The First Saviour is the feast of the Presentation of the Holy and Life-giving Cross, celebrated on August 14th. The presentation took the form of a ceremonious procession, in which the Lord’s Cross was carried out on this day (August 1st by the old calendar) in Constantinople and in Russia. The feast commemorates the following historic event: the Greek King Manuel and the Russian Prince Andrei Bogolyubski once happened to go to war on the same day – the former against the Saracens and the latter against the pagan tribe of the Bulgars.
Both the Greek king and the Russian prince had the habit, whenever they went to war, of taking with them an icon of the Holy Virgin with the Infant Christ, and of carrying a cross in front of the troops. That day, August 1st, while fighting with the Bulgars, the Russian troops saw that from the icon of the Holy Virgin there emanated fiery rays which shone over the entire army.
The wondrous sight filled Prince Andrei with such fervor, that with the help of God he won a complete victory over his enemies. On that same day, the Greek King Manuel saw a similar miracle from the icon of the Holy Virgin among his own troops – the emanation of the fiery rays, shining over the entire army, and on that day he, too, was victorious against the Saracens. The king and the prince informed each other about the victories they had won with the help of God, and about the miraculous emanation from the icons of the Holy Virgin and Child. In honor of this event, the first of August was decreed a holiday, and to commemorate the power of the Cross which had helped the Christians vanquish their pagan foes, the priests carry the Cross out of the altar and lay it in the middle of the church to be venerated by the faithful. This day also marks the beginning of the Dormition Fast, which lasts only two weeks but is just as strict as the Great Lent.
In Russian folkore the feast of the First Saviour is associated with the custom of eating freshly-gathered honey, after having it blessed in church, and with the following events in nature:
The bee stops bringing honey to the beehive
Bee-keepers cut open the hives.
Swallows and martins fly away on the First Saviour.
Roses stop blooming and cold dews cover the grass.
On the feast of the First Saviour there are universal church processions to bless the waters of streams and rivers.
On this day horses and other cattle are usually bathed for the last time.
On August 19th (the 6th by the old calendar) the Second Saviour – the Transfiguration of Our Lord is celebrated. This important event in Christ’s life on earth occurred not long before His Crucifixion. In order to sustain His disciples’ faith when they would see Him suffering, the Lord first showed them His divine glory. Taking along three of His disciples – Peter, John and James, the Lord ascended a high mountain, called Mount Tabor, to pray. While Christ was praying, the disciples fell asleep from fatigue. When they awoke, they saw that Christ was transfigured: His face shone like the sun, while His garments had become radiant as light. Two prophets – Moses and Elias – appeared to Him in their heavenly glory and spoke with Him about His forthcoming suffering and death. Seeing all this, the disciples’ hearts were filled with extraordinary joy. When they saw that the prophets were about to withdraw from Christ, Peter, trying to hold them back, cried out: “Lord! It is good for us to be here; if You wish, we will make three tents here: one for You, one for Moses and one for Elias.”
Suddenly a bright cloud enveloped them and out of the cloud they heard the voice of God the Father: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him!” In great fear the disciples fell to the ground.
Christ came and touched them, and said: “Arise and do not be afraid.” The disciples arose and saw Christ in His usual appearance. Through His glorious Transfiguration the Lord also showed us how mankind will appear in future life, in the Heavenly Kingdom, and how our entire world will then be transfigured.
In Russian folkore the feast of the Second Saviour is associated with the custom of eating apples and other fruits that had been blessed in church, and with the following events in nature:
Ripe apples are picked on this day and blessed in church.
The nights are becoming cold.
The cranes begin to fly away.
It is customary not to eat any fruits or vegetables before the Second Saviour, except cucumbers.
On the feast of the Second Saviour even a beggar will eat an apple.
The Third Saviour is the commemoration of the Image of our Lord Not-made-by-hands, celebrated on August 29th (the 16th by the old calendar).
This image of Christ appeared under the following circumstances: during Christ’s life on earth, there lived in the Syrian city of Edessa a certain Prince Augarus. He suffered from an incurable illness - leprosy, so that his entire body was covered with terrible sores, while internally he suffered from complete paralysis. Rumors of Jesus and His great miracles reached Augarus, who became filled with a fervent desire to see Christ and be healed by Him. However, being unable to travel to Judea himself, he wrote a moving letter to Jesus Christ, in which he wrote the following:
“Rumors have reached me about You and Your glorious miracles, how You heal illness without medicine or treatment, - You make the blind see, the lame walk, You expel demons, cleanse lepers, heal paralytics with a single word and resurrect the dead. Hearing about You, that You perform such wondrous miracles, I came to the following two conclusions about You: You are either God Who has descended from heaven, or You are the Son of God. For this reason I humbly appeal to You, to make the effort to come to me and heal my incurable illness from which I have suffered for so many years. I have also heard that the Jews hate You and wish to harm You. I, however, have under my rule a city, though small, but beautiful and having everything in abundance; come to me then, and live with me in my city, in which both of us will find all that we need.”
Together with this missive, Augarus at the same time sent a talented artist to the Palestine, commissioning him to paint the face of Christ on an icon. So great was Augarus’ love for Christ, which was inspired by his faith in Him, that he wished at least to see His image. By God’s will the painter, despite his best efforts, was unable to depict the face of Christ, but Jesus Himself washed His face in water and dried it with a cloth, leaving a miraculous imprint of the Divine face on this cloth.
Then the Lord sent this image to Augarus together with His reply, which was as follows: “Blessed are you, Augarus, not having seen Me and yet having faith in Me, for you shall inherit life eternal! You write for Me to come to you, but I must accomplish that for which I have been sent, and then I must return to My Father Who had sent Me. And when I will ascend to Him, I will send you one of My disciples, who will completely cure you of your illness.”
This took place after Christ’s ascension, when the Apostle Thaddeus came to Edessa and baptized Augarus, who came out of the baptismal font completely renewed, both in body and soul. Having become cured of leprosy, Augarus wrote on the Image Not-made-by-hands: “O Christ, our God, whoever has faith in Thee shall not be put to shame,” decorated it and placed it over the city gates. In 944, when the Turks attacked the city, this miraculous image of the Saviour, together with the letter which He had written to Augarus, were transported from Edessa to Constantinople. This event is commemorated as the Translation of the Saviour and is celebrated on August 29th.
In Russian folklore the Third Saviour is also called “The Saviour on linen”: first of all, because of the linen cloth on which the image of Jesus Christ was imprinted, and secondly, because it was the village custom to associate this holiday with the sale of linens and canvases.
Walnuts ripen for the Third Saviour.
Pies are baked from fresh flour.
For the First Saviour we stand on water, for the Second Saviour – we eat apples, for the Third Saviour – we sell canvases in the green hills.