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Schedule of Services for June 2024

Upcoming Feastday:

Sunday July 1/14: Holy New Martyrs of the Turkish Yoke, Saints Cosmas and Damian of Rome

Synaxarion

1- HOLY NEW MARTYRS OF THE TURKISH YOKE

On the Third Sunday after Pentecost, the Church has appointed the commemoration all those who shone forth as martyrs under the Turkish Yoke. On May 29, 1453, the troops of the Moslem leader, Mohammed II , took the great city of Constantinople.  In their violent hatred of Christianity, the Moslem Turks embarked on a course of persecution designed to effectively muzzle the flock of Christ. Most of the churches of Constantinople were converted to mosques. Their movable icons were destroyed and whole walls of inspiring and radiantly beautiful mosaics were covered with paint or plaster. Crosses were torn off domes and broken off the roofs of churches. The Moslems guaranteed Christians a definite place in Turkish society; but it was a place of guaranteed inferiority. Orthodox Christians were required to pay an annual head tax, like cattle. To the Turks they were unbelievers, and they had absolutely no rights of citizenship. They even had to wear distinctive dress. They could not marry Moslems, nor could they engage in missionary work of any kind; in fact, it was a crime, usually punishable by death, to convert a Moslem to the Christian Faith.

 

As if these measures were not enough, the Moslems actively undertook to control the Church itself. The Sultan ironically considered himself the "protector" of Orthodoxy, supposedly guaranteeing the existence of the Church, but actually keeping it in the vise of a terrible stranglehold. Under this system each Patriarch had to pay a stiff fee to the Sultan before he could be enthroned. Unable to raise the funds himself, the Patriarch was forced to exact a fee from each new bishop before installing him in his diocese, and this burden was eventually placed on the flocks. Taking advantage of this financially lucrative situation, the Turks forced re-elections of the Patriarch with undue rapidity. The majority of the Sultans themselves were sick, demon-ridden men, whose irrational rule and unbridled power only heightened the already demoralizing effect of Turkish rule on the Church. It is not without reason that an Englishman living in Istanbul in the 17th century wrote these words: "Every good Christian ought with sadness to consider and with compassion to behold this once glorious Church tearing and rending out her bowels and giving them as food to vultures and ravens."

 

The aim of Orthodoxy in the Ottoman Empire became, simply, one of survival. Little could they know, in 1453, that the heavy sword of Islam would weigh upon them not for a generation or two, but for five hundred years, five long centuries of darkness and difficulty. But even under such ruinous circumstances, God did not allow the light of Christianity to be extinguished. It was kept alive through the courageous confession of the New Martyrs of the Turkish Yoke. Their lives are not very well known, and yet they are a rich catalogue of the diversity and generosity of the Holy Spirit acting in the lives of Orthodox believers in time of oppression and persecution. The following examples illustrate the image often used in their Lives which describes them "laboring like diligent bees, gathering the honey of virtue" as they moved through life towards martyrdom.

 

St. Cyprian the New, for instance, was a pious monk from Mount Athos. After fortifying himself with Holy Communion, he went forth and found a Pasha (the ruler of a province). Straight way he witnessed to him that Mohammed was a false prophet and the enemy of God. The Pasha only laughed, thinking he was crazy; he ordered his guards to beat him and cast him out, which they did. St. Cyprian then went to Constantinople, to the Grand Vizier whose position was like that of a prime minister. There he attempted to witness to the Grand Vizier by sending him a written message about the Gospel of salvation. The Vizier thought the saint must be drunk, or mad. But when at last he realized that the saint was quite sober and quite sane, he ordered that he be beheaded and, as his Life says, as he was being led to the place of execution, "his face shone with joy; it was as though he hurried not to execution, but to a wedding banquet.”

 

St. Timothy of Esphigmenou is an example of a Christian who betrayed Christ and then returned to suffer martyrdom for his Lord. He was married, but his beautiful wife was abducted by a Moslem who added her to his harem after forcibly converting her to Islam. In order to get his wife back through the process of Islamic law, St. Timothy himself converted to Islam. His wife was indeed returned and they both secretly repented of having converted to Islam and returned to Christianity. Finally his wife withdrew to a convent and he to Mount Athos, where he became a monk and prepared for the day when he could descend back into the Turkish world, there to witness for Christ and accept martyrdom, which in fact he eventually did.

