Hieromartyr Anthimus, Bishop of Nicomedia, and those with him
They suffered during the persecution against Christians under the emperors Diocletian (284-305) and Maximian (305-311). The persecution became particularly intense after a fire at the imperial court at Nicomedia. The pagans accused the Christians of setting the fire and reacted against them with terrible ferocity.
In Nicomedia alone, on the day of the Nativity of Christ, as many as twenty thousand Christians were burned inside a church. However, this monstrous inhumanity did not frighten the Christians, who firmly confessed their faith and endured martyrdom for Christ.
Troparion — Tone 1
You protected your flock with your blood, / not fearing your adversaries. / Now you rejoice in heaven standing before the throne. / Glory to Christ who has strengthened you; / glory to your courage; / glory to your endurance, O holy Hieromartyr Anthimus!
Troparion — Tone 4
Your holy martyrs O Lord, / through their sufferings have received incorruptible crowns from You, our God. / For having Your strength, they laid low their adversaries, / and shattered the powerless boldness of demons. / Through their intercessions, save our souls!
Sts Dorotheus, Mardonius, Migdonius, Peter, Indes and Gorgonius died during this period. One of them was beheaded by the sword, others perished by burning, or being buried alive, or by drowning in the sea. The soldier Zeno boldly denounced the emperor Maximian, for which he was stoned, and then beheaded.
Then the holy Virgin Martyr Domna, a former pagan priestess, perished at the hands of the pagans, and also Saint Euthymius, because of their concern that the bodies of the holy martyrs should be buried. Bishop Anthimus, who headed the Church of Nicomedia, hid himself in a village not far from Nicomedia at the request of his flock. From there he sent letters to the Christians, urging them to cleave firmly to the holy Faith and not to fear tortures.
One of his letters, sent with Deacon Theophilus, was intercepted and given to the emperor Maximian. Theophilus was interrogated and died under torture, without revealing to his torturers the whereabouts of Bishop Anthimus. After a while Maximian managed to learn where Saint Anthimus was, and sent a detachment of soldiers after him.
The bishop met them along the way, but the soldiers did not recognize the saint. He invited them to join him and provided a meal, after which he revealed that he was the one they sought. The soldiers did not know what to do. They wanted to leave him and tell the emperor that they had not found him. Bishop Anthimus was not one to tolerate a lie, and so he would not consent to this.
The soldiers came to believe in Christ and received holy Baptism. The saint ordered them to carry out the emperor’s instructions. When Bishop Anthimus was brought before the emperor, the emperor ordered that the instruments of execution be brought out and placed before him. “Do you think, emperor, to frighten me with these tools of execution?” asked the saint.
“No indeed, you cannot frighten one who wishes to die for Christ! Execution is frightening only for the cowardly, for whom the present life is most precious.” The emperor then directed that the saint be fiercely tortured and beheaded by the sword.
Bishop Anthimus joyfully glorified God with his last breath, and received the crown of martyrdom. (See December 28 for another account of the Nicomedian martyrs.)
Saint Theoctistus of Palestine
He was a great ascetic who lived in the Judean wilderness in the Wadi Mukellik. At first, he was the companion of Saint Euthymius the Great (January 20) in the ascetic life. So great was their mutual affection and oneness of mind that they seemed to live as one soul in two bodies.
They were persons of similar virtue and holiness, and they encouraged one another in their struggles. Each year after the Leave-taking of Theophany, they would go into the desert to struggle and pray in solitude, returning to their cells on Palm Sunday.
Troparion — Tone 4
Dedicated as God’s priest from your youth, / you spurned all worldly aims. / O Righteous Theoctistus you were radiant in your solitude / and strict in the training of monks. / Guide those who come to you and lead them in the way of salvation.
After five years together, Saints Euthymius and Theoctistus went into the desert for Great Lent, and in a wadi, they discovered a large cave which later became a church. They decided to remain there, believing that they had been led there by God. They ate wild herbs to sustain themselves and met with no other people for some time.
The Lord did not wish these great luminaries to remain hidden, however. He wanted their wisdom and holiness of life to become known in order to benefit others. One day, shepherds from Bethany found the ascetics and went back to their village and told others about them. After that, many people came to hear of them, and monks came from other monasteries to visit them. Some even stayed there in order to be instructed by them.
So many monks gathered around them that they were obliged to build a lavra over the cave church. Saint Euthymius made Theoctistus the igumen of the lavra, while he himself lived in seclusion in the cave. The wise Theoctistus accepted all who came to him, confessing them and treating the infirmities of their wounded souls with appropriate spiritual remedies.
When he had reached an advanced old age, Saint Theoctistus became very ill. Saint Euthymius (who was ninety years old himself) visited him and took care of him. When Saint Theoctistus went to the Lord in 467, Patriarch Anastasius of Jerusalem came and presided at his burial service.
Saint Theoctistus of Palestine should not be confused with Saint Theoctistus of Sicily (January 4).
Venerables Neophyte and Meletios
Venerable Neophyte lived in seclusion somewhere near Cozia Monastery on the river Olt Valley, in today’s Romania. He was born in the 16th centyury of pious parents and entered monasticism at Cozia Monastery.
He built himself a cave on Sălbaticul (Wild) Mountain and descended in the monastery only once in a while, especially at great feasts or on Sundays, when he confessed to his spiritual adviser, Father Daniel of Turnu Skete. He worked the never-ending Jesus prayer in his heart and was given the gift of tears for the whole world.
He died in the cave forgotten by the world and was later discovered by a monk who took him down to the Cozia Monastery. But the saint appeared in a dream to the monk and to the abbot and told them to take back his body to the cave.
So they did and then people who would climb up to the cave and started to receive bodily healing and good answers to their prayers.
Venerable Neophyte’s holy relics are kept today at the Stânişoara Monastery, where the faithful continue to receive help through the saints’ power. The cave where he led his ascetic struggles has remained a pilgrimage place for the faithful.
Venerable Meletios of the Stânişoara Monastery lived at the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century. He is believed to have been born in a village near Cozia Monastery, on Romania’s Olt Valley. Just as Ve. Neophyte, he also entered monasticism while he was still very young.
He was given a blessing by his abbot to lead an ascetic life in a secluded place across the River Olt, where he dug a cave on the southern face of the Sălbaticul (Wild) Mountain, where Ven. Neophyte also lived.
There he lived for 40 years, descending on Sundays to his spiritual advisor, Father Daniel of the Turnu Skete, where he confessed himself and partook in the Body and Blood of Christ.
He would daily carry water up to his cave in an earthen jug and when he became old and could not carry it anymore, he prayed and the Mother of God a spring come out just in front of his cave. To this day, it is called Meletios’ Spring.
Ven. Neophyte and Ven. Meletios were canonized by the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church in 2016.