Excerpt from an Encomium on St. John the Theologian, by St. Theodore the Studite (Amateur translation)
And do you wish to learn who was this great man? John, O men, the very early apostle, the pronounced of the evangelists, the great and golden-winged eagle of God, the one who studied the unapproachable depths of heaven, the man who was beyond the cherubim and unequalled in theoria, the presence of the beginningless Word, and angel among angels, the most greatly-worded preacher of truth, the most highly-seen nous, the fiery tongue, the godly-phrased mouth, the endless gulf of wisdom, the unapproachable in depth of dogmas, the great container of knowledge, the lightning of the Spirit that appears to the world, the thunder of grace of the universe, the firm pillar of the Church, the confirming foundation of God, the net capturing the wildness of the human nature, the fisher of souls with the heavenly-lengthed rod, the one who ever moves to saw apart heresies, the one who cuts the weeds of impiety with a sharp knife, the one who locks out the armies of atheism with a heavenly key, the one who removes the teeth of the noetic beasts that corrupt the mind, the one who sails the waves of the river of the wisdom of God, the most-pure temple of virginity, the very early beloved one and recliner-on-the-boosm of the [One Who] is desired, the great and beautiful-roaded sun on the Gospel, and what else could you say? For this dusky catalogue of a thousand [praises] cannot do justice even if the abyss were filled with encomiums. Bring them, bring all that can be said, for though this is poor, and I have no tongue to speak, a power from above will work the greatness of a miracle, for the height of heaven cannot be counted. And if we be granted to praise him, let us as a foundation take from the honey-like flowers of his evangelical words, and beholding this, from this honey let us rationally make wax, and as those called to the apostolic feast as to a king, as an assistant where the word is received, approach himself and take courage.
CATECHESIS 68: That We Must Be Renewed For What Is Ahead Through Endurance of the Trials That Fall Upon Us, Both Visible and Invisible.
by St. Theodore the Studite
Given On the 5th Sunday of Great Lent.
"Brethren and fathers, because winter has passed and spring has arrived, we see creation flourishing again; the plants are flowering, the earth is growing green, the birds are singing and everything else is being renewed; and we take pleasure in all this and we glorify God the master craftsman who transforms and changes creation year by year, and it is reasonable to do so. "Ever since the creation of the world His eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things He has made" [Rom. 1:20].
It is our duty not just to stay where we are, but to advance further and to examine carefully for ourselves the logic of creation. How? Because this renewal has winter as its cause. It would not have reached its prime had it not first undergone snows and rains and winds. And so it is with the soul; unless it is first snowed on by afflictions, troubles and difficulties, it will not flower, it will not fruit; but by enduring, it bears fruit and partakes in a blessing from God, as it is written: "Ground that drinks up the rain falling on it repeatedly, and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is cultivated, partakes in a blessing from God" [Heb. 6:7].
Therefore, brethren, let us also endure every affliction, every trouble, every trial which assails us both visibly and invisibly. The fast we are drawing out as we hunger and thirst and are otherwise made wretched, so that we may bear fruit and partake of God's blessing; and not only that, but that we may nourish and welcome Jesus as our guest. For just as we enjoy the sight of creation, so He too enjoys the ripe beauty of our souls. What are the fruits? "Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-mastery" [Gal. 5:22]. By these He is nourished, by these He is entertained. And blest the one who nourishes Him, because he will be nourished by Him with eternal good things; and blest the one who receives Him as his guest, because he will be received by Him as his guest in the kingdom of heaven! Indeed! So if someone is to receive a king as his house guest, he rejoices and is extremely glad; how much more then someone who receives the King of kings and Lord of lords as his house guest. That he is received is clear from what He himself has said: "I and my Father will come and make our abode with him" [John 14:23]. And again: "One who has My commandments and keeps them, is the one who loves Me; the one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I shall love him and manifest Myself to him" [John 14:21].
Therefore, since such are the promises, let us not only bear, but let us endure with joy all things, both those that are present, those that are whispered about, and those that are expected, as we listen to the Apostle when he says: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His body, that is the Church" [Col. 1:24]. And again Saint James who says: "My brethren, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" [James 1:2-4]. Do you see then that in trials there is joy, and in tribulations gladness? For these are the things that are exchanged where God is concerned; and this is how the saints led their lives; this too how we, by doing violence to ourselves and yet greater violence, and by living our life in their footsteps, shall inherit the kingdom of heaven, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always and to the ages of ages. Amen.
1. The Greek has literally ‘the hour of our souls’, but the word can also connote ‘beauty‘, ‘ripeness’, ‘the bloom of youth’, ‘spring-time’. Hence, for example, the derivatives ‘beautiful’ and ‘ripe’."
St. Sabbas the Sanctified - Commemorated on December 5(Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
"Saint Sava the Sanctified was born in the fifth century at Cappadocia of pious Christian parents, John and Sophia. His father was a military commander. Journeying to Alexandria on military matters, his wife went with him, but they left their five-year-old son in the care of an uncle. When the boy reached eight years of age, he entered the monastery of St Flavian located nearby. The gifted child quickly learned to read and became an expert on the Holy Scriptures. In vain did his parents urge St Sava to return to the world and enter into marriage.
