When the Magi from the east did not return to Jerusalem from Bethlehem to inform Herod about the newborn King but rather, at the angel's command, returned to their homeland another way, Herod became as enraged as a wild beast and ordered all the children two years old and under in Bethlehem and its surroundings to be killed. This frightening command of the king was carried out to the letter. His soldiers beheaded some of the children with swords, smashed others against stones, trampled others underfoot, and strangled others with their hands. And the cries and wails of the mothers rose to heaven, Lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children (Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew 2:18), as had been prophesied. This crime against the multitude of innocent children was carried out a year after the birth of Christ, at the time when Herod was seeking to find the Divine Child. He asked Zacharias about his son John, so that he might kill him, since he naturally thought that John was the new king. As Zacharias did not turn John over, he was slain in the Temple by order of Herod. St. Simeon the God-receiver would also have been murdered soon after the Presentation in the Temple, had he not already reposed in God. After murdering the children of Bethlehem, Herod turned against the Jewish elders who had revealed to him where the Messiah would be born. He then killed Hyrcanes, the high priest, and the seventy elders of the Sanhedrin. Thus, they who had agreed with Herod that the new Child-king must be killed came to an evil end. After that, Herod murdered his brother, sister, wife and three sons. Finally, God's punishment came to him: he began to tremble, his legs became swollen, the lower part of his body became putrid, and worms came out of the sores; his nose became blocked and an unbearable stench emanated from him. Before his last breath, he remembered that there were many captive Jews in prison, and he ordered that they all be killed so that they would not rejoice in his death. Thus, this terrible ruler gave up his inhuman soul and handed it over to the devil for eternal possession.
Marcellus was from Apamea in Syria. He was the abbot of the Community of the Sleepless Ones in Constantinople. He was clairvoyant, and was a healer and great miracle-worker. He spoke with angels and easily defeated demons and drove them out. After his death, Marcellus appeared to St. Lucian, a member of his community, and told Lucian that he had implored God to take him into the Heavenly Kingdom soon. This holy and glorious man entered into rest in the year 486.
Mark and Theophilus were monks of the Monastery of the Kiev Caves. St. Mark possessed so much grace that he commanded the dead and they obeyed him: Mark sent word to inform a dead monk, who had already been washed and over whom the funeral service had been read, ``Wait until tomorrow, Brother, for your grave is not yet ready,'' and the monk opened his eyes and remained alive until the following day. Theophilus wept constantly for his sins, pouring the tears he shed into a basin. Before his death, an angel appeared to him and showed him a larger basin filled with tears. These were Theophilus's tears, which had fallen to the ground, or had been wiped away with his hand, or had dried on his face. Thus, even in heaven they know and keep all our tears as well as our sufferings, labors and sighs for the sake of our salvation. These holy servants of God rested in the eleventh century and entered the Kingdom of Christ.
The Fourteen Thousand Holy Children of Bethlehem
A voice in Rama was heard, and much weeping,
And sorrowful mothers crying out to God.
In blood lay the slaughtered children,
And, over them, sorrowful mothers lamented.
The city of David, with all the surrounding region, moans;
Heaven was horrified at the misdeed of men;
Heaven and earth were horrified and quaked,
When the screams of the innocent pierced the air.
The blow intended for the Son of God
Fell with its weight on the innocent children,
Upon young and helpless ones of the same age as Christ.
The servants of the wicked king attacked
Where the angels of God sang
And where Christ's shepherds humbly knelt.
There a torrent of blood flowed.
Why? In order that Herod would always be first!
As soon as the Eternal Physician appeared on earth,
The earth revealed its wounds and sins,
Showing how much mankind is infected,
And how necessary healing from heaven is.
Upon the young forerunners of His suffering,
Christ bestowed the eternal joy of Paradise.
A story about the Most-pure Virgin Mary: She conceived the Lord Jesus on a Friday, just as His passion was on a Friday, and she gave birth to Him on the first day of the week. On the first day of the week God said, Let there be light (Genesis 1:3); on the first day of the week, manna fell from heaven; on this day the Lord and Savior was born; and on this day He was baptized in the Jordan. At that time, there lived in Bethlehem the aged Salome, a kinswoman of Joseph and Mary. She was unable to receive her kinfolk at her house but visited them in the shepherd's cave. When the Most-holy Virgin immaculately gave birth to the Lord and Savior, Salome came to visit her. She was amazed that such a young girl could give birth without the aid of a midwife, swaddle the Child herself, and beside all of that still be on her feet. When it was explained to Salome that this birth was of God and not man, that it was immaculate and without pain, and that the Virgin Mother remained a Virgin after birth as she was before birth, Salome did not believe it, but rather she stretched out her hand to the body of the Most-holy Virgin to examine it, after the custom of a midwife, and to find out if this was indeed so. And because of her unbelief and insolence, a punishment befell her: her hand was seized and withered. The aged woman was greatly frightened by the miracle and lamented over her withered hand. However, when she touched the Divine Child later, her hand was restored to health like it was before. Thus, Salome believed in the virginity of the Most-pure Virgin Mary and in the Divinity of Christ. Thus after forty days, when according to custom the Most-pure Virgin came with the young Child to the Temple in Jerusalem, Zacharias the high priest placed her in the area reserved for virgins. The Pharisees and priests were disturbed by this and wanted to remove her to the place reserved for married women, but the discerning Zacharias did not allow this, claiming, that she was a virgin even though she had given birth. Because of this, the Jewish elders hated Zacharias and sought from Herod that he be killed. Immediately after she left the Temple, the Theotokos and Joseph left from Jerusalem to Nazareth and then to Egypt.
Contemplate the assembly of the holy hierarchs and teachers of the Church:
1. How they zealously preached the Gospel and shepherded the flock of Christ;
2. How they confirmed the devout Faith and trampled heresies;
3. How they now rejoice in the Kingdom of Christ and help us by their prayers.
on the Most-holy Virgin, the Theotokos
Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also (Luke 2:35).
Who on this earth could even closely compare with the Lord in patient endurance of suffering except His Most-holy Mother? The elder Simeon, adorned with snowy hair like a white swan, prophetically foresaw her future sufferings and likened those sufferings to a sword piercing her soul. One sword had pierced her soul when the righteous Joseph doubted her at the time of her pregnancy; the second, when she had to flee to Egypt before Herod's sword; and the third, fourth and many, many others when she saw the hatred and intrigues of the Jewish elders against her Son day in and day out during the whole time of His preaching and miracle-working among men. But the sharpest sword pierced her soul when she stood beneath the Cross of her Son and Lord. This sword was foreseen and prophesied to her by the holy, aged Simeon. Majestic and moving was her silence, beneath which she covered all her pains and all the wounds of her heart as with a veil. In the twilight, all these countless pains that had accumulated in her most pure heart shone as an inextinguishable flame of faith and hope in God and dedication to God. This handmaid of the Lord, unsurpassable in nobility! She saw herself clearly in God's plan for the salvation of mankind; she read about herself in the prophets; she spoke with the angels-God's messengers. Therefore, all that came upon her, joy or pain, she knew came from God. She was not jubilant in her joy nor did she murmur in her pain, but rather she remained silent and laid it all up in her heart.
O Most-holy Virgin Theotokos, help us that we may be, like thee, submissive to the will of God.
To thy Son and Lord, through thee, be glory and praise forever. Amen.