June 26, 2014

Saint David of Thessaloniki as a Model for our Lives

St. David the Dendrite of Thessaloniki (Feast Day - June 26)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The venerable David came from Thessaloniki and lived in the sixth century during the reign of Emperor Justinian I. His way of life was austere and ascetic and a continuous sacrifice on the altar of love and philanthropy. In emulation of the stylites he remained for three consecutive years in a tree praying continuously. Burning with love for God he endured "the heat of the day and the frost of night", "striking a blow" to his body that he may not find himself to be "disqualified", according to the words of the Apostle Paul. He especially liked to pray the words of the sacred Psalmist, which he applied in his own life: "I have become like a pelican of the wilderness; I have become like an owl in a ruined house. I have watched, and am become as a sparrow dwelling alone on a roof" (Ps. 101:6-7 LXX).

Saint David, shortly before the end of his earthly life, led a team of Thessalonians who travelled to Constantinople to ask the emperor to send them a District Officer for their City. On the return journey the venerable one delivered his sanctified soul "into the hands of the living God", and from the heavenly mansions he prays for all, especially those who invoke him with faith and desire and request his God-persuading intercessions.

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

First, the ascetic life is the way of life taught and inspired by the Orthodox Church and which was lived by the holy Apostles, as well as all the saints throughout the centuries until our day. Asceticism can take place in various ways, in accordance with the strength of the individual, as well as ones age, temperament and character. Always, however, with the guidance of a discerning spiritual father, because there lurks the danger of excessiveness and delusion. Asceticism is the effort to implement all the commandments of Christ and the crucifixion of the flesh, or the mind of the flesh. It is the struggle for the transformation of the passions and the spiritual rebirth of man. Asceticism in the Orthodox Church is always coupled with prayer and the sacramental life. Fasting, vigils and whatever other ascetic exercise, if it is not coupled with prayer and the participation in the sacramental life of the Church, especially the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist, which is the center of all the Mysteries, then there is no benefit and it does not contribute to our spiritual rebirth and our sovereignty over the passions. St. Maximus the Confessor, referring to fasting, which is a way of spiritual asceticism, says that "fasting without prayer is the invention of demons". This is because even the demons fast, and in fact they don't eat at all, being without a body, yet they do not pray.

Therefore, asceticism, the sacramental life and continuous prayer consist of the Orthodox way of life, which lead to the purification of the heart from the passions, the illumination of the nous and the personal communion of man with the living God, who is a Person and not an abstract idea.

Second, dealing with the common good of the Country or City in which one lives must be done by people like Saint David, with unimpeachable internal purity and true love for the City and its residents. In other words, persons who have no selfish ends, but their only motivation is for the progress and prosperity of the City and its residents. Of course, such people are rare and hard to find, but they do exist and should be highlighted and promoted, for there can be no real progress in a City or a State without such, and to avoid undesirable situations and undesirable happenings like the ones that we experience nowadays here in our homeland.

The contribution of the Orthodox Church in this case is very important, since with the lifestyle it lives and inspires it transforms people from individuals to persons, changing them from being selfish to being selfless, thus advancing society. In democratic societies, citizens, and especially the people who are living members of the Church and struggle to live according to the commandments of Christ, with their votes they must make visible and highlight leaders in local communities, and in the State in general, who by their way of life show that they are persons, or at least are struggling to eliminate various guises which garb people in sin, and to make them persons. That is, people with genuine love and internal freedom, free from dependencies that create the passions, but also from internal insecurities and inferiority complexes.

Our personal life is not independent from our social life, since sin has social implications. Besides, all social disorders are rooted in selfishness, which is the mother of three great passions, that of avarice, sensuality and vanity, which darken the nous and lead man to catastrophe. A tragic example is the case of Judas, who was "darkened by the illness of love for money", and this resulted in him being led to self-destruction and eternal loss.

May we who fight for our salvation imitate the way of life of the venerable David, and desire the common good, to be a bright lighthouse and signpost.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Όσιος Δαβίδ ο εν θεσσαλονίκη", May 2011. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.