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St. John the Theologian

St John was a fisherman by trade, the son of Zebedee (i.e., "the son of thunder") and Salome, the daughter of Joseph the betrothed of Mary the Theotokos; hence, he was a step-cousin of the Saviour. When the Lord Jesus called him and his brother James to follow him, they left their father Zebedee with the fishing nets. From that time on he followed Christ wherever he went. He was present with Peter and James at the raising of Jairus' daughter and at our Lord's Transfiguration, and he laid his head upon the breast of Christ at the Last Supper. At the crucifixion, John stayed with Christ when all the other disciples had fled, and Jesus entrusted him with taking care of his Mother; the gospel of St John tells us that he cared for her until her falling asleep.

After the Dormition of the Theotokos, St John and his disciple St Prochoros (with whom he is almost always depicted in icons) departed to Asia Minor to preach the gospel, primarily in Ephesus. Because of the success of his evangelism, the pagans became infuriated and sent him to Rome to stand before the Emperor Dometian. He was tortured before the emperor, but he was not harmed by any of the tortures: flogging, poisoning, and being put into boiling oil. The emperor became afraid at his miraculous survival, and sent him away to exile on the island of Patmos, where he continued his ministry of converting the pagans to right belief, and where he composed the Apocalypse (the book of Revelation), followed by his gospel and his three catholic epistles.

There is some dispute among his biographers as to his age at the time of his falling asleep: reports range between 95 and 120 years old. There is a tradition that when he had reached a ripe old age, he took seven of his disciples and instructed them to dig a grave in the form of a cross. When they had completed digging it, the old man climbed down into the grave and commanded that they bury him. When the faithful later opened the grave, they found it empty. Some have speculated that this was to fulfill Christ's words in the 21st chapter of the gospel of St John, in which Christ predicts Peter's imprisonment and death; Peter asks the Lord what will happen to John, and Christ says, "If I will that he tarry until I come, what is that thee? Follow thou me." The other disciples speculated that John would not die. Thus, the emptiness of St John's grave has been claimed as proof that he did not die, but will remain alive until the Lord comes.

A miracle was reported for many years on 8 May: a fine dust or manna arose from his grave, from which those suffering from diseases were cured.

The feast of St John's repose is celebrated on 26 September, with a lesser feast on 8 May commemorating the miraculous manna.

St. James the Apostle

James was the son of Zebedee, brother of John and one of the Twelve Apostles. At the invitation of the Lord Jesus, James left the fishermen's net, his father and, together with John, immediately followed after the Lord. He belonged to that trinity of apostles to whom the Lord revealed the greatest mysteries; before whom He was transfigured on Tabor and before whom He lamented before His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. After receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, he preached the Gospel in various places and traveled to Spain. Upon his return from Spain, the Jews began to quarrel with him concerning Holy Scripture and no one was able to withstand him, not even a certain magician Hermogenes. Hermogenes and his disciple Philip were defeated by the power of truth which James preached and, both of them were baptized. Then the Jews accused him before Herod and persuaded Josias to slander the apostle. Josias, seeing the brave conduct of James and listening to his clear explanation about the truth, repented and believed in Christ. When James was condemned to death, this same Josias was also condemned to death. Enroute to the place of execution, Josias implored James to forgive him the sin of slander. James embraced and kissed him and said: "Peace and forgiveness be to you!" Both of them bowed their heads under the sword and were beheaded for the Lord Whom they loved and Whom they served. Saint James suffered in Jerusalem in the year 45 A.D. His body was translated to Spain, where miraculous healings occurred over his grave and, do so even today.

St. Sergius of Radonezh

A great ascetic and light of the Russian Church, St Sergius was born in 1313 in Rostov of devout parents named Kyrill and Maria. After the death of his parents, Bartholomew (as he was called before taking monastic vows) was tonsured as a monk and founded the community of the Holy Trinity in the forest of Radonezh. There, together with his monastic companions, he occupied himself with labour and prayer, On account of the purity of his life, he was made worthy of the gift of healing the sick and working miracles even, according to one tradition, raising one who had already died in the name of Christ.

The holy Mother of God appeared to him a number of times in visions. Princes and bishops came to him for counsel, and he gave his blessing to Prince Dimitri Donskoi, foretelling his victory in Russia's war of liberation against the Tartars. He had insight into men's hearts and into distant events. St Sergius' religious community became filled with monks during his lifetime, and has served through the ages as one of the chief centres of spiritual life in Russia.

St Sergius departed this life in 1392, and after his death he appeared a number of times to various people. His relics are venerated at the monastery which he founded, the Trinity-St Sergius Lavra at Sergiev Posad (formerly known as Zagorsk), outside of Moscow.

The feast of St Sergius is kept on the twenty-fifth of September each year. Another feast, commemorating the opening of his relics, is kept on the fifth of July.

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