31st SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST — Tone 6. Ven. Paul of Thebes (341) and John Calabytes (“the Hut-dweller”—5th c.).
Tone 6 Troparion
The Angelic Powers were at Your tomb; the guards became as dead men. Mary stood by Your grave, seeking Your most pure body. You captured hell, not being tempted by it. You came to the Virgin, granting life. O Lord, Who rose from the dead,// glory to You.
Tone 4 (St. Nicholas)
Your proclamation has gone out into all the earth, which was divinely taught by hearing your voice. You expounded the nature of creatures and ennobled the manners of men. O venerable Father of royal priesthood,// entreat Christ God that our souls may be saved!
Tone 4 Kontakion (Resurrection)
The truth of your deeds has revealed you to your flock as a rule of faith, an image of meekness and a teacher of self-control; your humility exalted you; your poverty enriched you.// O Father Bishop Nicholas, pray to Christ God that our souls may be saved.
Tone 4 Troparion (Sts. Paul and John)
O God of our Fathers, always act with kindness towards us; take not Your mercy from us, but guide our lives in peace// through the prayers of the venerable Paul and John!
Tone 6 Kontakion (Resurrection)
When Christ God, the Giver of Life, raised all of the dead from the valleys of misery with His mighty hand, He bestowed resurrection on the human race.// He is the Savior of all, the Resurrection, the Life, and the God of all.
Tone 3 Kontakion (St. Nicholas)
You proved yourself to be be a holy priest, O Nicholas. You served God in Myra and lived the gospel of Christ. You offered your life for your people, And rescued the innocent from death. Therefore God has glorified you as a trustworthy guide of things divine.
Tone 2 Kontakion (St. John)
Longing for poverty in imitation of Christ, you abandoned your parents’ wealth, O wise Father John; grasping the Gospel in your hands, you followed Christ God,// unceasingly praying for us all.
Tone 3 Kontakion (St. Paul)
Today we gather and praise you with hymns as an unwaning ray of the spiritual Sun; for you shine on those in the darkness of ignorance, leading all mankind to the heights,// venerable Paul, adornment of Thebes and firm foundation of the fathers and ascetics.
Tone 6 (Steadfast Protectress)
Steadfast Protectress of Christians, Constant Advocate before the Creator; Do not despise the cries of us sinners, but in your goodness come speedily to help us who call on you in faith. Hasten to hear our petition and to intercede for us, O Theotokos, for you always protect those who honor you!
Tone 6 Prokeimenon (Resurrection)
O Lord, save Your people, / and bless Your inheritance! (Ps. 27:9a)
V. To You, O Lord, will I call. O my God, be not silent to me! (Ps. 27)
1 Timothy 1:15-17 (Epistle)
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!
V. He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the heavenly God. (Ps. 90:1)
V. He will say to the Lord: “My Protector and my Refuge; my God, in Whom I trust.” (Ps. 90:2)
Luke 18:18-27 (Gospel)
Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’” And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And those who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?” But He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”
Protopresbyter Themistoklis Mourtzanos
‘So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up’ (Eph. 4, 11-12).
Now that a great part of the festal cycle in our life has been completed, the Church leaves us with a command for how to proceed: the need to equip ourselves. It’s not enough that we’ve celebrated the great events of our faith. Many of us have attended services. We’ve fasted; we’ve gone to confession; we’ve taken communion; and we’re glad at the joy of the hymns. We’ve likely given alms and made a resolution to take small new beginnings in our spiritual life. The holidays [i.e. ‘holy days’] are over. The Church has instituted them as a time and an opportunity for us to experience all the above. For us to be strengthened in the faith. But, because life goes on, none of the above exhausts the need for us to be better equipped in matters of faith. Not only in terms of knowledge and behavior, but also on the level of transfiguration, that is a change of heart.
