By Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria
Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, praising the chorus of Holy Neomartyrs, whose Synaxis our Holy Church celebrates today, says the following in the Service he composed in their honor:
"As noetic luminaries, the divine Neomartyrs of Christ have risen upon us, and without error they lead towards the straight path of salvation by His commandments."1
The Neomartyrs are lumninaries, namely stars, who rose in the firmament of the Church during the terrible winter of slavery.
They are the new athletes of Christ.
They are the thrilling preachers of the Divinity of Christ.
They are the champions of piety and the opponents of impiety.
They are the partakers of the Lord's sufferings and His imitators and followers.
They are the triumphant victors against the three great enemies: the flesh, the world and its rulers, as Saint Nikodemos writes in his Encomium.
All these persons presented a more consistent and more effective resistance against the occupiers. They sacrificed themselves for the enslaved race to survive. Thus, in those four hundred years, they revived the Christian tradition of martyrdom and confession. By their sufferings they made evident the words of Christ: "Whosoever confesses Me before men, I will confess before My Father in the heavens."2
And this confession, which was recorded by the Angels, sought to reject the occupiers and was an immediate confirmation of the Orthodox faith.
And I, my brethren, wanted to convey today to your love, a characteristic feature of all these holy figures, known and unknown, who with boldness stand before the Throne of the Slain Lamb. It is the feature of fighting to preserve the Orthodox faith. The Apostle Paul refers to this fighting to his disciple Timothy: "Fight the good fight of the faith."3 This was experienced by the same Apostle to the Nations, with success, with many victories, yet "through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything."4 Therefore at the end of his earthly course he exclaimed: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing."5
This fight for the faith was made present by the multitude of the chorus of Holy Neomartyrs.
First, they fought against the various passions which sought to dominate within their souls and lead them to destruction. How many things were they offered by the conquerors: riches, glory, honor and pleasure, in order to loot the treasure of their faith! And their response to all these challenges of the conquerors was amazing: "I was born a Christian, and a Christian I will die!"
Second, they fought against sin in all its forms, which affects the purity by which God made us and drags us into wickedness and misery. Sin hurts the image of God, removes gentleness, and alienates people from the presence of grace. One does not "battle against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places."6 This is why these persons, with a firm will and having on their lips the name of Christ, followed the advice of the Apostle Paul: "Remember Jesus Christ who rose from the dead,... according to my preaching."7 Thus they subjugated every enemy and adversary and arrived at the glorious end in triumph both in this life, and especially in eternal life, thereby enjoying the ineffable joy and bliss of Paradise.
Third, the fighting spirit which characterized the Holy Neomartyrs, resulted in the confession of their faith in the person of Christ that led to their martyric death.
They had amazing stability in the Orthodox Christian teachings and traditions.
They had admirable perseverance during inhumane and terrible torture, to which they became subject by their persecutors, and they remind us of the martyrdoms of the ancient Martyrs of our faith.
They had forbearance, forgiveness and at the same time prayed for their torturers.
This spirit of faith and confession, and the bloodbath that watered the earth and adorned their martyric relics, particularly stimulates our suffering people, dripping with the dew of revitalization in the wilderness of slavery to the suffering souls of the slaves, so that they did not bend to the constant threats and persecutions of the conquerors. Their presence, as Saint Nikodemos writes, was an aura of revitalization to those who fainted every time under the yoke of the fall. "It is a miracle for one to see in the heart of the winter spring flowers, in the deepest night the sun of the day, in the palpable darkness the brightest lights, and in the time of slavery to see freedom and in the time of illness to see the supernatural power of God."8
The Holy Neomartyrs, who were martyred during the four hundred years and like a heavenly cloud cover our long-suffering country, come to us today to remind us of the debt we owe them for the treasures of our faith. This faith is not a theoretical teaching, nor an intellectual theory. Faith is life! And this life is associated with true life, which is Christ. If there is true communion with God, then we will find ourselves in an actual state of liberation. Away from God one is fragmented, internally and externally, with conflicts, divisions and schisms.
Today, when our values have been smuggled, and the traditional social fabric of our country has changed, and the Holy Mysteries (such as Baptism and Marriage) have lost their sanctity and in our own way we have altered them into simple joyful ceremonies; today, when our relationship with God and the Church is limited to a formal presence; the Holy Neomartyrs overemphasize that we should not accept a reconciliation with sin, as well as any other derogation and irresponsibility in our interpersonal relationships that move us away from the Truth and complicates our lives, and ultimately leads to spiritual death and the loss of eternal life.
I pray that the intercessions of the Holy Neomartyrs will strengthen us in these difficult times, in order that we may engage them and fight the good fight of the faith.
1. Doxastikon of Small Vespers.
2. Matt. 10:32.
3. 1 Tim. 6:12.
4. 2 Cor. 6:8-10.
5. 2 Tim. 4:7-8.
6. Eph. 6:12.
7. 2 Tim. 2:8.
8. St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, New Martyrology, Prologue.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.