She held God

The time of birth was drawing near and the woman knew that she and her husband needed a place to stay for the baby. They had looked everywhere in this town of Bethlehem, but there was no room. Like our culture today, there was no room for God. All such ideas are pushed aside, to the dustbin. Why waste time on eternity where there only exists the now? Shut out was the woman and her husband. No one would come in and celebrate the birth of the coming King. Why should they? The Emperor was in charge in Rome. He was the Pax Romana of the Empire. While he reigned, the Empire was at peace and there was no civil war to fear. If only these people knew that the Pax Mundi was soon arriving to displace the current order.

Finally, coming to an inn, the woman and her husband asked for a place to stay. The innkeeper said he had no room. But there was a nearby cave where he kept his animals. The two could stay out there. The woman knew that she was about to give birth. The birth would be painless, Edenic, restorative, for she knew that she bore a child of the Most High, the child who was to redeem all of Israel. She had dedicated herself in virginity and yet the Holy Spirit had overshadowed her and she became miraculously pregnant with this seedless child. This child was God in the flesh. She knew well and how there was no room for God.

She held her husband’s hand as he moved her to the cave. Surrounded by livestock and lying in hay, she gave birth. There was not a single mark of pain found on her body after this birth for birthpains were part of the sinful nature of man and this woman knew no sin. This birth marked the purest birth in history. It was how children were meant to be born from a time before the first sin. There, in the midst of livestock, she would give birth. There was a lamb nearby and it touched its wet nose to the child as she lay it on the bed of hay. She held God in her hands. Her husband was led outside the cave by a dark figure who began sorely tempting him.

The woman saw her husband in trouble and wept for his soul that he be rid of his trouble. As the shepherds came, guided by the angels, the her husband found himself at ease, knowing his role in the life of the virgin. Since the citizens of Bethlehem had refused to celebrate the birth of their Messiah, someone had to. The shepherds had been called upon by the angels to announce the Shepherd of the Church. The Magi from the East showed up. They had once been astrologers, star-worshipers, but they were coming to worship the Sun of Righteousness.

The woman found herself and the child at the center of it all. It was not the most convenient of settings. Surely, it seemed no place for a King. Yet the King was given the most royal gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The child found himself playing with the lamb who had touched its wet nose to him. Amused by the lamb, the child also revealed to his mother that he knew who he was too. For this child was to be the Lamb of God. He would offer up the incense to the Most High as the Chief Priest of Israel. He had come into this world not to live, but to die. His mother once again drew the child near to her and once again, she held God.

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Held by God

The child knew that this man who had been preaching was a great teacher, perhaps the greatest teacher in all of Judea. He was eager to hear the teacher’s voice but his mother was reluctant to see the man. She knew well that the Sanhedrin had condemned him as a heretic. But the boy insisted. He knew the evil motives of the Sanhedrin. He knew that the man had spoken nothing against them and even respected the authority of the religious leaders, telling people to obey those who sat in the seat of Moses. He pleaded with his mother, and finally, she gave in. She took him there to see the teacher. There was a crowd of people gathering around this man, listening to his teachings.

The boy eagerly lent his ear to the teacher but he could not hear a word he was speaking over the hustle and bustle of the crowd. He asked his mother to lift him up on her shoulders because he couldn’t see the teacher either. He wanted to both see and hear the teacher but there were too many bodies in the way. Too much commotion. The mother placed the child on her shoulders and he looked out toward the teacher but he saw one of the teacher’s disciples standing in the way. The boy became frustrated and despairing. He asked his mother to let him down and then he began tugging at his mother’s clothes leading her to the front of the crowd. His mother warned against this. But the boy insisted.

Leading her through bodies after bodies, the boy saw other children eager to see the teacher as well, moving to the front of the line. Children who also wanted to see and hear the teacher but could not because there were too many bodies in the way, too much commotion, not enough silence. These children desperately wanted to hear of the salvation of Israel that they all recognized this man was teaching. They knew that this man was no ordinary man. They knew that what this man taught was the Truth. They knew that this man was Truth. This man had claimed to be the promised Messiah and they wanted to hear more of what he taught. Many people wanted to hear his teachings.

