March 29, 2015

Saint Diadochos of Photiki as a Model for our Lives

St. Diadochos of Photiki (Feast Day - March 29)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The life of the venerable Diadochos of Photiki is, unfortunately, largely unknown. What we know is that he was born in the first decades of the fifth century and that he became a Bishop, in the period between the years 451-458 in the District of Epirus in Photiki. The Diocese of Photiki, which is located in today's Paramythia, was important for many centuries.

He was a great Theologian of the fifth century, and the fact that he is not mentioned by his contemporaries, except only slightly, "can easily be explained," according to the late Fr. Theoklitos Dionysiatis, "if one considers the remoteness of Photiki at that time, not to mention that the education of Saint Diadochos remains unknown, in accordance with his desire as expressed out of humility, in the 13th chapter of the '100 Gnostic Chapters'."

Photios the Great mentions that from information in the Synodic epistle of Saint Sophronios of Jerusalem, Saint Diadochos of Photiki was one of the principal opponents of the Monophysites. Also, in mentioning the "100 Gnostic Chapters" of Saint Diadochos, Photios the Great says among other things: "His words are excellent and contain nothing unclear for those who exercise in the actions that cause spiritual perfection, because the teaching of empirical knowledge is with fluency." And the sacred hymnographer, in the Dismissal Hymn written for Saint Diadochos, says among other things:

You received the heavenly grace of the Spirit, and showed yourself to be a divine Archpastor of Photiki, Diadochos, with true wisdom and action you raised to virtue with the light of divine teaching those inspired by God, who cry unto to you: Glory to Christ who has glorified you, Glory to Him who has crowned you, Glory to Him who through you grants grace and mercy.

The venerable Diadochos, as evidenced through his works, held the dogmatic teachings of the Orthodox Church, but was also an experienced teacher of the spiritual life. Among his works are "The Vision", a "Discourse on the Ascension" and the "100 Gnostic Chapters", as well as a "Catechism".

He was perfected in peace around the year 486.

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

First, the words of the Holy Fathers are pure and clear, as they are themselves, and they do not contain anything that is unclear. They offer comfort and ease, because they are empirical words and not the result of reflection. Instead, scholastic or reflective words are cantankerous, vague, confusing and difficult for both listeners and readers, who often end up understanding completely different things. That is, one can wind up understanding something that is the complete opposite of what is understood by someone else.

The teachings of the Holy Fathers, in fact, are novel, since they are writing about their experiences, what they saw and heard. Because, then, what they teach they know very well, and they have digested it, to use a common phrase, this is why they speak and write in a simple and understandable way. In this way they give the readers and listeners of their words the opportunity to understand them with ease, even the most difficult meanings.

Saint Diadochos was an authentic pastor of reasonable sheep, entrusted to him by Christ, and advises pastors of the Church, telling them that before every homily to the people of God, they must pray and seek enlightenment from above. He says:

The spiritual word brings assurance to the noetic sense for it is brought from God by the activity of love, for which very reason our mind also sojourns uninjured in the movements of theology. For the mind does not then suffer hunger, which brings care, being broadened in contemplations as much as the activity of love wishes. Therefore it is good ever to await with faith acting through love the illumination of what to say; for there is nothing poorer than an intellect outside of God philosophizing the things of God.

Neither should one throw oneself unillumined into spiritual speculations nor should he come to speak when richly shone upon by the goodness of the Holy Spirit. For wherever poverty is, it brings ignorance; but wherever wealth is, it does not permit speech. For then the soul, drunk with the love of God, wishes to enjoy with silent voice the glory of God. It is therefore necessary to come to divine words in guarding the median of this activity. For this measure grants a certain form of glorious words. The wealth of enlightenment, however, nourishes the faith of him who speaks in faith, so that he who teaches, first tastes the fruits of gnosis through love. For he says: ‘The farmer who toils should first partake of the fruit.’

Furthermore, the teacher of divine words, in order to truly benefit the people of God, it is necessary for them to hold, or at least struggle to acquire, the knowledge (gnosis) of God and the wisdom "sent from above". Saint Diadochos says that knowledge and wisdom are "gifts of the one Holy Spirit... For gnosis joins a man to God by experience, not moving the soul to speech about these things... Wisdom,... manifests the very activities of gnosis, since the latter is accustomed to illuminate in activity, the former in word. But unceasing prayer and much stillness in complete freedom from care bring gnosis, whereas meditation on the sayings of God which is free of vainglory and, first of all, the grace of God who gives, bring wisdom."

Second, perfection, according to the Holy Fathers, does not have an end, which is why the "struggler for piety" must fight "the good fight" continuously and uninterruptedly until the end of their life, watching and trying not to acquire spiritual self-sufficiency, so that they say "now I am well, if only everyone else was like me." Rather they should, without being overcome by the difficulties of life and the attacks of the demons, to walk towards the higher stages of the spiritual life, ("you raised to virtue with the light of divine teaching those inspired by God") without any interruption in prayer and in the spiritual struggle in general. Because as Saint Diadochos says: "Those who want to eliminate their impurity should not pray at certain times, and other times not pray, but they should always occupy themselves with prayer, protecting their nous, even if they are outside of the sacred churches... A characteristic of people who love virtue is to eliminate through the unceasing remembrance of God the earthly passions of the heart."

With unceasing prayer, the study of the divinely inspired words, the sacramental life and asceticism, the soul is purified of passions. And according to Saint Diadochos: "The characteristics of a pure soul: words without envy, zeal without malice, and unceasing eros for Jesus, the Lord of Glory."

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Όσιος Διάδοχος Φωτικής", March 2010. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.