The Holy Martyrs Ermil and Stratonik, by origin Slavs, lived at the beginning of the IV Century during the time of persecution against Christians by the emperor Licinius (307-324). They were friends. Saint Ermil served as deacon in the city of Singedonum (Belgrade). Condemned by Licinius to imprisonment, he was long and cruelly tortured for the Name of Christ, but he remained unyielding. Saint Stratonik was a superintendent of the prison and a secret christian. Seeing the agonising torments of his friend, he was not able to keep from weeping, and he revealed that he was a christian. They subjected him also to torture. After the torturing, they put the martyrs into a net and threw them into the Danube/Dunai. On the third day, the bodies of the saints were discovered on the bank of the river by christians and buried near Singedonum. Their venerable heads are located in the Church of Saint Sophia, where the Russian pilgrim Antonii saw them in the year 1200.
Stephen was a kinsman of the Apostle Paul and one of those Jews who lived in the Hellenic provinces. Stephen was the first of the seven deacons whom the holy apostles ordained and appointed to the service of assisting the poor in Jerusalem. For this, he is called the archdeacon. By the power of his faith, Stephen worked great miracles among the people. The wicked Jews disputed with him, but they were always defeated by his wisdom and the power of the Spirit, Who acted through him. Then the shameful Jews, accustomed to calumnies and slander, incited the people and the elders of the people against the innocent Stephen, slandering him as though he had blasphemed against God and against Moses. False witnesses were quickly found who confirmed this.
“Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel, translated (God is with us).” Isaiah 7:147. January 2009 - 16:37
On Christmas Day, "a child is born to us, a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulders; and his name shall he called Wonderful Counselor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace . . . He shall sit upon the "throne of David and upon his kingdom, to establish it and to strengthen it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth and forever." Isaiah 9: 6-7.
When Christ was born in that low and humble place - the world was ready for his coming, the pure womb that was to bear him was prepared. The great and awful event awaited by men since the moment of that first promise may be worthily recorded only in the inspired word of God: "Behold," says the Angel Gabriel to Mary, "thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shall call his name, Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High
The Feast of the Nativity of Jesus is one of the most joyful days of the Orthodox Church. It ranks next to the greatest holiday, the Resurrection of Jesus. The Feast of the Birth of Jesus is also known as the "Incarnation of Christ." This means that Jesus became a man and came into the world to save us. We also refer to this joyous feast as Christmas.
The story of the Nativity of Christ is beautifully told in the Holy Scriptures. The story is found in Matthew 1:18-25 and in Luke 2:1-20. No matter how often the Birth of Jesus is told, we realize that it is an important event.
There are institutes and symbols adopted by nations, churches or groups of men which represent certain ideals accumulated in the past. These institutes, that is precepts recognized as authoritative, and symbols represent the thoughts and feelings of those who created or adopted them and put in them all the experience of the past, often through struggle and sacrifice. A few feet of ribbon for instance, red, blue and white in color, have little value as is. But if one puts them in a certain pattern of stripes and stars, they become the flag of the United States and represent the ideals and unity of the people of America. The flag reminds us of the people's struggle for liberty. It represents the national unity which attained for them their rights as a people. The same could be said for the institutes of a nation, army or any group of people. These institutes are created by the people and are used by them in certain ways for certain aims. Some of these institutes are the means for achieving certain values and ideals. In the life of the Church of Christ there are many institutes created and maintained to meet the needs of the people - the Ecclesia. Among these is the Great Lent which falls within the year-cycle of the life of the Church before Pascha-Easter. Lent is the period of time for self-examination by the believer; of putting on the spiritual armor of the Militant Church; of applying the riches of prayers and almsgiving; of adopting deeply the meaning of repentance; of atonement and reconciliation with God Almighty.
CHEESEFARE SUNDAY (Matthew 6:14-21).
The theme of this Sunday refers to the expulsion of Adam from Paradise. Adam in Paradise misused his freedom by allowing himself to be persuaded by the evil one to disobey the command to not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The evil one convinced him that by so doing he would know more than God. The Church in its hymnology presents the condition of Adam outside of Paradise as weeping and working hard for his livelihood. The Gospel passage of the day refers to the manner of praying, fasting, almsgiving and all good works. These are to be done in secret, without boasting. The meaning of this Sunday is the condescension of God to the human weakness, "for if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (v. 14-15). This is emphasized in the Lord's Prayer.,The week (six days) preceding Sunday of Cheese and after Meat Sunday, is the addition to the period of the Great Lent which completes the forty days of fasting (excluding Saturdays and Sundays). The name of this Sunday, "Cheese", implies that the fast of this week is the gradual transition from eating meat to the strict fast of Lent, which starts the next day, Monday, with the first Sunday of Lent at the end of the preliminary seven days (Sunday of Orthodoxy).