1. THE PRIESTLY-MARTYR ATHENOGENES, BISHOP OF SEBASTE IN ARMENIA
Athenogenes lived in a monastery near the town of Sebaste with ten of his disciples. During the reign of Diocletian, Philomarchus, a cruel persecutor of Christians, came to Sebaste. He arrested and murdered many Christians in the town. When he saw Athenogenes and his disciples, he told the elder to offer a sacrifice to the idols so as not to be slain as were the other Christians. Athenogenes replied to him: "O persecutor, those whom you mention as being slain are not slain (dead) but rather are in the heavens and rejoice with the angels." It was a touching sight to see a female deer, whom the merciful Athenogenes fed with his own hand, run up to him and seeing him in misery began to shed tears. Even the wild beasts of the mountain had greater pity toward the martyrs of Christ than the heathens! After cruel tortures, during which an angel of God comforted the martyrs, they were all beheaded; at first the priests and all co-laborers of Athenogenes and after that, Athenogenes himself. All were received into the heavenly fatherland in the year 311 A.D.
2. THE HOLY FEMALE MARTYR JULIA THE VIRGIN
Julia was born in Carthage of distinguished lineage. When the Persians captured Carthage many people were taken into slavery. Saint Julia was captured, enslaved and fell into the hands of a merchant in Syria. That merchant was a pagan. Seeing that Julia was a Christian, he counseled her on many occasions to deny Christ and become one in faith with him but Julia could never agree to this. Since Julia was faithful and trustworthy in service, the merchant left her in peace and did not speak to her about faith again. On one occasion, the merchant loaded the boat with goods and took Julia along with him and sailed to distant lands on business. When they arrived at Corsica, there was a pagan feast and the merchant joined in this blasphemous offering of sacrifice but Julia remained aboard the boat weeping because so many men lived in foolish error and did not know the truth. Somehow the pagans found out about her, removed her from the boat, even though her master objected to this, and then began to brutally torture her. They severed her breasts and threw them on a rock and, after that, they crucified her on a cross, upon which St. Julia gave up her soul to God. Her death was revealed by an angel of God to the monks on the nearby island of Margarita or Gorgona and the monks came and honorably buried the body of the martyr. Many miracles appeared at the grave of St. Julia throughout the centuries and from the other world she herself appeared to some. She suffered honorably in the sixth century. After many years, the faithful wanted to erect a new church in another place in honor of St. Julia because the old church had become too small and dilapidated. Therefore, they gathered building material on a new site: stone, bricks, sand and all else that is required. It so happened that at night, on the eve of the day when they intended to lay the foundation, all of this material was moved to the site of the old church by an invisible hand. In confusion, the men again carried the materials to the new site but the same thing happened again: the material was removed to the old site alongside the old church. The night watchman saw a young maiden "all aglow" on white oxen, carrying the material to the old church. From this everyone understood that St. Julia did not wish that her church be built in another place, so they demolished the old church and on that same site built a new one.
3. THE HOLY 15,000 MARTYRS
These fifteen thousand martyrs were beheaded for the Faith of Christ in Persia.
4. THE HOLY MARTYR ATHENOGENES
Athenogenes was the author of the hymn sung at Vespers: "O Gladsome Light" - "Svete Tihi" Fos Ilaron." He died for Christ by fire and was made worthy of eternal glory in the Kingdom of God.
5. THE COMMEMORATION OF THE SIX ECUMENICAL COUNCILS
This common commemoration of the first Six Ecumenical Councils is held on the Sunday between the 13th and the 19th of July.
HYMN OF PRAISE
THE HOLY MARTYR JULIA THE VIRGIN
The martyr Julia,
For her, Christ was crucified,
The power of Christ, she invokes,
The power of the Honorable Tree.
Blood poured from six wounds,
With blood, stained the earth,
For, in Christ she believed,
Her faith, she did not conceal.
Nor did Christ conceal her,
To the entire world, proclaimed her,
And in the Kingdom Immortal
In heaven, glorified her
When Julia expired
Her spirit, pure and holy,
From her mouth, a white dove
To the heights soared
When men saw this
All in fear, cried out:
"Woe to the evil judges"
That righteous blood, they shed!
The Ecumenical Councils are the greatest battles of Orthodoxy with heretics. Under today's date, the Church jointly commemorates the first Six Ecumenical Councils:
1. The First Ecumenical Council in Nicea, 325 A.D. with 318 holy fathers participating. This Council is commemorated separately on May 29 and on the Seventh Sunday after Easter. This Council refuted the heresy of Arius against the Son of God.
2. The Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople, 381 A.D. with 150 holy fathers attending. This Council is commemorated separately on May 22. This Council refuted the heresy of Macedonius against God, the Holy Spirit.
3. The Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus, 431 A.D. with 200 holy fathers participating. This Council is commemorated separately on September 9. This Council refuted the heresy of Nestorius against the Mother of God.
4. The Fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon, 451 A.D. with 630 holy fathers participating. This Council is commemorated separately on July 16. This Council refuted the Monophysite heresy.
5. The Fifth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople, 553 A.D. with 160 holy fathers participating. This Council is commemorated separately on July 25. This Council refuted the heresy of Origen.
6. The Sixth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople, 691 A.D. with 170 holy fathers participating. This Council is commemorated separately on January 23. This Council refuted the Monothelite heresy.
7. The Seventh Ecumenical Council which was convened in 878 A.D. with 367 holy fathers participating. This Council is not commemorated at this time but is commemorated separately on October 11. This Council refuted the heresy of Iconoclasm.
At these Councils, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, all these heresies were condemned and the Faith of Orthodoxy was defined and confirmed for all time.
To contemplate the miraculous bring forth of water from the rock in Kadesh (Numbers 20):
1. How Moses, at God's command struck the rock with his rod but without faith and, how through the will of God, water flowed;
2. How God punished Moses and Aaron because of their lack of faith, and He did not permit them to enter into the Promised Land;
3. How this, shows that even a great righteous one as was Moses, is prone to sin that no mortal should be carried away by his virtues.
About the participation of the faithful in God's nature
"That by these you might be partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).
Brethren, how can mortal man have a part in God's nature? How can eternity be a companion of time and glory with unglory, the incorruptible with the corruptible, the pure with the impure? They cannot without particular conditions and these conditions the Apostle Peter mentions: one condition on the part of God and the other on the part of men. As a condition on God's part, the apostle mentions: "According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). As a condition on the part of man: "having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:4). God has fulfilled His condition and gave us His power. "Through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue" (2 Peter 1:3). Now it is man's turn to fulfill his condition, i.e., to know Christ the Lord is to escape from the bodily desires of this world. The Lord Christ first opened heaven and all the treasures of heaven and then He called mankind to draw near and to receive those treasures. How did He invite them? Did He invite them only by words? In words, but not only words but also "called us to glory and virtue"; glory, i.e., by His glorious resurrection; virtue, i.e., by His miraculous service and suffering. By this He invited us to receive the exceeding great promises that, by them, we may partake in God's nature. But in order that we may know Christ and to hear His invitation, we must first escape from all physical desires of this world. If we do not escape, then we will remain blind before Him, before His glory and virtue and deaf to His invitation!
O brethren, how enormous is the mercy of God toward us! According to this great mercy, God offers to us mortals adoption by the Immortal One and to us sinners to be built up into the glorified Body of the Lord Jesus. But, only under one condition, which is neither a great yoke nor a heavy cross.
O Lord Jesus, the Fulfillment of all promises and the Source of all good, heal us from our blindness and deafness and grant us power to escape the physical desires of this world.
To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.