Matthew, son of Alphaeus, was a tax collector when the Lord saw him in Capernaum and said: Follow Me. And he arose, and followed Him (Matthew 9:9). After that, Matthew prepared a reception for the Lord in his home and thus provided the occasion for the Lord to express several great truths about His coming to earth. After receiving the Holy Spirit, Matthew preached the Gospel to the Parthians, Medes and Ethiopians. In Ethiopia he appointed his follower Plato as bishop, and withdrew to prayerful solitude on a mountain, where the Lord appeared to him. Matthew baptized the wife and the son of the prince of Ethiopia, at which the prince became greatly enraged and dispatched a guard to bring Matthew to him for trial. The soldiers returned to the prince saying that they had heard Matthew's voice, but could not see him with their eyes. The prince then sent a second guard. When this guard approached the apostle, he shone with a heavenly light so powerful that the soldiers could not look at him; filled with fear, they threw down their weapons and returned. The prince then went himself. Matthew radiated such light that the prince was instantly blinded. However, the holy apostle had a compassionate heart; he prayed to God, and the prince was given back his sight. Unfortunately, he saw only with physical eyes and not spiritual eyes. He arrested Matthew and subjected him to cruel tortures. Twice, a large fire was lighted on his chest, but the power of God preserved him alive and unharmed. Then the apostle prayed to God and gave up his spirit. The prince commanded that the martyr's body be placed in a lead coffin and thrown into the sea. The saint appeared to Bishop Plato and told him where the coffin bearing his body could be found. The bishop retrieved the coffin with Matthew's body from the sea. Witnessing this new miracle, the prince was baptized and received the name Matthew. After that, the prince left all the vanity of the world and became a presbyter and served the Church in a God-pleasing way. When Plato died, the Apostle Matthew appeared to the presbyter Matthew and counseled him to accept the episcopacy. He accepted the bishopric and, for many years, was a good shepherd until the Lord called him to His Immortal Kingdom. St. Matthew the Apostle wrote his Gospel in the Aramaic language. It was soon after translated into Greek and the Greek text has come down to us, while the Aramaic text has been lost. It is said of this evangelist that he never ate meat, but only vegetables and fruit.
Sergius was a Russian parish priest who lived a God-pleasing life and served for sixty-two years in the province of Vologda. He peacefully entered into rest in the Lord on November 16, 1585, at the age of ninety-two.
To His Holy Apostle Matthew,
The Lord appeared in the land of the blacks,
Giving great comfort to the tortured warrior,
And great strength to his heroic soul.
The Lord gave him a staff from His hand,
And told Matthew to plant it in front of the church.
He told him that it would grow green with life and blossom with various colors,
And bear sweet fruit for everyone to enjoy.
A spring would flow from beneath its roots-
A spring of cool water for those who thirst.
The face of whomever would partake of it with thanksgiving
Would shine with a wondrous light.
The apostle did as the Lord said,
And the wood budded forth, and was adorned with blossoms,
And living water flowed from its roots,
And the church was filled with a multitude of people.
Whoever was sick, was healed;
Whoever was healthy, became healthier still.
The blacks were blessed, their faces radiant,
And this fierce people became God's vineyard.
O wondrous tree, would that we could have it!
But we do have it, brethren; all of us have it!
It is Christ the Lord, the Lord of Hosts-
He is the Tree of Life; by Him we are saved.
Does the Lord's command about ceaseless prayer that men ought always to pray (Luke 18:1), apply only to monks or to all Christians in general? If it applied only to monks, the Apostle Paul would not have written to the Christians in Thessalonica to pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17). The Apostle repeats the Lord's command, word for word, and issues it to all Christians without distinction, whether monks or laymen. St. Gregory Palamas lived a life of asceticism for some time as a young hieromonk in a monastery in Beroea. The elder Job, a well-known ascetic whom everyone respected, lived in that monastery. It happened that, in elder Job's presence, St. Gregory quoted the Apostle's words, asserting that ceaseless prayer is the obligation of every Christian and not just for monks. However, elder Job replied that ceaseless prayer is the obligation of the monk only, and not for every Christian. Gregory, as the younger of the two, yielded and withdrew in silence. When Job returned to his cell and stood at prayer, an angel in great heavenly glory appeared to him and said: "O Elder, do not doubt the truthfulness of Gregory's words; he spoke correctly and you should think likewise and pass it on to others." Thus, both the Apostle and the angel confirmed the commandment that all Christians must pray to God without ceasing. Not only without ceasing in church, but also without ceasing in every place and at all times, and especially in your heart. For if God does not for a moment tire of giving us good things, how can we tire of thanking Him for these good things? When He thinks of us without ceasing, why do we not think of Him without ceasing?
Contemplate the creation of the world (Genesis 1):
on Christ's dwelling in the hearts of the faithful
… that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye [may be] rooted and grounded in love (Ephesians 3:17).
With faith, Christ comes into the heart, and with Christ comes love. Thus man is rooted and grounded in love. First then, there is faith; then with faith comes Christ's presence in the heart; then with Christ's presence, the presence of love; and with love, all ineffable goodness. In a few words, the Apostle delineates the whole ladder of perfection. The beginning is faith and the end is love; and faith and love are joined in a living, undivided unity by the Living Lord Jesus Christ's presence in the heart. By strengthening faith, we further abolish the distance between ourselves and the Lord Jesus Christ. The stronger one's faith, the closer one is to Christ. Ultimately, one's heart is filled with Christ and cannot be separated from Christ, just as one's lung cannot be separated from the air. Then a man may, with tears of joy, communicate with Christ by the prayer of the heart-"Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner"-and the heart is imperceptibly filled with light and ardent love. In this way, love is united with faith and hope; and when they are united, the boundaries between them are lost, so that man cannot even think of determining of how far faith goes, and where hope and love begin. When the living Christ dwells in a man, then he no longer perceives faith, hope or love in himself, nor does he name them. Instead, he sees only Christ and names only Him. This is just like a fruit-grower in autumn who considers the ripe fruit on the tree, and speaks no more of blossoms and leaves but of fruit, ripe fruit.
O Lord Jesus Christ, supreme height of all our endeavors and the destination of all our travels, draw near to us and save us. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.