But as the children rushed toward the front of the line to gather around the teacher, they saw one of the disciples of the teachers blocking their way, telling them that the teacher was busy. Why had this disciple barred them from hearing the great multitude of things that this man taught? The children could not understand why this disciple was so opposed to them hearing of the Gospel that this man had taught. Could children in no way possible follow the commandments of God? Do not all men only follow the commandments of God to perfection because God would help them?

The boy became sad as he saw this disciple directing them away. But the teacher turned to his direction and rebuked his own disciple. The teacher said, “Let the children come!” Reaching for the boy, he gathered him up in his arms and now the boy could not only hear and see the teacher, he was being held by the teacher. He was being held by God! The teacher began to preach about the hearts of children. “Unless you become like as one of these little ones, you will never enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” The eagerness to hear and respond to the voice of the Master. The reception of the Teacher’s doctrines. The constant grasping for and dependence on God. These are the things needed to enter into Heaven. This is what the Teacher taught that day. And the boy was held by God.


This story is based on St. Ignatius Theophorous (of Antioch) who Tradition holds was the little boy who was held by Jesus when He said, “Let the children come!”

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They were thrown into the fire!

They had refused to worship the idol I had constructed. The sentence for this was death and I was intent to give them death as I had promised. I prepared the furnace, hotter than it had ever been and ordered the guards to throw them into the fire. The three should pay for their disobedience to my monarchy! They were to burn in the furnace and they were to die, being reduced to mere cinders. The idol that was a symbol of the Great Babylon had been defied and Babylon was defied by these three Hebrew children. Babylon, the Greatest Empire in the World, shall not be defied, and the smoke of the torment of these three children shall rise!

Taken by the guards, they are thrown into the fires of the furnace. Dead! Collapsing on the ground from the intensity of the heat are the guards who have thrown them into the wrathful fires of their punishment. There is no possibility of survival if the most robust men in the Empire cannot even withstand the heat. These royal guards have gone through the toughest and most difficult of training in all of Babylon for any imperial post. To see the might of the brutality of these flames, just observe how immediately these men fall as they throw the traitors into the fire. The traitors were thrown into the fire and these royal guards fell dead from the heat of the flames!

But what is this? How is it possible? No. It cannot be. Are the children still alive in the fire? I can hear them singing! “Blessed are Thou, O Lord, God of our ancestors, and worthy of praise!” What is the meaning of this? The songs become louder. “With all our heart we follow Thee; we fear Thee and seek Thy presence!” They continue to sing. How is it possible that three children have escaped the punishment of the flames of the furnace and yet the most robustly trained men in the entire Empire collapsed dead without even touching a single flame? Surely great is the judgment of their God upon the Empire if this is happening!

All who worship the Lord, bless the God of gods, sing praise to Him and give thanks to Him, for His mercy endures forever!” Indeed, I was wrong to think the smoke of the torment of these three children shall rise to the heights. Indeed, it is my own idols that are crushed. The smoke of my own torment shall rise forever and ever if I do not turn from the Hellish idols I observe. These demons! “There is one like the Son of God walking among them!” I cry out to all my advisors! Indeed, there is fourth man walking among them and he bears the semblance of one who is divine! This must be their God come down from Heaven to preserve them from the flames and to cast judgment on the Pagan idolatry of Babylon the Great!

O, how we have sinned by worshiping and going after idols! Shall I be made like unto the beasts of the Earth, grazing upon the grass all the days of my life, O God? Forgive me and spare me for doing such an act! I order the flames of the furnace to be put out and I order the children to walk out of the furnace. The Angel of the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego has rescued his faithful servants from the fire. “Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way. These men are to be promoted in the province of Babylon immediately! They shall serve among my royal advisors! Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, unto ages of ages! Amen!”

