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April 19, 2016

Saint Paphnutios of Jerusalem as a Model for our Lives

St. Paphnutios of Jerusalem (Feast Day - September 25)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Paphnutios came from Jerusalem and lived during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. During the fierce persecution of the Church the prefect Arianos sent soldiers to the Egyptian desert, where Saint Paphnutios lived in asceticism, in order to arrest him. When he heard they were looking for him, he went into the city and presented himself before the prefect, who ordered that he be fiercely tortured. Two soldiers tore at his flesh so much that his entrails showed. The Saint, who did not cease praying, was immediately healed as if nothing happened. The soldiers, obviously overwhelmed by the miracle, believed in Christ, which led to their beheading, and thus they were numbered among the chorus of martyrs.

After these things, Saint Paphnutios was imprisoned. But his confinement in prison, as it turned out, was by the economy of God, since there he met forty well-meaning people, and led them to the true faith of Christ. When the prefect was informed of this, he ordered that they all be burned alive, but Saint Paphnutios was rescued from the furnace of burning fire, like the three youths in the Old Testament. Enraged the prefect ordered that he be cut to pieces. The order was executed by the soldiers, but the sundered limbs united again in a wondrous way and Saint Paphnutios remained alive. Indeed he rebuked the prefect for his impiety, cruelty and crimes, and that despite the many miraculous events he continued to insist on not believing. The prefect became more furious and visibly disappointed he sent him to be tried in Rome. There he was crucified, and so Saint Paphnutios was made worthy of the special honor and blessing of having the same martyric end as our Lord and God Jesus Christ.

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

First, miracles do not produce faith, but faith produces miracles. Of course there are certain cases where miracles took place to produce faith in the true God for well-meaning people, but this is an exception. For as we know, every rule has its exceptions, which is indeed confirmed. Well-meaning people, sooner or later, in one way or another, even without a miracle, will find their way. That is, God will economize the events of life in such a way so that they will know Him and gain personal communion with Him.

Whoever is not well-meaning, will not believe, even if they see with their eyes the dead rise. A living example is the prefect Arianos, as well as the scribes and pharisees in the time of Christ, as well as many others. Well known also is the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, in which poor Lazarus rested in the bosom of Patriarch Abraham, and he heard the rich man ask for a miracle and even a resurrection. That is, the rich man wanted Lazarus to rise from the dead, so that his brothers would repent and believe, that they also would not likewise after death go to a place of torment. Abraham, namely God, responded with the known words: "If they have not heard Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead."

For someone to believe in Christ they must say it with their heart, and thus to be truly brave. Because they will have to deny their old self, with their passions, sins and desires, and put on a new garment of the image of their Creator, and for this you need spiritual bravery and gallantry.

Second, the conscience of those who do not repent for their sins, over time erodes and does not rebuke. Saint John Climacus says: "We must carefully consider whether our conscience has ceased to rebuke us, not as a result of purity, but because it is immersed in evil. A sign of deliverance from our falls is the continual acknowledgment of the multitude of our sins." The worst is that the one who is in this situation feels and believes that whatever they do is right. To recover from this state of spiritual anesthesia a strong earthquake is needed, in order to take down the idols which we have built and worship, and first and foremost is the idol of the self.

The conscience, according to Saint John Climacus, "is the word and conviction of our guardian angel given to us from the time of baptism. That is why we find that the unbaptized do not feel such keen pangs of remorse in their soul for their bad deeds."

According to the teachings of the Orthodox Church, every believer has a guardian angel, given to them by God at their baptism to accompany them and protect them. And when we walk according to the will of God, our guardian angel rejoices, but when we sin, they lovingly rebuke us to lead us towards repentance. Because with repentance we are purified of our sins and receive once again the Grace of God which we lost, and return to the path from which we strayed, since sin is not merely an infringement in the legal sense of the term of a certain command, but it is primarily the distancing from Christ and the loss of eternal divine life.

A good conscience is associated with purity of heart and the indwelling of the uncreated Grace of God in ones existence. Therefore, the greatest miracle for which we should pray for in our lives, is true repentance.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ιερομάρτυς Παφνούτιος Ο Ιεροσολυμίτης", April 2010. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.