November 4, 2013

Saint Ioannikios the Great of Olympus as a Model for our Lives

St. Ioannikios the Great (Feast Day - November 4)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The venerable Ioannikios was born in Bithynia in 740 AD by pious parents, Myritriki and Anastaso, who raised him "in the education and admonition of the Lord". He was enlisted into the army during the struggle of the Iconoclasts against the sacred icons and drifted into the delusion of iconoclasm. When, however, he was dismissed from the ranks of the army he realized his error, repented sincerely, and even became a fervent preacher and confessor of the Orthodox Faith.

The venerable Ioannikios refused earthly glory, which he could have enjoyed, and dedicated himself to God. He became a monk at Olympus and by the Grace of God and his personal struggle "he shined on the earth as a sanctified star", as the sacred Hymnographer chants, who also likens him with the Prophet Moses the God-seer, because he was made worthy, like him, to hear the voice of God and talk with Him. He also calls him an equal-to-the-angels and a treasury of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the venerable Ioannikios was great and the Church rightly gave him this rare and prestigious title. "He was perfected in peace" in the Sacred Monastery of Antidion at the age of 94 years.

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

First, for one to drift away into delusion, particularly during the period of one's youth, one could characterize it as something human. To persist, however, unrepentant in delusion is demonic, because the demons, due to their pride, do not repent and therefore will not be corrected. The repentance of one who is deluded and their return to the Church is a work of God's Providence, yet directly connected with their own accord, because man is endowed with the gift of freedom, which cannot be violated by God who gave it to him. The benevolent man will sooner or later find their way, because they humbly seek God and respond positively to the Grace of God. For anyone, however, that does not have good benevolence it is not easy to be healed, that is, to admit their delusion and repent, even if they secretly realize they are deluded, because they are proud.

At this point we must stress that the experiences one has within the Church from their childhood plays an important role in the preservation of spiritual health, which is threatened by delusion as well as other spiritual illnesses, because they have a spiritually strong foundation upon which is built their human personality, as well as strong spiritual antibodies. And as with the healthy physical body, that is, when a virus fights him with vigor and tries to fight him as a foreign body which infects him and causes him serious side effects, the same happens with the healthy spiritual body, which, when possessed with strong spiritual antibodies, it fights whatever spiritual illness. While in the opposite case, of delusion that is, the poison penetrates deeply in the spiritual body and infects him, sometimes very heavily, so that the freedom from delusion becomes very difficult if not impossible.

It has been emphasized by the Fathers of the Church, as well as by contemporary educators and sociologists, that it is not only the way a child is brought up that plays an important role in the life of a child and their subsequent evolution, but it is also associated with their social environment, such as their neighborhood, school, the army, etc. Moreover the following proverbs are also well known: "Tell me with whom you go, that I may tell you who you are", and "Tell me about your companionship, that I may tell you about your humanity". Therefore, caution is needed in the choice of friends and associates generally in addressing people's behavior, because heretics are always lurking and trying in every way to lure the weak in faith.

Man by nature is an imitative being and is influenced by his environment, especially during their teenage and younger years. What parents can do, as long as they have their child near, is to teach them how to select their friends and be cautious of their companionships, together, of course, with prayer that they should make about these things. And even when the children later leave home, they should continue to cover them with their prayer, since the prayers of parents, because they are done with pain and love, have marvelous results.

Second, the person struggling to live in accordance with the commandments of God is overshadowed by uncreated divine Grace, which is like armor shielding them from the attacks of demons, the enemy of human salvation. Without this armor a person is exposed to the attacks of demons, who, when they see them defenseless, make them subservient and lead them towards delusion. So we need watchfulness, alertness and constant struggle to live the divine commandments, that we may become spiritual people, to be a habitation for the Holy Spirit. A spiritual person is not an intellectual, an artist, etc. as some people think, but "a spiritual person is one in whom the Holy Spirit acts", as Saint Symeon the New Theologian teaches, who also stresses: "Those who sin are the captives of demons". He further says: "Prudent and wise are those who deal with their personal salvation", because they "who ignore and neglect it do not understand their salvation" and are misguided, "even though many who are in delusion consider them wise."

Humble wisdom and prudence, which is required for a godly state, is protected from delusion and make a person truly spiritual, because then shall the Holy Spirit act within them, Who alters him into a treasury of His gifts.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Όσιος Ιωαννίκιος ο μέγας ο εν Ολύμπω", October 2010. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.