June 7, 2015

Saint Potamiana as a Model for our Lives

St. Potamiana the Martyr (Feast Day - June 7)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Potamiana lived in the fourth century and was from Alexandria. She was the slave to a lecherous pervert, who would repeatedly make obscene advances toward her, but the Saint strongly resisted so that he was not able to realize his obscene desires. Enraged, he handed her over to the ruler of Alexandria offering gifts and rewards if he could convince her otherwise, and if not she was to be tortured and killed as a Christian. Since he also was unable to convince her either through flatteries or threats, he decided to throw her into a large cauldron naked with heated tar. The Saint swore an oath that if he allowed her not to remove her clothing, then she would go into the cauldron little by little on her own accord, despite the fact that doing so would prolong the torment. Indeed, he accepted the oath, and allowed her to descend clothed into the cauldron, revealing her bravery, patience and firm faith in Christ, who empowered her and continuously strengthened her. In this way her martyrdom was competed and her soul flew to heaven.

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

Purity and wisdom are a gift from God which are precious ornaments to people. Without such ornaments human existence becomes trivialized and people, the crown of God's creation, lose their glory and honor and become like dumb animals. "And man being in honor, understands not: he is compared to the senseless cattle, and is like to them" (Ps. 48:13 [49:12]). As long as a person remains near to God, under the covering of His commandments, these gifts will be preserved as the apple of their eye, and they would prefer to sacrifice their life rather than to lose them. But when they distance themselves from God, they become slaves to their passions, sin and the devil, so that they will lose these gifts and become humiliated. For when the devil enslaves a person, they are literally stripped of God's gifts and are left naked, both physically and spiritually. There are many examples that express this truth, but I will mention only one from the Holy Gospel. When the devil gained power over an unfortunate man who lived in the land of the Gadarenes, then a whole legion of demons entered him, resulting in this wretched man circulating around naked and living not in a house, but in the tombs, away from society. You see, the devil completely humiliated him and made him have anti-social behavior. However, after he was healed by Christ he regained his lost wisdom and sat next to Christ, together with others, "dressed and in his right mind," with his honor restored (Mk. 5:1-16).

The Holy Spirit dresses a person with His Grace both internally and externally and makes them glow with purity and wisdom. In this case the man truly became charming, in his speech, his works and in his general behavior. He knew how to dress without causing provocation, he knew how to speak and what to say, and also when to be silent. Because he respected himself, and he respected others, who reciprocated their respect. Wisdom and purity are truly priceless commodities, and a joy to those who preserve them - with the Grace of God and personal struggle - because they will preserve their dignity, their social behavior, and internal freedom.

Nowadays, unfortunately, antisocial behavior, lack of respect for persons and institutions, rudeness and audacity have reached alarming proportions. Audacity especially distinguishes many people today, especially young people, who, of course, in every age are distinguished for their bravery. Audacity, according to St. Gregory of Nyssa, is excess bravery, whereas its absence is cowardice. Regarding this excess bravery, namely audacity, which is distinguishable in young people, surely we have the largest responsibility. This is why, unfortunately, we should look for ways to educate our children, so they won't acquire audacity, but to inspire bravery in its true dimension, without shortcomings and excesses, together with philotimo, kindness and respect.

Today, however, the mentality that exists in families and society breeds and increases audacity, which is one of the biggest problems faced by those with the heavy burden of educating children and young people. Of course children are always lively in every era, but in the vast majority of them they were not audacious, but shy and respectful. A few decades ago it would have been unthinkable for a child to talk back to their elders and express such things as, "I'll do what I want. You can't do anything to me. What can you do? Will you spank me? Spank me if you can," and other such things that we shouldn't even put to writing. If such things happened in the old days, there would be a different result. This problem should be addressed seriously and ways of treatment explored. Nonetheless, when children are grafted in their love for God and others, and imbued with Romaic philotimo, then they will be balanced as far as bravery is concerned. Certainly they will not reach the excess of audacity, nor will they take on a deficit form, which results in cowardice.

The Orthodox Church, with its way of life and teaching, inspires in children philotimo, respect and love, as well as bravery in its true form, without shortcomings and excesses.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Μάρτυς Ποταμιαίνη", May 2014. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.