On December 12 (December 25 old-style), we celebrate several significant saints, both from the distant past of the Early Church and from the more modern eras.
Commemorated on December 12 (December 25 new style)
Sainted Spyridon of Trimyphunteia was born towards the end of the III Century on the island of Cyprus. The accounts have preserved little about his life. But it is known, that he was a shepherd, and had a wife and children. He used all his substance for the needs of his neighbours and the homeless, for which the Lord rewarded him with a gift of wonderworking: he healed the incurably sick and cast out devils. After the death of his wife, during the reign of Constantine the Great (306-337), they ordained him bishop of the Cypriot city of Trimyphunteia. Even with the dignity of bishop the saint did not change his manner of life, combining pastoral service with deeds of charity. According to the witness of Church historians, Saint Spyridon in the year 325 participated in the sessions of the First OEcumenical Council. At the Council, the saint entered into a dispute with a Greek philosopher, who was defending the Arian heresy. The plain direct speaking of Saint Spyridon showed everyone the impotence of human wisdom afront Divine Wisdom: “Listen, philosopher, to what I tell thee: we believe, that the Almighty God from out of nothing did create by His Word and His Spirit both heaven and earth, and all the world both visible and invisible. The Word is the Son of God, Who didst come down upon the earth on account of our sins; he wast born of a Virgin, He lived amongst mankind, and suffered and died for our salvation, and then He arose, having redeemed by His sufferings the Original Sin, and He hath resurrected with Him the human race. We believe, that He is One in Essence and Equal-in-Dignity with the Father, and we believe this without any sly rationalisations, since it is impossible to grasp this mystery by human reason”. As a result of their discussion, the opponent of Christianity became the saint’s zealous defender and later accepted holy Baptism. And after his conversation with Saint Spyridon, turning towards his companions, the philosopher said: “Listen! While the disputation with me was conducted by means of argued proofs, I could set forth to certain proofs other proofs, and by the very art of debate I could refute anything, that others might propose. But when, instead of proofs from reason, there began to issue forth from the mouth of this elder some sort of especial power, and the rational proofs became powerless against it, since it is impossible that man can withstand God. If any of you should come to think as I now indeed do, let him believe in Christ and together with me follow this elder, from whose lips doth speak God Himself”. At this Council, Saint Spyridon displayed a proof in evidence of the Oneness within the Holy Trinity. He took in his hand a brick and he grasped it – for an instant fire emerged from it upwards, water flowed downwards, and there remained clay in the hands of the wonderworker. “There are these three elements, but one tile (brick),” – and Saint Spyridon then said, – “suchlike also the Holy Trinity: Three Persons, but One God”.
The saint concerned himself about his flock with great love. Through his prayer, drought was replaced by abundant life-producing rains, and otherwise incessant rains were replaced by fair weather. And likewise through his prayer the sick were healed and demons cast out. One time a woman came up to him with a dead child in her arms, imploring the intercession of the saint. He prayed, and the infant was restored to life. The mother, overcome with joy, collapsed lifeless. Through the prayer of the saint of God the mother was restored to life. Another time, hastening to save his friend, falsely-accused and sentenced to death, the saint was hindered on his way by the unanticipated flooding of a watery brook. The saint commanded the freshet: “Halt! For thus biddeth thee the Lord of all the world, that I might cross over and a man be saved, on account of whom be my haste”. The will of the saint was fulfilled, and he crossed over happily to the other shore. The judge, apprised of the miracle that had occurred, received Saint Spyridon with esteem and set free his friend.
Similar instances are known from the life of the saint. One time he went into an empty church, he gave orders to light up the lampadas and candles, and then he began the Divine-services. Intoning the “Peace be unto all”, both he and the deacon heard in reply from above the resounding of “a great multitude of voices, proclaiming: “And with thine spirit”. This choir was majestic and more sweetly melodious than any human choir. To each ectenia-petition of the litanies, the invisible choir sang “Lord, have mercy”. Attracted by the church singing wafting forth, the people situated nearby hastened towards it. And as they got closer and closer to the church, the wondrous singing all more and more filled the ears and gladdened their hearts. But when they entered into the church, they saw no one besides the bishop and several church servers, nor did they hear any moreso the church singing, by which they were greatly astonished”.
Saint Simeon Metaphrastes, the author of his Life, likened Saint Spyridon to the Patriarch Abraham in his virtue of hospitality. “This also must needs be known, how he received strangers”, – wrote that insider of the monastic circles, Sozomen, who in his “Church History” offers an amazing example from the life of the saint. One time, at the onset of the Forty-day Great Lent a stranger knocked at his door. Seeing that the traveller was very exhausted, Saint Spyridon said to his daughter: “Wash the feet of this man, that he may recline to dine”. But with it being Lent there were none of the necessary provisions, since the saint “partook of food only on set days, and on other days he went without food”. His daughter therefore answered, that in the house there was neither bread, nor even flour. Then Saint Spyridon, apologising to his guest, ordered his daughter to roast a salted ham in the food-provisions, and having seated the stranger at table, he began to dine, “urging that man to do likewise. When the latter refused, calling himself a Christian, the saint rejoined: “It be no less proper to refuse this, since the Word of God hath proclaimed: “All is pure to the pure” (Tit. 1: 15)”.
