Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Commemoration of our Father among the saints, the Hieromartyr Eleutherios

I was privileged to chant the Orthros (Matins) service to St. Eleutherios this morning who is also the patron saint of the Antiochian Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America (DOWAMA). As we prepare for our Lord's coming in the flesh for us and for our salvation, all these great saints whom we commemorate day by day remind us that if it were not for Christ's incarnation (which, as St. John Chrysostom says is the greatest gift God could give), then the miracles these saints wrought, the conversions they engineered, the generosity of their giving would all be for nothing. We commemorate these saints, the witnesses, our friends not because of what they did but for what they did because of and for the sake of Christ.

My non-Orthodox friends and family, God love them, don't understand the need for saints because, to them, we have Christ and we need no one else. This isn't an issue of need, for the saints who stand with the heavenly hosts aren't receiving glory. They only give glory to God and our honouring of them gives honour to Christ. Well, why not then just give honour to God? Because it goes back to our Lord's incarnation. If God had not been incarnate, no saints could have existed. God assumed everything that we are so that we may be entirely healed as St. Gregory the Theologian would remind us. Our Lord's coming in the flesh, His Baptism at the hands of St. John the Forerunner, His crucifixion, death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, sitting at the right hand and His second and glorious coming are all done for us and for our salvation so that our flesh, our sinful flesh which Adam and Eve had corrupted at the beginning, need no longer bar us from true communion with God. Thus, let us rejoice in the fellowship of the saints, who became god-like because of Christ's great dispensation and economy by becoming what we are.

From the Prologue of Ohrid for St. Eleutherios:

From a good tree comes good fruit. This wonderful saint had noble and greatly eminent parents. Eleutherius was born in Rome, where his father was an imperial proconsul. His mother Anthia heard the Gospel from the great Apostle Paul and was baptized by him. Having been left a widow early, she entrusted her only son for study and service to Anicetus the Bishop of Rome. Seeing how Eleutherius was gifted by God and illumined by the grace of God, the bishop ordained him a deacon at the age of fifteen, a priest at the age of eighteen, and a bishop at the age of twenty. Eleutherius's God-given wisdom made up for what he lacked in years, and this chosen one of God was appointed Bishop of Illyria with his seat in Valona (Avlona), Albania. The good shepherd guarded his flock well and increased their number day by day. Emperor Hadrian, a persecutor of Christians, sent the commander Felix with soldiers to seize Eleutherius and bring him to Rome. When the raging Felix arrived in Valona and entered the church, he saw and heard the holy hierarch of God; suddenly his heart changed, and he became a Christian. Eleutherius baptized Felix and departed for Rome with him, returning joyfully as if he were going to a feast and not to trial and torture. The emperor subjected the noble Eleutherius to harsh torture: flogging, roasting on an iron bed, boiling in pitch, and burning in a fiery furnace. But Eleutherius was delivered from all these deadly tortures by God's power. Seeing all this, Caribus the Roman eparch declared that he also was a Christian. Caribus was tortured and then beheaded, and so was Blessed Felix. Finally, the imperial executioners cut off the honorable head of St. Eleutherius. When his mother, the holy Anthia, came and stood over the dead body of her son, she also was beheaded. Their bodies were translated to Valona, where even today St. Eleutherius glorifies the name of Christ by his many miracles. He suffered during the reign of Hadrian in the year 120.

Troparion to St. Eleutherios (Plagal Tone 1 to the melody "Let us worship the Word"):

Adorned with the robe of priest
Stained with the streams of your blood,
O wise and blessed Eleutherius, over-thrower of Satan
You hastened to Christ your Master. Pray unceasingly for those who faithfully honor your contest!

Through the intercessions of our father among the saints, Eleutherios, may Christ our true God have mercy upon us and save us.

1 comment:

  1. Well said Chris.

    When I have these discussions about the Saints, I like to say that to pray to the Saints is not different than to pray to God. Whether you understand the fact of the matter or not, you can't pray to God without praying to His Saints, and you can't pray to His Saints without praying to God.

    Christianity is about love, and love is about communion. God Himself is a communion of love, a communion of multiple Persons whose love is perfect and utterly transcends Their multiplicity, so that they are in fact One God. This is not polytheism, because none of the Persons of the Trinity would be a god apart from the Trinitarian communion; it is only by virtue of the divine love that the Persons of the Trinity can be God, and they can only be God together. Not even God can exist without love, which is why St. John says, "God is love."

    When I was first Orthodox and trying to understand this, I used to say that when we are saved, we become additional members of the Trinity. This is not in fact true, because it would mean we actually become God, in essence and not just by participation in His grace. But still, participation in the Trinitarian communion means something just as radical as becoming an additional member, especially when contrasted to Western notions of salvation that define it as a legalistic acquittal from sin and have no grasp of deification at all, no understanding that God became man that men might become gods.

    So that's how I try to explain that there is no dichotomy between prayer to the Saints and prayer to Christ. Chris, you're right to emphasize the Incarnation. To refuse to pray to the Saints, or to be unaware of them as members of the divine Communion, deprives one of an awareness of the miracle of the Incarnation of God that becomes possible in all men. As Fr. Don says in his catechism course, this is also the reason for the special veneration given to Mary, the Theotokos. "Theotokos" means "God-bearer," and we are to be God-bearers just as she is. In her case, God the Son became Incarnate in her, and what this Incarnation made possible is that in our case, we are to grow in the spiritual life so that God the Spirit can become Incarnate in us. This is what it means to be and to become a Saint---to be saved is to become a Saint.