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{I may have entered this in the past, but this is now, and I’m entering it – again.}

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A Child’s Lent Remembered:  Clean Monday

An excerpt from Ivan Shmelyov’s “Anno Domini”, a wistful recollection of Life in his pious, old-fashioned, well-to-do home in pre-Revolutionary Moscow. Translated from the Russian by Maria Belaeff and published in “Orthodox America”, v5, #7,  February 1985. Posted with permission of the editors.

Found here: http://www.roca.org/OA/47/47g.htm

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Clean Monday

I waken from harsh light in my room: a bare kind of light, cold dismal.  Yes, it’s Great Lent today.  The pink curtains, with their hunters and their ducks, have already been taken down while I slept, and that’s why it’s so bare and dismal in the room.  It’s Clean Monday today for us, and everything in our house is being scrubbed.

Greyish weather, the thaw.  The dripping beyond the window is like weeping. Our old carpenter – Gorkin, “the panel man” – said yesterday that when Lady Shrovetide leaves, she’ll weep.  And so she is – drip…drip…drip… There she goes!

I look at the paper flowers reduced to shreds, at the gold-glazed “Shrovetide” sweetcake – a toy, brought back from the baths yesterday; gone are the little bears, gone are the little hills – vanished, the joy. And a joyous something begins to fuss in my heart; now everything is new, different. Now it’ll be “the soul beginning” – Gorkin told me all about it yesterday.  “It’s time to ready the soul.” To prepare for Communion, to keep the fast, to make ready for the Bright Day.

“Send One-eye in to see me!” I hear Father’s angry shouting.

Father has not gone out on business; it’s a special day today, very strict.  Father rarely shouts.  Something important has happened.  But after all, he forgave the man for drinking; he cancelled all his sins; yesterday was the day of Forgiveness.  And Vasil-Vasillich forgave us all too, that’s exactly what he said in the dining room, kneeling: “I forgive you all!”  So why is father shouting then?

The door opens, Gorkin comes in with a gleaming copper basin. Oh, yes, to smoke out Lady Shrovetide! There’s a hot brick in the basin, and mint, and they pour vinegar over them.  My old nurse, Domnushka, follows Gorkin around and does the pouring; it hisses in the basin and a tart steam rises – a sacred steam.  I can smell it even now, across the distance of the years.  Sacred… that’s what Gorkin calls it. He goes to all the corners and gently swirls the basin.  And then he swirls it over me.

“Get up dearie, don’t pamper yourself,” he speaks lovingly to me, sliding the basin under the skirt of the bed.  “Where’s she hid herself in your room, fat old Lady Shrovetide… We’ll drive her out!  Lent has arrived… We’ll be going to the Lenten market, the choir from St. Basil’s will be singing  ‘My soul, my soul arise;’ you won’t be able to tear yourself away.”

That unforgettable, that sacred smell. The smell of Great Lent.  And Gorkin himself, completely special – as if he were kind of sacred too.  Way before light, he had already gone to the bath, steamed himself thoroughly, put on everything clean.  Clean Monday today!  Only the kazakin is old; today only the most workaday clothes may be worn, that’s “the law.”

And it’s a sin to laugh, and you have to rub a bit of oil on your head, like Gorkin.  He’ll be eating without oil now, but you have to oil the head, it’s the law, “for the prayer’s sake.”  There’s a glow about him, from his little grey beard, all silver really, from the neatly combed head.  I know for a fact that he’s a saint.  They’re like that, God’s people, that please Him.  And his face is pink, like a cherubim’s, from the cleanness.  I know that he’s dried himself bits of black bread with salt, and all Lent long he’ll take them with his tea, “instead of sugar.”

But why is Daddy angry… with Vasil-Vasillich, like that?

“Oh, sinfulness…” says Gorkin with a sigh.  “It’s hard to break habits, and now everything is strict, Lent.  And, well, they get angry.  But you hold fast now, think about your soul.  It’s the season, all the same as if the latter days were come… that’s the law!  You just recite, “O Lord and Master of my life…” and be cheerful.”