Another historical detail, reported by Sozomen, was likewise exceedingly characteristic of the saint: he had the custom to distribute one part of the gathered harvest to the destitute, and another portion to those having need while in debt. For himself personally he did not take a portion, but simply showed the entrance to his supply-room, where each could take as much as was needed, and thereafter make a return in like manner, without controls or accountings.
There is also the tale by Sokrates Scholastikos about how robbers planned to steal the sheep of Saint Spyridon: in the deep of night they broke into the sheepfold, but here by some invisible power they found themselves all tied up. With the onset of morning the saint went to his flock, and seeing the tied-up robbers, he prayed and untied them and for a long while he upbraided them to leave off from their path of iniquity and earn a livelihood by respectable work. “Then, having made them a present of a sheep and sending them off, the saint said kindly: “Be ye not vigilant in vain”.
They often likened Saint Spyridon to the Prophet Elias (Elijah or Ilias), since it was through his prayer during the times of drought that frequently threatened the island of Cyprus, that rain occurred: “Let us view the Angelic-equal Spyridon the Wonderworker. Formerly did the land suffer exceedingly from want of rain and drought: there was famine and pestilence and a great many of the people were stricken, but through the prayers of the saint there did descend rain from the heavens upon the earth: wherefore the people delivered from woe gratefully do proclaim: Hail, thou in semblance to the great prophet, in that the rain driving off famine and malady in good time is come down”.
All the Vitae (Lives) of the saint are striking in the amazing simplicity and powerful wonderworking, granted him by God. Through a word of the saint the dead were awakened, the elements of nature tamed, the idols smashed. At one point at Alexandria, a Council had been convened by the Patriarch in regard to the idols and pagan temples there, and through the prayers of the fathers of the Council all the idols fell down, except one – which was very much revered. It was revealed to the Patriarch in a vision that this idol remained to be shattered by Saint Spyridon of Trimyphunteia. Invited by the Council, the saint set sail on a ship, and at the moment the ship touched shore and the saint stepped out on land, the idol in Alexandria with all its offerings turned to dust, which then was announced to the Patriarch and all the bishops gathered round Saint Spyridon.
Saint Spyridon lived his earthly life in righteousness and sanctity, and in prayer he offered up his soul to the Lord (+ c. 348).
In the history of the Church, Sainted Spyridon is venerated together with Sainted Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia. His relics repose on the island of Corfu, in a church named after him (except for the right hand, located in Rome). His memory is celebrated a second time on Cheesefare Saturday.
(no icon is available for St. Pherapont of Monzensk)
Commemorated on December 12, May 27
The Monk Pherapont of Monzensk was a monk in the monastery of the Monk Adrian at the River Monza. The monk began his ascetic deeds in Moscow, and then transferred to the city of Kostroma at the Cross-Elevation monastery, and was tonsured there. The pious monks Adrian and Paphnutii, from the monastery of the Monk Paul of Obnorsk (Comm. 10 January), in seeking solitude and with blessing, resettled to the Monza and there founded a monastery 25 versts (one verst = 3500 feet (1.0668 kilometers)) from Galich. The Monk Pherapont transferred to this monastery, where he asceticised to the end of his life. Each day, with the blessing of the monastery head, he withdrew into a forested thicket and there he prayed. By night he read and transcribed copies of spiritually useful books. In his life he emulated Blessed Vasilii (Basil) of Moscow (Comm. 2 August), whom he called his friend, although personally he never saw him. Even during his life the Monk Pherapont was glorified with a gift of wonderworking. Before his death he predicted a year of famine (1601). The monk died in the year 1597. The monastery at the River Monza was called after him the Pherapontov.
Commemorated on December 12
The PriestMartyr Alexander, Bishop of Jerusalem, was a student of the great teacher and writer of the Church, presbyter Clement of Alexandria (+ c. 217). At the beginning of the III Century he was chosen bishop of Cappadocian Flavia. Under the emperor Septimus Severus (193-211) he was locked up in prison and spent three years there. After his release from prison he set off to Jerusalem to venerate at the holy places there, and through a revelation from above, he was chosen there as co-administrator to the quite elderly Patriarch Narcissos (in the year 212). This was an unusually rare occurrence in the practice of the ancient Church. In this dignity he governed the Jerusalem Church for 38 years, toiling much at Christian enlightenment. A large library of the works of Christian writers was gathered by him at Jerusalem. He died in prison during the time of the persecution under the emperor Decius.
(no icon available for Holy Martyr Cynecius)
Commemorated on December 12
The Holy Martyr Cynecius (Razumnik) (Cynecius is derived from the Greek word “synetos”, – meaning “man of reason”) was by birth a Roman, and was a reader in the Roman Church under Pope Sixtus (257-258). He was subjected to tortures and then beheading for his brave confession of faith during the time of the emperor Aurelian (270‑275).
