May 1, 2015

Saint Bata the Persian as a Model for our Lives

Hieromartyr Batas of Nisibis (Feast Day - May 1)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The hieromartyr Bata lived in the fourth century. His origins were from Persia and his belief in Christ was taught to him by his ancestors. From an early age he expressed his zeal and love for Christ and lived as an ascetic in the world. Later, at around the age of thirty, he became a monk, and in the monastery were manifested his many and diverse graces. Thirty years after settling in the monastery, a persecution broke out against the Christians by the fire-worshipping Persians. In towns and villages Christians were persecuted, but also the monasteries had no exception. The monks of the monastery in which Saint Bata was in, when they heard the soldiers, who were instructed to arrest the Christians, coming towards the monastery, they decided to leave and hide, but the Saint made the brave decision to remain and give the testimony of his faith and suffer martyrdom for which he longed. Indeed, he boldly confessed his faith in Christ and then sealed his confession with the blood of his martyrdom. Thereby he gave a lesson in bravery and spiritual courage to the unbelievers, who, when they found the monastery was empty, they turned their entire fury and rage on Saint Bata. After wildly abusing him, they took him and presented him before Jasdich, the brother of the ruler of Nisibis Barsabanas. When he saw and heard Bata refuse to worship the sun and to speak boldly about Christ, the Sun of righteousness, he ordered for his death with cruel torture. At first they dislocated his shoulder, then they beat him with thick sticks and cut the back of his shoulders with knives, and when they found him to still be calm and unruffled, glorifying the Triune God, they beheaded him, thus receiving the crown of martyrdom.

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

First, the saints of the Church of Persia, together with all the saints who come from various countries from across the world, reveal that Orthodoxy is not limited to certain states and nations, but it is ecumenical, catholic. That is, it includes the entire ecumene. This means that the people of God do not consist of one nation, but Orthodox Christians can be found in all parts of the world, and can be found in whatever nation they belong. For this reason we confess in the Symbol of Faith: "In One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church." This is the Orthodox Church, which has preserved unchanged the faith of the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers. The ecumenicity of the Church is revealed in its worship, since the Divine Liturgy is offered on behalf of the ecumene. "We offer to You this reasonable worship on behalf of the ecumene."

Persia has produced many saints - Venerable Ones, Martyrs, Hieromartyrs, Confessors - and they are its greatest wealth. Prior to the birth of Christ the Persians were looking with longing for the true God, and were made worthy, after insistent and tedious searching with much effort, to find Him, to know Him and to worship Him in a manger in Bethlehem. And as true rulers they offered gifts from the heart. However, the greatest gift Persia has given Christ is its saints.

Second, the desire for martyrdom is pleasing to God, and in a time of persecution against the Church the believer is led to seal their confession in Christ with the blood of their martyrdom. In a time of peace, however, the desire for martyrdom, according to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, and as explained by the Holy Fathers, is manifested in different and many ways. For example, through self-denial and obedience to Christ's commandments; by loving all people, friends and enemies, selflessly, and praying for them, because, as Saint Silouan the Athonite says, praying for others is like spilling your blood; also by being humble and enduring daily temptations, difficulties and sad situations in life, while thanking and glorifying God.

In addition, in the case where someone is heavily ill, and they do not murmur or complain, but they endure their sickness peacefully, with complete trust in the providence and love of God, this equals to being a living martyr for Christ and a martyrdom. At this point it should be stressed that the more one endures temptations and trials allowed by God, the more they will "approach" God, will know Him and will acquire personal communion with Him. Rather, God will reveal Himself to the person who endures humbly with thanksgiving, and He is with them, watching them, taking care of them, and listening to their prayers when they are praying and supplication for things that are beneficial for the soul, and contribute to salvation. "I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my supplication" (Ps. 39:2/40:1).

Finally, our daily struggle on behalf of transforming our passions is considered a martyrdom. For, to conquer one's passions in order to purify the heart of them, to become a worthy dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, requires a person to spill blood, according to the patristic saying: "Give blood, receive the Spirit."

Every one on earth lifts their own cross and carves their own path. When you choose to walk with Christ towards Golgotha, then you will be crucified with Christ, but you will also rise with Him and live with Him in His eternal Kingdom. We all know that at some point our human life on earth will end. But life does not end, rather it is perfected. The desire for perfection through martyrdom is pleasing to God, but it presupposes great love for God, selflessness, nobility, bravery and leventia.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ἱερομάρτυς Βατᾶς ὁ Πέρσης", April 2014. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.