January 23, 2015

Saints Clement of Ancyra and His Disciple Agathangelos as Models for our Lives

Sts. Clement and Agathangelos (Feast Day - June 23)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Clement lived the era of persecution, specifically during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. His father was a pagan and his mother a Christian. Orphaned of his father at an early age, his upbringing was assumed entirely by his most pious mother. Therefore the Saint was brought up inside the temperate climate of piety and love for the true God, and from his youth his life flowed with prayer and philanthropy. He was a help and support for the poor and afflicted. When the fullness of time had come, Christ, through the Church, entrusted him with the blessed work of the pastoral care of His reasonable sheep. He was made Bishop of the Church of Ancyra and proved to be a good pastor. Later he was tested in the furnace of temptation and martyrdom "as gold in a furnace". He underwent horrific torture, which he endured with admirable patience and bravery, and finally sealed his confession of Christ with the blood of his martyrdom.

Saint Agathangelos came from Rome and was a pagan. He was catechized and baptized by Saint Clement, and was a true disciple and follower of his. He followed him to Ancyra when Saint Clement became Bishop and served him with dedication. "As a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel" (Phillip. 2:21). But he was also a companion and teammate with him in martyrdom. He confessed with courage his faith in Christ and endured with admirable fortitude harsh and inhumane torture. Finally, he was decapitated and thus handed his holy soul "into the hands of the living God."

Their lives and dispositions give us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, the pastors of the reasonable sheep of Christ are primarily the Bishops, who are successors of the Apostles, and to whom this work was entrusted by the Great High Priest and Chief Shepherd Christ. Christ, before He ascended to the heavens, sent His disciples to all nations to preach the gospel, to perform baptisms in the name of the Holy Trinity and teach the baptized to obey all His commandments. Simultaneously, He assured them that He will always be with them. He told them: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Pastoral work, however, is exercised also by Presbyters, who are ordained by Bishops, and they perform the Divine Liturgy with their blessing and in their name, and they serve the reasonable sheep of the flock of Christ.

A true pastor, according to Saint John of Sinai, the author of the Ladder of Divine Ascent, is "one who literally seeks out and heals his sheep with guilelessness, zeal and prayer." Of course, the priest by the Grace of sacramental priesthood performs the Mysteries, but alongside the liturgical work he should perform his pastoral work, to seek out reasonable sheep and to help them heal, namely to help them defeat their passions and to be united with God, and so he will truly be a father. As is well known, a father is one who pains for and bears children. And a spiritual father is he who "through the Gospel" gives birth and then takes care with love and pain for educating his spiritual children. The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians: "Even if you have ten thousand teachers in Christ, you do not have many Fathers; I have given birth to you in Jesus Christ through the gospel." And in the Epistle to the Galatians he writes: "My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you."

The good pastor, as an imitator of Christ the Chief Shepherd, does not use the sheep to live in ease, but sacrifices himself daily for the sheep. He cares, as Saint John of Sinai says, to guide them to a lush valley that is right for them. And this lush valley, he stresses, "is the teaching and remembrance of death, which is what is most appropriate for each reasonable sheep, because it has the power to cure any kind of ailment." Indeed, the memory of death helps people in the struggle for the transformation of the passions, and to not sin with ease. The memory of death, however, is not simply to remember death, but according to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, "the memory of death is a gift which leads man to pure prayer." In other words, a true pastor is he who loves his sheep, and knows how they are to be cured, and is at any time ready to sacrifice for them.

Secondly, the responsibility for the healing and spiritual progress of the faithful does not only belong to the pastors, but to the faithful themselves, who must struggle with philotimo to apply all of Christ's commandments. This will allow them to master their passions, to eliminate selfishness and gain true love, which is not a mere sentiment, but it is, according to Saint Maximus the Confessor, "a child of passionlessness." They will also be able to taste true freedom and inner peace.

The relationship between a spiritual father and spiritual children, in order to be genuine and true, should be based on love and freedom. Both should truly love Christ and the Church, and this love should unite them. They should also journey along in their lives "with zeal, guilelessness, and prayer," and then there will be between them true and unconditional love, which "always upholds, always believes ... always endures", that "does not seek its own" and "never fails".

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ἱερομάρτυς Κλήμης Ἐπίσκοπος Ἀγκύρας καί μάρτυς Ἀγαθάγγελος", December 2014. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.