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I always wanted to join the convent life and consecrate myself in virginity to my Lord but my parents are old and aging and they desire I be protected. Still young and youthful, they have selected for me a handsome man who appears to be kind and loving. I know that God allows for us to seek him in either the life of one who is married or in the life of one who is a virgin. But in all things, he desires us to live a life of obedience. I want to fulfill the will of my parents who are always making peace so I shall accept the married life with obedience. Many fruits can come from marriage as God’s first commandment was “Be fruitful and multiply!” He said this to both man and woman as He created them in His image. What I am entering is into is a sacrament of participation in the creative act of God. I know that God shall bless this marriage.

Ferdinando is a very handsome man. He is a little bit older than I am. I am actually in the older years for marriage myself, age eighteen. Most girls I see are fourteen to sixteen when they are married but my hesitancy to enter this married state has left me entering into marriage at much older age than these girls. What a beautiful ceremony our wedding is! Placing my vows of marriage to this earthly man before my eternal Bridegroom and receiving the Eucharist in confirmation of the marriage and then visiting with relatives! But Ferdinando may be handsome and of well-to-do parents but I am quickly learning there is a darker side to him.

Ferdinando comes out quite physically and verbally abusive. I desire to fulfill the vows I made in marriage but I have no means to control what Ferdinando does. He is a drunkard and he roams around foul lots of people. He gambles too much and then complains that I have squandered the allowances on adornments for myself. I try not to fit myself into the greatest looking clothes. My desires are only for Christ, my Heavenly Bridegroom, and I know that in Him all things are made anew. With patience and longing for Him, I attend Mass faithfully and always light a candle for my beloved earthly husband, Ferdinando, hoping he will turn to the Lord and embrace gentleness. I cannot withstand the torments he enters into. His abuses don’t hurt me nearly as much as they hurt him.

Ferdinando complains about wanting a child to raise but it is not God’s desire for us to have children. “Ferdinando, you must learn to do God’s will before He can bless us with the fruits of children! Until then, He shall seal my womb shut. Sia fatta volunta di Dio! That is what we must learn to say, Ferdinando.” Many years attending Mass in this state of marriage to a man who is anything other than Christ. Many candles lit for him. Much prayers sent for him. Many tears wept for the pain he has brought upon himself. Finally, Ferdinando, as I am attending Mass one Sunday morning, says to me, “Rita! Where are you going?” “Ferdinando, I am going to Mass as I always do on Sunday mornings to be with Jesus Christ, my Heavenly Bridegroom!” “Rita, let me go with you and let us pray together.” Ferdinando’s heart is beginning to change. The first Mass I’ve been to with my earthly husband kneeling alongside of me. I send so many thanks to my Eternal Bridegroom for the work He has accomplished!

Ferdinando begins to understand that he must treat me as Christ sacrificed Himself for the Church. He indeed continues to do that. And our first child is born! A son given the name Giovanni at the baptismal font. And a second wonderful boy too! He is given the name Paulo at the baptismal font. St. John Baptist and St. Paul, protect my children from sin! This is their mother’s cry! How wonderful it is to bear children to fill Heaven with! I have not denied Heaven this reward and I shall not. Ferdinando shall enter into Heaven as long as I continually pray for my loving earthly husband. How the Church has the might to turn a savage beast into a delightful lamb!

My husband has acquired quite a few enemies here in Rocca Porrena over the years from his past misdeeds and though I know that he has converted, I am reminded that we are all still weak sinners. I tell him to avoid those people who used to lead him into sin but sometimes he lapses. It’s been less and less frequent. However, I often worry when he takes too long to get home. As I prepare dinner tonight, I notice that he has been unusually long in getting home. Usually he arrives just before the sun sets, but the sun has not only set, the moon is up in the sky. One of my dear lady friends runs up to me, wringing her hands in the air. “Rita! O Rita! There’s been a catastrophe! Ferdinando! He has been stabbed! He’s dead! We tried to minister the last rites but he was dead before the priest got there!” No! My earthly husband Ferdinando is dead!

