15th DECEMBER – THE FEAST DAY OF THE HOLY HIEROMARTYR ELEFTHERIOS

My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.

ON THE 15th OF DECEMBER
OUR HOLY ORTHODOX CHURCH COMMEMORATES
THE HOLY HIEROMARTYR ELEFTHERIOS, BISHOP
OF ILLYRICUM

Eleftherios (meaning freedom or liberty), the wondrous and glorious hieromartyr, shone forth as a brilliant luminary during the 2nd century after Christ. He was born in the renowned and great city of Rome of well-born parents, who were distinguished and wealthy. Their splendor was to be reckoned not only according to this world and the flesh but more so for their noble faith and extreme piety. The Saint’s mother, Anthia, had been taught the Faith with exactness by the disciples of the holy Apostle Paul. When she gave birth to her son, she named him Eleftherios, and she nurtured him in godliness. The Saint’s father, a man of property and consequence, held the office of the consul of Rome, which was one of the highest positions among the nobility. After the birth of Eleftherios, his father lived only a short time. The boy remained in obedience to his mother, who handed over her son to he hierarch of Rome, that he might learn the sacred writings. The Saint was sanctified from his mother’s womb; and, like another Samuel, was offered by his holy mother to Christ.

The Bishop of Rome, Aniketos, beheld the young man’s excellent manners, disposition, character, discipline, behavior, propriety, and many other virtues which he possessed, and assigned him to the clergy. When he became fifteen years old, he was ordained to the diaconate. Afterward, he was elevated to the Priesthood at seventeen years of age, and then to the episcopacy at twenty. He cleaved to God from his youth with a most pure mind. He shunned carnal understanding and cleansed his soul of the passions. He, therefore, was appointed Bishop of Illyricum. But marvel not that his being made a bishop was contrary to current ecclesiastical rule and forms, because this came to pass by Divine economy. Due to the young Eleftherius’ great virtue, but mostly because of his erudition and wisdom, his teaching drew all toward piety. Thereupon, the lamp was put upon the lampstand. Thus, benighted souls were enlightened and converted to godliness. Since the Bishop of Rome perceived in the Spirit how Eleftherios would illumine many, as indeed occurred, he elevated the young man to the dignity of episcopacy. Saint Eleftherios’ service was inestimable. He was responsible for bringing many pagan Greeks to the Faith and Holy Baptism because his sweet disposition and the wisdom of his words encouraged those who heard him come to the Truth.

The weak evil, who always wishes to deprive man of salvation, gnashed his teeth at the young bishop since he was powerless to put Eleftherios to death. Thus the hater of man entered into the ungodly emperor and instigated general persecution against the godly. That cruel and unseemly emperor singled out Eleftherios for destruction, placing him first on his list since he received intelligence that the Bishop of Illyricum was the cause of many conversions. The emperor sent forth his general, named Felix, urgently commanding him to apprehend Eleftherios.

Felix went to carry out his commission. He went with a company of soldiers and surrounded the church, where the Saint was teaching the flock at that very moment. Felix entered that sacred precinct with an evil disposition, a fierce look, and no civility. Even as Felix entered, he was immediately struck by the holy Bishop’s decorum and grace-filled countenance. Behold, the wonder? Saint Eleftherios’ sweet manner of address and his edifying words, filled with all wisdom, were sufficient to transform Felix and put a halt to the intended violence. The former ravenous wolf now became a gentle lamb. Instead of the defiant persecutor, he became the Saint’s obedient pupil. He disowned his acnes his ancestral impiety and assented to the teaching of the holy soul. He renounced wealth and kin. He attached no consequence to how he would answer the emperor. He quit that sphere of power and privilege. This ever-memorable Felix fell at the feet of the Bishop in repentance and believed in the Christ.

The Saint catechized and exhorted Felix in the exact Faith. Afterward, he counseled him that they together return to the emperor. Saint Eleftherios beheld Felix’s ardor and great readiness to receive the Mystery (sacrament) of illumination, and so he baptized him. After some days, they arrived in Rome and met with the pagan emperor. Ty tyrant spoke many words to the Saint, flattering ones, with also the promise of rich gifts and privileges, if he ere to consent and sacrifice in the idols. Conversely, upon the bishop’s refusal of these offers, he was threatened with diverse tortures. Eleftherios spoke at liberty and with much freedom of speech in his reply: "How shall I condescend to pay homage to such insensible deities and inanimate statures? With regard to you who observe such beliefs, indeed I am unhappy for your sakes, and I even weep… I have renounced the world and "have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20), for Whom I die daily (1 Corinthians 15:31). When we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into His death (Roman 6:3). Hearing such words the tyrant became enraged and ordered that a brass bed be heated to a red-hot temperature. The bishop was then to be stretched out on that fiery bed, while below a heap of coals was to be kept burning until Eleftherios should be utterly broiled.

When the Saint was cast upon that bed of fire, the people of the city were grieved. in the meantime, the Almighty God from on high lightened the pain and suffering of the martyr. For the Saint was bedewed and cooled, as though he was stretched out on soft and besprinkled grass. As he spent considerable time on that brazen bed, spread-out full-length and naked, the tyrant’s rage subsided somewhat. He commanded his executioners to remove Eleftherios from that red hot grate; for the tyrant thought that the prisoner had died. But then Eleftherios jumped up and stood straight showing he had suffered no burns or injury. Indeed, no trace of a single wound appeared on his flesh. A gladsome Eleftherios was then chanting the words of the psalm, which began: "I will exalt Thee, O my God, my King nd I will bless Thy name unto the age of the age" (Psalm 144:1). He then chanted the remaining verses.

