June 25, 2014

Saint Febronia as a Model for our Lives

St. Febronia the Venerable Virgin Martyr (Feast Day - June 25)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Febronia lived in the third century, during the period of persecution against the Church. At the age of 17 she went to live in a monastery in Mesopotamia, where her aunt Nun Bryenni was the abbess. She was endowed with many gifts and was distinguished from the other nuns for her zeal towards the spiritual life and for her love towards God, as well as each and every fellow human being. Her soul was most-beautiful and bright, but Saint Febronia was also endowed with physical beauty. Her sacred Synaxarion states that she had dazzling beauty and this was the reason for her martyrdom.

A group of soldiers, that were persecuting Christians, passed through the monastery where Saint Febronia lived. As soon as the nuns realized the presence of soldiers near the monastery they fled, but Saint Febronia, because she was sick, was unable to leave. The abbess and another nun stayed behind with her. When the soldiers came face to face with Saint Febronia, they were struck by her beauty. They left three men at the monastery to guard her and the rest returned and reported the incident to their ruler Selino. He ordered that she be brought before him and he tried in every way to convince her to change her faith. Blinded by her beauty, he promised her wealth and glory and offered to give her his nephew as her husband. The Saint, unsurprisingly, despised false human glory, which is eliminated by death and perishable wealth, and does not follow a person after the termination of this perishable life, because she was in communion with the glory of God and possessed true and imperishable wealth, which abides forever.

Saint Febronia, after cruel and inhuman torture, was perfected by the sword and gave up her most-beautiful soul in the hands of Him Whom she loved more than everyone and all things.

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

Physical beauty is itself a gift of God, like all His other gifts to humanity, which of themselves neither benefit nor harm the possessor, but this depends on how they are used. That is, the various graces and gifts given by God can benefit the one who received them, as well as others, when they are not used for one's self-interest and the satisfaction of the human passions, but rather are used towards the glory of the Gift-giver. Also, the person receiving the gift of outer beauty must never forget that it comes and goes, while that which abides forever and has true value is inner beauty, spiritual beauty, which is obtained with hard work and a great struggle. To give physical beauty, and generally all external gifts, greater importance than is needed and to ignore and underestimate the inner beauty of the heart, as well as the other gifts which are important, yet they do not become immediately apparent, shows, at the very least, shallowness and superficiality. Father Paisios the Athonite would say how, when we meet someone we should not be carried away by what they are wearing or their external traits, but we should look at their heart. That is, we should try to understand what kind of person they are in actuality and not see what they have and own, such as secular positions and material wealth. Also, we should look carefully and try to uncover the non-phenomena, because the phenomena usually are deceiving. After all, what truly gives a person worth is the inner wealth of the heart. It is that which Holy Scripture and the Fathers of the Church call the hidden heart of man. This is why we must not rush to draw conclusions about a person, but we should let them reveal themselves.

Basil the Great says that "true and desired for beauty, which one is only able to see with a purified nous, is that which is according to divine and blessed nature, and when he sees the luminance and joy he receives something from it, his appearance sweetens and takes on another color as if it blooms." Therefore, true beauty is the uncreated beauty of the Divine nature and one can only participate in this beauty who has purified the optical part of the soul, their nous, which through purification becomes a "nous that sees" God, and is beautified by this Divine beauty not only in soul but also in the body of this person, and this is why the outer appearance brightens and is beautified. In this category belongs the Theotokos first of all, then the Saints, but also by analogy those who are integrated into the process of purification and sanctification. The Prophet David, speaking prophetically about the person of the Theotokos, and referring to her inner beauty, which was reflected in her external appearance, calls her the beauty of Jacob: "The beauty of Jacob which He loved" (Ps. 46:5 LXX). And the Prophet Ezekiel speaks allegorically about the person of the Theotokos, saying: "I am perfect in beauty".

For how we use the gifts we have received from God, we will give an account to Him who gave them to us. All God's gifts are given to help us to be sanctified and saved, which is why we should be at His disposal, as well as in service to our fellow man, especially those whom Christ calls "the least of my brethren".

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Οσιοπαρθενομάρτυς Φεβρωνία", June 2009. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.