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November 6, 2013

Saint Paul the Confessor as a Model for our Lives

St. Paul the Confessor (Feast Day - November 6)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Paul the Confessor was born in Thessaloniki in the beginning of the fourth century. He was a zealot of the Orthodox Faith, which he struggled to preserve unadulterated from the heresy of Arianism and therefore was opposed vehemently by the Arians. He was ordained a Deacon of the Church of Constantinople and became an assistant to Patriarch Alexander, whom he succeeded after his death. When he was enthroned Patriarch the arianophile Emperor Constantius was absent in Antioch. Having returned he was informed of the event, and expelled Saint Paul and in his place put the arianophile Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia. In Rome, where Saint Paul was exiled, he encountered Athanasius the Great, who was also in exile. These two great ecclesiastical men empowered each other in the spiritual struggle and regrouped their strength in order to continue the effort to preserve the Orthodox Faith from heresy.

Later, through the mediation of Pope Julius of Rome, who was then Orthodox, the exiles regained their thrones. This did not last long for Patriarch Paul of Constantinople, since he was again exiled by the Arians. By the intervention of Emperor Constans to his brother Constantius he regained his position in Constantinople and continued his work. After the death of Constans however, after three years, Constantius exiled Saint Paul again to the Caucusus in Armenia, where he completed his earthly life in a martyric way. The Arians, full of hate, strangled him with his omophorion.

The earthly life of Saint Paul the Confessor revolved around suffering, persecution and exile, but he remained steadfast in his faith as an "unshakable pillar" and kept his confession till the end. The sacred hymnographer calls him another Apostle Paul and a zealous cleric, who with his blood that was shed unjustly, cries out to God, like the blood of Righteous Abel and the Prophet Zachariah.

Thy confession of the one divine Faith showed thee to the Church to be a new Paul and a zealot among priests, O holy one. The righteous blood both of Abel and Zachariah with thee doth cry out together unto the Lord. Venerable Father, intercede with Christ God in our behalf that His great mercy may be granted unto us. (Apolytikion in the Third Tone)

The life and times of Saint Paul the Confessor give us the opportunity to emphasize the following:

First, as Christ said, if the trees are good or putrid, they are known by their fruits. It is the same with people, as well as religions and various confessions, which are judged by their results and especially by the personalities they shape. That is, if they help man become a true man, namely to defeat the passions and acquire perfect love, so that in this way they can become a blessing to the whole world for all those people without a religious, racial or other distinction, or if they produce and maintain the morbid phenomenon of fanaticism and hatred, that lead to moralism, but not a few times also to the biological extermination of other people of other faiths and origins.

When one veers off towards heresy, due to a lack of empirical knowledge of the Orthodox Faith, even if it is done out of good intentions, thinking that salvation could be found there, they could reach the point, because they still operate according to the passions, that they even murder in the name of that god. But how can this god be true if innocent people are killed in his name, and how can it be a true faith if it leads to intolerance and fanaticism? The Triune God of the Orthodox Faith "is love" and inspires love even for one's enemies. Of course, even in the Church there is observed occasionally such a morbidly individual phenomenon, but it is natural for this to happen as long as the Church is a spiritual hospital and accepts everyone, even the passionate and spiritually and psychically sick. However, they are accepted in order to be treated with the method of treatment available, and not to maintain and increase their sickness. And of course we all have the ability, making proper use of our freedom, to become saints, who are the true members of the Church.

Second, the Saints confess their faith in the Triune God, struggling to preserve it from the forgeries of heretics, and are ready at any time to sign their confession with the blood of their martyrdom, because they know by their experience that faith is inextricably connected with salvation, and when the faith is altered then the correct way of life and salvation is altered. But they do not try to impose it, despite being sure of its correctness, but they inspire and sacrifice for them that others may live.

The confession of the Orthodox Faith on the part of the saints is not the result of arrogance and fanaticism, but the fruit of communion with God. The saints have tasted the sweetness of the empirical knowledge of God, the fullness of life, and they confess their faith in order to help all those who desire to find the true way of salvation.

Characteristic features for the authenticity of a true confession is love, humility and obedience to the Church. Those who consider themselves confessors and zealots of the faith, without having the above traits, are in a place of delusion.

The saints are the greatest benefactors of humanity, because they are guardians and confessors of the Orthodox Faith, and also because of their selfless love they support and empower people in difficulties, and they sweeten their pain and comfort their hearts.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΑΓΙΟΣ ΠΑΥΛΟΣ Ο ΟΜΟΛΟΓΗΤΗΣ ΑΡΧΙΕΠΙΣΚΟΠΟΣ ΚΩΝΣΤΑΝΤΙΝΟΥΠΟΛΕΩΣ", November 2006. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.