Feast of St Eleutherios the Hieromartyr, Bishop of Illyrica, and his Mother Anthia
THE SUNDAY before the feast of Christ’s Nativity is again a special day in Orthodox liturgical worship. Once more the Church celebrates the memory of the men and women who believed in the true God and prepared for the coming of His Son and Word in human flesh. The day is a celebration of their faith and an affirmation that it has found its perfection and fulfillment in God’s promised Savior who is Jesus Christ the Lord:
Lift up your voice, O Zion, holy city of God,
Proclaim the divine memory of the Fathers.
With Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
Honor one whose memory is eternal:
For behold, with Judah and Levi we magnify Moses the Great,
And with him the wonder-working Aaron.
With David we celebrate the memory of Joshua and Samuel,
Calling all with divine songs and praise
To the prefeast of Christ’s Nativity,
Praying that we may receive His goodness,
For it is He who grants the world great mercy.
Come, O Elijah,
Who in days of old ascended in the divine chariot of fire.
And divinely-wise Elisha,
Rejoice together with Ezekiel and Josiah.
O honored company of the twelve prophets inspired by God,
Exchange glad tidings with them on the birth of the Savior.
Sing hymns, all you righteous ones.
O Holy Children who quenched the flames of the fire with the dew of the Spirit,
Pray for us, pleading with Christ
That He may grant our souls great mercy.
The Theotokos has been revealed on the earth in truth,
Proclaimed of old by the words of the prophets,
Foretold by the wise patriarchs and the company of the righteous.
She will exchange glad tidings with the honor of women:
Sarah, Rebecca, and glorious Hannah,
And Miriam, the sister of Moses.
All the ends of the earth shall rejoice with them,
Together with all of creation.
For God shall come to be born in the flesh,
Granting the world great mercy.
The whole of the Mosaic teachings
Manifested in truth the divine birth of Christ in the flesha
To all who heard the preaching of grace which preceded the Law,
Transcending the Law by faith.
And so, since Your nativity brought salvation from corruption,
They foretold Your resurrecting of the souls imprisoned in death.
O Lord, glory to You! -Matins of the Sunday before the Nativity
The epistle reading at this Sunday’s liturgy is taken from the letter of the Hebrews, where the faith of those who come before Christ is noted and praised. [. . .]
The letter to the Hebrews lists those who sought the Lord, and demonstrates that their actions were inspired by their faith. By faith Abel . . . By faith Enoch . . . By faith Noah . . . By faith Abraham . . . By faith Sarah . . . By faith Isaac . . . By faith Jacob . . . By faith Moses . . . By faith the people . . . By faith Rahab . . . (see Heb. 11). The letter tells the story of their faith, insisting that “these all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar” (Heb. 11.13). Therefore “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city” (Heb. 11.16). This is “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12.22) which is given to them by the Messiah-Christ so that their perfection would come together with our own, and all those who have known and believed in His Coming.
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. -Hebrews 11.32-40
It is an amazing teaching. Those who did such wonderful things, who had such strength and power, who endured such afflictions and sufferings, “of whom the world was not worthy,” were nevertheless not made perfect apart from us, despite the greatness of their faith. For their faith was in the One who has acted in our time in fulfillment of the promises first made to them, and then through them to us, their spiritual children. Since this is so, we must imitate their faith, acquire their courage, and embody their power, so that we can in turn become the inheritors of their blessings. This is the crucial message of the Sunday dedicated to their memory.
—Fr Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha