August 8, 2014

Saint Aimilianos of Cyzicus as a Model for our Lives

St. Aimilianos the Confessor (Feast Day - August 8)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Aimilianos lived in the 8th and 9th century and he was Bishop of Cyzicus from 787 until 815. He was a fervent and zealous confessor of the Orthodox faith who struggled vigorously against the heresy of the Iconoclasts and stood up for the restoration of sacred icons. The heretics fought against him in every way, and he was tried through a variety of temptations, afflictions, persecutions and exiles.

As Bishop, along with the struggle for the preservation of the Orthodox faith, he dealt substantially with his reasonable flock entrusted to him by Christ through the Church, and he developed a large pastoral and social ministry, which was the fruit of genuine love for all people and especially for those who suffered or were in pain. Further, he strengthened in any way he could all those who suffered because of the cruel persecution of the Iconoclasts.

After many tribulations and hardships, the earthly life of Saint Aimilianos ended in exile.

His life and disposition gives us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, in the Apolytikion in the Saint, it states among the following things: "Wherefore, as a shepherd and athlete, we honor you crying out...". Hence, we honor the Saint because he was a true shepherd of his rational sheep entrusted to him by Christ through the Church, he was a genuine athlete of spiritual athletics, and he was a confessor of the Orthodox faith and a martyr "by choice".

A true shepherd is an imitator of Christ the "Good Shepherd" and acts like Him. He doesn't sacrifice his flock that he may live and have a good time, but he truly loves his flock and works, labors and sacrifices himself for them. Besides, the work of Bishops, as well as Presbyters who work with their blessing, is to pastor sacrificially the rational sheep entrusted to them by the Church, to support them, to console them, and to strive to maintain unity between them. Further, the words of the pastor should not be provocative and divisive, but ecclesiastical, namely empowering, unifying and especially comforting.

The ministry of the divine word is a sacred act and should be done with due seriousness by the Bishop, as well as by all those who have their blessing to lead and teach. And it is the required place of the rational flock, the faithful, to be obedient to the spiritual fathers because they are liable only for those who are obedient to them, meaning when they advise them according to God. From shepherds is required seriousness and responsibility and from the flock obedience and prudence. Moreover, a prudent man "tolerates advice and even advice according to God from a spiritual father" (St. Thalassios).

The Orthodox sermon must be one of confession and supplication. That is, to confess the truths of the faith, to catechize, as well as to comfort the hearts of the faithful. The faithful should know the truths of their faith in order to protect it from various heresies that alter the way of life and salvation and engulf society today. We are to do this just as we learn to protect ourselves through medical science, and are also healed from infectious diseases. They also have need of consolation, because in our days there is much pain. People are mentally injured and hurting and therefore they are very sensitive.

Second, Saint Aimilianos was persecuted by his Diocese and his earthly life ended in exile. This was not unusual or strange for true shepherds, who struggle sacrificially for the prosperity of their flock. After all, Christ foretold this: "If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed My teaching, they will obey yours also" (Jn. 15:20). And there are many such examples in Church history. Among the Bishops who suffered persecution and exile were: Athanasius the Great, Sacred Chrysostom, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, and many others.

A lot of people do not understand the saints and they don't want them. This fact in itself we can say is for them another martyrdom. Saints are understood only by saints, and also by those who to a certain degree have set themselves in the perspective of a spiritual struggle for the achievement of their personal sanctification. The saints, during their earthly life, were tried and continued to be tested, some to a lesser degree and others to a greater degree, by the contempt of people and even by persecution and exile, in one way or another. Moreover, we must never forget that the devil "through various means and people" fights against all those who struggle to achieve their own personal sanctification and especially the shepherds of the Church. God allows this to happen, because in this way He strengthens their morale and makes the will like steel. Furthermore, by this they are humbled and learn to pray and progress spiritually in general and are sanctified, because when they endure everything without complaint while glorifying the Holy Triune God, uncreated divine Grace overshadows them.

A characteristic feature of Orthodox Christians should not be a comfortable and self-indulgent life, but a love for asceticism, pain and labor, especially the ministry for one's "neighbor" to the point of self-sacrifice. Unfortunately, nowadays, secularism has changed the lifestyle of many Christians and even many spiritual fathers, pastors and teachers, with the result that believers aren't essentially helped to be healed spiritually, but it also causes scandals among those who are ill in their faith.

The life and disposition of the Christians of the first century should trouble us and at the same time urge us to recover spiritually and take seriously the issue of our spiritual progress and salvation.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΑΓΙΟΣ ΑΙΜΙΛΙΑΝΟΣ ΕΠΙΣΚΟΠΟΣ ΚΥΖΙΚΟΥ", July 2008. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.