August 10, 2014

Saint Lawrence of Rome as a Model for our Lives

St. Lawrence of Rome (Feast Day - August 10)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Archdeacon Lawrence lived in third century Rome and was involved in significant work, especially in the field of welfare. The Pope of Rome, Sixtus II, who is registered in the list of saints of the Orthodox Church as a venerable martyr, entrusted to him the management of ecclesiastical property. During the persecution Saint Lawrence was arrested and the pagan ruler ordered him to hand over the treasures of the Church. Then he asked for some time in order to gather them and he returned with a large convoy of wagons, which were full of the poor, the disabled, widows and orphans. He explained to the angry ruler, that these are the treasures of the Church, since all her material wealth is stored in them. A mandate was then given for him to be tortured harshly, and the angry pagans tortured him and roasted him alive on an iron grill. His relic was received by a devout Christian named Hippolytus and he buried him. This became known and Hippolytus was arrested and he also sealed his testimony for Christ with the blood of his martyrdom, after having endured cruel tortures.

The life and disposition of Saint Lawrence gives us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, the sacred hymnographer, in the Apolytikion he wrote to Saint Lawrence, says among other things: "Inflamed by the divine Spirit, as a burning coal you burned the thorns of delusion." In other words, Saint Lawrence was inflamed with the fire of the All-Holy Spirit, like a burning coal, and he lit a fire and burned the thorn of delusion, namely idolatry. Indeed, they who have within them the Grace of the Holy Spirit are like a flaming fire and this is why their words are fiery. And just as fire has a dual function, simultaneously illuminating and burning, so do the words of the saints illuminate and burn, depending on the spiritual state of the person who listens to them and studies them. They illumine those who are receptive to illumination, namely the benevolent and those who struggle to live with repentance and the application of the divine commandments, and they burn those with hardened hearts and lack of repentance.

Something similar, we can say, that occurs with the words of the saints also occurs with Divine Communion, which is at the same time light and fire, namely it illuminates and sanctifies or it burns and condemns. For those who receive the Body and Blood after appropriate preparation, Divine Communion is a light that illumines, while for those who commune inappropriately and without preparation, it is a burning fire. This is clearly seen in the prayers read before receiving Divine Communion. Characteristic excerpts from these prayers are the following: "Allow the burning coal of Your most-holy Body and Your precious Blood to be for my sanctification and illumination and the health of my humble soul and body", and "neither unto hell nor unto the condemnation of my sins", and "You are a burning coal burning the unworthy".

A most pious Priest, the late Father Demetrios Gagastathis, says the following regarding Divine Communion: "They informed me to commune the old woman ... who was bedridden and about 85 years old. As soon as she communed of the Immaculate Mysteries, she screamed: 'The communion burned me! I'm on fire! Give me water to drink, I'm burning! It's burning inside me!' The few hours she had left to live she screamed continuously 'I'm burning', the poor woman. She then gave up her spirit. This was a miracle, because she had time to confess and had an unsettled character. Wherever she went, she would say various awful things about her child, her daughter in law, etc. She always over-spoke and never stopped. She harmed everybody and was never satisfied with anyone." And he ends with the exhortation: "Let us have love with our children and all people, and go to confession! We must keep the commandments of our spiritual father."

Therefore, the words of Christ and His friends the saints illumine some and burn others, depending on their spiritual state. They also burn the delusion of heresy and idolatry and simultaneously inspire and lead to repentance and salvation.

Second, the treasures of the Church are not material and lifeless, but animated. They are all those who have need of her spiritual and material help. Just as in a family its greatest treasure are the children of the family and everything else comes in second place, so also for the large family, the ecclesiastical community, the most precious treasure is her children, especially those who have great need. It is not possible for a father and mother to treasure things and for the children to be hungry. If physical parents cannot accept this, even though it happens that many of them are not good people, but wicked and vicious, how is it then possible for it to be so with our heavenly Father, our philanthropic God, as well as with His friends, the saints. Christ Himself emphasizes this great truth, when addressing people He asked: "Who among you, when your child asks for bread, will give him a rock? Or if he asks for fish, will give him a snake? Therefore, if you who are so evil, know how to give beneficial things to your children, how much more so will your heavenly Father give good and beneficial things to those who ask?" (Matt. 6:11).

Listening to and studying the words of the saints, when done with the appropriate conditions, it nourishes spiritually, it illumines the nous, it creates inspiration, and it also softens the heart and makes it sensitive to human suffering.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Αρχιδιάκονος Λαυρέντιος", August 2009. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.