Holy Apostle Philip, One of the Seven Deacons
He was married and had four daughters, virgins consecrated to Christ, each of whom was granted the gift of prophecy (Acts 21). When the Apostles first appointed deacons, Philip was chosen along with St Stephen and five others (Acts 6). He not only served the poor and widows, but was a powerful preacher of the Gospel: Simon the Magician was baptised after seeing his miracles, and it was St Philip who baptised the eunuch of Queen Candace of Ethiopia. In later life he was made a bishop, and reposed in peace.
Synaxis of the Holy Startsi of Optina Monastery
Commemorated today are our holy fathers Moses, Antony, Leonid(Lev), Macarius, Hilarion, Ambrose, Anatolius I, Isaac I, Joseph, Barsanuphius, Anatolius the Younger, Nectarius, Nikon the Confessor, and Hieromartyr Isaac the Younger. Hieromartyr Isaac was shot by the Bolsheviks on December 26 1937.
This feast commemorates a few of the holy Fathers who made the Optina Hermitage (Pustyn) a focus for the powerful renewal movement that spread through the Church in Russia beginning early in the nineteenth century, and continuing up to (and even into) the atheist persecutions of the twentieth century. Saint Paisius Velichkovsky (November 15) was powerfully influential in bringing the almost-lost hesychastic tradition of Orthodox spirituality to Russia in the eighteenth century, and his labors found in Optina Monastery a ‘headquarters’ from which they spread throughout the Russian land. The monastery itself had been in existence since at least the sixteenth century, but had fallen into decay through the anti-monastic policies of Catherine II and other modernizing rulers. Around 1790, Metropolitan Platon of Moscow undertook a mission to restore and revive the monastery in the tradition set forth by St Paisius. By the early 1800s the monastery (located about 80 miles from Moscow) had become a beacon of Orthodox spirituality, partly through their publication of Orthodox spiritual texts, but more importantly through the lineage of divinely-enlightened spiritual fathers (startsi, plural of starets) who served as guides to those, noble and peasant, who flocked to the monastery for their holy counsel. The fathers aroused some controversy in their own day; a few critics (some of them from other monasteries) disapproved of their allowing the Jesus Prayer to become widely-known among the people, fearing that it would give rise to spiritual delusion (prelest). For a wonderful depiction of the deep influence of the Jesus Prayer on Russian life during this period, read the anonymously-writtenWay of a Pilgrim.
With the coming of the Russian Revolution in 1917, the monastery was of course officially shut down, but some of the Fathers were able to keep it running for a time as an ‘agricultural legion’. Over the years, most of the Fathers were dispersed, to die in exile, in prison camps, or by the firing squad. Many of them are known to have continued to function as startsi to their spiritual children, despite great danger and hardship, for the remainder of their time on earth.
Commemoration of the Optina startsi was approved by the Synod of the Russian Church Abroad in 1990, and by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1996. The Optina Monastery itself was officially re-established in 1987.
Saint Theophanes the Hymnographer (the Branded) (847)
He was born in Arabia to wealthy Christian parents. He and his brother Theodore (December 27) became monks in the monastery of St Sabbas the Sanctified. During the iconoclast persecutions, they were sent by Patriarch Thomas of Jerusalem to the Emperor Leo the Armenian, to defend the veneration of icons. The Emperor had the two brothers tortured and imprisoned; then, as a final insult, he had a condemnation branded (or, by another account, tattooed) on their faces in twelve lines of iambic verse. When the iconoclast persecution ended, Theophanes was freed and was soon made a bishop. In all, he suffered for the holy icons for twenty-five years. Both he and his brother Theodore composed many Canons and hymns, which are still used in the Church’s services. He reposed in peace.
Our Holy Father Philotheos Kokkinos,Patriarch of Constantinople (1379)
He was born in Thessalonika around 1300; his mother was a convert from Judaism. He entered monastic life, first at Mt Sinai, then at the Great Lavra on Mt Athos. The so-called “Hesychast controversy” was then raging, and St Philotheos became one of the firmest and most effective supporters of St Gregory Palamas (November 14) in his defense of Orthodoxy against western-inspired attacks on the doctrines of uncreated Grace and the possibility of true union with God. It was St Philotheos who drafted the Hagiorite Tome, the manifesto of the monks of Mt Athos setting forth how the Saints partake of the Divine and uncreated Light which the Apostles beheld at Christ’s Transfiguration. In 1351, he took part in the “Hesychast Council” in Constantinople, and wrote its Acts. In 1354 he was made Patriarch of Constantinople; he stepped down after one year, but was recalled to the Patriarchal throne in 1364. He continued to be a zealous champion of undiluted Orthodoxy, writing treatises setting forth the theology of the Uncreated Energies of God and refuting the scholastic philosophy that was then infecting the Western church. Despite (or because of?) his uncompromising Orthodoxy, he always sought a true, rather than political, reconciliation with the West, and even worked to convene an Ecumenical Council to resolve the differences between the churches. This holy Patriarch was deposed in 1376 when the Emperor Andronicus IV came to the throne; he died in exile in 1379.
St Philotheos composed the Church’s services to St Gregory Palamas. He is not listed in the Synaxaria, but is venerated as a Saint in the Greek church.