Scripture Readings (KJV)
1 John 4.20-5.21 (Epistle)
20If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
21And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
1Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.
2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
4For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
5Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
6This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.
7For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
8And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.
9If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.
10He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.
11And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
12He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
13These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
14And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:
15And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.
16If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.
17All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.
18We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.
19And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.
20And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.
21Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.
Mark 15.1-15 (Gospel)
1And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.
2And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answering said unto him, Thou sayest it.
3And the chief priests accused him of many things: but he answered nothing.
4And Pilate asked him again, saying, Answerest thou nothing? behold how many things they witness against thee.
5But Jesus yet answered nothing; so that Pilate marvelled.
6Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired.
7And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection.
8And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them.
9But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?
10For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.
11But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.
12And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews?
13And they cried out again, Crucify him.
14Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him.
15And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.
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)