January 21, 2014

Saint Agnes the Martyr as a Model for our Lives

Virgin-Martyr Agnes of Rome (Feast Day - January 21)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Agnes was indeed pure,* both in body and soul. She was from a noble family of Rome and lived in the first Christian era. With divine zeal she preached faith in the Triune God without the slightest fear, despite living during a period of harsh persecution against the Church. Her joy was indescribable when she saw those who were benevolent embrace the true faith. Soon her missionary zeal and spiritual accomplishments were made known and thus she was arrested and brought before the pagan ruler, who was demonically inspired, and when he saw her boldly confess her faith in Christ, she was brought to a brothel to be humiliated. But with her God-persuading prayer the Saint caused an earthquake in that area and whoever dared to approach her to corrupt her fell dead. Then those unfortunate women who lived there sent her away frightened, and the ruler full of rage ordered for her to be burned alive. Soldiers threw her into the fire, and thus she was "perfected by fire". Her pure and immaculate soul soared to the heavenly mansions, and pious Christians collected her charred relic and buried her with great reverence.

Her life and deeds give us the opportunity to emphasize the following:

In an age like ours, in which there is a crisis of values ​​and standards, and many mock those who choose to live in chastity and purity, the holy Agnes with her bright example comes to cause an earthquake to shake and wake up consciences, and to stimulate the morale of all those who choose to tread the path of virtue, which is the genuine evangelical life.

In the Euchologion of the Orthodox Church, after the Wedding Service, there is a "Prayer for the Removal of Crowns on the Eighth Day", which is read by the priest before the newlyweds on the eighth day after the celebration of their Mystery of Marriage, or at the end of the Mystery, depending on the order of the local Churches. In this prayer there is said among other things:

"Lord our God, Who hast blessed the crown of the year, and permittest these crowns to be laid upon those who are united to one another by the law of marriage, which Thou grantest unto them as a reward of chastity; for they are pure who are united in the marriage which Thou hast made lawful."

This means that the newlyweds receive crowns from God, through the priest, as a reward for the struggle they have conducted and for the trouble they went through in order to preserve their purity until the hour of marriage. Moreover, as in all competitions, the victors are those who are crowned. Of course, the Church shows condescension and crowns all couples during the Mystery of Marriage, but in actuality the crowns only belong to the victors.

The Church teaches and inspires with her way of life both chastity and purity, and her purpose is to shield people and especially young people from a variety of temptations, bitterness and grief, which has its source in the life of unchastity. This way of life was lived by the Saints, and all those who desire their personal sanctification also struggle to live it. And certainly, this way of life does not bind human freedom, but it preserves it, since those who are truly free prevail over their passions and not those who are overcome by their passions and therefore relinquish their freedom.

Nowadays, the percentage of young people coming to the wedding under the right conditions, that is, with chastity and purity, is rather small, nevertheless this fact is encouraging and comforting, because we live in an era dominated by libertarianism and the lack of morals. Moreover, in every era those who choose the life of virtue and perfection are those who have spiritual bravery and manliness. And they are always among the few, representing the "little leaven", of which "a little leaven works through the whole batch of dough".

Those who love the Church and aspire to tread the path of God's commandments, are those who truly enjoy life. Of course, this path is called narrow and grievous, but according to the Holy Fathers, who are the infallible interpreters of Holy Scripture, a person feels this way, because when they are at the beginning and at the middle of the path they are enslaved to their passions, and especially the catastrophic passion of pride. When, however, by the Grace of God and their own personal struggle they defeat their passions and acquire humility, and through the Holy Spirit they come to truly know God, then the path of the divine commandments becomes pleasant and causes spiritual joy and jubilation. And as Saint Diadochos, the Bishop of Photiki, says, humility is acquired in two ways. When someone is found at the beginning and middle of the path, then they are humbled by their thoughts and falls into sins and they experience pain and sorrow. When, however, they progress towards the end of the path, when they mature spiritually and taste divine knowledge, then humility becomes for them a way of life and invites great joy.

Today, unfortunately, most people have forgotten to smile and do not truly enjoy their lives. They have lost hope and have faded away, because they do not know "the path that leads to life", or they abandoned it and are trapped inside the prison of the senses and sensual pleasures and for this reason they are tried with uncomfortable pain.

The exit out of this prison usually takes place after a strong internal earthquake, which destroys all that is friable and old and creates the conditions for escape and survival in the "new life in Christ", which is true freedom, perfect joy and genuine love.

* Agnes, or Αγνή, means "pure" in Greek.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Αγία μάρτυς Αγνή", December 2011. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.