December 1, 2013

Saint Philaret the Merciful as a Model for our Lives

St. Philaret the Merciful (Feast Day - December 1)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Philaret was married and a father of three children. He was a farmer by profession, a good father and a man who loved God very much and had a rich spiritual life. Because he was a lover of God, he was also a lover of mankind and very merciful. He had a big heart full of true love and, like Patriarch Abraham, he was a hospitable lover of strangers and always willing to serve his "neighbor". Besides, it could not be otherwise, for whoever loves Christ very much cannot but truly love those who are "the least" of His brethren. Even during that period of his life when circumstances brought him to bankruptcy and he was just "getting by", he still "showed admirable fortitude, like Job, and continued to do good works beyond imagination. And God, who saw his steadfast faith, ordered by His providence that Constantine, the son of Empress Irene, take as his wife the Saint's granddaughter Maria, and he honored Philaret with the office of Minister." But even then, having gained wealth and glory, he continued to be kind-hearted, simple and frugal. When the time came for him to exit this vain world, he called for his relatives, his children and grandchildren, and having given them his final words of advice and admonition, concluded: "My children, never forget hospitality, do not desire foreign things, never be absent from the services and liturgies of the Church, and generally as I lived, may you also live." And having said these things, he gave up his soul with the words: "Thy will be done."

The life and example of Saint Philaret show clearly that no way of life, and no profession, is an obstacle to the acquisition of holiness and the knowledge of the Triune God. Neither marriage nor virginity consist of the purpose of life, but they are a means to achieve the objective, which is the theosis of man. That is, for man to arrive from "the image" to "the likeness", from "the unnatural" to "the natural", that is the natural life, which doesn't mean for one to live out in the countryside and away from cities, but to transform our passions and acquire communion with God. The Saint was a family man, a breadwinner, who worked and toiled daily to feed his family. But this did not prevent him from doing inner work, being obedient to the Church and keeping the commandments of Christ, which are a source of uncreated energies and transfuse life. He prayed continuously and received the gift of prayer. He truly loved, and was pleased by service to his "neighbor", having received the gift of hospitality. He found meaning in life by giving and offering, living and embodying the saying: "Blessed rather are those who give than receive", and thus received the gift of charity. He was truly a philaret, a lover of virtue, or as the divine hymnographer chants: "You received the name and it actually happened", for his name revealed his way of life.

The changes that took place during the course of his life, the bankruptcy and the contempt of people, as it so often happens and as our ancient ancestors would say: "When you are successful everyone is your friend, when you are unsuccessful you do not even have parents", did not affect his inner mood and way of life. This is very important, because there always have been and there always are those who calculate human value by money and material things, and many times they affect even the most virtuous and benevolent. Here I will quote a poem that I once saw written on a one hundred drachma bill, which made an impression on me and I confess that I found it to be true: "We spoke about flowers and they called us romantics, we spoke about freedom and they called us vagrants, we spoke about money and they called us people." Unfortunately, this happens even today, in our material loving age. The Saint, however, proved superior to the circumstances and was not affected by all this, rather he continued to offer from the wealth of his material goods, but primarily and mainly of the abundance of his heart. He remained unaffected when he acquired offices, wealth and glory, and surely began, as is usual, to be surrounded by flatterers and all those "types", who can easily derail you and remove you away from your purpose and perspective, and this shows the stability of a persons character, their living faith and their commitment to the life-giving will of God. This was the compass of his life, and this is what he always had in his heart and on his lips until his final breath, because, as we saw above, he gave up his soul praying and saying to God: "Thy will be done."

Noteworthy are his final words of advice and admonishment to his relatives. They are worth our studying and implementing. They are not empty words, but the summary of an entire life that he spent doing good for people, "the least of the brethren of Christ". The source by which he drew strength were prayer and the life of worship in the Church. His way of life is a living example. His suggestion that "as I lived, may you also live" is like that of the Apostle Paul: "Be imitators of me as I am of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1).

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΑΓΙΟΣ ΦΙΛΑΡΕΤΟΣ Ο ΕΛΕΗΜΩΝ", December 1999. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.