December 14, 2015

The Martyrdom of Contemporary Christians (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

The Cross and Skull of the Apostle Andrew

Below is a homily by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou, delivered on the feast of the Holy Apostle Andrew, on the 30th of November 2015, in the Cathedral of the Apostle Andrew in Patras, Greece.

Each saint is celebrated on the day of their dormition or the day of their martyrdom, because this day is considered their birthday, a particular charism. Saint John Chrysostom considers martyrdom a charism, which he describes as a spirit of power, for a person receives strength from the Holy Spirit to sacrifice themselves. "When they receive the charism of martyrdom, it is said they have the spirit of power, that is, a charism." And because "that which is gifted is from the Holy Spirit, the charism is also called a gift." Martyrdom is thus a charism, a spirit of power, a gift. This is how Christian martyrdom is different from any other self-sacrifice for an ideology.

This rule applies also today. We celebrate Saint Andrew, who was martyred in Patras on this day nearly twenty centuries ago. Objects of this martyrdom is his holy skull and the blessed cross on which he gave his soul to God.

All the apostles suffered torments and they considered it a gift of the Holy Spirit. Only John the Evangelist reposed in deep old age, without being martyred, but he experienced martyrdom on Golgotha, when he was with the Panagia and experienced the pain of Christ on the Cross. Millions of other martyrs followed.

Martyrdom, the life of martyrdom, is an expression of love for God, it is the lot of the Church and of authentic Christians, it is our participation in the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.

An ancient Syrian writer asked: "What woman would prefer to marry a crucified man?" No one does this. But the Church, the Bride of Christ, loves the Crucified One, Who has given her a wedding dress full of blood and a ring made of nails from the Cross and experiences the Resurrection.

This lot of the Church is also its glory. The Cross "is the pinnacle of theology," according to Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov, a great ascetic and Russian Bishop. We see the Cross and Resurrection in the Mysteries, in asceticism, in theology, in all of ecclesiastical life. Until the fourth century millions of Martyrs died for Christ. The sacred hymnographer chants: "The blood of the Martyrs throughout the world are the ornaments of the Church."

But the Church today still experiences martyrdom and her children become martyrs, it is simply the way of martyrdom that changes each time. I will mention three ways martyrdom is received today by the Church and her children.

In the West and North the Church endures the martyrdom of secularism. Secularization is the change of ecclesiastical life into a secular system, the elimination of the eschatological element of Christianity, and the identity of Christians with the culture of the world, with blissful happiness, self-love and ambition. The Apostle Paul declares: "We do not have here an enduring city, but we seek that of the future" (Heb. 13:14). And yet there are Christians who do have here an enduring city, and they solely identify with it. Someone once said: "Let us leave heaven to the birds and the priests. We will concern ourselves with the earth." Ultimately however the earth will pass away.

In the East, proximate and distant, the Church endures the martyrdom of anthropocentric religions where they demolish churches and kill people. Christianity is disappearing in the East where it developed for twenty centuries. In the beginning of the 20th century, when the Middle East was liberated from the Ottomans, Christians made up 20% of the population. As of a few years ago, prior to the civil conflicts, they were 4%. And now they are shrinking even more. Human blood stains the earth, the churches and the seas. The ancient persecutions of the first centuries of Christianity are being repeated.

In the South the Church endures, besides that which is going on elsewhere, also from magic, hunger and death. Those who come from Africa tell us what the people are enduring from magicians, hunger, and sicknesses, which sift through people. And within these martyric temptations the Orthodox Church gives its testimony of the victory of life over death, the triumph of the Resurrection of Christ. This is what we show today by our veneration of the skull of Saint Andrew and his cross.

Yet, although martyrdom is the glory of the Church, it is still a stigma for contemporary humanity, which despite its civilization and divinization of human rights, accepts or creates violence, war, the destruction of life, hunger, drowning at sea, suffering and pain. They tolerate some to be children of a higher God and others children of a lesser God. They tolerate some to be those who crucify and others to be crucified.

Yet we today embrace the skull and cross of Saint Andrew, remembering the Martyrs throughout the world, those who are tormented, crucified, wounded, hurting, in need, and who are in despair and say: "Courage brethren! We pray and hope that someday the wickedness and hatred of the crucifiers will cease, and of those who motivate them and tolerate them."

Your Eminence, Prelate of this historic city, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Patras, who has the blessing of serving with inspiration this city, pray to your patron Saint Andrew for all those who crucify and are crucifed, to stop this madness of destruction. Amen.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Τό μαρτύριο τῶν συγχρόνων Χριστιανῶν", November 2015. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.