1. THE PRIESTLY-MARTYR THEOPEMPOS AND THE MARTYR THOENAS
When Diocletian began his persecution of the Christians, Theopempos, Bishop of Nicomedia, was among the first to suffer martyrdom for Christ. Theopempos was brought before the emperor who threatened him with punishment of death if he did not deny Christ. To that threat, the courageous bishop responded to the emperor: "It stands written, `Do not be afraid of those who kill the body' (St. Luke 12:4), `but cannot kill the soul' (St. Matthew 10:28). O Emperor, you have authority over my body; do with it what pleases you." Theopempos was severely beaten, suffered from hunger and tortured in various ways. Finally, the emperor summoned a certain magician, Theonas by name, to outwit this godly man through magic. Theonas dissolved the most potent poison in water and gave it to Theopempos to drink. Theopempos traced the sign of the cross over the glass and drank the poison. Theonas, upon seeing that the poison had no effect on Theopempos, turned to the emperor and shouted, " I, too, am a Christian and bow down before the Crucified One." Both were sentenced to death in the year 298 A.D.; Theopempos was beheaded and Theonas was buried alive. They honorably suffered and became citizens of the Kingdom of Christ.
2. THE HOLY PROPHET MICAIAH [MICAH] THE FIRST
Micaiah [Micah] was a contemporary of the Prophet Elijah. He foretold the death of the pernicious King Ahab in battle against the Assyrians (I Kings, Chapter 22, II Chronicles, Chapter 18). Micaiah [Micah] prophesied everything orally and did not put anything down in writing. However the other Prophet Micah was the one who prophesied the birth of the Lord in Bethlehem. "But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah; From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times" (Micah 5:1). He also authored one of the prophetic books.
3. THE VENERABLE MOTHER SYNCLETICA
Syncletica was of Macedonian descent. She was educated in Alexandria. As a wealthy and distinguished maiden she had many suitors, but she rejected them all and fled from her parents' home to a convent. Undergoing the greatest of self-restraints, vigils and prayer, Syncletica lived to her eightieth year. Her counsels to the nuns have always been considered a true spiritual pearl, for this righteous one did not attain the heights of wisdom through books but through sufferings, pains, daily and nightly contemplation, and spiritual communication with the higher world of the Divine. With her soul, she took up habitation in that higher world in the year 350 A.D. Among other things, St. Syncletica was known to say, "If it is the season for fasting, do not dismiss fasting, allegedly because of illness for, behold, even those who do not fast, succumb to the same illness." She further spoke, "As when uncovered treasure is quickly seized, so it is with virtue; when it is made public becomes eclipsed and becomes lost."
4. THE VENERABLE APOLLINARIA
Apollinaria was the daughter of Anthemius, the regent of the adolescent Emperor Theodosius the Younger. She was the eldest daughter of Anthemius whose younger daughter was insane. Apollinaria, who did not wish to marry because in her heart she was betrothed to Christ, withdrew into the Egyptian wilderness. In men's attire and under the masculine name of Dorotheus, Apollinaria entered a monastery for men, where she lived an ascetical life, uplifting her spirit continuously toward God and burning with love toward her Creator. Someone advised the imperial regent Anthemius to send his insane daughter to the ascetics to have prayers said for her. According to the Providence of God, it so happened that the elder sister through the power of prayer healed her insane sister. Only when Apollinaria died was her secret revealed that she was not a man, but a woman. The valiant bravery of this holy virgin remained as an example and stimulus to many throughout the ages who contemplate their salvation. She died in the year 470 A.D.
HYMN OF PRAISE
SAINTS APOLLINARIA AND SYNCLETICA
These innocent virgins, for God and their souls,
Became faithful followers of Christ.
Pleasures, luxuries and laughter, they abandoned
To the angelic world, lifted up their souls;
In their bodies weak, lighted torches, they were,
Their souls, by the Holy Spirit, wonderfully illuminated,
For centuries shining and showing the way,
Rejoice in heaven, with angels holy.
Apollinaria and Syncletica
In your hearts, the Holy Spirit glows,
You, He strengthens; you, He leads and teaches,
He wedded you and betrothed you to Christ.
Pray for us, O wondrous ascetics,
Heroines brave; immortal virgins.
Fruit, fruit, and only fruit does the Lord seek from every living tree, which is called man. Good fruit is a God-loving heart and an evil fruit is a self-loving heart. Everything else that a man possesses and enjoys - position, authority, honor, health, money and knowledge - are but the leaves on the tree. "Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire" (St. Matthew 3:10). Even the non-Christian peoples valued good deeds more than fine words. How much more must it be the rule for the followers of Christ. At a council of the Athenians, at which were present representatives of the Spartans, a certain elderly man moved from bench to bench, seeking a place to sit. The Athenians mocked him and did not relinquish a seat to him. When the old man approached the Spartans, everyone rose to their feet and offered him a seat. Upon seeing this, the Athenians, in eloquent terms praised the Spartans. To this, the Spartans replied: "The Athenians know what is good but they do not do good." Whoever performs good deeds resembles the tree which brings forth good fruit for his householder. The source of goodness in man is a good, God-loving heart.
To contemplate the perfection of Adam, the first man:
1. His closeness to God;
2. His strength, wisdom and beauty from God;
3. The voluntary submission of the whole of nature to the authority of the sinless Adam.
About our helplessness without Christ the Lord
"Because without me you can do nothing" (St. John 15:5).
Our Lord did not have the habit of speaking in terms of exaggeration. No words in this world are weighed more than His words. When He says that we can do nothing without Him, then that must be taken and understood literally. Here, He speaks of good and not of evil. We can do no type of good work without Christ, aside from Christ and contrary to Christ. He is the proprietor, the giver and the inspirer for all good. No type of good stands outside Him, likewise no type of evil is contained in Him. Our Lord said, " I am the Vine, you are the branches" (St. John 15:5). What can the branches do without the vine? Can they grow and bring forth fruit? No, they can do nothing but become firewood. Man can think as hard as he wants, but he cannot conceive of one truthful good which is not in Christ and which does not stem from Christ. If someone were to say that he does good and humane works outside of Christ, you know that those, his works, are spoiled to the core and are corroded, be it from vanity or be it from hidden selfishness. Man, without Christ, is the same as branches without the vine. He Himself told us this. The vine is hidden and unseen, but the branches are seen. Nevertheless, the grapes on the branch and the branch itself depends on the vine. The vine of all-encompassing good grows from the heart of God the Father and is watered by the sweetness of the Holy Spirit. O Triune Lord God, have mercy on us and save us!
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.
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