May 2, 2015

Saints Hesperus, Zoe, Kyriakos and Theodoulos as Models for our Lives

Sts. Hesperus, Zoe, Kyriakos and Theodoulos (Feast Day - May 2)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

In the list of saints of the Orthodox Church, there are registered many married saints, as well as entire families.

Saints Hesperus and Zoe with their children Kyriakos and Theodoulos lived in the second century during the reign of Hadrian. This blessed family came from Pamphylia and all of them were slaves of Catallus and Tetradia. This couple were idolaters, cruel and vicious, who treated the Saints in a very bad way and constantly created problems. The Saints would be given orders to do things that were prohibited by the Holy Gospel, which put them in a very difficult position. They were also not allowed to pray or chant.

These pagans, when they acquired their first boy, wanted to celebrate the event, so they invited their slaves to their festive table, which would force them to eat things sacrificed to idols, namely carcasses that had been offered in sacrifice to idols. The Saints, of course, refused, and then Catallus lit a suitable large furnace, and after it was heated well, he threw the four of them in, hoping that it would melt even their bones so they would completely disappear. The next morning the furnace was opened, and the sacred relics of the martyrs were found in the position of prayer. There also exuded an exquisite fragrance.

Their life and conduct give us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, this martyrdom of the Saints is similar to the martyrdom of the Three Youth in the Old Testament, who were thrown by the pagan king of Babylon Nebuchadnezzar into the "burning fiery furnace," because they refused to worship the golden image which he set up to deify himself. And while all the people and all the tribes who inhabited Babylon bent down and worshipped the image, the Three Youths, who were named Ananias, Azarias and Misael, refused to worship it, because they consciously believed in the true God of their Fathers and Him alone they worshipped and adored, and not people or soulless idols. In other words, they did not want to violate the commandment of God, which said: "You will bow down before the Lord your God and Him alone will you worship." But in such a large fire, instead of being burned they were cooled off, because there descended into the furnace the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Angel of Great Counsel, the fleshless Word, and He altered the fire into dew. This is why the Three Youths, full of gratitude and spiritual joy, sang a hymn and glorified the God of their Fathers, who saved them, but also prevailed against the pagan king, who asked them with great ignorance: "What God is mightier than I, to be able to rescue you from my hands?"

Something similar happened with the Saints of this family. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the incarnate Word, Christ, whom they confessed daily with their way of life, received their souls and preserved their sacred relics, in order for the faithful to have them as a priceless treasure and to kiss them, in order to receive the blessing of the Saints. Therefore, He who saved the people of God then and now is God the Word. The difference is that in the Old Testament He was fleshless, while in the New Testament He is incarnate. But He was, is and always will be the support, strength and consolation of those who hope in Him.

Second, the respect for the freedom of others, their individuality, religion, color, etc., is a sign of civilization, while violence against others, especially when they are at a disadvantage, reveals barbarism. The literary writer of Romiosini, Alexandros Papadiamantis, who is particularly honored in Greece, asks in his own characteristic way: "How long will we be barbarians and will want to impose violence on others?"

Freedom is a gift of God and we must all respect it, since it is respected by Him who gave it more than everyone. Those who experienced or are experiencing slavery, any kind of slavery, they understand more than others the value of freedom. I remember an incident I read about concerning a refugee from Asia Minor, who arrived in the port of Piraeus in 1922 together with other burdened and uprooted Romans. As soon as he got off the boat he saw a child selling goldfinches and he bought one. After petting it, he let it fly away free. The goldfinch went to fly, but its wings had become numb and had difficulty flying, which is why it sat on the mast of a ship. Some children who wandered the port saw it, climbed aboard the ship, and tried to catch it in order to once again enslave it. Then the middle-aged refugee, who experienced years of slavery in his "skin", chased them away saying: "They were born in freedom. How can they know what slavery is?"

However, the deprivation of democratic rights and the freedom of others is not imposed only by foreign states or by states with authoritarian regimes, but also by individuals in the workplace, and even within the family itself. For there are many who profess democracy, but within the family or at work, where they have certain powers, they are dictators.

The good of freedom is certainly invaluable, but most valuable and sure is inner freedom. No one can remove this from a person unless they remove it themselves, wishing to remain slaves to their passions.

Anyone who has managed, by the Grace of God and personal struggle, to dominate their passions, they are truly free.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Έσπερος και Zωή, Κυριακός και Θεόδουλος", April 2011. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.