October 5, 2015

Saint Mamelchtha the Persian as a Model for our Lives

St. Mamelchtha (Feast Day - October 5)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Mamelchtha came from Persia. Exactly when she lived is not recorded in the synxaria. She was a fanatical pagan and priestess of idols, who strongly reacted when she heard her sister had become a Christian, and did not want to associate with her. Later, however, her soul softened, after witnessing her sister literally transform, becoming a different person. Because she was sensitive and had spiritual pursuits, she wanted to learn more about the Christian faith. Thus, she was catechized and baptized. The pagans were openly offended over the fact that a priestess of idols became a Christian, and full of bigotry and fanaticism they arrested her and tortured her cruelly and inhumanly. Lastly, they threw her into a dry well and began to stone her until she died. Pious Christians pulled the victorious and martyric body from the well with reverence and respect, while her soul was received by the angels of God who transferred her to the heavenly chambers, where" she was celebrated with a pure sound."

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

First, the teachings of the Church are a way of life. This is why in early Christian times when a pagan became a Christian, those who knew them understood their change by their way of life and behavior. Previously they were, for example, debaucherous, troublemakers, cruel, inhuman, etc., but suddenly they changed and became wise, calm, benevolent, and had great love and goodness. The uncreated Grace of God dwelt within them after their Baptism and Chrismation which internally altered them, and this alteration was apparent and external. Even today, those who are baptized at a mature age, after their Baptism and Chrismation they feel their existence flooded from the uncreated Grace of God, which causes joy, spiritual elation, humility, love, peace. However, then they must spiritually struggle to preserve this Grace. Obedience to an experienced spiritual guide can help support them to not go astray from the path of God, but even if it does happen, they will help them come back.

Second, stoning "was one of the most primitive and brutal ways of killing criminals and offenders, especially of moral laws. At the execution of the condemned, by the public or state, a significant number of people took part. Stoning took place outside the city. They forced the convicted into the middle and stones were thrown at them until they died." The martyrdom of someone who was stoned extended for a period of time, because there were more and more injuries with each successive stone thrown, and death came slowly, so death by stoning was slow, cruel and painful. Unfortunately, however, this inhuman way of killing still exists today, especially in Muslim countries, and is applied more towards women accused of adultery.

Death by stoning existed also in the Old Testament. It is known this is how the Protomartyr Stephen was stoned. Primarily they would stone women who committed adultery, which later passed on to the Koran, which heavily relies on the Old Testament, the first covenant God made with His people. However, the law of God given in the Old Testament is imperfect, and "when the fullness of time came," this law was perfected, fulfilled and came together in Christ. Therefore, in the New Testament, which is dominated by perfect love, everything is completely different. The incident recorded in the Gospel of John is well known, when the Scribes and Pharisees were looking for a reason to accuse Christ, and they brought before Him a woman arrested for adultery, reminding Him that Moses ordered for such a woman to be stoned, and asking Him what He thinks should be done with her. Christ stooped down and wrote with His finger on the earth. And because they persisted in asking, He lifted His head and said: "He who is without sin let him cast the first stone." Then He stooped down again and wrote on the earth. When those present heard this, they left one after another, first of all the elders, and Christ remained alone with the woman. And Christ lifted his head and asked her: "Woman, who here accuses you?" She responded: "No one." "Neither do I accuse you," He said to her; "go and sin no more" (Jn. 9:3-7). According to some interpreters, Christ stooped down and wrote the names of those who wanted to punish the woman with stoning, together with the day and time they also committed the same sin. This is why they left in shame.

The Word of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, became a man to save humanity, and not to destroy them. Luke the Evangelist says that Christ at one time, on His way to Jerusalem, wanted to enter a village of the Samaritans, and He sent messengers to make the necessary preparations in order for Him to be admitted. The Samaritans, however, refused His entrance, and His two disciples, John and James, said to Him: "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to have them consumed, like Elijah?" Then Christ rebuked them, telling them they were ignorant of which spirit they were of. "The Son of man did not come to destroy humanity, but to save them."

Some condemn stoning as inhuman, and yet the same use it against their fellow people, though it is another kind of "stoning", more cruel and more painful perhaps than throwing stones. These are unjust attacks, slander, bitter words and comments which taint a reputation, hurt hearts, and literally destroy lives, leading many to despair and hopelessness.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ἁγία Μαμέλχθα, ἡ Περσίδα", September 2014. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.