I continue to hear all sorts of rumors. I knew that he should not have been with those people, but I hear that he instigated a fight and that he was stabbed to death when his rival took out the blade and plunged it through his chest. What I am most worried about is that he never received the viaticum. Desperately, I pray for his soul and light candles. “O God, enter not into judgment with thy servant Ferdinando, for in thy sight no one will be justified.” Purgation is brutal though a mortal sin will lead to eternal damnation. I pray for Ferdinando that he be brought through Purgation to eternal glory. May God receive my dear earthly husband’s soul into His bosom.

But I fear for my son’s most of all. I know that they have a lot of energy. I have told them that their mother forgives their father’s assassins, just as Our Lady forgave those who put Her Son to death on a Cross. They are desiring this path of vengeance more and more. “Giovanni and Paulo, you must remember that the path to Heaven is forgiveness!” Praying and pleading for my husband’s soul and for my sons to forgive those who trespass against them, I ask God to spare them from being led into sin. As a plague breaks out, my sons have fallen ill with it. Somehow, I have been unaffected by it. Watching them suffer is heartbreaking, but I have called for a priest. Seeing them on their deathbeds, though youths, I reflect on the fact that they were gifts from God and should be surrendered back to Him. And nothing pleases me more than to see the priest visiting both of them, giving them the viaticum. I am affirmed that they have both reposed, forgiving their father’s assassins. Widowed, I shall not remarry, for I have always wanted to enter into the convent. That is the way I shall end my own earthly life.


This story is based on the Life of St. Rita who desired to enter into a convent at an early age but her parents, who were old, wished for her protection in a state of marriage. She was married to an unfortunately unruly man named Ferdinando Paolo who was verbally and physically abusive. But she continued to pray for his conversion. He became sober, a follower of Christ, and the two were blessed with sons Giovanni and Paulo. Ferdinando though, having enemies from his early days, was murdered. When the news reached St. Rita, she would not cease in prayer for him until she was certain he would enter into Heavenly glory. Fearing her sons would desire vengeance, she prayed that they would be led away from sin. When a plague hit the city, they fell victim to it, and having reposed before they considered this sin, entered into Heavenly glory. She fulfilled the rest of her days as an Augustinian nun. The nuns would not accept her at first as they had a policy against receiving widows, but after a miraculous sign was shown to the nuns, she was allowed to enter the Abbey. Her Feast Day is May 22 in the Latin Church. St. Rita, pray for us!

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I’m the son of common parents!

I showed up to the monk Theophanes and instructed him to paint three icons. One of the Theotokos, one of Our Lord, and one of me. The Patriarch Anastasios was coming for a visit that day and I knew he would soon give strong veneration of me. I wanted to have this icon ready for him by the hands of such a faithful and humble servant of God, Theophanes. Theophanes began painting the icons and had all three of them readied. Showing them to the Patriarch, Anastasios adored the icons of the Theotokos and Our Lord and I praised God for such! But he repudiated Theophanes for the icon he had painted of me. This is supposed to happen in the Kingdom. More praise is to be given to God than is to His saints. We are important, but we are only important because of the praise we give to God.

But I wept for Theophanes. He had spent much time on these icons and in painting. His humility was exemplary in the monastery. And the Patriarch refused one of the icons he had painted on the grounds that I was only born of common parents. I encouraged Theophanes to accept this trial in humility for Anastasios would soon be giving due veneration to the Patron of All Russia. Running out of wine, the Patriarch asks Theophanes to bring more. Theophanes doesn’t have any on him and so he runs into the storage room where the Patriarch told him to place my icon. He gets down on his knees and begins to pray for wine. He asks for wine and I produce the wine for him. The wine is superabundant. The Patriarch loves the wine but Theophanes refuses to tell him where it was obtained from.

