September 13, 2013

Saint Aristides the Philosopher as a Model for our Lives

St. Aristides the Martyr (Feast Day - September 13)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Aristides was born in the second century A.D. in Athens and studied classical philosophy in the famous School of Philosophy. He was a restless spirit and the divinely inspired sermons of Saint Hierotheos, the first bishop of Athens, and Saint Dionysios the Areopagite did not leave him unimpressed, but rather resulted in him being baptized and then becoming an apologist of the faith and a martyr of Jesus Christ.

It should be noted that even before his baptism he was moved by the excellent character of the Christians and the purity of their lives, and therefore could not tolerate the fact that they were being persecuted, imprisoned, made to suffer and be killed as criminals simply because they had a different faith. After being admitted into the God-man Body of Christ, the Church, he rebutted all the charges against the Christians and praised their ethic and purity of life and their state, which were the fruit of their faith, through his gift of writing in his famous apology titled "On Reverence Towards God".

When one studies carefully the apology of the martyr Aristides they will recognize, among other things, that he knew Holy Scripture well, together with the dominant philosophical currents of his time. According to the ecclesiastical historian Eusebius, the apology of Saint Aristides was served to the Roman Emperor Hadrian, while according to the Syriac translation, this apology was served to the successor of Hadrian, Antoninus the Pious.

Saint Aristides after horrible torture incurred because of his faith and devotion to Christ and the Church "was perfected at the gallows" and "was presented to God as an immaculate sacrifice and divine burnt offering." His life and times give us the opportunity to emphasize the following:

First, in his apology, Saint Aristides, after talking about the beliefs and way of life of the barbarians, the idolaters, the Jews and the Christians, attempts to reveal the superiority of the Christian faith over others, which is evidenced by their superior way of life and behavior. He says the following, among others, about the members of the Church: "They do not worship strange gods" and they walk their path in life "full of modesty and joy." They are straightforward and honest in their dealings and "falsehood does not live among them. They love one another, do not turn their faces from their widows and save orphans from those who treat them brutally. And whoever has gives to the one who has not, without boasting... If they hear one of them is imprisoned, wounded or is held answerable in the name of their Messiah, all run to him, and as much as possible they relieve him to liberate him. And if there is someone poor among them and do not have a surplus of food, they will fast for two or three days to ensure them from their deficiency." He then highlights the fact that "they do not publicly confess their kindness, but are careful so that no one notices them. They hide their offering as someone who finds a treasure and hides it. They struggle to be righteous...." All this and much more moved the well-intentioned of that time and many desired to learn how they could live this way, thus asking to be catechized and baptized. Primarily, though, they were impressed how the Christians faced death, both theirs and that of their loved ones. Saint Aristides writes: "If one of the righteous die among them, they rejoice and thank God. And they treat the body as if it is leaving one place and going someplace nearby. When one of them brings a child into the world, they also thank God. And if one of them happens to die at a young age, they thank God even more for someone to have lived a sinless life. If they see someone among them die without faith or in sin, they mourn with grief and bitterness...."

Second, Saint Aristides, after vividly describing what was mentioned above, along with many other things regarding the faith and way of life of the members of the Church, does not fail with boldness and courage to urge the emperor to study Holy Scripture in order to establish the truth of what he writes. He also begs to allow for the study of it by whoever desires to do so. "Take therefore their scriptures, and study them deeply. Then behold, for you will discover that what I said is not molded by my imagination, nor do I speak as their lawyer. However, from the time I read their scriptures, I was made fully certain of these things, as well as about future things... Consequently let all those who do not have knowledge of God, to approach them, and they will receive incorrupt words which come from eternity."

The study of the divinely inspired Scriptures comforts and sweetens the heart and simultaneously creates inspiration when done with humility, respect and good intentions rather than curiosity, critical attitude and arrogance. For this reason many are studying Holy Scripture, but few change internally and experience true freedom, who are actually dominated by the passions and are overcome by death, which are corrected in the Church with asceticism and the sacramental life.

The way of life of the members of the Church of the first centuries should rebuke all of us modern Christians and motivate us to strive to increase our zeal and desire towards God and love towards our fellow man.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΑΓΙΟΣ ΑΡΙΣΤΕΙΔΗΣ Ο ΦΙΛΟΣΟΦΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΜΑΡΤΥΣ", September 2009. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.