If we’re honest with ourselves, every time we experience a festal cycle, we’re aware of our spiritual emptiness. Our stagnation. The lesser or greater passions which don’t allow us to be at peace with ourselves, to feel the power of love prevail in our life, to feel our faith in Christ giving us the strength to shoulder the crosses of our life without complaint. We’re glad of the feast. But we still feel where we’re empty. Even if we’ve made spiritual progress, we still realize that our mind requires nourishment. And that we aren’t as well versed in the dogmas of the Church as we ought to be. That the hymnology escapes us. Because we don’t have that completing love which makes us feel that every moment is there so that we can glorify, give thanks, share and enjoy, with whatever our faith and the tradition of the Church has provided us. And also to give to others some of what Christ is for us. The feeling, that we’ve partaken of the body and blood of Christ and that we’ve made a fresh start with zest for life and love, may well exist, but it doesn’t last long. The concerns of life, temptations, the lack of concentration in the mind and the heart all make us aware of that harsh question: ‘And after the feast, what then?’.
Saint Paul urges us to listen to all those in the body of Christ who have gifts: those who can function as apostles, that is, those whose mission it is to awaken us with the word of God, prayer and the communion of the Eucharist; prophets, who remind us of the need for repentance; evangelists, who continuously call to our mind the existence of Christ, his love for us, and the fact that his Gospel is ‘a fount of water leading to eternal life’; pastors, who are concerned with our progress and who remind us of the truth about ourselves and the world; and teachers, who are in a position to provide learning for the mind and the heart which will direct us to the truth, i.e. Christ. Let us seek their words. Let us share their experience. Let us work with them in building up the body of Christ. They may be our bishops and priests. Monks and nuns. A book. A radio talk or something on the internet. The silent prayer of those humble people we see next to us. The Life of a saint. Sometimes those in the world who, it may be, motivate us or restrain us with their good or difficult words, and who, in either case, teach us.
Being well-equipped isn’t merely a matter of knowledge. It’s also ascetic effort, love and the experience of faith. May the festal cycle which has just finished be a time of new steps in our life in Christ.
Commemorated on January 15
Saint Paul of Thebes was born in Egypt around 227 in the Thebaid of Egypt. Left orphaned, he suffered many things from a greedy relative over his inheritance. During the persecution against Christians under the emperor Decius (249-251), Saint Paul learned of his brother-in-law’s insidious plan to deliver him into the hands of the persecutors, and so he fled the city and fled into the wilderness. Settling into a mountain cave, Saint Paul dwelt there for ninety-one years, praying incessantly to God both day and night. He sustained himself on dates and bread, which a raven brought him, and he clothed himself with palm leaves. Saint Anthony the Great (January 17), who also lived as an ascetic in the Thebaid desert, had a revelation from God concerning Saint Paul. Saint Anthony thought that there was no other desert dweller such as he. Then God said to him, “Anthony, there is a servant of God more excellent than you, and you should go and see him.”
Saint Anthony went into the desert and came to Saint Paul’s cave. The Elders introduced themselves, and then embraced one another. They conversed through the night, and Saint Anthony revealed how he had been led there by God. The next morning, Saint Paul spoke to Anthony of his approaching death, and instructed him to bury him. He also asked Saint Anthony to return to his monastery and bring back the cloak he had received from Saint Athanasius. He did not really need a garment, but wished to depart from his body while Saint Anthony was absent. As he was returning with the cloak, Saint Anthony beheld the soul of Saint Paul surrounded by angels, prophets, and apostles, shining like the sun and ascending to God. He entered the cave and found Abba Paul on his knees with his arms outstretched. Saint Anthony mourned for him, and wrapped him in the cloak. He wondered how he would bury the body, for he had not remembered to bring a shovel. Two lions came running from the wilderness and dug a grave with their claws.
Saint Paul of Thebes died in the year 341, when he was 113 years old. He did not establish a single monastery, but soon after his end there were many imitators of his life, and they filled the desert with monasteries. Saint Paul is honored as the first desert-dweller and hermit.
In the twelfth century Saint Paul’s relics were transferred to Constantinople and placed in the Peribleptos monastery of the Mother of God, on orders of the emperor Manuel (1143-1180). Later, they were taken to Venice, and finally to Hungary, at Ofa. Part of his head is in Rome. Saint Paul of Thebes, whose Life was written by Saint Jerome, is not to be confused with Saint Paul the Simple (October 4).