Later, Patriarch Anastasios sets sail to return home. As he is sailing, his boat encounters troubled waters. The boat is rocked and the Patriarch is thrown into the water. The Patriarch, now seeing his error, calls out upon me for my intercession. “Anastasios, from the depths of the sea hast thou bidden me? One who sprang from common folk?” Anastasios realizing the mistake he had made repents of his sins and calls out to me for aide. I do eagerly help him for I always had the foreknowledge that he would come to venerate me in the icon that Theophanes had painted.

Led back to the icon, the Patriarch begs forgiveness for the blasphemy done to me as a saint of the Most High God and he repents bitterly for denouncing the work of the handservant of God, Theophanes. Patriarch Anastasios’s repentance is deemed worthy, which is why he was rescued from the depths of the sea he had fallen into. Theophanes handiwork is celebrated and venerated as it should be, for Theophanes’s true artistry lie in his humility and his suffering. All things work in their purpose to glorify God in all things and this is just one of many examples of how all things come together to glorify His Holy Name. I knew full well the Patriarch would come to venerate my icon and he has done so. It wasn’t so at first, but he recalled the many sailors I have rescued from their destruction, and thrown into the sea, about to be swallowed whole by it, he came to his senses and to repentance. Anastasios’s repentance is to be lauded alongside the humility of Theophanes.

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Was he a madman?

We had been plagued by lawlessness and corruption in this town for quite some years. It was normal. But never had we seen innocent men being sent to execution. This was something new. Everyone knew the exact character of these men. These were good men. They tended to Myra on a daily basis. They loved their fellow humans and they cared for them. They gave to the poor. They showed up regularly for Church services and they received the sacraments faithfully. Their lives were committed to their families and to prayer. These were the most beautiful souls in all of Myra. Everyone knew that. How could they be so badly slandered? And yet the Governor was determined to put them to death.

I have suspected the Governor of bribery. Indeed, evidence abounds of the bribes and financial actions he has received, especially in determining the case of these young men. There was no law at play here. The town had cried out and pleaded to our Bishop Nicholas to do something about it. Three innocent men were about to be put to death. But the execution was nigh to happen. It seemed helpless. I watched the three men being dragged out to be executed. Efstathios, our Governor, held the sword high over their heads. He was about to behead the first one when the Patriarch appeared. He grabbed the sword from the Governor’s hand. Is he mad? Does he not know the Governor could strike him down with the blade?

But though there was much corruption that Efstathios had given himself over to, there was nothing he feared more than the judgment of God from the Patriarch. Efstathios didn’t even fight our Holy Father Nicholas. He laid down his sword and listened to every single rebuke the Patriarch gave him. The Patriarch condemned the lawlessness, the shameful corruption, the lack of due process. The Patriarch condemned the slander done against these three men and the Patriarch condemned Efstathios for his involvement in the corruption and the slander and the lawlessness. We all revered this Holy Father for his courage. He didn’t have the sword but he rushed in like a madman to grab the sword swiftly away from the maniacally corrupt Governor’s hand.

Finally, the Patriarch threatened to turn Efstathios over to the Emperor if he continued in this act. We were in astonishment that the Patriarch could stand up to the sword as he did here. Efstathios was ghostly pale with fright. Not wanting to discontent the Patriarch further, and perhaps in true repentance of his evil deeds, Efstathios released the three innocent men. Let it be known to all men how St. Nicholas has preserved the lives of three innocent men. Shall he preserve the lives of even more innocents? Only God knows now, but I am certain that sometime, in the near future, three more innocents shall be spared from a death they were slanderously condemned to. O Holy Father, preserve our city of Myra from corruption!