And I begin silently reciting the recently memorized Lenten prayer.

The rooms are quiet and deserted, full of that sacred smell. In the front room, before the reddish icon of the Crucifixion, a very old one, from our sainted great-grandmother who was an Old Believer; a “lenten” lampada of clear glass has been lit, and now it will burn unextinguished until Pascha.  When Father lights it – on Saturdays he lights all the lampadas himself – he always sings softly, in a pleasant-sad way: “Before Thy Cross, we bow down, O Master,” and I would sing softly after him, that wonderful refrain:

“And Thy ho-ly.. Re-sur-re-e-ec-tion, we glo-ri-fy!”

A joy-to-tears beats inside my soul, shining from these words. And I behold it, behind the long file of lenten days – the Holy Resurrection, in lights.  A joyful little prayer!  It casts a kindly beam of light upon these sad days of Lent.

I begin to imagine that now the old life is coming to an end, and it’s time to prepare for that other life, which will be… where?  Somewhere, in the heavens.  You have to cleanse the soul of all sinfulness, and that’s why everything around you is different. And something special is at our side, invisible and fearful. Gorkin told me that now, “it’s like when the soul is parting from the body.” THEY keep watch, to snatch away the soul, and all the while the soul trembles and wails: “Woe is me, I am cursed!”  They read about it in church now, at the Standings.

“Because they can sense that their end is coming near, that Christ will rise!  And that’s why we’re a-given Lent for, to keep close to church, to live to see the Bright Day.  And not to reflect, you understand.  About earthly things, do not reflect! And they’ll be ringing everywhere: ‘Think back!… Think back!…” He made the words boom inside him nicely.

Throughout the house the window vents are open, and you can hear the mournful cry and summons of the bells, ringing before the services: think-back.. think-back.  That’s the piteous bell, crying for the soul.  It’s called the Lenten peal.

They’ve taken the shutters down from the widows, and it’ll be that way, poor-looking, clear until Pascha.  In the drawing-room there are grey slip-covers on the furniture; the lamps are bundled up into cocoons, and even the one painting, “The Beauty at the Feast,” is draped over with a sheet.  That was the suggestion of His Eminence.  Shook his head sadly and said: “A sinful and tempting picture!”  But Father likes it a lot – such class!  Also draped is the engraving which Father for some reason calls “the sweetcake one”, it shows a little old man dancing, and an old woman hitting him with a broom.  That one His Eminence liked a great deal, even laughed.

All the housefolk are very serious, in workday clothes with patches, and I was told also to put on the jacket with the worn-through elbows.  The rugs have been taken out; it’s such a lark now to skate across the parquet.  Only it’s scary to try – Great Lent: skate hard and you’ll break a leg.  Not a crumb left over from Shrovetide, mustn’t be so much as a trace of it in the air.  Even the sturgeon in aspic was passed down to the kitchen yesterday. Only the very plainest dishes are left in the sideboard, the ones with the dun spots and the cracks… for Great Lent.

In the front room there are bowls of yellow pickles, little umbrellas of dill sticking out of them, and chopped cabbage, tart and thickly dusted with anise – a delight.  I grab pinches of it – how it crunches!  And I vow to myself to eat only lenten foods for the duration of the fast.  Why send my soul to perdition, since everything tastes so good anyway!  There’ll be stewed fruit, potato pancakes with prunes, “crosses” on the Week of the Cross… frozen cranberries with sugar, candied nuts…  And what about roast buckwheat kasha with onions, washed down with kvass!  And then lenten pasties with milk-mushrooms, and then buckwheat pancakes with onions on Saturdays… and the boiled wheat with marmalade on the first Saturday… and almond milk with white kissel, and the cranberry one with vanilla, and the grand kuliebiak on Annunciation…  Can it be that THERE, where everyone goes to from this life, there will be such lenten fare!

And why is everyone so dull-looking?  Why, everything is so… so different, and there is much, so much that is joyous.  Today they’ll bring the first ice and begin to line the cellars – the whole yard will be stacked with it.  We’ll go to the “Lenten Market,” where I’ve never been… I begin jumping up and down with joy, but they stop me: “It’s Lent, don’t dare!  Just wait and see, you’ll break your leg!”

