Hieromartyr Blaise, bishop of Sebaste (316)
He was born in the province of Armenia, and was a physician by profession. Such was his reputation for holiness that his fellow-citizens elected him Bishop of Sebaste in eastern Anatolia. Though there were few Christians in that pagan city, the bishop labored tirelessly for his flock, encouraging them to stand firm during the fierce persecutions then raging, and visiting the martyrs in prison.
When the city was stripped of Christians, all of whom had fled or been killed, the bishop, already an old man, withdrew to a cave on Mount Argea and devoted himself entirely to prayer. As they often do, the wild beasts sensed his sanctity, and gathered around the cave, waiting quietly for him to give his blessing or heal their injuries and ailments.
The persecutors, who had not stopped hunting for the bishop, eventually found his cave, and were amazed to find it like a second Eden, with lions, tigers, bears and wolves grazing peacefully around it. The Saint greeted them cheerfully and told them that he knew from a vision that they were coming for him.
As Blaise was taken back to Sebaste, the peace and gentleness that seemed to radiate from the Saint were enough in themselves to turn many pagan bystanders to faith in Christ. Diseases of men and animals were cured as he walked by. One mother brought him her child, who was choking on a fishbone. The Saint put his hand down the child’s throat, took out the fishbone, and prayed to the Lord to restore him to full health. (For this reason he is invoked in the West for the cure of throat ailments).
At his trial, the holy bishop fearlessly confessed Christ and scorned the idols, for which he was savagely beaten with rods and thrown into a dungeon. Seven women and two of their children were imprisoned with him. The women were slain first after many tortures. The Synaxarion continues, “Having failed in his efforts to break Saint Blaise’s resolve, Agricolaus [the governor] condemned him to be drowned in the lake. The holy Martyr made the sign of the Cross at the water’s edge and began walking across the surface of the lake as the Saviour had done on the Sea of Galilee. On reaching the middle, he invited the pagans to join him, if they believed they could trust themselves to their gods. Sixty-eight of them took up the challenge and drowned, while a bright angel appeared and invited the Saint to return to the shore in order to receive the crown of glory.” Then Blaise and the two young children were beheaded together.
Saint Blaise is one of the most-venerated holy healers in both the East and the West. He is called upon for protection from wild beasts, and for the healing of every kind of ailment. His head is kept at the Monastery of Konstamonitou on Mount Athos.
St Theodora the Empress (867)
Theodora was the wife of Emperor Theophilus the Iconoclast, but secretly revered the icons, and protected others who did, until the emperor’s death. Upon his death, she quickly restored veneration of icons to churches throughout the empire, the event celebrated on the upcoming Sunday of Orthodoxy, the first Sunday of the Great Fast. She ruled wisely as regent for the young emperor Michael for fifteen years: she is said to have initiated the mission of Sts Cyril and Methodios to the Slavs. Before Michael III reached his majority, he was prevailed upon by Bardas, Theodora’s brother, to depose her and send her to a monastery, where she finished her life in peace and holiness.
When Constantinople fell, her incorrupt relics were taken to Corfu along with those of St Spyridon. They are still venerated there.
There is a much-debated story that, when Theophilus was dying, the Empress, moved by compassion for him, brought an icon of the Mother of God out of hiding and laid it on his face; and that Theophilus, coming to himself, kissed the holy icon and confessed the true Faith before giving up his soul. Other accounts say that the Emperor died in heresy. It seems possible that the holy Empress circulated the story to ensure that her departed husband would be remembered in the Church’s prayers.
Venerable Demetrius of Priluki (1392)
He entered monastic life as a youth and was a disciple of St Sergius of Radonezh. After years of monastic obedience he was ordained to the priesthood, then founded a monastery on the shores of Lake Priluki, whose rule followed that of the Lavra of St Sergius. Saint Demetrius, who was exceptionally handsome, always concealed his face behind his monastic veil and never conversed with women. Once a noblewoman, driven by curiosity, managed to catch sight of his face in church. She immediately fell paralyzed to the ground. The Saint asked her ‘My child, why did you want to gaze at the face of a sinner who has long been dead to the world?’ He then gave her some words of instruction in the spiritual life and sent her away healed.
In time St Demetrius became so renowned in Russia that the flow of visitors burdened him and he retreated to an uninhabited area to live as a hermit, until he was found out and made abbot of a nearby monastery. He kept a constant fast, living only on prosphora and water. In his own lifetime the Saint was known for his gift of prophecy, his care for the poor, and his healings. Once his brother sought his blessing to trade with the pagans in the far north. He made a good profit there and asked for a blessing to return. This time the Saint would not give his blessing, but his brother went anyway, and was killed by pagans.
Toward the end of his life St Demetrius withdrew into solitude in his cell. One day the brethren noticed a wonderful aroma of incense coming from his cell and knew that he had departed this life for heaven. After his repose he continued to work countless miracles, healing illnesses (especially the plague), and driving away invaders.