December 31, 2013

Saint Zotikos the Feeder of Orphans as a Model for our Lives

St. Zoticus the Feeder of Orphans (Feast Day - December 31)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Zotikos came from a noble family and lived in the fourth century. He was raised in Rome, in an environment of great piety, and he received a wonderful education. From a young age he was distinguished for his great love towards his fellow man, whom he wanted to serve with the same feeling as if he was serving Christ Himself, whose commandments he tried to apply in their entirety. Constantine the Great honored him for his many gifts, and invited him to Constantinople-New Rome, along with other pious men, where he became a privileged co-worker of his.

Saint Zotikos showed great love for the poor, and especially orphans and abandoned children, whom he took care of like an affectionate father. But he also showed great love and affection for lepers, who, as is well known, were exiled and lived away from society isolated and despised. The Saint approached them without fear, helped them economically, and above all took care of them personally, strengthening and comforting them. The lepers loved him and considered him to be more than their guardian angel. Yet after the repose of Constantine the Great, his son Constantius did not honor the work of Saint Zotikos as he should have, and sadly he mistreated him, with the result that this holy man faced hardships and tribulations, which caused him to leave this vain world prematurely. After the repose of the Saint, however, Constantius sincerely repented, and to honor him he built a Leper Hospital, in which lepers found affection and love. Indeed he endowed this Foundation with many properties, estates and incomes so as not to deprive even a little these distressed people.

The example of Constantius was imitated later by other emperors, such as Constantine VII Porphyrogenitos (913-959), John Tzimiskes (969-976), and Romanos III (1028-1034), who cared for the existence and proper functioning of the Leper Hospital which, thanks to the initial efforts of Saint Zotikos, served numerous lepers and made their lives as humane as possible.

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

Leprosy is an infectious disease and was until the middle of the last century incurable. Unfortunately, for many centuries this created a racist mentality among people, which created also too many problems for the families of patients and for society at large. The aversion to patients with the disease of leprosy resulted in the isolation of lepers, with all that it entails. That is, it separated married couples and even parents from their children, and children from their parents forever, since they usually never saw one another. It was, that is, a singular death, since lepers in their isolation were in fact the living dead. When they left their homes they said goodbye to their loved ones knowing that there was no chance for their return. That is, there was no way for them to come out of quarantine unless some sort of miracle was done, or if in the meantime a drug was developed that would cure leprosy. Faint hope always existed, since hope dies always at the end, however reality was harsh, since daily life was intolerable and inhumane. This is why they accepted manifestations of love from healthy people, whenever it occurred, as if it was manna from heaven.

Saint Zotikos, steeped in selfless love, which is not simply sentimental, but the fruit of the Holy Spirit who resided in his pure heart, exceeded the mindset of many who abhorred lepers and were living far off from them, and he did not just approach them and socialize with them, but nourished them personally, as did Basil the Great. This fact, moreover, reveals that there are people that do not fear death, because they have exceeded it in the limits of their own personal lives, and also because "perfect love casts out fear". This is why they abolished by their way of life every kind of racism that divides people and sterilizes love. It even shows that faith in the Triune God, who "is love", creates true people, who are truly a blessing for humanity.

Nowadays, of course, leprosy is cured, but the racist mentality has not disappeared and continues to exist in another form. That is, people may not be separated today between the healthy and those with the disease of leprosy, but they are differentiated between the healthy and those with HIV or AIDS, between "locals" and "outsiders", between "ours" and "theirs", between rich and poor, etc. This mindset is unlikely to disappear as long as people are not reborn spiritually by the Grace of God and their own personal struggle, and it remains among us with all it entails, as long as a person is hermetically sealed to themselves and does not care for others. However, wherever one encounters people, true people that is, who are imbued with the spirit of sacrifice and selfless service for others, it affirms that there is abolished every form of discrimination and racist attitudes, for our fellow man is to be regarded as an image of Christ and as a true brother.

A true person is one who by the Grace of God and their own personal struggle transforms selfishness into selfless love. According to Saint Maximus the Confessor, selfishness is unreasonable love towards the body and it is this which impedes a person from encountering God in a loving manner, as well as other people. The existentialist philosophers would say: "I think, therefore I am." The Saints, however, who are true people, say: "I love, therefore I am."

The greatness of the Church is manifested moreover in that it "manufactures" true people, who by their life and disposition abolish any notion of racial discrimination and are a source of blessing for society, and for the whole inhabited world.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Άγιος Ζωτικός Ο ορφανοτρόφος", November 2010. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.