St Alexander Nevsky (1263)
“Nevsky” means “of the Neva (River).” This holy prince guided Russia through one of the most fragile and difficult periods of its history. Most of the nation was crushed beneath the 200-year domination of the Tatars, who burned Kiev and established their central territory (known as the Golden Horde) there. At the same time, Teutonic and Swedish Christian invaders sought to conquer from the West, and Pope Innocent IV of Rome was seeking, by conversion or conquest, to pervert the Orthodox faith of the Russian people. At the same time, constant warfare among petty Russian lords made unified work on behalf of the people almost impossible. In this harsh climate, Prince Alexander of Novgorod shone as that rare thing: a truly Christian ruler. In time of famine he opened his treasury to all who were in need. Several times he traveled to the Golden Horde, and even to Mongolia, to plead on behalf of his people for relief from Tatar taxation and oppression. Soon after he became prince of Novgorod in 1236, his kingdom was attacked by the forces of Sweden and Lithuania along with the Teutonic Knights, a semi-monastic military order pledged to force the Slavic and Baltic peoples to accept Roman Catholicism. In 1240, the night before his small army was to face the much more powerful invaders, Saint Alexander was granted a vision: Saints Boris and Gleb appeared in a boat on the Neva River, urging angelic oarsmen to hurry to the aid of “Alexander their kinsman.” Encouraged, Alexander and his small force crushed their adversaries in battle. When he was summoned for the first time to pay homage to the Khan, he went as if to his own death, for the Khan required his subjects to submit to pagan rites or die, and the prince knew that he would never betray the Faith of Christ. Before the Khan, he said “My liege, I do homage in that God has granted you sovereignty, but I am unable to worship idols because I am a Christian and adore the one and only God in three Persons, the Maker of heaven and earth.” The Khan, knowing of his valor and impressed by his integrity, received him as an honored guest. In another visit to the Golden Horde, the prince averted a Tatar invasion in retribution for an uprising by another prince, dug deeply into his treasury to ransom prisoners, and was given rule over all of Russia. Threats from the West continued. Prince Alexander firmly opposed the missionaries sent into his realms by Pope Innocent IV of Rome; in response the Pope launched what the Synaxarion calls a “veritable Crusade” against the Prince. In 1256 an alliance of Swedes, Danes, Finns and Teutonic Knights attempted to take Novgorod, but were again repulsed by Alexander, who for a time occupied Finland. In 1260, the holy Prince made a final journey to appeal to the Tatars, who had increased the tribute levied on the Russian people, and were carrying those unable to pay into slavery. Having obtained a reduction of tribute and relief for his people, he headed home but, on the journey home, exhausted and ill from his labors, he gave up his soul to God in 1263, having served his people without rest until the end. On his deathbed he received the monastic Great Schema and the new name Alexis. “Many miracles and apparitions have taken place at his tomb, especially on the eves of the great Russian victories over the Tatars in 1380, 1552 and 1572. The sanctity of the holy Prince was formally recognized by the Church in 1380, when his incorrupt relics were uncovered. In the eighteenth century, Peter the Great proclaimed Saint Alexander Nevsky Protector of the Russian people.” (Synaxarion)
Our Holy Father Amphilocus, Bishop of Iconium (395)
“A fellow-countryman and friend of St Basil the Great and other great saints of the fourth century, Amphilochius early forsook the bustle of the world and withdrew to a cave where, as a solitary, he lived in asceticism for forty years. The episcopal throne in Iconium then fell empty, and Amphilochius was chosen in a wonderful way and consecrated as Bishop of Iconium. He was a marvellous shepherd and a great defender of the purity of the Orthodox faith, and took part in the Second Ecumenical Council in 381. He fought zealously against Macedonius, and against the Arians and the Eunomians. He personally begged Theodosius the Great to drive the Arians out of every city in the Empire, but the Emperor did not comply with his request. After a few days, Amphilochius came before the Emperor again. When the bishop was taken into the presence-chamber, the Emperor was sitting on his throne with his son Arcadius, whom he had taken as co-Emperor, sitting at his right hand. Entering the room, Amphilochius did reverence to Theodosius, but ignored Arcadius as though he were not there. Infuriated by this, the Emperor Theodosius commanded that Amphilochius be instantly driven from court. The saint then said to the Emperor: ‘Do you see, 0 Emperor, how you do not tolerate a slight paid to your son? In the same way, God the Father does not tolerate dishonour paid to His Son, turning with loathing from those who blaspheme against Him, and being angered at that accursed Arian heresy.’ Hearing this, the Emperor understood the reason for Amphilochius’s seeming disrespect towards his son, and marvelled at his wisdom and daring. Among many other works, Amphilochius wrote several books on the Faith. He entered into rest in 395 in great old age, and went to immortal life.” (Prologue)
Saint Amphilocus was a kinsman of St Gregory the Theologian: his father’s sister Nonna (August 5) was St Gregory’s mother. Amphilocus himself was a lifelong friend of all three of the great Cappadocian Fathers: Sts Basil, Gregory the Theologian and Gregory of Nyssa.
St Columban, Abbot of Luxeuil (615)
Born in Ireland around 540, he joined the great monastic movement that flowered in Ireland following the missionary work of St Patrick and his disciples. After spending some years in Irish monasteries, he made pilgrimage to Gaul with twelve other monks, planning to preach the Gospel wherever they were led. The king of Burgundy, learning of their holiness, gave them land, where in time three large monasteries were founded with St Columban as their spiritual Father. Here the Saint established the rule that became normal for many monasteries in the West: in addition to its severe penitential disciplines, it included provision for some monks to be in prayer at every hour of the day and night — laus perennis (unceasing praise), as it was called. (This practice was also adopted by the Monastery of the Unsleeping Ones (Akoimetoi) in Constantinople). Eventually, political strife in Gaul led to the expulsion of the Irish monks, and Columban made his way to Italy through Germany, proclaiming the Gospel, instructing his spiritual children by letter, and battling against Arianism, which flourished throughout the Germanic lands. He settled in a monastery in the Appenines, where he reposed in peace in 615.