February 10, 2014

Saint Haralambos as a Model for our Lives

Holy Hieromartyr Haralambos of Magnesia (Feast Day - February 10)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Haralambos came from Magnesia in Asia Minor. Born in the late first century he was martyred at the age of 113. When persecution broke out against the Christians during the reign of Septimius Severus, certain spiritual children of Saint Haralambos tried to persuade him to escape, so as not to be caught. He, of course, refused, because it is impossible for a good shepherd to abandon his flock in time of danger and because he was ready at every moment to give his confession and be martyred. He was arrested and tortured inhumanly, but faced the horrific torture with admirable bravery, after boldly confessing his faith. Several soldiers, among those ordered to torture the elder priest, seeing him endure inhumane torture with such bravery, but also with incredible tranquility, as well as the wonders that came about due to his prayers, believed in Christ and confessed Him as their Lord and God. The prefect was alarmed by the change in the group and ordered that he be set free. Later, the same Severus, unable to endure the boldness and the bravery of the elder, ordered for his beheading.

Taking cue from the life and deeds of Saint Haralambos, we would like to highlight the following:

First, the name Haralambos is complex. It consists of the noun hara (χαρά = joy) and the verb lambo (λάμπω = shine). Truly, Saint Haralambos had a face that shined and radiated perfect joy. "Perfect joy resides in humility, while the joy of beginners is not free of the imagination" (Saint Diadochos of Photiki). He had a peaceful, serene and cheerful disposition, even during the time of his horrible torture.

Joy is not a mere sentiment or feeling, but the fruit of the Holy Spirit, given to those who with the sacramental life and asceticism purified their nous and heart from the passions and the joy of the Holy Spirit came to dwell within them. Joy is closely linked with humility and repentance. When a person repents and returns to God, then all of heaven rejoices, Saints and Angels. "There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents" (Lk. 15:7). And when the same repents sincerely, they receive the forgiveness of their sins and taste the grace of the Holy Spirit, according to their receptivity.

Joy is associated with selfless love, which is also a fruit of the Holy Spirit. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, spoken by Christ, we clearly see how joy is closely associated with true love. When the prodigal son returns to his familial home (the Church), his father (the Holy Triune God) runs to meet him with open arms. He dresses him in the brilliant outfit of Divine Grace, gives him the ring of sonship, sacrifices the fatted calf (His Only-begotten Son), and they rejoice and are glad.

When a person is dominated by their passions, and especially the ill-fated passion of pride, they cannot truly rejoice in their life. Saint Silouan the Athonite would say that a person will suffer in this life until they acquire humility. The older brother, of the parable which we discussed, could not rejoice with his father and brother, because he did not truly love. His love was false and passionate, as he was dominated by the passion of pride and envy.

Second, Saint Haralambos did not abandon his flock in the time of danger. So it is with the genuine disciples of Christ. They do not sacrifice others that they may live, but they are sacrificed for their flock, for whom, moreover, they toil daily with great selflessness and willingness.

The Saints face many and great temptations in their life, and they mourn for their passions and sins. But they do not feel measureless sadness and despair, nor is their rejoicing measureless, but they are temperate in their joy and their sadness, because they know very well that "much sadness leads the soul to despair, as much joy leads it to pride. The intermediate state between sadness and joy is hope" (Saint Diadochos of Photiki). Then the Grace of God consoles and gladdens the soul that is humbled and mourns for its sins.

Many times "when we constantly think about the future, we lose the present and do not truly rejoice in our life" (Saint Nektarios). Confidence in God's love drives away agonizing care and anxiety, that literally darkens our life and does not allow us to truly rejoice.

Usually we complain that the society in which we live does not allow us to truly enjoy our life, as if it is to blame for our passions, mistakes and failures. Whether our life is heaven or hell, others are not to blame, but ourselves, because our fellowmen are not our hell, as the atheist existentialists say, but they are our joy. Saint Seraphim of Sarov, when he met certain people, called them his joy. Instead of another greeting, he would say to them: "Christ is Risen, my joy."

Perfect joy cannot exist without humility and love. Besides, our salvation takes place within humility, repentance and selfless love towards others, the least of the brethren of Christ.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΙΕΡΟΜΑΡΤΥΣ ΧΑΡΑΛΑΜΠΟΣ", February 2004. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.