[At a young age when he was in a garden and he thought to eat an apple, he took it in his hand and said: “Beautiful in sight and good for food, but this killed us [i.e. the forbidden fruit in Eden]” He then threw it down and stepped upon it and resolved to never eat an apple in his life. Thus the Fathers of St. Sabbas Monastery to this day do not eat apples as a tradition in honor of St. Sabbas. (Amateur translation from: http://www.monipetraki.gr/agsavvas.html and other sources)]
When he was seventeen years old he received monastic tonsure, and attained such perfection in fasting and prayer that he was given the gift of wonderworking. After spending ten years at the monastery of St Flavian, he went to Jerusalem, and from there to the monastery of St Euthymius the Great (January 20). But St Euthymius sent St Sava to Abba Theoctistus, the head of a nearby monastery with a strict cenobitic rule. St Sava lived in obedience at this monastery until the age of thirty.
Icon of St. Euthemios the Great(Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
After the death of the Elder Theoctistus, his successor blessed St Sava to seclude himself in a cave. On Saturdays, however, he left his hermitage and came to the monastery, where he participated in divine services and ate with the brethren. After a certain time St Sava received permission not to leave his hermitage at all, and he struggled in the cave for five years.
St Euthymius attentively directed the life of the young monk, and seeing his spiritual maturity, he began to take him to the Rouba wilderness with him. They set out on January 14, and remained there until Palm Sunday. St Euthymius called St Sava a child-elder, and encouraged him to grow in the monastic virtues.
When St Euthymius fell asleep in the Lord (+ 473), St Sava withdrew from the Lavra and moved to a cave near the monastery of St Gerasimus of Jordan (March 4). After several years, disciples began to gather around St Sava, seeking the monastic life. As the number of monks increased, a lavra sprang up. When a pillar of fire appeared before St Sava as he was walking, he found a spacious cave in the form of a church.
St Sava founded several more monasteries. Many miracles took place through the prayers of St Sava: at the Lavra a spring of water welled up, during a time of drought there was abundant rain, and there were also healings of the sick and the demoniacs. St Sava composed the first monastic Rule of church services, the so-called "Jerusalem Typikon", accepted by all the Palestine monasteries. The saint surrendered his soul to God in the year 532."
1. From the foundation of the Holy Laura to the Arab occupation (483-638 A.D.)
The holy and respected Laura of our Holy Father Sabbas the Sanctified in the Judean desert is a unique phenomenon in ecclesiastic history because of its contribution in forming worship and the monastic order and hymnography as well as its multitude of Saints, austere anchorites, divinly inspired theologians and martyrs; Even more significant was the decisive role of the Laura in fighting the heresies which appeared in the Holy Land after its foundation, the defense of Orthodoxy and the rights of the only legitimate Patriarchate of Jerusalem, namely the Greek Orthodox.
The Great Laura of St. Sabbas, now celebrating 1500 years (483-2002) of unceasing monasticism, owes its foundation and development to the God-endowed and Spirit-bearing monk Saint Sabbas (439-532 A.D), who was the lamp4 shining from on high for those wishing to live the life of an anchorite and fervent intercessor before the Lord for all future "Sabbaite" monks. The first nucleus of the Laura was created by seventy hermits who had gathered around St. Sabbas in 483 A.D. Subsequently, the Laura was relocated from the eastern side of the Kidron valley, where the hermitage of St. Sabbas was located, to the western side, where the Theoktistos Church was built (486, consecration 491 A.D). The increased number of the brotherhood members made it necessary to build the main church of the Theotokos (502 A.D) and to organize the Laura buildings and facilities so as to serve the ever increasing needs. St. Sabbas' reputation and holiness, which resulted in his elevation to head and instructor of all the anchorites of the Jerusalem area (493 A.D), influenced even the Great Laura which became the model of monastic life and liturgical order -the Typikon- not only for the other three lauras and six coenobiums which St. Sabbas founded before his death (532 A.D), but also for the other monasteries in Palestine and, during the Middle Ages, the worldwide Church.
Under the leadership of Saint Sabbas, the Great Laura initially undertook the fight against the heresy of Monophysitism from 512 to 516 A.D, confronting emperor Anastasios and the other three Patriarchates of the East, which were in the hands of the Monophysites. The courageous stand and confession of the anchorites saved the Patriarchate of Jerusalem from heresy. St. Sabbas' successors in the abbacy made the Laura a stronghold against the heresy of Origenism; Under the guidance of the Sabbaite St. John the Hesychast, former bishop of Colonia (454-558), the Laura abbots Gelasios (537-546), Kassianos (547-548) and Κοnοn (548-568) overwhelmed the wiles of Origenists and their intrigues before the emperor Justinian, yet not without cost. The monks of the Laura, which was the only monastery supporting Orthodoxy, suffered persecution and acts of violence and eνen the enforced enthronement of the Origenist Abbot Georgios (547 A,D). Neνertheless, God saνed the Laura, and Konon's actions contributed greatly to the summoning of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod (Council) (553 Α.D), which condemned the errors of Origen once and for all and favored the entire Church for eνer. The appearance of the Persians in the Holy Land (614 Α.D) was the prelude of the inνasion of the Arabs of Islam (638 Α.D). The first holy martyrs of the Laura were the forty-four Sabbaite fathers slain by the Persians on 16th May, 614 Α, D.