Κυριακή 24 Σεπτεμβρίου 2017

St. Thekla the First Martyr & St. Silouan the Athonite (September 24)

St. Thekla the Protomartyr (=First Martyr) and Equal-to-the-Apostles
(Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
Full of Grace and Truth

"The Holy Protomartyr and Equal of the Apostles Thekla was born in the city of Iconium. She was the daughter of rich and illustrious parents, and she was distinguished by extraordinary beauty. At eighteen years of age they betrothed her to an eminent youth. But after she heard the preaching of the holy Apostle Paul about the Savior, St Thekla with all her heart came to love the Lord Jesus Christ, and she steadfastly resolved not to enter into marriage, but rather to devote all her life to preaching the Gospel.

St Thekla's mother was opposed to her daughter's plans and insisted that she marry her betrothed. St Thekla's fiancé also complained to the prefect of the city about the Apostle Paul, accusing him of turning his bride against him. The prefect locked up St Paul in prison.

During the night St Thekla secretly ran away from her house, and she bribed the prison guards, giving them all her gold ornaments, and so made her way into the prison to the prisoner. For three days she sat at the feet of the Apostle Paul, listening to his fatherly precepts. Thekla's disappearance was discovered, and servants were sent out everywhere looking for her. Finally, they found her in the prison and brought her home by force. 

St. Thekla the Protomartyr (here)

At his trial St Paul was sentenced to banishment from the city. Again they urged St Thekla to consent to the marriage, but she would not change her mind. Neither the tears of her mother, nor her wrath, nor the threats of the prefect could separate St Thekla from her love for the Heavenly Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ. 

The Mountains of St. Philip (left--named because the Apostle Philip passed this way on his journey from Palestine to Hierapolis) and St. Thekla (right--named because St. Thekla was from Iconium), Iconium (modern day Konya) (taken and altered from: here)

Her mother in a insane rage demanded from the judges a death sentence against her unyielding daughter, and St Thekla was sentenced to be burned. Without flinching, the holy martyr went into the fire and made the Sign of the Cross over herself. At this moment the Savior appeared to her, blessing her present deed, and inexpressible joy filled her holy soul.
The flames of the fire shot up high, but the martyr was surrounded by a light and the flames did not touch her. Thunder boomed, and a strong downpour of rain and hail extinguished the fire. The torturers scattered in fear. St Thekla, kept safe by the Lord, left the city and with the help of a certain Christian youth, searched for the Apostle Paul. The holy apostle and his companions, among whom was St Barnabas, were hidden in a cave not far from the city, praying fervently, that the Lord would strengthen St Thekla in her sufferings.

After this, St Thekla went with them preaching the Gospel in Antioch. In this city she was pursued by a certain dignitary named Alexander, who was captivated by her beauty. St Thekla refused his offer of marriage, and so she was condemned to death for being a Christian. Twice they set loose hungry wild animals upon her, but they would not touch the holy virgin. Instead, they lay down meekly and licked her feet.

The Providence of God preserved the holy martyr unharmed through all her torments. Finally, they tied her to two oxen and began to chase her with red-hot rods, but the strong cords broke asunder like cobwebs, and the oxen ran off, leaving St Thekla unharmed. The people began shouting, "Great is the God of the Christians!" The prefect himself became terrified, realizing that the holy martyr was being kept safe by the Almighty God, Whom she served. He then gave orders to set free the servant of God Thekla. 

St. Thekla the Protomartyr (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
With the blessing of the Apostle Paul, St Thekla then settled in a desolate region of Isaurian Seleucia and dwelt there for many years, constantly preaching the Word of God and healing the sick through her prayer. St Thekla converted many pagans to Christ, and the Church appropriately names her as "Equal- to-the-Apostles." Even a pagan priest, trying to assault her purity and punished for his impudence, was brought by her to holy Baptism. More than once the Enemy of the race of man tried to destroy St Thekla through people blinded by sin, but the power of God always preserved this faithful servant of Christ.

When St Thekla was already a ninety-year-old woman, pagan sorcerers became incensed at her for treating the sick for free. They were unable to comprehend that the saint was healing the sick by the power of the grace of Christ, and they presumed that the virgin-goddess Artemis was her special helper. Envious of St Thekla, they sent their followers to defile her. When they came near her, St Thekla cried out for help to Christ the Savior, and a rock split open and hid the holy virgin, the bride of Christ. Thus did St Thekla offer up her holy soul to the Lord. 

