May 9, 2016

Saint Christopher as a Model for our Lives

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

In Orthodox iconography the Saint is depicted transporting Christ on his shoulder, which is why, according to tradition, he was named Christopher (Christ-bearer). This does not appear in his biographies, but what is true and of greater significance is that he was indeed a Christ-bearer and God-bearer, since he had Christ in his heart living within him and walking among him: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be My people" (2 Cor. 6:16; Lev. 26:12; Jer. 32:38; Ezek. 37:27). Perhaps in connection with this tradition he is the patron saint of drivers. In the Small Euchologion of the Orthodox Church there is a specific Service titled "For the Blessing of a New Vehicle," and his Dismissal Hymn is what it begins with.

The Great Martyr of Christ Christopher in his outer appearance was so ugly, that a few iconographers have depicted his face in the form of a dog. Of course, this is overkill. He may have had an unsightly and wild appearance, but he was human. Christopher came from a country of heathen cannibals. His original name was Reprevos, which means unqualified, disapproved, damned. He probably lived in the time of Emperor Decius (249-251), when the Bishop of Antioch was the Holy Hieromartyr Babylas.

His conversion to Christ took place in the following wonderful manner. He was captured in battle, which was conducted against his nation by the imperial troops. As wild and inaccessible as he was, he had difficulty speaking, for which he fervently prayed. And as his sacred biographer writes, an Angel of the Lord came and touched his lips, and from that moment he was able to freely speak. From being a dumb pagan he became a sweetly-speaking preacher and confessor of Christ. Of course, miracles do not produce faith, rather it is faith which becomes the cause for miracles. Despite this God often uses miracles when unbelievers were previously benevolent, and especially for people who did not have the chance to hear about and learn many things about Christ and His Church.

At his Baptism Saint Babylas renamed him Christopher. The uncreated Divine Grace he received at his Baptism and Chrismation transformed his entire existence. Even his deformed face looked brighter and more beautiful. Inner beauty or ugliness is reflected in the external appearance with the result that beauty is added to them or removed. Spiritual gifts and virtues, such as humility, love, compassion, service to others without ulterior motives add beauty to someones external appearance. Authoritarianism, nagging, envy, unkindness and unruly laughing disfigures even those who are most beautiful externally. And something else. Appearance is of the flesh. We cannot see the soul, such as its gifts and it cannot be perceived at first glimpse by just anyone. This is why we must be patient and careful in our judgments. Whoever is quick to judge is surely making a mistake. "Let another reveal themselves to you, and when you come to know them well, then your opinion of them will be better." Or according to the words of Holy Scripture: "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with a righteous judgment."

The so-called institution of beauty contests nowadays, due to television, is flourishing, and reveals the superficiality of our judgments, and the irrepressible mania for the commercialization of everything, and even most sacred things. It further shows a dualism and an autonomy of the flesh. External beauty, a beautiful voice and so many other gifts are gifts given by God, which is why they are called gifts. Besides, beauty is not only related to external things. It depends not only on the appearance and symmetry of body parts, because humans are not only a body. Human beings are psychosomatic in their existence and as such they must be judged. The body is not the whole man, but the body of a man, just as the soul is not the whole man, but the soul of a man. People are a "combination" of these two things. There is also an interaction between the two. When the Holy Spirit resides in the heart, He illuminates and beautifies the soul and the body. Conversely, when an evil spirit acquires dominion over a human being, then it is, internally and externally, dark and slouched.

Beautiful feet belong to those who are in the service of love. "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the Gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!" (Rom. 10:15). Beautiful hands belong to those who work to offer mercy. And a generally beautiful body belongs to one illuminated by the uncreated light of the Grace of God.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Μεγαλομάρτυς Χριστόφορος", May 1998. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.