This boldness of the holy martyr was interpreted as an insult by the emperor to his person. He, thereupon, found a new and worse punishment with which to torture the Saint. He gave the order that they bind the Saint upon an iron grill, aglow from the fire of coals below. From above they were pouring oil, so as to provoke the flames to rise higher. The grace of God attended Eleftherios in this gruesome episode also. Straightway, as they stretched forth Eleftherios upon the gridiron, the flame was extinguished, the iron grate cooled, and the Saint reclined, bedewed by Divine grace. The wrath and vexation of the tyrant now was multiplied. He commanded his lackeys to prepare a cauldron filled with tallow, wax, and pitch. The martyr was to be cast inside and boiled. Once again they labored in vain because Providence above turned the flame of the fire into cool droplets. The martyr sustained the punishment, completely uninjured, as though he were a nonparticipant, and was giving glory to the Lord.

Now the city Prefect Koremon, an inventive man, who was acquainted with the various forms of torture sought the emperor’s permission to prepare a brazen oven, completely lined with sharp iron spikes. The appliance was set up and heated to accept the martyr’s entry within. When the terrible chastisement was readied, the Saint then, as another Stefanos, supplicated the Lord. He entreated for no assistance other than the enlightenment of his persecutors, that they may receive salvation for their souls.

The words of the Saint’s prayer were heard by the Lord Who dispensed in His economy to enlighten the Prefect, Koremon then approached the emperor, as though he had not been the author of the martyr’s punishment, and asked, "What kind of misdeed was perpetuated by the godly Eleftherios that thou hast sentenced him to such an evil and harsh death?" The emperor, not expecting such a query, wondered what had befallen his Prefect and said, "What has thou suffered that thou shouldest change thy mind to a such a contrary opinion?" Koremon, filled with Divine Spirit, by the prayers of the holy Bishop, was enlightened in his mind and said, "… I wilfully became blond to the truth and did not acknowledge the infirmity and weakness of thy gods. They are not able to rescue even one of you from the fire, as all of you well know. But the Christ has delivered so many of His slaves and here He has rendered Eleftherios mightier than the fire and above every torment." Thus, by Eleftherios’ example, the gods were debased in Koremon’s eyes.

The emperor ordered his men to prepare the over so that it was red-hot, for he intended to cast the Prefect Koremon in the oven. The Saint of God blessed him an made the sign of the Cross over Christ’s athlete Koremon, thus fortified and empowered with the Saint’s prayer, entered into the oven. By the grace of Christ Koremon endued with faith, also remained unscathed and gave thanks to God. The ezasperated emperor meted out to his former friend a death sentence by beheading. The holy Koremon gained everlasting life and ineffable joy.

With the repose of Koremon, the tyrant turned his attention back to the Saint. He ordered the prisoner to the dungeon. Eleftherios was to be left in fetters and ill plight, until he should die fo starvation. When that evil scheme did not work he ordered his men to bind the Saint to a pair of wild horses. They were instructed to drag the holy bishop on the ground over stones and rocks, so ast to tear to pieces his flesh. God sent forth His holy Angel to convert these wild horses into take ones, and he loosed the bonds of Eleftherios, who was tiedto the chariot drawn by them. The bishop was plucked out of the hands of his tormentors and borne away to a nearby mountain. The wild animals gathered around him, and he lived peacefully in that wilderness with bears, lions, and other wild creatures. Howevse, when the animals of the wilderness caught sight of the pursuers,set themselves in motion against the men, as they bared their teeth and raised their claws in attack. The bishop then gave orders to the animals that they were not to injure no one. The Saint surrendered himself to the soldiers and on the way he ws teaching them and exhorted them to know the Creator of creation that they mgiht find everlasting life.

When they arrived in Rome the emperor set wild lions against the Saint but the beasts instead showed affection and reverence to Saint Eleftherios. After a succession of failures on his part, the emperor acknowledged that there was nothing further he could do but order the bishop’s beheading. This indeed took place, and with his blood he died his priestly raiment. Having set up glorious trophies over the enemies, the glorious Eleftherios delivered his blessed soul into the hands of God on the 15th of December.

The Saint’s mother, Anthia, embraced the holy relics of her son and martyr, kissing them ardently and magnifying him the he suffered so much for the Lord’s sake. Then the executioners as ones savage and cruel, without the least shred of compassion, put to death the mother by striking her head. Pious Christians from Avlona of Epirus, the seat of Bishopt Eleftherios’ Diocese, were then present in Rome. They took up the holy relics of their bishop and his mother, anointed them with myrrh, and exhibited fitting honor as lover of God, and reverently interred them. The Saint’s shrines poured forth ures and miracles for those in need, to the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the One and Only God, unto the ages. We, too, beg his supplications to God that we might be freed from the passions. Amen. (Source: The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church)

________________

"Glory Be To GOD
For
All Things!"

– Saint John Chrysostomos

+ + +

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+ Father George

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