April 21, 2015

Saint Januarius as a Model for our Lives

St. Januarius and those with him (Feast Day - April 21)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Januarius lived in the third century during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. He was made worthy to become Bishop of Naples in Italy and served the Church with God-given zeal. With boldness he gave his testimony for Christ and sealed it with the blood of martyrdom. His chosen coworkers followed him to martyrdom: Deacons Proculus, Sossius and Faustus, the Reader Desiderius, and the laymen Eutychius and Acutius, together with many pagans who were present at the martyrdom of the saints and believed in Christ.

When Saint Januarius was arrested and led to his martyrdom, then many Christians went out into to the streets to cheer him on. In fact, they tried to grab him from the hands of the soldiers, and certainly there would have been a scuffle between the faithful and the soldiers, if the Saint did not intervene to reassure the faithful and ask them not to hinder him, but to allow him to enter the arena of martyrdom. And to persuade them to retreat he promised them that after his martyrdom he would be constantly near them and protect them.

After his courageous confession he was thrown into the fire to be burned, but by the Grace of God he was unscathed. Then the prefect angrily ordered that his nerves be cut and in this way he gave his soul into those hands which he loved most throughout his life. Having been martyred first, he gave a good example to his coworkers, as well as his entire flock. Naples in Italy has proclaimed him as their patron.

Saint Januarius received from God the gift of wonderworking, and in this way he has benefitted many people both while he was alive and after his repose. Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite refers to one moving miracle that he performed after his repose. It was a resurrection. Specifically, he raised from the dead the son of a widow, who begged with tears that he do this in the presence of all those present and the gravediggers, who were astounded and glorified God "who gave him authority among people."

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

Factions, schisms and conflicts in human societies are created by carnal people, by those who are not regenerated and do not have within their hearts the Grace of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul criticizes this morbid phenomenon, which was seen in his time among the inhabitants of Corinth, and he asks them in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: "For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?" (3:3). In other words, when there is jealousy and quarreling and divisions among people, you become worldly, earthly and walk according to your own will, obeying your passions and not God.

Spiritual people, who are people that are "full of the Holy Spirit" and so are inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit, not only do not create factions, schisms and conflicts, but instead they prevent them and try to heal these phenomena because they are peacemakers. They love selflessly and do not sacrifice others so that they may live, but they sacrifice themselves for others. They do not exploit the love and dedication of people towards their person in order to become rich and lead an easy life, but rather they are indifferent towards themselves and care about others, particularly afflicted people whom they support, strengthen and comfort. Because they possess perfect love they behave as true rulers who offer constantly and are offered without expecting anything in return. They are true children of God which is why they have boldness before God, who hears their prayers and petitions and for their sake He soothes the pain of the people, often in a wondrous way, since He exceeds human reason. By the power of Christ the saints work miracles similar to those performed by Christ, or even greater, just as He said to His disciples: "Amen, amen I say to you, whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father" (Jn. 14:12).

Of course, people get excited over the gifts of the saints, as well as the miracles God does through them, but what is important is to seek the way of life of the saints and to try with struggle and labor to imitate them. We can say that what takes place with the saints is similar with what takes place with champion athletes. Namely, many people admire them and get excited when they are rewarded, but few are those who decide to bear with courage and bravery "the heat by day and frost by night", to lift the heavy weights that they lifted and undergo the pains and labors that they went through and experienced. But nothing good can come without labor and pain. Therefore, those who want to become champions, or even an athlete, must be willing to undergo sacrifices and undertake many labors. The same is true with spiritual athleticism.

Therefore, one who undertakes spiritual exercises and desires to be an athlete in the stadium of the virtues, which is always open to us, especially during the period of Holy and Great Lent, let them come armed with courage and spiritual bravery, to taste the joy of the contest, as well as the fragrance and sweetness of the spiritual flower-budding and fruit-bearing.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Άγιος Ιανουάριος Πολιούχος Νεαπόλεως της Ιταλίας", March 2011. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.