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September 27, 2013

Saint Kallistratos and the 49 Martyrs With Him as Models for our Lives

Holy Martyr Kallistratos and the 49 Martyrs with him (Feast Day - September 27)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Kallistratos came from Carthage. His parents were devout Christians and nurtured him "in the education and admonition of the Lord". When he reached draft age he was inducted into the Roman army. In the army environment, among the pagans, he was tried by many temptations, which, however, he faced with great patience, wisdom and faith. Because he had a healthy spiritual organism, with strong spiritual antibodies, he remained, by the Grace of God and his own personal struggle, harmless and free from evil.

He had the good habit of waking up during the night and praying, but he did this with discernment and attention without bothering anyone. However, his way of life and behavior made some suspect he was a Christian, and for that a complaint was made against him to the general. He invited him to apologize and heard Kallistratos boldly confess his faith in Christ. He tried to dissuade him with promises and flatteries, yet, because he saw that he could not change his mind, he ordered that Kallistratos be tortured harshly. Finally, they tied him in a sack, which was well sealed, and threw him into the sea. But in a wondrous way the sack ripped and two dolphins carried the Saint safe and sound to shore. This miracle was seen by others, 49 soldiers, who came to believe and boldly confess that the God of Kallistratos was the true God, "Who alone does wonders".

After this event the Saint was imprisoned together with the 49 soldiers, whom he catechized in prison. And because everyone remained stable and steadfast in their faith, they were beheaded, and in this way they sealed their martyrdom for Christ with their holy blood.

Their life and times give us the opportunity to highlight the following:

The value of an example is truly very great, because an example teaches and inspires more than any teaching. Of course, teaching, advice and admonition is also necessary, but they are all completely useless and bring no benefit when they are not practiced, that is, when no one practices in life that which they say and advise. And, indeed, not only do they not build, but they destroy because they scandalize the conscience of those who are ill in faith. They are like the "barren fig tree", which was cursed by Christ. Conversely, when one's works speak, namely through their life, then their words become redundant and silence often is stronger than words.

Christ said that the preachers and teachers of the Gospel are those who validate what they say by their way of life and their brilliant example, and they will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven: "Whoever does and teaches, will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matt. 5:19). Indeed, the person who struggles to apply what they teach is overshadowed by the uncreated Grace of God, and then acquires inspiration and a power so great that like a magnet they attract the well-intentioned on the path of virtue and perfection.

The 49 soldiers who were martyred together with Saint Kallistratos were influenced in their way of life and behavior by the bright example of the Saint. Because they were well-intentioned, the Grace of God overshadowed them, they were changed internally and prepared to accept at the right time the message of the Gospel. In other words, the 49 soldiers renounced their idols and confessed Christ as true God, sealing their confession with the blood of their martyrdom, not just because they saw the miracle of the rescue of Saint Kallistratos from drowning, but because they loved Christ and accepted His rich Grace, influenced by the bright example of the Saint. Besides, this miracle was seen by many others, but they did not believe in Christ, because miracles do not give birth to faith, but they are the fruit of faith.

It is verified by science, but also from the daily experience of life, that as the years pass the memory weakens, and most people remember few things, if any, of the advice and admonitions of parents and teachers on various issues. They remember, however, very well their way of life and behavior, that is, their personality and character. It is especially remembered if they applied themselves personally in their lives to what they taught and advised, remembering also very well the love and interest applied to them, and vice versa.

Therefore, the bright example of parents, especially when it is coupled with deeply pained prayer that comes from a loving heart, literally performs miracles. An impression was made upon me by the words of a simple yet faithful mother, who was saddened by the way one of her children treated a certain serious issue, how it did not conform to the will of God. She said: "Now that my children are grown I have stopped giving them advice. What I do now is show them lots of love and at the same time pray that God enlightens them." And truly, this helped substantially.

Silence and words are two ways of expression which cause benefit when they take place at a proper time, since there is "a time for silence and a time to speak". One needs to have discernment to know when to speak and when to be quiet. And, of course, silence and words create inspiration and truly are beneficial when they are clothed in the bright garment of a shining example, as well as prayer with deep pain and selfless love.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Άγιος μάρτυς Καλλίστρατος καί οι σύν αυτώ 49 Μάρτυρες", August 2010. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.