March 8, 2014

Saint Theophylaktos of Nicomedia as a Model for our Lives

St. Theophylaktos, Bishop of Nicomedia (Feast Day - March 8)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Theophylaktos came from areas of the East and lived in the eighth century. His great education brought him to the Queen City, Constantinople. Then he went to an area of the Black Sea, where he became a monk and then Bishop of Nicomedia. He was distinguished for his zeal and works of love and philanthropy. He founded hospitals and created charity funds, serving others in every which way. Often he would visit the huts of the poor families and apart from financial assistance he offered words of consolation, and when needed he ministered with a helping hand. Some sick he took care of himself, like Basil the Great, who personally took care of lepers and even kissed their wounds.

The venerable Theophylaktos, because he loved Christ, respected also His animated image, man, whom he served with self-sacrifice. He struggled hard against the heresy of the iconoclasts, which altered Orthodox Tradition and did not respect holy icons, the honor of which is given to the person depicted. For his struggles for the Orthodox Faith he was exiled and due to many hardships his earthly life ended in exile.

The life and deeds of Saint Theophylaktos give us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, the saints love people and pray for the whole world. Their love is genuine and selfless, because it flows from their communion with God. Those who see the face of their "neighbor", each and every person, regardless of origin, color, race and religion, as the image of Christ, they are philanthropic, lenient and tolerant of the faults of others and strict only with themselves. To maintain balance in human societies and to avoid tensions and violent conflicts, the main requirement is that there be forgiveness and tolerance towards the failures and mistakes of others. When this does not happen, then human societies are converted into a jungle and pay a heavy toll on the altar of hatred and vengeance. And where there is arrogance and hatred there undoubtedly "roams" the devil, who is a murderer. In contrast, where the Grace of the Holy Spirit blows, there exists submissiveness and acceptance of differences, tolerance and respect for another's freedom.

Unfortunately, atheism and secularism change people into individuals (a feature of which is self-love, selfishness and a lack of loving communion), masses, mobs, fans, numbers, tickets, etc. The work of the Orthodox Church is very important, because with the way of life it has, it helps people be purified of their passions and especially self-love, which is the mother of all passions, and to become a person. That is, to acquire humility, selfless love and existential freedom.

Second, because the memory of Saint Theophylaktos usually coincides with Great Lent, it seems appropriate to mention, briefly, this period, which begins on Clean Monday and ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday. It numbers to forty days. Excluding Sundays, it is thirty-six days, or a tenth of the year, a tithe which we dedicate to God and is a period of preparation for Holy Week and Holy Pascha. We properly prepare through fasting, temperance, deep repentance and more prayer, that we may be able with "purified minds", to walk with Christ, be crucified with Him, and also to taste of the joy of the Resurrection, by communing of His Body and Blood during the Service of His Resurrection. The devout services of our Church, which are more in number during this period, definitely help in this preparation.

The effort to live the divine commandments, which lead to communion with God and man, must be continuous and requires that we be armed with bravery, patience and attention, because we must wrestle with the "spirits of wickedness". We also wrestle with the passions and passionate logoismoi, which, when they come to the nous and heart, create huge problems to our spiritual and physical health. Logoismoi are thoughts with images, that enter our reasoning faculty with the help of the imagination, and when they act from the passions they are unclean and dirty logoismoi. These should be despised and expelled, otherwise they enter the nous and darken it and from there they enter the heart and infect it. Many physical ailments, as acknowledged by medical science, have their cause in mental/psychic disorders, which occur because of passionate logoismoi. If one becomes accustomed to accept and process logoismoi, then they will not be able to be at peace with themselves or with others. Then, when the nous is clean of these wicked logoismoi, it will be easier to concentrate in prayer.

We must also learn to have good logoismoi. Father Paisios would say, in his own characteristic way, that we should become a factory of good logoismoi. He also stressed that one good logoismos equals an Athonite vigil. Saint Silouan the Athonite taught: "If you want to learn how much the Lord loves us, hate sin and evil logoismoi, and pray fervently night and day."

The effort to partake of the love of God, through purification, illumination and deification, leads to the improvement of interpersonal relationships, by respecting another person as an image of Christ.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΟΣΙΟΣ ΘΕΟΦΥΛΑΚΤΟΣ ΕΠΙΣΚΟΠΟΣ ΝΙΚΟΜΗΔΕΙΑΣ", March 2004. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.