March 16, 2014

Saint Christodoulos of Patmos as a Model for our Lives

St. Christodoulos the Wonderworker of Patmos (Feast Day - March 16)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The venerable Christodoulos, known as John in the world, was born in 1020 in Nicaea of Bithynia from pious parents, Theodore and Anna. John loved to study and he progressed much in letters. He became a monk and at his tonsure he took the name Christodoulos. With the help of God and the assistance of Emperor Alexios Komnenos (1081-1118), he founded the Sacred Monastery of Saint John the Theologian in Patmos, where he lived as an ascetic for many years. Frequent raids, however, by the Arabs forced him to abandon it and go to Evia. He lived the last seven or eight years far from his Monastery and he reposed in peace in 1101. Later his sacred relic was moved to Patmos, where it remains until today in the Monastery he built and in which he tasted the most sweet fruits of Orthodox spiritual life.

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

First, study has been identified since ancient times with advancement and education and is what makes humans separate from animals. Of course, education does not have to do simply with the accumulation of knowledge, but mainly the acquisition of an appropriate knowledge that honors the human species. The word "education" (παιδεία) has its origin in the word "discipline" (παιδεύω), which means to train and to form, and is connected with a way of life and the behavior of a person in relation to a fellow person, as well as the treatment of various problems that arise in daily life. In other words, education is a way of life.

It has been said that a good book is the most faithful friend of man, because it nourishes, informs and benefits a person. Indeed this is what takes place with serious books, and this is especially what happens with the divinely-inspired books of the saints, that not only provide knowledge but they primarily nourish, soothe and refresh the soul of man, since they are spiritual food and spiritual drink. When someone studies them with humility and above all a disposition in one's life for the precepts of the saints, which is nothing else but the indication of the way of living the divine commandments, then one is benefitted, supported and truly consoled. Further they become creative in their life, because the lives and words of the saints create inspiration, as well as a disposition for prayer.

The Apostle Paul advised his disciple Saint Timothy, Bishop of Ephesus, to study the Divine Scriptures and live according to them that he may prosper in his life. He writes: "Study these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress" (1 Tim. 4:15). And Basil the Great says the following: "The greatest path to your responsibility you will find in studying the divinely-inspired writings." In other words, studying the divinely-inspired Scriptures is the greatest path to finding your responsibility. And these words are perhaps as timely today as ever before, because today everyone talks and struggles in every way for their rights, but they rarely mention their responsibilities towards themselves, their families or in general for society. Individual rights arise out of self-love, while responsibility is connected with authentic love, which is identical to a sacrifice. For example, a mother who truly loves her children divests herself and sacrifices all her rights on the altar of love. Indeed, she feels joy to serve, as well as internal fulfillment, and this can be felt by everybody who loves selflessly, as indeed we all have the right to love. When no one loves, then they try to find their rights, but when they love, they divest themselves of all rights on behalf of a beloved person, since true love is identical with sacrifice.

Therefore, the study of the divine-inspired Scriptures, namely the words of Christ, the Apostles and the saints, as well as the lives of the saints, nourishes and refreshes the soul, creates inspiration, but it also leads to finding unconditional love.

Second, this present life is like an open sea, which most of the time is rough and inconvenient for travelers, but after the storm they enjoy more the period of serenity. Indeed, adversities and difficulties in this present life are many and daily, resulting in fatigue and sometimes in despair. But when you know the way to overcome these things with spiritual bravery, unceasing prayer and absolute trust in the providence and love of God, then you rejoice and receive more serenity which follows it.

It is a fact that in the life of every person there comes at times various temptations which create sadness, anxiety and pain, and sometimes the pain is so strong that one feels everything has turned upside down and the whole universe has rebelled against them. Especially when one is dragged away from their place and wander here and there, "place to place and continuously across" until they find somewhere to settle like a foreigner among foreigners. And then they crave - as is human - more than before the companionship and solace of friends and family. And yet there are moments in which they feel abandoned by everyone. For some it has happened that in difficult times even their parents have abandoned them. This is why they are truly blessed who do not place their hope in people or material goods, but in Christ, His mother the Panagia, and His friends the saints, because with them they will never be disappointed. But also because consolation will emerge from within their heart, like gurgling water emerges from a well, and they will feel in their pain deep peace and sweet consolation.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Όσιος Χριστόδουλος ο εν Πάτμω", February 2011. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.