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January 9, 2014

Saint Polyeuktos the Martyr as a Model for our Lives

St. Polyeuktos the Martyr (Feast Day - January 9)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Polyeuktos was from Melitene of Mesopotamia and lived during a time of severe persecution against the Church, in the third century, when Valerian was Emperor of Rome (253-259).

He was an officer in the Roman army, but also was a brave soldier of Christ. He confessed his faith with courage and boldness, and refused to obey his imperial army and offer sacrifice to lifeless idols. He applied to his life the commandment of God: "You will bow down before the Lord your God and Him alone will you worship", as well as the Apostolic word: "We must obey God rather than men". This resulted in his arrest and he underwent cruel torture so that he would deny his faith and sacrifice to idols. In order for the persecutors of the Church to accomplish their purpose, and avoid killing one of their brave soldiers, they enlisted every "tool" to change his opinion. Although previously the advice of his father-in-law regarding blind obedience to the army fell empty, his young wife came to talk to him, who wept inconsolably and begged him to save his life by all means necessary and not leave her to be a widow. Polyeuktos, who truly loved his wife, told her that she shouldn't want as a husband an apostate and traitor of our Savior and our God.

He showed admirable patience in all temptations and through all cruel tortures, and he delivered his holy soul into the hands of the living God after being beheaded by the sword.

Many points of the wondrous life and deeds of Saint Polyeuktos can be examined, but here we will emphasize only two points that deserve our full attention:

First, that he remained firm in his confession and unshaken before the dilemma of being obedient to his superiors, and especially that he did not bend before the pain and tears of his wife. And this happened because he experienced true love, which is not simply a feeling, but the fruit of communion with God. Love in its authentic expression does not aim to satisfy ill emotional states, but it is closely connected with the cross and sacrifice. Whoever truly loves is crucified daily and ready to undergo any kind of sacrifice for their beloved. They do not truly love who think only of themselves without regard for the other and their eternal future. When the wife of the Martyr suggested that he deny Christ in order to gain a few years of his life and so she would not become a widow, in reality she was thinking only of herself while for him she was essentially proposing death, because authentic life is not our biological existence, but our communion with God, who is the source of life. For the people of God biological death is gain, because it brings them closer to Christ.

True love does not ask for "one's own". In a homily of his, the Divine Chrysostom addresses the bereaved, saying: "If you carefully listen to the words of a widow that weeps over the grave the moment her husband is buried, you will find that the words are not addressed to her husband, but she is having a monologue and in reality is only thinking of herself. For she says: 'Why do you leave me? What will become of me, the deserted one? What shall I now do alone?' She does not say: 'Where are you going? Will you be saved? Are you going to Paradise?'" This is not true love because it is associated with self-love. True love is free from the passions; it is, as Saint Maximus the Confessor says, the "grandchild of dispassion". When Saint Polyeuktos addressed his wife and pleaded with her to not want as a husband an apostate and traitor of Christ, at that moment he lets the greatness of true love become apparent, because he does not think of himself, but her, for whom it will be a great honor and blessing to be called the wife of a martyr.

Second, that he faced various difficulties, temptations and cruel tortures with unimaginable fortitude and patience. This, of course, was considered quite natural for Polyeuktos, as indeed it was for all the saints, for he was living and experiencing true love, which "endures all things" (1 Cor. 13:8). The saints live the natural life, which does not mean they live out in the open air, but the transformation of the passions is achieved by living the commandments of Christ. They experience the authentic life which has the potential to exceed that which is created and sensory, and they are filled with the richness of the Spirit. For this reason they are not upset by extreme poverty, because they have freedom of choice and they consider this a secure possession. They do not resent the heat or grumble against the cold. All things are accepted with good thoughts while glorifying God, thus maintaining the peace of their souls, and they have authentic joy in their life.

To us all these things might seem strange, because we usually think of things that are unnatural as being natural. We have learned to be active in our passions and unfortunately we suffer the tyranny of created things. From masters of creation we have become its servant and worship "the creation rather than the Creator". We have made our life hell. We blame everyone and everything - neighbor, colleague, husband or wife, children, the cold in winter, the heat in summer. We complain and nag about everything. We have become miserable, wretched, grumpy and cannot truly be happy with our lives.

The experience of authentic life, which is the life of the Orthodox Church, will help us to rediscover ourselves, our lost spiritual nobility, and how to truly rejoice in life.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΑΓΙΟΣ ΜΑΡΤΥΣ ΠΟΛΥΕΥΚΤΟΣ", January 2002. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.