Commemorated on December 12
St Herman, for many the Patron of North America, was born near Moscow around 1756 to a pious merchant family, and entered monastic life at the age of sixteen, at the Trinity – St Sergius Lavra near St Petersburg. While there he was attacked by a cancer of the face, but the Mother of God appeared to him and healed him completely. He was tonsured a monk in 1783 with the name of Herman (a form of Germanos), and was received into Valaam Monastery on Lake Ladoga. After some time, he was allowed to withdraw to the life of a hermit in the forest, and only came to the monastery for feast days.
In 1793, in response to a request by the Russian-American Commercial Company for missionaries to Alaska, Valaam Monastery was told to select a company of its best monks to travel to America. Eight were chosen, of whom the hermit Herman was one. The company crossed all of Siberia and , almost a year later, first saw Kodiak Island in September 1794. The missionaries set about their work, and found the native Aleut people so receptive to the Gospel of Christ that in the first year about 7,000 were baptized and 1,500 marriages performed.
Despite severe hardships, the missionaries covered huge distances, on foot and in small boats, to reach the scattered fishing settlements of the Aleuts. In general they found a warm reception, but many of the pagan shamans opposed their message and sometimes stirred up the people against them. It was thus that the Priest-monk Juvenaly was killed in 1796, becoming the First Martyr of North America.
Despite such opposition, the missionaries’ major difficulty was with the Russian traders and settlers, who were in the habit of exploiting the Aleuts as they wished, and who had oppressed and disgusted the native people with their immoral behavior. When the missionaries came to the defense of the natives, they were repaid with the opposition of the Russian-American company, whose leadership put countless obstacles in the path of their work. In time, several of the company died at sea, and several more abandoned the mission in discouragement, leaving the monk Herman alone.
He settled on Spruce Island near Kodiak, and once again took up the hermit’s life, dwelling in a small cabin in the forest. He spent his days in prayer and mission work, and denied himself every fleshly comfort: he fasted often and lived on a diet of blackberries, mushrooms and vegetables (in Alaska!!). Despite these privations, he founded an orphanage and a school for the natives of the island, cared for the sick in epidemics, and built a chapel where he conducted divine services attended by many. (He was not a priest, but God made up the lack in miraculous ways: at Theophany, Angels descended to bless the waters of the bay, and the Saint would use the holy water to heal the sick). Asked if he was ever lonely or dejected in his solitude, and replied: “I am not alone; God is here as everywhere, and the Angels too. There is no better company.”
Saint Herman reposed in peace on Spruce island, at the age of eighty-one, in 1836. At the moment of his departure, his face was radiant with light, and the inhabitants nearby saw a pillar of light rising above his hermitage. His last wish was to be buried on Spruce Island. When some of his well-intended disciples attempted to take his relics back to Kodiak to be buried from the church there, a storm rose up and continued unabated until they had abandoned the plan and buried him as he desired. He was officially glorified in 1970, the first canonized American Saint.
Saint Peter was a young Aleut convert to the Orthodox faith. In 1812 the Russian-American Company set up a post in California, where Russians and Aleuts farmed and traded to supply the needs of the Alaskans; Peter was one of these. The Spanish, who at the time ruled California, suspected the Russians of territorial ambitions, and in 1815 captured about twenty Orthodox Aleuts and took them to San Francisco. Fourteen of these were put to torture in an effort to convert them to the Roman Catholic faith. All refused to compromise their faith, and Peter and a companion were singled out for especially vicious treatment: Peter’s fingers, then hands and feet, were severed, and he died from loss of blood, still firm in his confession. The Latins were preparing the same fate for the others when word came that they were to be transferred; eventually they returned to Alaska. When he heard a first-hand account of Peter’s martyrdom, Saint Herman crossed himself and said “Holy New Martyr Peter, pray to God for us!” Saint Peter the Aleut is the first recognized Saint of American birth.
St Herman appears several times on the Church’s calendar. The Synaxis of St Herman and the American Protomartyrs is celebrated today. St Herman is commemorated on November 15, the day of his repose; but (partly because pilgrimage to Alaska is so difficult in the winter) the day of his glorification, July 27 / August 9 is kept there as his primary feast day.
Following is a fragment of a conversation between St Herman and some officers of a Russian ship, recorded by his disciple Yanovsky; it includes perhaps the most familiar quotation from St Herman.
“But do you love God?” asked the Elder. And all answered: “Of course we love God. How can we not love God?” “And I, a sinner, have tried to love God for more than forty years, and I cannot say that I perfectly love Him,” answered Father Herman, and began to explain how one must love God. “If we love someone,” he said, “then we always think of that one, we strive to please that one; day and night our heart is preoccupied with that object. Is it in this way, gentlemen, that you love God? Do you often turn to Him, do you always remember Him, do you always pray to Him and fulfill His Holy commandments?” We had to admit that we did not. “For our good, for our happiness,” concluded the Elder, “at least let us give a vow to ourselves, that from this day, from this hour, from this minute, we shall strive above all else to love God and to do His Holy Will!”
Saint Herman is also commemorated on December 12.