 

Sometimes the family of a martyr begged him to embrace Islam rather than die. In the life of St. Zlata, a pious virgin-martyr of the 13th century, for example, the parents and sisters of the saint implored her to convert to Islam, saying, "O sweetest daughter, have pity on yourself and on us your parents and your sisters.... Deny Christ just for the sake of appearances." But she turned and said to them, "You who incite me to deny Christ, the true God, are no longer my parents and sisters.... But in your place I have my Lord Jesus Christ as a father, my Lady the Theotokos as a mother, and the saints as my brothers and sisters." She suffered a particularly horrible form of torture and martyrdom, including thrusting a red-hot skewer through one ear and out the other, so that smoke came forth from her nose and mouth. The writer of her Life tells us that her sufferings were so terrible "that even the most stout-hearted of men would be humbled." This martyr, he says, "now dances and rejoices together with the prudent and prize-winning virgins in the heavenly bridal chambers, and stands at the right hand of her Bridegroom, Christ."

 

While many other Christians lived in daily fear and trembling, these noble warriors of Christ marched forth directly into the enemy's camp in order to boldly plant the cross of Christ like a battle banner. Penetrated by the very essence of Christianity, Christ Himself, they were able not only to endure the most frightful tortures - but also to be victorious. To paraphrase the closing paragraph from the life of yet another confessor of the Turkish Yoke:

 

"Where are those Moslems who once saddened and despised the New Martyrs? Where are the mighty of the earth? Where is the Ottoman lord? Where the fearsome guards and Tartars who bound them and beat them and martyred them? Where are their pampered bodies? O! They are dispelled as a morning mist. The tombstone of forgetfulness has covered them. And in Jerusalem on high, in the dwelling where are found the blessed souls of the saints who lived in privation in this world so that they might pass through the narrow and afflicted way that leadeth unto life, there rejoices also with them the spirits of these much-suffering martyrs whom we remember today. They reposed in the Lord and received the reward of the labors and toils and pains which they endured for Christ, Whom they loved more than all the fleeting things of this world. And now, wearing crowns in heaven, they rejoice with the choirs of the saints and behold in glory the Prize-bestower, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. To Him be glory and dominion and worship unto the unending ages. Amen"

2- THE HOLY MARTYRS COSMAS AND DAMIAN

Cosmas and Damian were unmercenary physicians and miracle-workers. These two saints were brothers, born in Rome.  As children, they were baptized and brought up in the Christian spirit. They possessed abundant grace from God to heal men and livestock from every disease and suffering, usually by the laying on of hands. They sought no reward for their efforts, only requiring the infirm to believe in Christ the Lord. They compassionately distributed their inheritance of a large estate to the poor and those in need. At that time the Emperor Galerius reigned in Rome. Before Galerius, persecutors of Christianity brought these two holy brothers bound in chains. After prolonged interrogation, Galerius ordered them to deny Christ and offer sacrifices to the idols. Cosmas and Damian not only refused to obey the emperor but also counseled him to abandon the lifeless idols and recognize the One True God. "Our God is not created, but rather He is the Creator of all. Your gods are the inventions of men and the work of the hands of mere craftsmen. If you did not have craftsmen to make your gods, you would have no one to worship."

 

After Cosmas and Damian had worked a miracle upon the emperor himself--they miraculously cured him from a grave infirmity--the emperor proclaimed his faith in Christ and released the holy brothers in peace. Cosmas and Damian continued to glorify God and heal the sick, and they were themselves glorified by the people on all sides. Envious of their glory, a certain doctor, a former teacher of theirs, led them into the mountains, under the pretext of gathering healing herbs, and stoned them to death. They suffered honorably for the Faith of Christ in the year 284 A.D. Their memory remains eternal in the Church on earth, and their souls took up their habitation in the Kingdom of the Lord, to live eternally in glory and in joy.

Troparion

The new martyrs, who with unremitting battle / have cast down the ancient deception, / have exalted the Faith of the Orthodox; / for, having abolished the worship of the iniquitous ones / and professed Christ boldly, / they now unceasingly / entreat Him as God Supreme, / that He grant us great mercy.

Kontakion

Rejoice mystically, O Church of Christ, / beholding thy children, the new martyrs, / standing round thy table in their relics, / like newly planted olive shoots; / and cry aloud to the Creator of all: / Thou art the confirmation of the martyrs, O Christ!

Service

The vespers and matins service for the feast can be viewed and downloaded here, courtesy of st-sergius.org.

Epistle Reading

From Saint Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians:

 

"Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." (12:27-13:7)

Gospel Reading

From the Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew:

"The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment?

 

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (6:22-33)

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