Saturday 9 September 2017

The Month of September

September is the first month of the Church Year, and contains two Great Feasts, the Birth of the Virgin and Holy Cross. We also celebrate the festival of Saint Edward's Enshrinement (1984) on Saturday 3rd/16th. 

Of course we do not know the date of the All-holy Virgin's birth, but the feast is kept on 8th/21st September, the eighth day of the New Year. This reminds us that in the beginning God created all things in six days and rested on the seventh day. The eighth day begins the New Creation. Saint Andrew of Crete referred to this feast as "the beginning of festivals, which serves as the door to grace and truth." Just as the Saviour was contained within the Virgin's womb, so the feasts of the Saviour throughout the year are contained within the cycle of services which span the Virgin's earthly life, from her Nativity to her Dormition. Of course, historically as well, the Virgin's much longer life contained that of her Divine Son.

The date of the celebration of the Holy Cross on 14th/27th of the month was appointed because the feast is attached to that of the consecration of the Church of the Resurrection (the Holy Sepulchre) in Jerusalem. This is an event we can date exactly. It was first celebrated on 13th September, 335 A.D. On whatever day of the week the feast falls it is kept as a fast day in remembrance of our Saviour's Passion.

In September, we also celebrate the memory of the holy Martyr Vasilissa of Nicomedia on the same day as we keep the enshrinement of St Edward. She was a nine year old girl when she was brought before the governor of Nicomedia accused of being a Christian. Seeing her youth, the governor, who was named Alexander, tried to persuade her to renounce her faith by offering certain inducements and by his kind and sweet words. When Vasilissa was not tempted by this approach, he ordered that she be beaten, and then burned on various parts of her body. When he saw Vasilissa still remained resolute, he commanded that she be put to death by being thrown into a burning furnace, but by God's dispensation she remained unharmed. Alexander then ordered that she be exposed to the wild beasts in the arena, but neither would they touch her. Seeing how a young girl was thus protected by Divine grace, Alexander's heart was enlightened, and he begged the forgiveness of the martyr, asking her prayers and declaring that he believed in her God. Vasilissa lived a few more years and died in peace. Alexander was instructed by the local Bishop and baptized and ended his earthly course in piety. St Vasilissa is an example of a number of saints, who are commemorated as martyrs even though they did not die for their faith. The sufferings that she endured and her witness before the persecutors won for her the crown of martyrdom although in this instance they did not actually kill her.

The Venerable Adamnan of Iona (6th/19th) is best known to us for his life of his renowned predecessor, St Columba of Iona. This work is still in print in an English translation and published by Penguin. St Adamnan died just over a hundred years after St Columba and so must have been one of the third or fourth generation of monks on Iona, and might well have known earlier fathers who remembered St Columba. As abbot of Iona, he visited Northumbria as an ambassador to its King Aldfrid, and thus came to know the monks of Wearmouth. He studied the differences of usages and calendar which had grown up between his native Celtic Church and the English Church, which was then following the Roman, and universal, usages. He had conversations with St Ceolfrid, and through these and his deep knowledge of the Scriptures and the traditions of the Church, he became convinced that the usages of his own Church were not sound. He tried by gentle persuasion to convince his monks at Iona of this and to have them reform their usages, but they were not to be persuaded, and being a gentle and tolerant man, Adamnan did not force them to comply. He visited communities in Ireland and there he found the Irish fathers more ready to bring their usages into line with the Church's general practice, and under his influence they adopted the Roman method of calculating the date of Easter. He returned to Iona but was still unable to persuade his monks to comply with the Roman usage, and he died within a year of his return in 704 A.D. Iona did later accept the reform which St Adamnan had urged upon it. Besides his life of St Columba, St Adamnan compiled on book on the holy places of Palestine. As far as we know he had never visited the Holy Land, but he gathered materials from a French bishop, Arculphus, who on his return from Jerusalem was driven by a storm at sea upon the shores of Britain.