Fear comes over me.  I look at the Crucifixion.  He suffers, the Son of God!  But how is it that God… How did He allow it?…

I have the sense that herein lies the great mystery itself – GOD.

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Fall Down Get Up x3

The Orthodox among us will recognize the title. There is general acknowledgment that in our spiritual lives we tend to fall down and get up many times. We commit the same old transgressions again and again and again. We are genuinely sorry, and do try to repent, but we recognize that we probably will fail and have to try yet again. Fall down, get up; fall down, get up.

So I try to say my prayers, but sometimes I forget. I repent and start over with new resolve. Fall down, get up.

I want to attend the Divine Services regularly, but I can’t. I repent and start over with new resolve. Fall down, get up.

I want to give alms, but I can’t get to where the poor are. I repent and start over with new resolve. Fall down, get up.

People ask me for words of advice and for help. All too frequently I miss their missives, and end up responding to them inappropriately late. I repent and start over with new resolve. Fall down, get up.

Our lives are like that. We allow the physical and mundane things of life interfere with the things that are truly real and of utmost importance. When we stand before the awesome God and account for our lives, will we be able to say that we attended to the things of God, or will we have to admit to allowing our life to get in the way of our Life?

I will have to admit that. The good I would do, I do not, and the evil I would not do, I do. (Romans 7:19). In the words of the Anglican General Confession, “there is no help in me.” I have only myself to blame for my shortcomings – which are so many. In the words of St. Paul: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 18-25).

Pray for me, my friends, that I may get up and remain standing!

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The PriestMartyr Zenobios, Bishop of Egeia, and his sister Zenobia suffered a martyr’s death in the year 285 in Cilicia. From childhood they were raised in the holy Christian faith by their parents, and they led pious and chaste lives. In their mature years, shunning the love of money, they distributed away their wealth, an inheritance, giving it to the poor. For his beneficence and holy life the Lord rewarded Zenobios with the gift of healing various maladies. And he was chosen bishop of a Christian community in Cilicia.

In the dignity of bishop, Saint Zenobios zealously spread the Christian faith among the pagans. When the emperor Diocletian (284-305) began a persecution against Christians, Bishop Zenobios was the first one arrested and brought to trial to the governor Licius. “I shalt speak with thee but briefly, — said Licius to the saint, — for I propose to thee: life — if thou worshipest our gods, or death — if thou dost not”. The saint answered: “This present life without Christ is death; better I prepare to endure the present torment for my Creator, and then with Him live eternally, than to renounce Him because of the present life, and then be tormented eternally in hades”.

By order of Licius, they nailed him to a cross and began the torture. The sister of the bishop, seeing the suffering of her brother, wanted then to stop it with him. She bravely confessed her own faith in Christ afront the governor, for which she also was given over to torture.

By the power of the Lord they remained alive after torture on a red-hot cot and in a boiling kettle. The saints were then beheaded. Presbyter Hermogenes secretly buried the bodies of the martyrs.

Holy Saints Zenobios and Zenobia, pray unto God for us!

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Mother of God, Prosperess of Loaves (Sporitelnitsa Khlebov) (Grower of Crops)

Mother of God, "Prosperess of Loaves" ("Sporitel'nitsa Khlebov") (Grower of Crops)

The Icon of the Mother of God, named “Prosperess of Loaves” (“Sporitel’nitsa Khlebov”), was written at the blessing of the starets-elder of the Visitation Optina wilderness monastery, the priest-schemamonk Amvrosii (Ambrosii) (23/XI/1812 – 10/X/1891). Father Amvrosii, a great Russian ascetic of the XIX Century, was ardent with a childlike faith towards the Mother of God. He in particular revered all the feastdays of the Mother of God and on these days he redoubled his prayer. With the icon, “Prosperess of Loaves”, Father Amvrosii blessed the Shamordinsk women’s monastery established in honour of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, and founded by him not far from the Optina monastery.

