Sunday, 30 May 2021

Eastern Rite - All Saints Sunday & Venerable Isaac, Founder of the Dalmatian Monastery at Constantinople

Today is All Saints Sunday and the Feast of Our Venerable Father Isaac, Hegumen of the Dalmatin Monastery.
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The Sunday following Pentecost is dedicated to All Saints, both those who are known to us, and those who are known only to God. There have been saints at all times, and they have come from every corner of the earth. They were Apostles, Martyrs, Prophets, Hierarchs, Monastics, and Righteous, yet all were perfected by the same Holy Spirit.

The Descent of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to rise above our fallen state and to attain sainthood, thereby fulfilling God’s directive to “be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44, 1 Peter 1:16, etc.). Therefore, it is fitting to commemorate All Saints on the first Sunday after Pentecost.

This feast may have originated at an early date, perhaps as a celebration of all martyrs, then it was broadened to include all men and women who had borne witness to Christ by their virtuous lives, even if they did not shed their blood for Him.

Saint Peter of Damascus, in his “Fourth Stage of Contemplation,” mentions five categories of saints: Apostles, Martyrs, Prophets, Hierarchs, and Monastic Saints (Philokalia [in English] Vol. 3, p.131). He is actually quoting from the Octoechos, Tone 2 for Saturday Matins, kathisma after the first stichology.

Saint Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain (July 14) adds the Righteous to Saint Peter’s five categories. The list of Saint Nikodemos is found in his book The Fourteen Epistles of Saint Paul (Venice, 1819, p. 384) in his discussion of I Corinthians 12:28.

The hymnology for the feast of All Saints also lists six categories: “Rejoice, assembly of the Apostles, Prophets of the Lord, loyal choirs of the Martyrs, divine Hierarchs, Monastic Fathers, and the Righteous....”

Some of the saints are described as Confessors, a category which does not appear in the above lists. Since they are similar in spirit to the martyrs, they are regarded as belonging to the category of Martyrs. They were not put to death as the Martyrs were, but they boldly confessed Christ and came close to being executed for their faith. Saint Maximus the Confessor (January 21) is such a saint.

The order of these six types of saints seems to be based on their importance to the Church. The Apostles are listed first, because they were the first to spread the Gospel throughout the world.

The Martyrs come next because of their example of courage in professing their faith before the enemies and persecutors of the Church, which encouraged other Christians to remain faithful to Christ even unto death.

Although they come first chronologically, the Prophets are listed after the Apostles and Martyrs. This is because the Old Testament Prophets saw only the shadows of things to come, whereas the Apostles and Martyrs experienced them firsthand. The New Testament also takes precedence over the Old Testament.

The holy Hierarchs comprise the fourth category. They are the leaders of their flocks, teaching them by their word and their example.

The Monastic Saints are those who withdrew from this world to live in monasteries, or in seclusion. They did not do this out of hatred for the world, but in order to devote themselves to unceasing prayer, and to do battle against the power of the demons. Although some people erroneously believe that monks and nuns are useless and unproductive, Saint John Climacus had a high regard for them: “Angels are a light for monks, and the monastic life is a light for all men” (LADDER, Step 26:31).

The last category, the Righteous, are those who attained holiness of life while living “in the world.” Examples include Abraham and his wife Sarah, Job, Saints Joachim and Anna, Saint Joseph the Betrothed, Saint Juliana of Lazarevo, and others.

The feast of All Saints achieved great prominence in the ninth century, in the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise (886-911). His wife, the Holy Empress Theophano (December 16) lived in the world, but was not attached to worldly things. She was a great benefactor to the poor, and was generous to the monasteries. She was a true mother to her subjects, caring for widows and orphans, and consoling the sorrowful.

Even before the death of Saint Theophano in 893 or 894, her husband started to build a church, intending to dedicate it to Theophano, but she forbade him to do so. It was this emperor who decreed that the Sunday after Pentecost be dedicated to All Saints. Believing that his wife was one of the righteous, he knew that she would also be honored whenever the Feast of All Saints was celebrated.
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Saint Isaac lived during the fourth century, received monastic tonsure and pursued ascetic labours in the desert. During the reign of the emperor Valens (364-378), a zealous adherent of the Arian heresy, there was a persecution of the orthodox Catholics, and churches were closed and destroyed.

Hearing of the persecution, Saint Isaac left the wilderness and went to Constantinople to console and encourage the Catholics, and to fight against the heretics. At that time, barbarian Goths along the River Danube were making war against the Empire. They seized Thrace and advanced toward Constantinople.

When the emperor Valens was leaving the capital with his soldiers, Saint Isaac cried out, “Emperor, unlock the churches of the Catholics, then the Lord will aid you!” But the emperor, disdaining the words of the monk, confidently continued on his way. The saint repeated his request and prophecy three times. The angry emperor ordered Saint Isaac to be thrown into a deep ravine, filled with thorns and mud, from which it was impossible to escape.

Saint Isaac remained alive by God’s help, and he emerged, overtook the emperor and said, “You wanted to destroy me, but three angels pulled me from the mire. Hear me, open up the churches for the Catholics and you shall defeat the enemy. If, however, you do not heed me, then you shall not return. You will be captured and burned alive.” The emperor was astonished at the saint’s boldness and ordered his attendants Saturninus and Victor to take the monk and hold him in prison until his return.

Saint Isaac’s prophecy was soon fulfilled. The Goths defeated and pursued the Greek army. The emperor and his Arian generals took refuge in a barn filled with straw, and the attackers set it afire. After news of the emperor's death was received in Constantinople, Saint Isaac was released and honoured as a prophet.

Then the holy Emperor Theodosius the Great (379-395) came to the throne. On the advice of Saturninus and Victor, he summoned the Elder, treating him with great respect. Obeying his instructions, he banished the Arians from Constantinople and restored the churches to the Catholics. Saint Isaac wanted to return to his desert, but Saturninus and Victor begged him not to leave the city, but to remain and protect it by his prayers.

Saturninus built a monastery for the saint in Constantinople, where monks gathered around him. Saint Isaac was the monastery’s hegumen and spiritual guide. He also nourished laypeople, and helped many of the poor and suffering.

When he had reached an advanced age, Saint Isaac made Saint Dalmatus (August 3) hegumen. The monastery was later named for Dalmatus.

Saint Isaac died in the year 383, and his memory is also celebrated on March 22.

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