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I hope he doesn’t see me

I had heard he was going to sell his daughters into harlotry for money. How awful! He had hit rock bottom in his economic standing and didn’t see any clear way out so now his innocent daughters, the three of them, would have to pay? I know I have plenty and so much to give, perhaps there is a way I can help, but I must remain concealed. I do not want my left hand to know what my right hand is doing. I’m going to wait for the night and I am going to take this sack of coins and throw it into his house. I am going to fling it through a window, at night, when all men are sleeping, so that I cannot be spotted. I will not allow any mortal to spot me. No, my only reward, if any, should be in Heaven. I would prefer it this way.

Coming up to his window, I examine the inside of his house. Not a human in sight. Phew! I take the sack of coins I put together earlier that morning and throw it in through his window. Thud! It lands on the floor. I sneak back into the woods as fast as I can. I don’t want him to spot me. The next morning, I am elated to hear with what joy he has found himself in again. No longer destitute, using those gold coins I gave to him, he has purchased a dowry for his oldest daughter and married her off to one of the finest Christian men of Patara. I shall do this again for his middle daughter as well, for he has used the money wisely and fairly, and has brought goodness to his daughter’s life.

Once again, it is the evening. The sun has set, and I approach his house in the middle of the wooded area. Taking the second sack I have prepared for him, I throw it through his window. Thud! It lands on the floor and no one has spotted me. I sneak back to the parsonage and through the woods as fast as I can. I hope he doesn’t see me. The next morning, I am elated once again to find that he has used the money to purchase a dowry for his second daughter and has married her off to another fine Christian man of Patara. I have saved at least two of his daughters from prostitution. But I am also hearing that he has been trying to seek out his benefactor. I know I must continue to help him, but I do not want him to find out it is me who is doing so. I busily prepare a third sack of coins for his third daughter, hoping not to be caught by him.

Night dawns upon Patara and I sneak out through the woods yet again. I have the third sack with me. I know he is looking for his benefactor but I don’t see anyone in the house. I presume I am safe but I do not know. I take the sack and I throw it through his window. Thud! It lands and I take off through the woods again but I hear him call out. I turn around, he is running toward me and he recognizes me as Father Nicholas! I have been spotted. He bows down to me, reverently, kissing my feet and thanking me. I did not want any praise from him. This act of piety grieves me. “For the sake of the kindness shown thee, do me the favor of saying nothing regarding it for as long as I live; otherwise, I shall hold thee responsible before God.” This satisfies him. He knows his benefactor and my act has gone unnoticed to the world.

The next morning I see that the man has purchased a third dowry for his youngest and has been able to marry her to another of Patara’s fine Christian men. I have saved all three from being sold off into prostitution and I have restored this man from the financial destitution that he had fallen into. I am grateful. We both know who his benefactor is, but this deed of mine shall not be announced to the world until after I repose. Let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing and you shall be rewarded with treasure, where moth and rust doth not destroy!

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He was a blasphemer!

How could he go around this area preaching something the Church had never taught before and dividing Christians amongst on ourselves on something we all knew to be true? How could he have the nerve to oppose the theology of the Church and blasphemously declare, There was a time when the Son was not! The foolishness that a human being is capable of sinking into. And I have never seen someone so happy and content with his blasphemies as this fool, Arius. What a lout. I have defended my diocese from the heresies and errors of this blasphemer. Most of the other bishops in this region have allowed their dioceses to become gradually infected. Alexander, faithful as he is, allowed Arius to be ordained. I excuse Alexander on the grounds that Arius has always been a crafty liar aside from being a serial blasphemer. I probably would have given into the lie that Arius had recanted his heresies too if I was Alexander.

But I have defended my diocese from this error nonetheless. Not a sheep of mine has fallen into the lunacy that Christ was a created being, ignorant of His own Father. Especially when the Scriptures testify that He revealed His Father and that the Son is the only one who fully knows the Father. How can the Son say the Father is in Him to St. Phillip if He is not so intimately connected to the Father that He is in the Father and the Father in Him? And how can the Father be in Him and He in the Father unless He Himself is coequally God. The Arian heretics will say we “misunderstand”. We also apparently cannot accurately interpret the plain meaning of the prologue of St. John the Evangelist’s Epistle! You need some sort of “special revelation” to understand that the Scriptures plainly teach their heresies! So the obvious conclusion is that the Scriptures simply don’t teach their heresies.