On this icon the Mother of God is depicted sitting upon the clouds, and Her hands are extended in blessing. Beneathe — is a compressed field, and on it amidst the grass and flowers stand and lay sheaves of rye. Starets Amvrosii himself decreed the day of celebration — 15 October, and called the image “Prosperess of Loaves”, indicating by this, that the Most Holy Mother of God — “is an Helper for people in their labours for the acquiring of their daily bread”. Before his blessed death, Father Amvrosii ordered a large quantity of photo-replicas of this icon and distributed and sent them off to his spiritual children. For the singing of an akathist before the holy image, the starets composed a particular response: “Hail, Thou Full-of-Grace, the Lord is with Thee! Grant unto us unworthy ones the dew of Thy grace and the showing forth of Thine mercy!”

The day of burial of Father Amvrosii happened on 15 October — the feastday of the icon. The first miracle from the holy icon was witnessed in 1891, when throughout Russia was a famine because of crop-failure, but in the Kaluzh district and on the fields of the Shamordinsk monastery grain was produced. In 1892, already after the death of Father Amvrosii, his attendant Ivan Feodorovich Cherepanov sent a copy from the icon to the Pyatnitsk women’s monastery in Voronezh district. In this locale there was a drought and famine threatened, but soon after a molieben served before the icon, “Prosperess of Loaves”, it rained and ended the drought.

On a more modern note, in 2008, there was drought in Texas. One devout Orthodox Christian, near Lubbock, TX, printed out and laminated a copy of this Icon from the internet. He placed it in a small shrine in his field, and prayed to the Theotokos for his crops to prosper. He was the only person in his district who had crops that were not stunted or destroyed by the drought. He was able to provide products for several of the markets in his area so that people had access to fresh vegetables of good size at a righteous price.

In these modern days, we often forget that prayers are answered; that God cares for us; that He listens to the prayers of people and especially of the Theotokos – the one who said “yes” to God and bore His only Son. “In one of the prayers at the Sixth Hour we ask the Mother of God to intercede with Jesus for us, “for the prayer of a Mother availeth much to the goodwill of the Lord.’ Indeed, yes,”(1) it does.

The Widow of Nain by Peter Sizer; Orthodox Research Institute

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St. Cosmas the Hymnographer, bishop of Maiuma (787)

Commemorated on October 14

He was from Jerusalem. An orphan, he was adopted into the family of St John of Damascus (commemorated December 4). He became Bishop of Maiuma, a city on the coast of Palestine, which was later named Constantia. Like his adoptive brother he became a noted hymnographer.

The Canon of the Cross (Sept. 14) and the Canon for Christ’s Nativity, “Christ is born, give ye glory…” are his compositions.

Canon of the Exaltation of the Cross
St.Cosmas of Maium
Irmosi (theme songs)
I. Moses, having with his rod made a long line, divided the Red Sea for Israel journeying on foot; and having again struck the same with a transverse blow, thus tracing the Cross which is the weapon invincible, he united it against the armies of Pharaoh. Wherefore we sing unto Christ our God, for He hath been glorified.
III The Rod is accepted as the symbol of a mystery; for by its budding-forth it designated the Priest; and in the Church,which of late was barren, there now hath budded forth the tree of the Cross for herpower and strengthening.
IV I have given heed to the mystery of thy dispensation, O Lord, I have understood thy works, and have glorified Thy Divinity.
V O Tree thrice blessed, whereon was crucified Christour King and our Lord! Through thee he is fallen who by a tree did beguile, having himself been beguiled by Him who was nailed upon thee in the flesh, even God, who granteth peace unto our souls.
VI. Jonah, when he stretched forth his arms in the form of a cross within the belly of the sea-monster, did clearly typify the Redeeming Suffering; and when he came forth thence after 3 days, he imaged forth by anticipation the supernatural Resurrection of Christ our God Who was crucified in the flesh, and hath illumined the world by His rising on the third day.
VII. The mad behest of the impious tyrant breathing forth threats and horrible blasphemies troubled the people; yet neither the brutal rage nor the roaring fire terrified the Three Children; but when, as they stood amid the flames, a dew-bearing breath was wafted against it, they sang: Blessed be Thou, O God of our fathers, exceedingly praised, and our God!
VIII. O Children, in number equal to the Trinity! Bless ye God the Father, the Creator; sing ye the word who came down and turned the fire into dew; and magnify ye the Spirit all-holy, who giveth life unto all men, unto all the ages.
In place of: My soul doth magnify the Lord: The refrains:
Magnify, O my soul, the all-precious Cross of the Lord.
Magnify, O my soul, the elevation of the life-giving Cross of the Lord.
IX. Thou art the mystical Paradise, O Birth-giver of God, who though untilled dodst bud forth Christ, by whom the life-bearing Tree of the Cross was planted upon earth. for which cause, now, at its Elevation, adoring it, we magnify Thee.