Fresco from Decani Monastery of St. Thekla fleeing into the cleft of the rock (taken from here)

The holy Church glorifies the Protomartyr Thekla as " the glory of women and guide for the suffering, opening up the way through every torment." From of old many churches were dedicated to her, one of which was built at Constantinople by the holy Equal of the Apostles Constantine (May 21). The Protomartyr Thekla, a prayerful intercessor for ascetics, is also invoked during the tonsure of women into monasticism." (taken from here)

The "Defile" of Maaloula, or the cleft into which St. Thekla fled from her pursuers. Note: "defile" as a noun means: "any narrow passage, esp. between mountains." (here)
The Convent of St. Thekla (Deir Mar Takla) of Maaloula, Syria as it appears today (taken from here)

"Shortly after her death a community of virgins went to live in her mountain cell, building a small chapel to enshrine her body. The Convent of Saint Thekla [Deir Mar Takla] still exists today near the village of Maaloula, Syria." (here)

Another picture of the Convent of St. Thekla in Syria (taken from here)

"Maaloula is one of the most scenic villages in Syria and is of particular interest as the only place in the world where Aramaic; the language spoken by Christ (pbuh) is still used as a living language. The word Maaloula means entrance in Aramaic. It's situated at an altitude of more than 1500 meters; with its little houses cling to the face of an enormous rock; making it look suspended in mid-air." (here)

St. Thekla the Protomartyr (here)

According to one source, St. Thekla especially works many miracles with dermatologic and psychopathologic (or spiritual pathologic) illnesses. (here). As mentioned, as the first woman martyr and a great ascetic and wonderworker, she is a guide and protector of nuns, and works many miracles throughout the world for the faithful. May she intercede for us all and help us!

Icon of St. Thekla the Protomartyr (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)

Troparion - Tone 4
You were enlightened by the words of Paul, O Bride of God, Thekla, and your faith was confirmed by Peter, O Chosen One of God. You became the first sufferer and martyr among women, by entering into the flames as into a place of gladness. For when you accepted the Cross of Christ, the demonic powers were frightened away. O all-praised One, intercede before Christ God that our souls may be saved.
(taken from here)

Kontakion. Tone 8.
You shone out with the beauty of virginity, you were adorned with a crown of martyrdom, you were entrusted with the work of an apostle, glorious Virgin; and you changed the fire’s flame to dew, while by prayer you tamed the raging of the bull as victorious first Champion.

The Ikos.
The brilliance of an honoured feast brightly outshines the sun; for blazing with beams of light it is mirrored in the eyes of the faithful; therefore as we dance with the Angels, let us all shout aloud to God our Saviour, as we cry to him: You have multiplied your mercies, O Saviour, by giving a perfect gift to your people: the victorious first Champion.


On the 24th of the same month, Commemoration of the Holy Great Martyr and Equal of the Apostles Thekla.

He saved you, Thekla, when he rent the rock,
He at whose passion once the rocks were rent.
‘Twas on the twenty fourth day that a rock enfolded great Thekla.

St. Thekla the Protomartyr (here)

Ode 9. Mother of God most High. [From the Canon by St. John of Damascus] Is there any who would not marvel, Protomartyr, at your indomitable courage? For having tamed the passions, wild beasts of the mind, you did not quail before the impotent assaults of wild beasts, but remained in their midst unharmed.
Even the sheer untrodden rock was rent by God’s command for the god-bearing Martyr, sealed as God’s bride by the bath of rebirth; and like a bridal chamber for the fugitive it received her in its arms.
Doctor the bruises of my soul, First Champion; crown the world with peace, giving victories to our faithful Sovereign against hostile barbarians and peace to the Churches by your supplications.
Sovereign Lady, slay my sin that still lives, give life to the death of soul by the force of the true Life born from your womb through ineffable compassion for those who devoutly magnify you.

St. Thekla the Protomartyr with scenes from her life (here)
At Lauds, Idiomel Stichera.
Tone 1. By Anatolios.
The stadium of the contest lies before us to-day. Peoples, let us dance and let us observe the wondrous deeds that are accomplished there; for a spotless lamb, the fair virgin and bride of God Thekla is brought out for slaughter for the sake of Christ our God who was slaughtered; and so by the faith of the Trinity she destroyed the godlessness of tyrants and, as she dances with the Angels, she intercedes with the Saviour that our souls may be saved.
By Anatolios.
Brave champion Thekla, with Christ as your Bridegroom in heaven, you despised your earthly suitor; for wisely you did not yield to a mother’s flatteries, but followed Paul, taking on your shoulders the standard of the Cross. The fire did not harm you; you changed the savagery of the wild beasts to tameness; you slew seals by the descent into Christ that is holy Baptism. But, as you were distinguished by noble contests, do not cease to intercede continually with the Lord for those who in faith celebrate your ever-honoured memory.
Tone 4. By Anatolios.
You dedicated yourself to the all-powerful will; strengthened as Christ’s champion and abandoning earthly love, you were declared the lamp of eternal life; you are a blessed bridal chamber, in which flocks of women, having found the entrance to eternal life take their rest. With them, Apostle Thekla, intercede for our souls.
Tone 4. By Anatolios.
Lovers of martyrs, strike up the dance, for the season of contests is upon us, and the yearly memorial of the Protomartyr, which urges all to give glory to God: for Thekla, the first of Martyrs among women, has accomplished her contest, is the first to be declared the victor and she intercedes with boldness for our souls.
Glory. Tone 4.
Protomartyr of Christ, it was not only the races of mankind that marvelled but wild beasts too were astonished. For you the flames were not reckoned as flames, fair virgin Thekla, because of your Bridegroom Christ, for you were glad as you suffered for him and were parted from the world that you might gain the blessedness of heaven as you intercede with boldness for our souls.
(taken from the service to St. Thekla in English that is available from Fr. Ephraim Lash: here)

