July 8, 2014

Saint Prokopios the Great Martyr as a Model for our Lives

St. Prokopios the Great Martyr (Feast Day - July 8)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

At the dismissal of the Marriage Service, our Church has appointed the commemoration of the name of the Holy Great Martyr Prokopios, because it wants the newly-married couple to have the blessing of the Saint at the beginning of their common journey in life and to prosper. The name Prokopios was given to him to prosper [prokopsi means to prosper or thrive]. And indeed it was given to him from Christ while the Saint was in prison due to his public confession that he was a Christian and his refusal to make a sacrificial offering to idols. Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite says that Christ loosed him from shackles and named him Prokopios in order for him to thrive in his martyrdom.

Neanias, which was his pagan name, lived in early Christian times during the time when the emperor of Rome was the great persecutor of Christians, Diocletian. His father was a Christian and mother was a pagan. At that time this was not uncommon, for one spouse to be a Christian and another a pagan. During the course of their marriage it happened that one of the spouses would embrace the true faith and then be baptized and become a member of the Church.

The father of the Saint, as it appears in the synaxaria, did not find the opportunity to speak to him about Christ and baptism and make him a member of the Church, because he died when his son was a newborn. Thus Neanias was raised by his mother who, as we said above, was a pagan and even a fanatic, as we shall see.

His mother, of course, loved him and cared for his professional situation. She paid a lot of money to the emperor and his court, with the result that he was appointed Duke of Alexandria.

With the guidance of his mother he became a fanatical pagan, and he furiously persecuted Christians. Once he journeyed to Jerusalem for the purpose of persecuting Christians and something happened to him that happened to the Apostle Paul. He heard Christ asking him why he is persecuting Him, and then he saw a crystal cross in the sky. Like the Apostle Paul, he also believed in Christ and from a persecutor of Christians he became a preacher of the Gospel.

His conversion resulted in a change in his way of life. From a fanatical persecutor of Christians he became their protector. He ceased offering sacrifices to lifeless idols and this, naturally, did not take long to reach the attention of the Emperor. The victory of Saint Prokopios against the Saracens, who were ravaging the outskirts of the city he commanded, resulted in the encouragement of his mother to have him thank the false gods of the idols by offering them sacrifices. He, of course, refused to do this saying that he conquered by the power of Christ. She made a complaint against him and this caused him to be captured and tortured harshly. It is clearly seen where blind fanaticism will lead a person, since the one who gave birth to him and raised him sent him to certain death.

The reaction of Saint Prokopios to the behavior of his mother was as expected. He avenged her... with love. She led him to death and he gave her immortality. His true love, the power of his prayer and the miracles he performed with the power of Christ, made her change her mind and boldly confess her faith in Christ and to seal her confession with blood. She is ranked in the catalogue of holy martyrs as Saint Theodosia and celebrates on the same day as her son.

Saint Prokopios truly prospered in his life. For his great love and divine zeal to live the Gospel in his personal life, but also to pass it on to others, he received as a gift from God the gift of spiritual courage. When he understood, after the revelation from Christ, what great of a sin he committed, out of ignorance of course, he did not lose hope, but sincerely repented and turned to God asking Him to forgive him and have mercy. He showed real courage before the great temptations and the harsh torments to which he was subjected, without bending nor even flinching in the least.

"There are many people nowadays who are preoccupied with hopelessness when they fall into a temptation or when they commit a great sin. On the one hand they see their condition or their weakness and on the other they see the heights of the spiritual life and are frustrated. They fall into despair. Despair is linked with acedia. This is precisely where spiritual courage is needed... A courage of the soul in which even if a person sins, and even when they feel or experience a darkening of the mind, and even when they worship the devil, which is considered the greatest sin, even then they do not despair, but they turn to God and ask forgiveness, certain that God will have mercy on them... It should be noted that it is possible to have courage from hypocrisy or material interest. But true spiritual courage proceeds from within, it is the result of a pure heart. It is not from a strong character, from a strong personality, from a thorough education, but from a heart regenerated by the grace of God" (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, The Constitution of the Cross, pp. 169-171).

Today also there are many temptations and there are great difficulties when trying to live an authentic spiritual life. This is why we need the blessings and prayers of Saint Prokopios, in order to obtain a courageous spirit. Then we can overcome the obstacles and difficulties and prosper in our lives.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΜΕΓΑΛΟΜΑΡΤΥΣ ΠΡΟΚΟΠΙΟΣ", July 2001. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.