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Protection of the Theotokos at Blanchernae

Protection of the Theotokos at Blanchernae

The Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos

“Today the Virgin stands in the midst of the Church, and with choirs of Saints she invisibly prays to God for us. Angels and Bishops venerate Her, Apostles and prophets rejoice together, Since for our sake she prays to the Eternal God!”

This miraculous appearance of the Mother of God occurred in the mid-tenth century in Constantinople, in the Blachernae church where her robe, veil, and part of her belt were preserved after being transferred from Palestine in the fifth century.

On Sunday, October 1, during the All Night Vigil, when the church was overflowing with those at prayer, the Fool-for-Christ St Andrew (October 2), at the fourth hour, lifted up his eyes towards the heavens and beheld our most Holy Lady Theotokos coming through the air, resplendent with heavenly light and surrounded by an assembly of the Saints. St John the Baptist and the holy Apostle John the Theologian accompanied the Queen of Heaven. On bended knees the Most Holy Virgin tearfully prayed for Christians for a long time. Then, coming near the Bishop’s Throne, she continued her prayer.

After completing her prayer she took her veil and spread it over the people praying in church, protecting them from enemies both visible and invisible. The Most Holy Lady Theotokos was resplendent with heavenly glory, and the protecting veil in her hands gleamed “more than the rays of the sun.” St Andrew gazed trembling at the miraculous vision and he asked his disciple, the blessed Epiphanius standing beside him, “Do you see, brother, the Holy Theotokos, praying for all the world?” Epiphanius answered, “I do see, holy Father, and I am in awe.”

The Ever-Blessed Mother of God implored the Lord Jesus Christ to accept the prayers of all the people calling on His Most Holy Name, and to respond speedily to her intercession, “O Heavenly King, accept all those who pray to You and call on my name for help. Do not let them go away from my icon unheard.”

Saints Andrew and Epiphanius were worthy to see the Mother of God at prayer, and “for a long time observed the Protecting Veil spread over the people and shining with flashes of glory. As long as the Most Holy Theotokos was there, the Protecting Veil was also visible, but with her departure it also became invisible. After taking it with her, she left behind the grace of her visitation.”

At the Blachernae church, the memory of the miraculous appearance of the Mother of God was remembered. In the fourteenth century, the Russian pilgrim and clerk Alexander, saw in the church an icon of the Most Holy Theotokos praying for the world, depicting St Andrew in contemplation of her.

The Primary Chronicle of St Nestor reflects that the protective intercession of the Mother of God was needed because an attack of a large pagan Russian fleet under the leadership of Askole and Dir. The feast celebrates the divine destruction of the fleet which threatened Constantinople itself, sometime in the years 864-867 or according to the Russian historian Vasiliev, on June 18, 860. Ironically, this Feast is considered important by the Slavic Churches but not by the Greeks.

The Primary Chronicle of St Nestor also notes the miraculous deliverance followed an all-night Vigil and the dipping of the garment of the Mother of God into the waters of the sea at the Blachernae church, but does not mention Sts Andrew and Epiphanius and their vision of the Mother of God at prayer. These latter elements, and the beginnings of the celebrating of the Feast of the Protection, seem to postdate St Nestor and the Chronicle. A further historical complication might be noted under (October 2) dating St Andrew’s death to the year 936.