The Holy Great Virgin Martyrs Thekla, Irene and Ephemia (here)
St. Silouan the Athonite (1938) 
St. Silouan the Athonite (+1938) - Commemorated September 24 / 11 (here)
On this day we keep the memorial of our sacred father Silouan whom God inspired, who lived the monastic life upon the Holy Mountain in the Russian Monastery of the Holy and Great Martyr Panteleimon, and who died godly in the Lord on the twenty-fourth day of September in the year of our salvation 1938.
Photograph of St. Silouan the Athonite (here)
Once, in this life, thou didst see Christ, O Saint;
And now thou beholdest Him face to face,
Not darkly as in a glass.
Thine earthly country delights that thou wast born in her;
Athos rejoices in the Spirit; for in thee she nurtured a saint;
And from that sylvan mountain heaven has now received thee.

St. Silouan the Athonite, with scenes from his life (here)
Saint Silouan, that citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem, was born of pious parents in the land of Russia in the village of Shovsk in the diocese of the Metropolitan of Tambov. He came into the world in the year of our Lord 1866, and from a young man was called to repentance by the All-Praised Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary.
[Simeon [the Saint's baptismal name] was a normal human being. He lived a normal life full of gaiety, temptations and sin [in his youth]. He loved drinking, eating, playing concertina and showing off before girls. He had almost killed one young man, as he was showing off before the girls of the village. While the words of the woman let Simeon found his faith and clung to the thought of God, and made him adopt an unusual frame of mind that is suitable for monastic life, the normal life made him lose his zeal after only three months...One day, Simeon woke up disgusted from dreaming that a snake was crawling down his throat, and he was troubled from hearing a sweet voice saying: “Just as you find it loathsome to swallow a snake in your dream, so I find your ways ugly to look upon."...the simple minded Simeon attributed it to his unworthiness and his sins. He said: “Now I see how sorry the Lord and His Mother are for people. Imagine – the Mother of God appearing from the skies to show a young man like me his sins.” The simplicity and humility of Simeon made him aware that he did hear only a sweet voice, but he did not see the speaker – the Mother of God – in his dream. He attributed this to his impurity, and since then he started to repent, and his resolve to enter a monastery, once he [is] released from the army, returned with double force. (here)]
The Theotokos leading the young Simeon to repentance, and his receiving the blessing of St. John of Kronstadt (here)
When he had reached his twenty-seventh year, he renounced the things of this life, and, with the prayers of Saint John of Kronstadt to speed him on his way, he set forth for Greece and the illustrious Holy Mountain. Here, in the cloister of the Holy Great Martyr and Physician Panteleimon, he took upon him the yoke of the monastic life.
St. Silouan tonsured a monk (here)
Thus he gave himself to God with all his soul, and in a brief while he not only received the gift of unceasing prayer from the Most Holy Mother of God, but was also granted ineffably to see the living Christ in the chapel of the Holy Prophet Elijah that was next to the monastery’s flour mill.
[Some months after arriving at Mt. Athos and beginning his monastic life, St. Silouan - then the novice Simeon - had a dramatic experience of Christ in prayer (from St. Silouan the Athonite, pages 14-15):
Sitting in his cell before vespers, he thought, 'God will not hear me!' He felt utterly forsaken, his soul plunged in the darkness of despondency. Sick at heart, he remained in this black hell for about an hour.
St. Silouan working at the mill, and feeling that "God will not hear me" (here)
That same day, during vespers in the Church of the Holy Prophet Elijah (adjoining the mill), to the right of the Royal Doors, by the ikon of the Saviour, he beheld the living Christ.
In a manner passing all understanding the Lord appeared to the young novice whose whole being was filled with the fire of the grace of the Holy Spirit - that fire which the Lord brought down to earth with His coming.
The vision drained Simeon of all his strength, and the Lord vanished. (here)]
Christ appearing to St. Silouan (here)
But this first grace was taken away, and the saint was constrained by anguish and great grief, and with God’s permission for fifteen years he was given over to manifold temptations of spiritual foes, and so he followed in the footsteps of Christ, having offered up prayers and strong supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save him from death (Heb. 5:7), being taught by God through a voice from above that gave him this commandment: "Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not."
[After 15 years of ascetic struggles and spiritual efforts, St. Silouan received another important insight from God (from St. Silouan the Athonite, pages 42):
It was fifteen years after the Lord had appeared to him, and Silouan was engaged in one of these nocturnal struggles with devils which so tormented him. No matter how he tried, he could not pray with a pure mind. At last he rose from his stool, intending to bow down and worship, when he saw a gigantic devil standing in front of the ikon, waiting to be worshipped. Meanwhile, the cell filled with other evil spirits, Father Silouan sat down again, and with bowed head and aching heart he prayed,
'Lord, Thou seest that I desire to pray to Thee with a pure mind but the devils will not let me. Instruct me, what must I do to stop them hindering me?'
And in his soul he heard,
'The proud always suffer from devils.'
'Lord,' said Silouan, 'teach me what I must do that my soul may become humble.'
Once more, his heart heard God's answer,
'Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.' (here)]

