September 23, 2013

Saints Xanthippe and Polyxene as Models for our Lives

Sts. Xanthippe and Polyxene (Feast Day - September 23)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saints Xanthippe and Polyxene were sisters according to the flesh. They were from Spain and lived in the first century during the reign of Emperor Claudius (41-54 A.D.). Both sought the true faith which would bring meaning to their lives, and it pleased God for them to come to known it and then strive with all their strength to disseminate it.

Xanthippe was the wife of Probus, the ruler of the country. She was led to faith in Christ with her husband by the Apostle Paul, when he was in their country. Polyxene was a virgin and before her baptism she was tried by a great temptation. A certain libidinous man attempted to corrupt her, but the Grace of God preserved her and she remained unharmed. After this her desire grew to search for the true God which caused her to move from place to place. God made her worthy to hear the preaching of the Apostles Peter, Andrew and Philip. She became a disciple of the Apostle Andrew, who baptized her together with Rebecca, her friend and companion on her journey. After her baptism she returned to Spain, together with the Apostle Onesimus and Rebecca, and lived there the remainder of her life. The two sisters, Xanthippe and Polyxene, by divine zeal as genuine disciples of the holy Apostles, preached the true faith and led many well-intentioned to salvation. Although they lived in a time when members of the Church were persecuted and killed after cruel and inhuman torture, it pleased God for both of them to complete their lives in peace, at an advanced age.

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

Preaching the word of God is necessary because, when done the right way, it helps people to believe. Saint Gregory Palamas, interpreting the Gospel passage that mentions the healing of the paralytic - who was lowered with ropes before Christ after the roof of a house was destroyed - says that in order for people to believe they must first hear the word of God, which is why Christ "spoke unto them the word".

For the word of God to take hold and bear fruit in the souls of the listeners it must fall on fertile ground, "beautiful and good land", since there are many people who like to hear the word of God, but few people who strive to apply it in their lives. This is because, as Saint Gregory Palamas says: "All love to hear and to see, but not all are lovers of God." That is, everybody likes to hear and see things, but, unfortunately, few have a love for virtue, which is why there are few who hold within their hearts the word and strive to make it an experience and way of life. Characteristic is the phrase of Christ, which He repeated numerous times to the listeners of His words: "They who have ears to hear, hear." That is, whoever has their ears open, especially the ears of their soul, let them hear, that they may obey and apply what I say.

Fruition, however, does not only depend upon the earth, but also on the quality of the seed. In other words, the fruition of the word of God in the hearts of people does not only depend on the listeners, but also on the preachers of the word of God. The first, as mentioned, should have the desire to apply what they hear in their lives, but the latter should try to offer the people the word of God in a pure and unadulterated manner, as the Orthodox Church has experienced it and taught it through her Holy Fathers. Also, before the sermon they should pray for themselves, as well as for their listeners, whom they should primarily teach and inspire with their example. This means that whatever they teach they should first strive to apply this within their own lives, since, as Saint Seraphim of Sarov says, the greatest missionaries are those in whom is "the intensity of prayer and example". But the listeners should also pray together for the preachers of the Divine word, that God may enlighten them to correctly teach the word of His truth, and then for themselves, that Christ may open their mind "to be presented with the scriptures".

In our days we hear many sermons, but from what it seems by the results, few are those which touch the hearts of people and lead them to repentance and spiritual regeneration. Perhaps this is because they are reflections and pious thoughts, which are the words of men, and do not have the power to comfort, support and regenerate man. Indeed, sometimes, because in human words there are energies of the passions, they cause the opposite effect, that is, they cause confusion, agitation and sometimes despair. Rather, the word of God regenerates, heals, comforts and gives meaning to life, since "it is a living, active and sharp double-edged sword, penetrating deeply... discerning thoughts and the intentions of hearts." Once they told Christ, as He was teaching the people, that His Mother and brothers (the children of Joseph) were asking for Him. He, pointing His hand to His disciples, said: "Behold my mother and my brothers." He then added: "They who do the will of My Father Who is in the Heavens, they will be My brother, sister, mother."

It is truly an honor and blessing for all of us to be worthy to become mothers and brethren of Christ. It depends on us.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Άγιες Ξανθίππη καί Πολυξένη", August 2013. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.