January 13, 2016

Saints Hermylos and Stratonikos as Models for our Lives

Sts. Hermylos and Stratonikos (Feast Day - January 13)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saints Hermylos and Stratonikos lived during the reign of Emperor Licinius (308-322), who to please the pagans ordered a persecution against the Church and its members. He closed and demolished sacred churches and put many Christians to death, after subjecting them to cruel and inhumane torture. Deacon Hermylos spoke against the extermination of so many innocent people, who were perfectly honorable and law-abiding citizens. Of course, he was arrested, cruelly tortured and thrown in prison. In prison he prayed and chanted hymns to the glory of God, and he was peaceful and calm, being "full of the Holy Spirit." Because he remained firm in his faith, and unharmed, he was subjected to even more cruel tortures. Nearby was one of his close friends, Stratonikos, who seeing the torments of his friend wept. When the executioners saw him weep they tortured him. When he also gave his confession of faith, they were both put to death together. Thus, they jointly were made worthy of receiving the unfading crown of martyrdom.

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

True friendship is indeed a sacred thing. Etymologically the Greek word for friend, φιλία, means love or favor. The word friend therefore "denotes one who loves and seeks to ensure peace." In Holy Scripture there is reference to the word φιλῶ, as well as φιλία. When Christ wept for the death of his friend Lazarus, even though He would soon raise him, the Jews said "see how he loved (ἐφίλει) him" (Jn. 11:36). In this way Christ showed that he was perfect man, and also revealed how much He loved His friend. Also, with the noun friend Christ established His relationship with His Disciples and Apostles, whom He called His friends. He did not call them servants, because a servant does not know what his master is doing, since servants were considered more like objects than people in those days. They were the property of their masters, and could treat them any way they wanted, and at any time kill them, without having to give an account for their actions. True friends of Christ are those who love and keep His commandments. A true friend is one who is open to his friends, sharing with them their sorrows and joys and is even ready to sacrifice themselves on their behalf. In the Gospel of John it says that Christ said to His Disciples: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you" (Jn. 15:13-15).

For friendship to grow there must be a response from another person, since love cannot exist without the contribution of another. Love wants someone else, while friendship wants more than one other person. In other words, one can love without being loved, but for some to be a friend of another they also must want it. Characteristic features of true friendship is tolerance with love, mutual understanding and forgiveness. This means that if there happens to be misunderstanding between two friends due to weakness, then the two immediately rush to fix things and keep alive their friendship.

Saint John of Sinai, the author of the Ladder, when he urged the monks, and generally all Christians, to love God, he also told them how, saying that they must at least love God like they love and respect their friends. He writes: "Let us love God at least as much as we love and respect our friends. For I have often seen people who had offended God and were not in the least perturbed about it. And I have seen how those same people provoked their friends in some trifling matter and then employed every artifice, every device, every sacrifice, every apology, both personally and through friends and relatives, not sparing gifts, in order to regain their former love." Also, the Saint urges believers to gain the friendship of Angels, in order to be helped along the path towards virtue, and to have them as supports at the time of their departure from this temporary life. He writes: "It is good to gain the friendship of the noetic friends (the Angels), because no one else will help us as much in virtue." Elsewhere he writes: "Make your body your slave; and your friends, the Holy Powers (Angels) who can help you at the hour of your death, if they become your friends." And Saint Paisios the Athonite urged believers to gain friendship with the Saints and Angels. When he was asked by someone how to approach and get to know the Saints, Saint Paisios replied: "Give them your address, the street and number, and they will come to find you." And showing him his prayer rope, he said that each knot is your address and number. In other words, we should pray to them, and they will come near you. In another case he said that to gain friendship with Christ, the Theotokos and the Saints we must coordinate our spiritual antenna, so as to emit the same wavelength. And he stresses that "the Saints broadcast at the wavelength of humility and love."

In its authentic form friendship is love that is unselfish, noble and sacrificial. And when it exists, it is a real treasure.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Μάρτυρες Ἕρμυλος καί Στρατόνικος", December 2015. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.