December 7, 2013

Saint Ambrose of Milan as a Model for our Lives

St. Ambrose of Milan (Feast Day - December 7)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Ambrose was born in Milan around 340 A.D. He completed his studies in rhetoric, philosophy and law. A virtuous and righteous man, his conduct was blameless even before he was baptized. While practicing the profession of Judge he tried to impart justice without discrimination of persons or offices. His admirable and pious life and state of being brought the mercy of God, which "chased" after him and made him worthy to be baptized and become a living member of His Church. In a relatively short time, he received all the grades of the priesthood, going from Deacon to Presbyter to Bishop of Milan. As a Bishop he was distinguished for the sacrificial love he had for his fold, as well as for his struggles against heresies. The known incident from history, which took place between Saint Ambrose and Emperor Theodosius, highlight the spiritual prowess of the Saint and his commitment to the faith of his Fathers. He did not allow the Emperor Theodosius to enter into the sacred church, until he sincerely repented of the killings he ordered inside the hippodrome of Thessaloniki. Saint Ambrose had a peaceful end. He was "perfected in peace" in the year 397, at the age of 57.

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

First, the administration of justice which is administered by legitimate state institutions, is something very important for the functioning of human societies. Human justice, however, if it is necessary, differs very much from the justice of God, which is identical with His love and its purpose is to correct and save man and not to punish. The divine Chrysostom when speaking of the justice of God says that it is His love, which "made His Son sin and justified sinful men. While the justice of men before God is as 'filthy rags'". God, because He is without passion, is not partial, for He does not discriminate between persons depending on their material goods or the offices they hold, but before Him all people are equal. In the same way will all those behave who love God and try to govern according to His will.

For one to be in a position to judge and to judge fairly, they must themselves be free from their passions, which cause social anomalies and irregularities, so they could truly love. But because this is certainly difficult, it would be good, at least, for the judge to make judgment and a decision in the fairest possible way, not thinking of their own passions and mistakes, but by putting themselves in the position of the one being judged. At the same time, they should try to judge according to the spirit and not the letter of the law.

To return justice is a difficult and responsible task and should be done with seriousness, the fear of God, prayer and caution, in order to avoid great and serious errors. Human life is a gift from God and no one has the right to destroy it frivolously because of their passions and mistakes. The exhortation of Holy Scripture: "Learn justice all who dwell upon the earth", is directed to those who have borne the serious and responsible task of instituting lawful justice, and it is always timely.

Second, in the Apolytikion of Saint Ambrose there is written, among other things, the following: "You are a mystagogue of correct doctrines to the faithful...." That is, he taught the faithful to observe exactly and correctly the doctrines of the Church.

The doctrines of the Church are the truths of the faith, as they were revealed by the Triune God and recorded by the Holy Fathers of the Ecumenical Synods. "They are also called 'boundaries', because they are boundaries between truth and error" (Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos). The teaching of the truths of the faith is a sacred service and mystagogy, as is the exact observance of dogma, since they are associated directly with the true worship of the Triune God. At the same time they protect the faithful from the delusion of heresy and help them to remain within the Church and therefore be found in the correct perspective for the acquisition of a living communion with the Triune God. The saints know from experience that any derogation from dogma signifies losing the way to communion with God, as well as existential freedom, namely sovereignty over the passions, which is achieved by experiencing the way of life offered by the Orthodox Church.

Doctrine is directly linked with the ethos and way of life of everyone that lives and abides by that which they believe. The doctrines of the Orthodox Church are the way of life of all those who are struggling to achieve their personal sanctification. They are a source of inspiration and a cause of genuine love, which is linked directly with the exact correctness of the doctrines. This is why in matters of faith and the life of worship there is no room for sentimentalism and various other illnesses, because it is one thing to love heretics, which must exist, for no one should hate someone who is ill but rather their illness, and it is another thing to share in worship and Divine Communion, which presupposes membership within the Church.

Doctrines are a source of life and transfuse this life which conquers death and generates authentic love, existential freedom and true justice. When one loses these three great goods, especially love, then they look to find their rights, ignoring, of course, that they find them truly when they sacrifice them for the sake of their neighbor.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΑΓΙΟΣ ΑΜΒΡΟΣΙΟΣ - ΕΠΙΣΚΟΠΟΣ ΜΕΔΙΟΛΑΝΩΝ", January 2005. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.