November 23, 2013

Saint Amphilochios of Iconium as a Model for our Lives

St. Amphilochius of Iconium (Feast Day - November 23)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Amphilochios lived in the fourth century. He was from Cappadocia and a friend of Basil the Great, which is evidenced by the letters of Basil the Great to him on the occasion of various events. Among the most important letters of Basil the Great to Saint Amphilochios is that which he sent on the occasion of the consecration of the latter as Bishop of Iconium.

When one reads the letters of Basil the Great to Saint Amphilochios the greatness of the personality of Saint Amphilochios can be perceived, his struggle to combat heresy and preserve the Orthodox Faith, his respect and love for Basil the Great, as well as the great love Basil the Great had for him. He attended the Second Ecumenical Synod in Constantinople where he was distinguished for his gumption and targeted placements. With the seniority he had he intervened and gave solutions to various problems arising in Local Churches and in this way ensured peace between them, as well as the unity of the Orthodox everywhere.

He produced a number of discourses relating to the Orthodox Faith. In 394 he reposed in peace, fifty years after his consecration as Bishop.

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

First, Saint Amphilochios shunned ordination out of great humility and deep respect for this high office. But God, Who directs history, as well as the course of life for all those who love Him and place their hope in Him, led his steps to the sacred Place of Sacrifice - without of course infringing on his freedom - and even made him worthy of the highest honor of the Hierarchy. And as Basil the Great stresses, in addressing Saint Amphilochios, so it always happens with those people who desire that the will of God take place in their hearts. That is, God directs their footsteps "towards every good work". He writes: "Blessed be God Who from age to age chooses them that please Him, distinguishes vessels of election, and uses them for the ministry of the Saints. Though you were trying to flee, as you confess, not from me, but from the calling you expected through me, He has netted you in the sure meshes of grace, and has brought you into the midst of Pisidia to catch men for the Lord, and draw the devil's prey from the deep into the light. You, too, may say as the blessed David said, 'Whither shall I go from Your Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from Your presence.' Such is the wonderful work of our loving Master. 'Asses are lost' that there may be a king of Israel. David, however, being an Israelite was granted to Israel; but the land which has nursed you and brought you to such a height of virtue, possesses you no longer, and sees her neighbor beautified by her own adornment." He also offers the following advice: "Play the man, then, and be strong, and walk before the people whom the Most High has entrusted to your hand. Like a skilful pilot, rise in mind above every wave lifted by heretical blasts; keep the boat from being whelmed by the salt and bitter billows of false doctrine; and wait for the calm to be made by the Lord so soon as there shall have been found a voice worthy of rousing Him to rebuke the winds and the sea" (Letter 161).

In another letter he makes the distinction between heresies, schisms and unlawful congregations. He writes: "The old authorities ... used the names of heresies, of schisms, and of unlawful congregations. By heresies they meant men who were altogether broken off and alienated in matters relating to the actual faith; by schisms men who had separated for some ecclesiastical reasons and questions capable of mutual solution; by unlawful congregations gatherings held by disorderly presbyters or bishops or by uninstructed laymen" (Letter 188). Basil the Great completes his advice with the following: "Only be exhorted ever to give heed lest you be carried away by wicked customs. Rather change all previous evil ways into good by the help of the wisdom given you by God. For Christ has sent you not to follow others, but yourself to take the lead of all who are being saved" (Letter 161).

Second, in most of the letters to Saint Amphilochios, Basil the Great closes with a prayer/wish that Saint Amphilochios be healthy and joyful. He writes: "May you be strong and joyful in the Lord" or "May you by the grace of the Lord be kept in good health and joy in the Lord, praying for me and for the Church of God", etc. This prayer/wish is very important for everyone, especially, however, for Spiritual Fathers, as well as for all leaders generally who have enormous responsibilities and daily face many serious problems. Furthermore, it is important that they have physical and spiritual health, because in this way they will be able to withstand the difficulties. It is also important that they have inner peace and joy, and in this way they will pacify, make joyful and create a good mood to all those who come before them and are found near them. Saint Seraphim of Sarov advised the Abbess of the Sacred Monastery of Diveyevo to have a joyful mood before the sisters of the Sacred Monastery. He also urged her to welcome the sisters, who come from the fields tired, calmly and with a smile. He pleaded with her to sit with them when they are eating, even if she is not hungry. This is because, as he told her: "When you sit with them and talk courteously they will take courage and will eat joyfully and with a good mood ... joy is not a sin, Matushka."

True joy, however, is an internal affair. This means that it is not connected to external events, but it springs from within the heart; inside a heart which is filled with the Holy Spirit, and for this reason (true joy) is not whisked away due to everyday difficulties and many temptations, but it is still there even in the harshest conditions, and in the most saddest events of life.

May the prayer/wish of Basil the Great, "may you be strong and joyful in the Lord", be applied to all of us.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Άγιος Αμφιλόχιος, Επίσκοπος Ικονίου", October 2012. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.