The Venerable Cloud of Paris (7th/20th) was the grandson of the first Christian King of the Franks, Clovis, and his consort, St Clothilde. When Clovis died he left four sons, parting his domains among them. The second of these, Clodomir, was killed in battle with the Burgundians, and his three sons were left in the care of their saintly grandmother. In the dynastic quarrels of that period, the two eldest of these princes, aged ten and seven, were assassinated, but the third, Clodoald or Cloud, was taken to safety in Provence. There he grew up, and disdaining an earthly kingdom for the sake of the heavenly, he took up the monastic life. He lived for some years in obscurity as a hermit. Once he was approached by a beggar and, having nothing else to give him, gave him his monastic cowl. That evening when the beggar wore it as a protection against the weather, it was seen to shine with a radiance, and thus the hermitage and the sanctity of the saint were revealed. Later, St Cloud returned to Paris, where, no longer a threat to the dynastic ambitions of his uncles and cousins, he was granted a parcel of land to found a monastery. Eusebius, the bishop of Paris, ordained him to the priesthood, and there in his monastery he ended his earthly course in about 560 A.D. At the time of his death, he would not have been much above thirty-five years of age, but his virtue and purity had won for him the heavenly kingdom, whose riches he sought after having his earthly inheritance snatched from him.

Saint Cyprian of Moscow (16th/29th) was a Bulgarian by birth, and was born in 1330 A.D. As a young man he placed himself under obedience to the Venerable Theodosius, himself a disciple of the renowned hesychastic father, Saint Gregory the Sinaite. Wishing to progress further in the monastic life, he travelled to Constantinople and settled in the renowned and ancient monastery of Studion. His abilities were recognized by the Patriarch, St Philotheus. When the Patriarch was deposed in 1354, Cyprian went with him to the Holy Mountain Athos, where he was able to drink more deeply of the Palamite tradition. In 1364, Philotheus was restored to his cathedra, and he summoned Cyprian to join him in the Imperial City. At this period he was instrumental in restoring full communion between the Church of Serbia and the Ĺ’cumenical Throne, and then between his native Church of Bulgaria and Constantinople. 

At this time the Russian Church was still under the Ĺ’cumenical Patriarchate, and St Philotheus was desirous that it should remain united. However, the still pagan Prince of Lithuania, Olgerd, who held sway over parts of Western Russia was threatening to convert to Catholicism and force his Orthodox subjects to do so. To placate him and avoid a persecution of the faithful, in 1376 Philotheus consecrated Cyprian Metropolitan of Kiev, but, to ensure the subsequent unity of the Russian Church, also designated him successor of the aged St Alexis of Moscow. When St Alexis died two years later, Cyprian set out for Moscow, but was arrested being assumed to be a Lithuanian spy. He managed to return to Kiev, but political turmoil in Constantinople and in Russia prevented any resolution of the situation until in 1381, when on the initiative of Prince Dimitri Donskoy, he was recalled to Moscow. There the Prince publicly asked his forgiveness for his ill-treatment, and Saint Cyprian was installed as Metropolitan of the whole Russian Church. Shortly afterwards he was deposed and replaced by one Pimen, and it was not until 1389 that he regained his see.

Despite the political turmoil through which he lived, Saint Cyprian was able to achieve much. He laboured to correct liturgical abuses that had become prevalent in the Russian Church and corrected the service books. He translated from the original Greek a number of liturgical works, wrote a eulogy to St Peter of Moscow and glorified St Alexander Nevsky. He added to the Russian Synod icon of Orthodoxy the clauses relating to Saint Gregory Palamas' defence of Orthodoxy, and he arranged to aid to be sent to Constantinople when the people there were suffering on account of the siege of Bajazet. He died on 16th September, 1406, having dictated an address which he asked to be read at his funeral. His sacred relics were uncovered in 1472, and were enshrined in the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Moscow Kremlin.

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