St. Silouan the Athonite (here)
[The phrase 'keep thy mind in hell and despair not' may sound strange or discouraging. Archimandrite Sophrony explains how it instead is an important part of the normal spiritual progression in which pride must be overcome. We also see that knowledge of God, our salvation, is not a purely rational or intellectual process but is instead one of true relationship (from St. Silouan the Athonite, pages 143-144).
Whatever the means he employs, the proud man will never attain to genuine union with God. Just by wishing it, man cannot unite the mind with the deep heart, and even if the mind does somehow penetrate into the heart, it will see only itself, its own created beauty - splendid, undoubtedly, having been created in the Divine image - but God Himself will not be found.
This is why the Blessed Staretz in his striving after humility seized on the fiery weapon given him by God: 'Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.' Here was no subtle intellectual talking, but a 'simple', and 'ignorant' man who many a time was found worthy of pure contemplation of God, and had, indeed, grounds for saying, 'If you pray purely, you are a theologian.' Or, 'There are many on earth who believe but very few who know God.' By 'knowing God' he meant, not gnostic theories, not theological speculations, but the experience of lively communion, of real union with the Divine Light. Knowledge is co-existence - that is, a sharing of being. (htere)]
St. Silouan the Athonite (here)
[The passage from Archimandrite Sophrony also clarifies the phrase 'keep thy mind in hell and despair not', showing how the struggle against pride is difficult, though an important part of the spiritual life (from St. Silouan the Athonite, page 210).
Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not. What does it mean - to 'keep the mind in hell'? Can it be that we are to use our imagination to conjure up circumstances for ourselves similar to those figured in some primitive painting? In this instance, no. Father Silouan, like certain great Fathers - St. Antony, St. Sisoë, St. Makarios, St. Pimen - during his lifetime actually descended into the darkness and torments of hell They did this not once but over and over again until their hearts were so permeated that they were able to repeat the movement at will. They took refuge in it when passion - especially that most subtle of passions, pride - reared its head.
The struggle against pride is, in fact, the final stage in the battle against the passions. To begin with, the ascetic must wrestle with the greater passions of the flesh, then with irritability and, finally, pride. This last combat is undoubtedly the most painful of all. Taught by long experience that pride leads to loss of grace, the ascetic consciously descends into hell where every passion is 'seared with a hot iron'. (here)]
St. Silouan the Athonite (here)
This he observed as an infallible rule, and so ran the way of Anthony, Makarios, Poemen and Sisoes, and the other celebrated preceptors and fathers of the desert, to whose measure and spiritual gifts he also attained, and was manifested an apostolic and inspired teacher both living and after death.
The saint was wondrously meek and lowly in heart, a fervent advocate before God for the salvation of all, and unequaled among teachers: For he says that there is no surer proof that the divine Spirit dwells within us than that we love our enemies.

This blessed Saint Silouan passed over from death to life, full of spiritual days on the twenty-fourth day of September in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1938: To Whom be glory and might forever and ever. Amen.

Through his prayers and those of all Thy Saints, O Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
The Dormition of St. Silouan the Athonite (here)
For additional icons from the life of St. Silouan the Athonite, see here.
For the service to St. Silouan in English, see here.
St. Silouan the Athonite (here)
By prayer didst thou receive Christ for thy teacher in the way of humility; and the Spirit bare witness to salvation in thy heart; wherefore all peoples called unto hope rejoice this day of thy memorial. O sacred Father Silouan, pray unto Christ our God for the salvation of our souls.

In thine earthly life thou didst serve Christ, following in His steps; and now in heaven thou seest Him Whom thou didst love, and abidest with Him according to the promise. Wherefore, O Father Silouan, teach us the path wherein thou didst walk.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!
See also

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