Dividing the simplicity of Christ, this foul-mouthed heretic has used his cunning to gain the presbyterate and deceive the people into believing this heresy that Christ was somehow created. The Eternal Creator a mere creature? Ha! What fools does he take us to be? The Emperor has been kind enough to gather us together to denounce this heretic once and for all and his lies have reached an intolerable level. Every word out of his mouth is a lie or a half-truth. Who wouldn’t want to slap him across the face at this point? He has slandered us and belied us. He has accused us of denying the Son. We aren’t the ones who are saying the Son was not though.

As I stand here across the room from him, I can no longer tolerate these blasphemies. I rush to meet him. I raise my fist and I give him a good smack right across the upper lip. Blood is on the ground and a tooth was knocked out. Arius is writhing. He calls on the Emperor to punish me for what I have done. The Emperor explains that my hand ought to be cut off according to the codes of civil conduct. Fortunately, the bishops there don’t desire that for me. They call on the Emperor to allow the manner into their hand. The Emperor allows this of them. They elect to defrock me and throw me in prison.

I am sitting here in prison. I could not allow that blasphemer to continue his free range of lies. I call upon the mercy of God. The Theotokos shows Herself to me. Oh sweet Mother, you know I was only defending the dignity of your Son! The Theotokos gives me her solemn approval of smacking Arius and hands to me my omophorion. The Theotokos explains that I defended the orthodox Faith well and that I need to return to my Episcopal throne. Seeing me the next day, the bishops are astonished to find me with the omophorion. I explain that the Theotokos has desired to restore me to my Episcopal dignity. “Then it is the will of God!” the bishops exclaim! They apologize for their ill-treatment of me and the Arian heresy is denounced before the Emperor and before God!

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I cannot remember the last time I thought clearly. I have been grazing on the grass for many long years just like Nebuchadnezzar. I remember him clearly. Was it not that religion of fools he was preaching out here? Was it not his family who overthrew my fathers? And this foolish religion sweeping across the lands, deceiving even the Roman Emperor himself, how could he have even thought to bring it here? I trusted him but he deceived me.

Like Saul, overseeing the deaths of Christians, I oversaw the killings of those nuns. They betrayed Armenia to the fools and refused their King. How could I have let them live? They proclaimed insipidly that I could not overcome them but I did. Had I not given them the death they deserved for treason? I most certainly had meted out to them exactly what they had incurred upon themselves. Death was merciful compared to what they deserved for the treason they had sowed.

And that man Gregory. Him! He had betrayed my trust by embracing this foolish religion fit for beasts. Had I not bestowed upon him all sorts of honors? Had I not made him one of my chief advisors? How could he have turned himself to that faith? That Christianity? How could he have betrayed the gods? I gave him the worst of it. As that Babylonian King threw Daniel into the pit of lions, I threw him into a pit of snakes!

But now I have been left to graze like an ox upon the field. And like an ox, I crawl upon all fours. Armenia sees my bestial madness and they mock me for it. How have I become nothing more than an animal? I am beneath my own people. I have consulted every single doctor in the land and they can do nothing for me. What is the source of my madness?

“Tiridates!” my sister calls out to me one night. I turn my ear to listen. “Remember that man you threw into a snake pit? He is still alive! I had a vision of him still alive! And he can rescue you from your madness! He will make you great if you allow him!”

Treachery! But how? Is it possible my sister sees light? It must have been fourteen years since I threw him into that pit! How could he possibly be still alive? But I’ve tried everything. This was worth it. Rushing to the snake pit I remove the seal and cry out, “Gregory! Are you preserved?”

“Yes, I am. As the Angel of the Lord shut the mouths of the lions for the Prophet Daniel so He has preserved me from the venom of the snakes and has fed me too.”