The year of death might not be quite reliable, or the assertion that he survived to a ripe old age after the vision of his youth, or that his vision involved some later pagan Russian raid which met with the same fate. The suggestion that St Andrew was a Slav (or a Scythian according to other sources, such as S. V. Bulgakov) is interesting, but not necessarily accurate. The extent of Slavic expansion and repopulation into Greece is the topic of scholarly disputes.

In the PROLOGUE, a Russian book of the twelfth century, a description of the establishment of the special Feast marking this event states, “For when we heard, we realized how wondrous and merciful was the vision… and it transpired that Your holy Protection should not remain without festal celebration, O Ever-Blessed One!”

Therefore, in the festal celebration of the Protection of the Mother of God, the Russian Church sings, “With the choirs of the Angels, O Sovereign Lady, with the venerable and glorious prophets, with the First-Ranked Apostles and with the Hieromartyrs and Hierarchs, pray for us sinners, glorifying the Feast of your Protection in the Russian Land.” Moreover, it would seem that St Andrew, contemplating the miraculous vision was a Slav, was taken captive, and became the slave of the local inhabitant of Constantinople named Theognostus.

Churches in honor of the Protection of the Mother of God began to appear in Russia in the twelfth century. Widely known for its architectural merit is the temple of the Protection at Nerl, which was built in the year 1165 by holy Prince Andrew Bogoliubsky. The efforts of this holy prince also established in the Russian Church the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God, about the year 1164.

Church of the Protection of the Theotokkos on the Nerl - Russia

Church of the Protection of the Theotokkos on the Nerl - Bogolyubovo, Russia

At Novgorod in the twelfth century there was a monastery of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos (the so-called Zverin Monastery of the Intercession of Our Lady). In Moscow also under Tsar Ivan the Terrible the cathedral of the Protection of the Mother of God was built at the church of the Holy Trinity (known as the church of St Basil the Blessed).

Cathedral of the Protection of the Theotokos AKA St. Basils Cathedral, Moscow Russia

Cathedral of the Protection of the Theotokos AKA St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow Russia

On the Feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos we implore the defense and assistance of the Queen of Heaven, “Remember us in your prayers, O Lady Virgin Mother of God, that we not perish by the increase of our sins. Protect us from every evil and from grievous woes, for in you do we hope, and the Feast of your Protection, we magnify you.”
Adapted from the website of the Protection of the Theotokos Orthodox Church; Billings MT

Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Lord our God, Save and Protect us!

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Georgian (Gruzinian) Icon of the Mother of God

Georgian Icon of the Mother of God

In 1622 the Persian shah Abbas conquered Gruzia. Many Christian holy things were plundered and many such were sold to the Russian merchants that were in Persia. Thus, the Gruzinian Icon of the Mother of God came the way of a certain merchant named Stefan, who piously kept it. During this time in Yaroslavl’ the merchant Georgii Lytkin — on whose trade-business Stefan was in Persia — received in a dream a revelation about the holy article found by Stefan, and he was commanded to send it off to the Chernogorsk monastery in the Arkhangelsk diocese, founded in 1603. When Stefan returned home in 1629 and showed the icon to Georgii Lytkin, who remembered about his vision and he set off to the Dvina outskirts to the Chernogorsk monastery (called such since it was built on an hilly and somber place, and from of old had been named “Black Mount” (“Chernaya Gora”), but afterwards the monastery was changed in name to “Pretty Hill” (“Krasnaya Gora”). The icon was glorified there by miracles. In 1654 during the time of a pestilential plague the icon was transferred to Moscow, and those praying before it escaped the deadly plague. The many copies of the icon testifies to its deep veneration. In 1658, with the blessing of Patriarch Nikon, there was established an annual feastday of the Gruzinian Icon of the Mother of God. The service was compiled in 1698 under the supervision of Feodor Polikarpov of the Moscow printing-office.

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