Saturday, 5 January 2013

Our Martyrdom: Refusing To Satisfy The Passions

St. Catherine of Alexandria
In my previous post I shared my thoughts on how the spiritual struggles we face daily are in some sense martyrdoms. Growing up in the church I found it difficult to relate to the numerous stories of the lives of the martyrs of the Orthodox Church and those of Egypt in particular. Every single time the priest would read from the Synaxarium (Lives of the Saints) during the divine liturgy, I saw this time as an opportunity to catch some sleep. I thought that we were reading these stories in honor of their lives because they gave their lives in an honorable and heroic way. Of course this is true, but I did not realize that they were read for our instructions on how to live a holy life that is fully dedicated to Christ in every way possible.

They were holy people who were asked to deny Christ to save their lives from torture and death. In most cases, if not all, they were asked to worship false gods of the empire and to renounce their Christian faith. Their great love of Christ would not allow them to reject Love Himself. Among the great martyrdom accounts we have in the Church from the 2nd century is that of St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. When asked to reject Christ he replied, "Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?". It is clear that St. Polycarp lived a holy life, a long-life relationship with Christ, united in Him. I personally believe that we live a life of a martyr in our encounter with Christ. We might not be threatened by others for our confession of faith, we might not be tortured physically consequently shedding our blood and murdered by non-Christians but we definitely fight against invisible powers, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12). Let us be encouraged by the lives of these martyrs to offer our very lives unto Christ our God, to fight the good fight, getting up after every time we fall.

St. Theophan the Recluse in the Ascension Convent in the City of Tambov which was under his diocese as bishop, gave a sermon to the nuns of the convent on the feast day of St. Catherine of Alexandria. Here is a passage from his sermon which I found very encouraging and helpful:

"Further in the life of St. Catherine, there followed her martyrdom, And what ought you to have? Also a sort of martyrdom, and this martyrdom should have begun from that moment when the decision to dedicate yourselves to the Lord ripened in your heart. After all, for what reason were the martyrs tormented? Because, having believed in the Lord and been united with Him, they did not want to worship false gods. The false gods were the spirits of passions and evil deeds. For he who refuses to give in to passions and sinful desires does the same as he who refuses to bow down and worship idols. He who refused to worship idols was given over to external sufferings, while he who refuses to satisfy the passions actually wounds himself and forces his heart to suffer until the passions quiet down in him. Victory over passions is a self-inflicted spiritual martyrdom, which is performed invisible in the heart but is nevertheless very painful." ~St. Theophan the Recluse

+Through the prayers of our holy fathers and mothers the martyrs, and all those who excelled in ascetic endeavors, O Lord grant us the forgiveness of our sins. Amen.

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