July 27, 2016

Holy New Martyr Christodoulos as a Model for our Lives

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The Neomartyr Christodoulos was born in a village of Kassandra in Halkidiki, called Valta. At a young age he went to Thessaloniki where he practiced the profession of a tailor. When he learned that a Christian was going to renounce his faith, and that it would take place in the public coffee house, where the "ceremony" of conversion would occur, and the renouncer would suffer circumcision, young Christodoulos, "boiling in the Spirit," that is he was burning with the uncreated fire of the Holy Spirit, took a Cross and went to that place where the tragic "performance" would take place. He courageously made the sign of the Cross over the crowd of Turks and Janissaries and went up to the one who was to change his faith. He showed him the Cross and spoke with him about the love of Christ, urging him even at the last moment to change his mind, recover, repent and make a confession of his faith. Full of hatred the Turks arrested and tortured Christodoulos. They pressed him to deny his faith, but he in turn urged them to deny their Islamic faith, and accept the true faith of Christ. This angered them even more, and after horrific torture they put him to death. They had him hanged in front of the Church of Saint Menas, and so the fearless lad of Christ received the unfading crown of martyrdom.

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

First, those who have not tasted of the life offered by Christ to the world through His Incarnation, Passion, Cross and Resurrection, identify life with the body. That is why when the body disintegrates after the soul's departure, which maintains it and gives it life, they say that the person is now lost, they no longer exist. They do not think people continue to live, that they simply change the way they exist, which is why they fear death, regarding it as a threat to their existence. Indeed, when a young person departs, full of life and dreams of the future, then they say it is unfortunate, that they suffered an injustice because they did not have time to enjoy their life. It's as if the lives of people on earth are full of joys, while in fact the greater portion of it is pain and tears, because wars and accidents are not missing, as well as disease, loss of loved ones, hunger and misery. People who live without the hope of the common resurrection, and eternal life in the light and glory of God, have a tragic existence and meaningless life.

Conversely, those who are associated with the life of the Church gain experience of the love of Christ, and strengthened by His Grace shed off fear and journey towards death calmly and unflinchingly, like a ruler that dances with joy at festivals. This cannot be understood by "logical" people, because it is crazy. But it is a logical crazy, namely bravery and gallantry, which heal the illogical craziness of "logical" people.

Second, for a Christian to deny their faith and adhere to a religion, means that they did not come to know and love Christ. Because, even on a human level, those who know and truly love another person, will never abandon them, but will remain close to them in good times and bad, in joys and sorrows. Besides, love is tested in difficult times, just like gold in a strong fire. And just as gold is not destroyed inside a furnace, but is purified and becomes more brilliant, the same takes place with true love, which when "dropped" in the furnace of temptations and sorrows is not destroyed, but becomes clearer and stronger. This takes place even more so with the love of Christ, which, when He truly becomes known, we will never abandon Him, but we will sacrifice everything for His love, even our lives. Saint Silouan the Athonite, who saw Christ and knew "in the Holy Spirit" His gentleness and love, confessed through his experience that the soul which truly knows the love of Christ also loves martyrdom and wants to sacrifice themselves for Him.

It should also be emphasized that when temptations come, then "the thoughts of the heart are revealed." That is, people are unveiled, and it becomes clear who someone is. And this takes place, because before a great temptation, one cannot pretend, but their real face is shown, namely all those things that were carefully concealed within. In other words, when in our life everything flows smoothly, then it is easy to take refuge behind the castle of duplicity and hide our passions. But in difficult and marginal moments we cannot pretend even if we want, our masks fall off, and then is revealed and manifested our inner world, our true face. For example, in a family, how many couples show their love to each other when everything flows smoothly, and suddenly in the face of the others pain and difficulty they abandon them? Still, how many parents have abandoned their children in their pain and sickness, that is, at a time when they need them most?

Usually we judge others externally, which is why we make mistakes. To some we attach more value than what they have, while others we treat unfairly. We must learn to search and discover what is not apparent, because usually what is apparent is misleading.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasis, "Νεομάρτυς Χριστόδουλος ὁ ἐν Θεσσαλονίκῃ μαρτυρήσας, 27 Ἰουλίου", June 2016. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.