Scripture Readings (KJV)
2 Peter 1.1-10 (Epistle)
1Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:
2Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,
3According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
4Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
5And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
6And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
7And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
8For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
10Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:
Mark 13.1-8 (Gospel)
1And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!
2And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
3And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,
4Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?
5And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you:
6For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
7And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet.
8For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows.
Hieromartyr Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (167)
He was born at Ephesus around the year 70. St Irenaeus of Lyons, his disciple, says that St Polycarp was ‘a disciple of the Apostles and acquainted with those who had seen the Lord.’ His parents died as martyrs, and he was given into the care of a devout lady named Callista. As a child, the Saint was so eager to follow the commandments of Christ that he repeatedly emptied his foster-mother’s pantry to feed the poor. Since her supplies were always miraculously renewed, Callista changed his name from Pancratius to Polykarpos, meaning ‘Much fruit.’
When grown, Polycarp became a disciple of St John the Theologian, and in time became Bishop of Smyrna; it is told that the messages to the Church at Smyrna in the Book of Revelation are addressed to St Polycarp and his flock. He knew St Ignatius of Antioch personally, and some of their correspondence is preserved.
Polycarp led his Church in holiness for more than fifty years, and became known throughout the Christian world as a true shepherd and standard-bearer of the Faith. About the year 154 he traveled to Rome and consulted with Pope Anacletus on the defense of the Faith.
Not long after he returned to Smyrna, a fierce persecution was unleashed against Christians in Asia Minor; along with many others, St Polycarp was arrested, having predicted his imminent martyrdom. (The account of his martyrdom that follows is based on eyewitness accounts gathered immediately after his death.)
On the evening of Holy Friday, soldiers burst into the farmhouse where he was staying. The Bishop welcomed them cheerfully, and ordered that a meal be prepared for them. He was granted some time to pray, and for two hours stood commemorating everyone that he had known and praying for the Church throughout the world. His captors sorrowed that they had come to take such a venerable man, and reluctantly took him to the Proconsul. When urged to deny Christ and save his life, the aged Saint replied, ‘For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has wronged me in nothing; how can I blaspheme my King and Savior?’ Told that he would die by fire if he did not apostatize, Polycarp replied ‘You threaten me with a fire that burns for a short time and then goes out, while you know nothing of the fire of the judgment to come and of the everlasting torment awaiting the wicked. Why wait any longer? Do what you will!’
Placed on the pyre, Polycarp lifted his eyes heavenward and gave thanks to God for finding him worthy to share with the holy Martyrs of the cup of Christ. When he had said his Amen, the executioners lit the fire. The eyewitnesses write that the fire sprang up around him like a curtain, and that he stood in its midst glowing like gold and sending forth a delightful scent of incense. Seeing that the fire was not harming him, the executioners stabbed him with a sword. His blood flowed so copiously that it put out the fire, and he gave back his soul to God. His relics were burned by the persecutors, but Christians rescued a few fragments of bone, which were venerated for many generations on the anniversary of his repose.
Saint Gorgonia (372)
She was the elder sister of St Gregory the Theologian (Jan. 25), and the daughter of St Gregory Nazianzen the Elder (January 1) and St Nonna (August 5). She married Alypius, a citizen of Iconium, and with him had three daughters. She became a holy guide to countless Christians whose lot it was to live out their Faith in the world. The Synaxarion says, “Her wisdom and knowledge of all that pertains to godliness made her the very model of a Christian wife. Her relatives, fellow-citizens, and numerous strangers relied on her as a counsellor who would indicate the Christian response in any of the knotty problems which they encountered while living in the world. She was foremost in her care for the churches of God, and in her respect for the priests and clergy, to whom the doors of her house were always open. Neither had she her equal in almsgiving nor in compassion for all the afflicted, so that you could well say that, like righteous Job, she was eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, a mother to the orphans.”
She received holy Baptism late in life, as was common at that time, and soon afterward the day of her death was revealed to her. She fell ill on the appointed day and, gathering her family and friends around her bed, gave them her final counsels. She then reposed in peace.
Our Venerable Father Alexander the Unsleeping (430)
He was born sometime in the mid-fourth century on an island in the Aegean. For a time he lived successfully in the world, receiving a good education in Constantinople, then serving for a time for the Prefect of the Praetorium. But, becoming aware of the vanity of worldly things, he answered Christ’s call, gave away all his goods to the poor and entered a monastery in Syria. After four years in obedience, he came to feel that the security of monastic life was inconsistent with the Gospel command to take no thought for the morrow; so he withdrew to the desert, taking with him only his garment and the Book of the Gospel. There he lived alone for seven years.
At the end of this period he set out on an apostolic mission to Mesopotamia, where he brought many to Christ: the city prefect Rabbula was converted after Alexander brought down fire from heaven, and a band of brigands who accosted the Saint on the road were transformed into a monastic community. He finally fled the city when the Christians there rose up demanding that he be made bishop. He once again took up a solitary life in the desert beyond the Euphrates, spending the day in prayer and part of the night sheltered in a barrel. There he remained for forty years. His holiness gradually attracted more than four hundred disciples, whom Alexander organized into a monastic community. Each disciple owned only one tunic, and was required to give away anything that they did not need for that day. Despite this threadbare life, the monastery was able to set up and run a hospice for the poor!
Alexander was perplexed as to how the admonition Pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17) could be fulfilled by frail human flesh, but after three years of fasting and prayer, God showed him a method. He organized his monks into four groups according to whether their native language was Greek, Latin, Syriac or Coptic, and the groups prayed in shifts throughout the day and night. Twenty-four divine services were appointed each day, and the monks would chant from the Psalter between services. The community henceforth came to be known as the Akoimetoi, the Unsleeping Ones. (Similar communities later sprang up in the West, practicing what was there called Laus Perennis; St Columban founded many of these.)
Always desiring to spread the holy Gospel, Saint Alexander sent companies of missionaries to the pagans of southern Egypt. He and a company of 150 disciples set out as a kind of traveling monastery, living entirely on the charity of the villages they visited. Eventually they settled in some abandoned baths in Antioch, setting up a there a monastery dedicated to the unceasing praise of God; but a jealous bishop drove them from the city. Making his way to Constantinople, he settled there with four monks. In a few days, more than four hundred monks had left their monasteries to join his community. The Saint organized them into three companies — Greeks, Latins and Syrians — and restored the program of unsleeping prayer that his community had practiced in Mesopotamia. Not surprisingly, his success aroused the envy and anger of the abbots whose monasteries had been nearly emptied; they managed to have him condemned as a Messalian at a council held in 426. (The Messalians were an over-spiritualizing sect who believed that the Christian life consisted exclusively of prayer.) Alexander was sent back to Syria, and most of his monks were imprisoned; but as soon as they were released, most fled the city to join him again. The Saint spent his last years traveling from place to place, founding monasteries, often persecuted, until he reposed in 430, ‘to join the Angelic choirs which he had so well imitated on earth.’ (Synaxarion)
The practice of unceasing praise, established by St Alexander, spread throughout the Empire. The Monastery of the Akoimetoi, founded by a St Marcellus, a successor of Alexander, was established in Constantinople and became a beacon to the Christian world. ‘Even though it has not been retained in today’s practice, the unceasing praise established by Saint Alexander was influential in the formation of the daily cycle of liturgical offices in the East and even more so in the West.’ (Synaxarion)