Theotokos appeared to several of the chief hierarchs and revealed their approval of Nicholas.

A defender of God’s truth, this wonderful saint was ever bold as a defender of justice among the people. On two occasions, he saved three men from an undeserved sentence of death. Merciful, truthful, and a lover of justice, he walked among the people as an angel of God. Even during his lifetime, the people considered him a saint and invoked his aid in difficulties and in distress. He appeared both in dreams and in person to those who called upon him, and he helped them easily and speedily, whether close at hand or far away. A light shone from his face as it did from the face of Moses, and he, by his presence alone, brought comfort, peace and good will among men. In old age he became ill for a short time and entered into the rest of the Lord, after a life full of labor and very fruitful toil, to rejoice eternally in the Kingdom of Heaven, continuing to help the faithful on earth by his miracles and to glorify his God. He entered into rest on December 6, 343.

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September 27 is the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross. After the Crucifixion of Christ, His cross and that of the two thieves crucified with him were lost.

Saint Constantine the Great, Roman Emperor, legalised Christianity within the Empire by the edict of Milan in 313. He was no doubt influenced strongly by his mother, Empress Helen, who was renowned as a pious Christian.

Amongst her many missions and pilgrimages was the discovery of the cross upon which Christ died, on Golgotha hill in Jerusalem. Tradition states that Empress Helen found a cluster of flowering bushes on Golgotha, known by locals as “Vasilikos” (what we now know as Basil). In Greek, the word “vasil” indicates kingship. Upon excavation beneath the bushes, three crosses were found, along with a sign inscribed with “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. To determine which cross was that of Christ, a sick woman kissed each cross and was cured by the last that she kissed. A dead man, being borne to his tomb by a funeral procession, was laid across the same cross and was restored to life. With great joy, the Cross was elevated from a high platform for the whole population of Jerusalem to witness and venerate.

The True Cross was looted from Jerusalem by Persian troops as a trophy in 614. It took until 630 for Byzantine forces under Emperor Heraclios to retrieve it by force from the Persian capital Ctesiphon, return it to Jerusalem, and to reinstall it in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre .

The Feast on September 27 celebrates both of these events.

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