When our Lord reached thirty years from His physical birth, He began His teaching and salvific work. He Himself signified this "beginning of the beginning" by His baptism in the Jordan River.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem says: "The beginning of the world is water; the beginning of the Gospel is the Jordan." At the time of the Baptism of the Lord in water, the mystery was declared to the world--the mystery that was prophesied in the Old Testament; the mystery that was known only in fables in ancient Egypt and India--the mystery of the Divine Holy Trinity. The Father was revealed to the sense of hearing, the Spirit was revealed to the sense of sight, and the Son was revealed to the sense of touch. The Father uttered His witness about the Son, the Son was baptized in the water, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove hovered above the water.
When John the Baptist bore witness to Christ, saying: Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29), and when John immersed and baptized the Lord in the Jordan, the mission of Christ in the world and the path of our salvation were shown. That is to say, the Lord took upon Himself the sins of mankind and died under them (immersion) and rose again (the coming out of the water); and we must die to the old sinful man and rise again as cleansed, renewed and regenerated. This is the Savior and this is the path of salvation.
The Feast of the Theophany is also called the Feast of Illumination. The event in the Jordan River illuminates us by manifesting God to us as Trinity, consubstantial and undivided. That is one way that we are illumined. And the second way is that every one of us through baptism in water is illumined, in that we become adopted by the Father of Lights through the merits of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.
This glorious heroine of the Christian Faith was born in Rome into a wealthy senatorial family of a pagan father and a Christian mother. From her early youth, she clung in love to the Lord Jesus, guided in the teaching of Christ by a devout teacher, Chrysogonus. Anastasia was forced by her father to enter into marriage with a pagan landowner, Publius.
Excusing herself on the basis of a female illness, she in no way wished to enter into physical relations with him. For this, her husband tortured her harshly by confinement and starvation. He inflicted even more tortures upon her when he learned of her secret visits to the prisons of the Christian martyrs: bringing them provisions, ministering to them, bathing their wounds and loosening their bonds. But by God's providence she was freed from her wicked husband. Publius was sent to Persia by the emperor, and while sailing on the sea he was drowned.
St. Anastasia then began to minister freely to the tortured Christian martyrs and to comfort the poor, giving them alms from her great inheritance. At one time the Emperor Diocletian was in the town of Aquileia and ordered that Chrysogonus, the confessor of Christ, be brought to him. St. Anastasia accompanied him on the way. Holy Chrysogonus was beheaded by order of the emperor, and then three sisters--Agape, Chionia and Irene--also suffered (April 16): the first two were cast into fire and the third was shot through with arrows. St. Anastasia took their bodies, wrapped them in white linen, anointed them with many aromatic spices, and honorably buried them.
Following this, Anastasia went to Macedonia, where she helped the sufferers for Christ. There she became well known as a Christian, for which she was seized and brought before various judges for interrogation and torture. Desiring to die for her beloved Christ, Anastasia constantly longed for Him in her heart. A certain chief of the pagan priests, Ulpianus, lustfully tried to touch St. Anastasia's body, but he was suddenly blinded and breathed his last.
Condemned to death by starvation, St. Anastasia lingered in prison for thirty days without food, nourishing herself only on tears and prayer. Then she was placed in a boat with several other Christians to be drowned, but God delivered her even from this death. She was finally tied by the feet and hands to four wheels over a fire, and she gave up her holy soul to God. She suffered and took up her habitation in the Kingdom of Christ in the year 304 A.D.
Eleutherios the Hieromartyr, Bishop of Illyricum, and his mother Anthia
From a good tree comes good fruit. This wonderful saint had noble and greatly eminent parents. Eleutherius was born in Rome, where his father was an imperial proconsul. His mother Anthia heard the Gospel from the great Apostle Paul and was baptized by him.
Having been left a widow early, she entrusted her only son for study and service to Anicetus the Bishop of Rome. Seeing how Eleutherius was gifted by God and illumined by the grace of God, the bishop ordained him a deacon at the age of fifteen, a priest at the age of eighteen, and a bishop at the age of twenty. Eleutherius's God-given wisdom made up for what he lacked in years, and this chosen one of God was appointed Bishop of Illyria with his seat in Valona (Avlona), Albania.
The good shepherd guarded his flock well and increased their number day by day. Emperor Hadrian, a persecutor of Christians, sent the commander Felix with soldiers to seize Eleutherius and bring him to Rome. When the raging Felix arrived in Valona and entered the church, he saw and heard the holy hierarch of God; suddenly his heart changed, and he became a Christian. Eleutherius baptized Felix and departed for Rome with him, returning joyfully as if he were going to a feast and not to trial and torture. The emperor subjected the noble Eleutherius to harsh torture: flogging, roasting on an iron bed, boiling in pitch, and burning in a fiery furnace. But Eleutherius was delivered from all these deadly tortures by God's power.
Seeing all this, Caribus the Roman eparch declared that he also was a Christian. Caribus was tortured and then beheaded, and so was Blessed Felix. Finally, the imperial executioners cut off the honorable head of St. Eleutherius. When his mother, the holy Anthia, came and stood over the dead body of her son, she also was beheaded. Their bodies were translated to Valona, where even today St. Eleutherius glorifies the name of Christ by his many miracles. He suffered during the reign of Hadrian in the year 120 A.D.
There was a popular commercial for an antacid that asked the question: “How do you spell relief?” To ask it from a Christian believer’s standpoint, there is only one answer. The relief from worry and anxiety…relief from the problems and difficulties of daily life…relief from temptations and sin…It can only be spelled C-H-R-I-S-T.
Some icons of our Lord depict Him holding an open book, highlighting this famous quotation: “COME TO ME, ALL YOU WHO ARE WEARY AND BURDENED, AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST.” (Matthew 11:28) Life is often a tremendous struggle. Trials and tribulations must be dealt with constantly. Even the strongest of individuals needs assistance in dealing with the pressures of living in what is often a cold, cruel world.
How comforting it is to know that Christ is ALWAYS there for us! He will never abandon those who faithfully follow Him. As the Psalmist tells us: “THE LORD IS OUR STRENGTH AND OUR SONG AND HAS BECOME OUR SALVATION.” We can ALWAYS rely on His grace and His love, which will see us through the darkest of times.
“COME TO ME!” Christ never forces Himself upon us, but He does invite all of us to take up His offer. Relief will truly be ours if we accept this blessed invitation!
The Orthodox Weekly Bulletin - Cliffwood, NJ
When we think of religious art, our initial thoughts will generally turn to iconography. While sacred images on wood and canvas certainly are the most common, there is another form of art that has a rich history of its own. Mosaic-making is one of the oldest art forms. It involves a special technique of arranging materials, such as stone and cut glass, in such a way that an image of a person or event is formed. The ancient Egyptians decorated the walls of their temples and tombs with colorful mosaics. The Greeks and Romans of antiquity continued to refine and develop this unusual art form.
When Christianity emerged as a powerful spiritual force during the reign of the Emperor Constantine, mosaics began to flourish. The magnificent Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, erected by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, featured mosaics of indescribable beauty and splendor. Other churches built during this period also contain fine examples of mosaic art. Amazingly, after centuries of exposure to time, the elements and even attempts at desecration, some still remain intact, with all of their original glory.
The process of making a mosaic is a long one. Proper materials must be painstakingly selected. Before any of the pieces can be set down, an artist must first design the image that the mosaic will depict. After careful planning of colors and forms, the “masterpiece” is slowly assembled and held together with mortar or other adhesives. This beautiful process reflects the dedicated workmanship that can be admired in churches today!
The Orthodox Weekly Bulletin - Cliffwood, NJ