Arrayed in splendid light, Gregory steps out. Embracing him, I beg him to cure me of the madness. “Be baptized and accept Christianity.” Wonderful! My spiritual sight has been made new. No longer in madness but in peace that surpasses all human understanding. This must be made the religion for the people. St. Gregory has brought illumination to the King and he shall be made Patriarch of the whole land. In repentance of my past madness, I shall devote myself to promoting and spreading the Christian Faith as did the Apostle Paul! Amin.

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Cleaning out our filth

In two martyrdoms today, we see St. Katherine of Alexandria and St. Mercurios the Great, both have tremendous filth in their lives to turn out. Both martyrs experience before their final trials that God has turned His face away from them. St. Katherine experiences this turning in a vision of the icon of the Theotokos with the Christ-Child and St. Mercurios is denounced in person by the angel who once gave him the sword to defeat his enemies. We forget that our strengths and our weaknesses come from God. It is not from ourselves that our strengths come from but each blessing we have is from God.

In the life of St. Katherine of Alexandria, she is blessed with incredible philosophical wisdom and knowledge of all of the philosophers. She is also blessed with incredible beauty. She desires not to have a man unless that man matches both her exceeding wisdom and her beauty. But there is not a man who fits that description until she hears about Christ from the priest. Even then, when she has her vision about the icon that the priest has given her, she sees that Christ has looked away from her. The Theotokos pleads on her behalf but Christ refuses to look upon the maiden for she has filth on the inside. St. Katherine, being a Pagan for so long, doesn’t realize that this is the source of her intelligence, her beauty, her stature. She has been attributing her achievements to human reasoning so long. She finally accepts that Christ is the source of her wisdom and approaches holy baptism.

When the Emperor attempts to deceive her, he tries to tell her that her wisdom has come from the Pagan deities. But she is now equipped with the sacraments to fend off the deceitfulness of the Emperor. She bats down this argument immediately for she has encountered the living Christ, this is the one she is now betrothed to. The Emperor will have to go through Christ if he wants to deceive Katherine but he cannot. St. Katherine’s gift of wisdom from God confounds the Emperor’s philosophers who convert to Christianity and receive their baptism in blood from their martyrdom. Her wisdom converts the Emperor’s consort and the Emperor’s chief general. She doesn’t overcome the Emperor through violence but through her Christian witness. When she is about to be torn to pieces by the instrument of torture proposed by Hursasden, the wheels break apart and fly throughout the room, bringing an horrific end to all of those who were demanding the death of the handmaiden of God. Driven mad, the Emperor found himself overcome by the maiden, his courts converted to the religion he despised. It is in times of persecution that Christianity triumphs.

In the life of St. Mercurios, he is given a sword by an angel which allows him to conquer the Scythians invincibly. After this episode, the Emperor begins to decorate the saint and lavish worldly honors and praises on him. Becoming attached to this worldliness, Mercurios is then rebuked by the angel. Mercurios remembers that it was not the Emperor who brought him glory but that it was God who brought him glory. The Emperor begins to torture Mercurios for his faithfulness to the testimony of Christ who brought him such strength but Mercurios refuses. He finds his final battle is a struggle against the Emperor because it is not flesh and blood we wrestle against but our battle indeed is a spiritual battle against the forces of darkness and their allies. Both saints find themselves in a battle against the deceitfulness of the Emperor. St. Synkletike reminds us not to direct anger against a person but against their sin. It is not the Emperor they war with but with the Emperor’s deceitfulness in both cases. Ultimately, St. Katherine of Alexandria and St. Mercurios the Great are warriors for the cause of Christ. They fight for the Heavenly King, not just the earthly Emperor. St. Katherine was the daughter of an earthly King who became the daughter of the Heavenly King. St. Mercurios was a soldier for an earthly Emperor who became a soldier for the Heavenly King. The two had to recall that God had blessed them with these gifts and that they did not come from their worldliness. It is in this way, that we first begin to clean out our own filth.

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