August 2, 2016

Saint Elesa of Kythera as a Model for our Lives

St. Elesa of Kythera (Feast Day - August 1)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Elesa came from the Peloponnese from a wealthy family. Her father was a pagan named Elladios, and her mother was a Christian named Eugenia. Elesa was the fruit of the prayers of her pious mother, who was barren, and she constantly prayed to God, begging for a child. One day while praying she was informed, internally within her heart, that she received mercy from God and would become a mother. And because, according to her biographer, the words she heard were: "God has had mercy on you" (ὁ Θεός ἐλέησέ σε), she was named Elesa (Ἐλέσα). She was baptized at a young age and nurtured in the fount of the Gospel. And as she grew her faith and love for the true God became firm.

When Elesa turned fourteen she was orphaned of her mother, and because she was unable to live with her pagan father, who pushed her to marry a pagan ruler, she left and went to Kythera. She climbed a mountain, together with a servant that followed her, and lived in asceticism and prayer. Her father searched for her, found her, and tried to convince her, first with flatteries then with threats, to return with him. When she refused and tried to flee, he chased after her, captured her, and beheaded her on 1 August 375. Her servant buried her body at the place of her martyrdom. Initially a small church was built there in her honor, but later, in 1871, a larger church was built over its ruins, which exists until today.

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

First, one who prays always has God as an assistant in the circumstances of their life. God never abandons anyone, for He "wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4), and His mercy "pursues" them continuously. As the Prophet David says, speaking to God, "Your mercy pursues me all the days of my life" (Ps. 22:6). How much more does this happen to those who pray continuously, seeking the mercy of God. Those who are covered by His Grace, not simply near them, but He enters within them and takes residence in their hearts, which He changes into a Paradise. Just as when someone opens the shutters in a room, then the light and the heat of the sun enters in, bringing illumination and warmth, similarly when someone opens their heart to God in prayer, uncreated divine Grace enters, and fills it with light and spiritual joy, as well as internal fulfillment and inspiration. Then people become creative in their lives, and can treat various problems and everyday difficulties in such a way that they are not overwhelmed by them.

Second, Christ taught us the "Lord's Prayer", which is thus called because it was taught to us by Christ the Lord. This prayer, as is known, begins with the phrase "Our Father", which suggests that we are not alone in this world, but we have a Father who loves us and cares for us, and we also have brothers and sisters. Whoever senses God as their Father, they also sense the children of God as their brothers and sisters. Within the Church people are given the opportunity to experience the love of God the Father, as well as the love of the saints, who are the true members of the Church. All those who have been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity and confess the Orthodox faith, as well as struggle to live according to her ways, are spiritual brethren, because they all emerged from the same spiritual womb, namely the baptismal font. Therefore, no one in the Church feels like an orphan, since they have God as their Father, the Panagia as their Mother, and the saints as brothers and sisters, as well as all those who struggle to achieve their own personal sanctification.

When someone is deprived of the physical presence of their parents according to the flesh or other members of their household, it is natural to feel pain and to grieve, but one must not lose hope, because, living within the Church, they have the opportunity to feel paternal and brotherly love in its authentic form. It is sufficient to walk according to the ways of God and to take care, as Saint Paisios the Athonite says, to coordinate their spiritual antenna, and to transmit the same spiritual frequency as the saints.

The circumstance exists in which the parents of someone may be alive, but they still feel like an orphan, and that they indeed do not have the possibility of effective communication with them concerning vital issues. For example, when a child struggles to live according to God's will, but the parents are atheists, impious or heretics, then there cannot be spiritual communication between them and the child cannot experience the love of the parent in its authentic form. But also when the parents live in the Church and the children distance themselves from her in one way or another, then communication between them is problematic or impossible. There are cases where parents and children live in the same space and do not communicate, while the opposite also happens, when the children have gone far away from the parents, yet there is daily and essential communication.

No one chooses their relatives according to the flesh, while friendships are chosen. And when someone has as friends Christ, the Panagia and the saints, then they are peaceful and joyful, and they feel safe, knowing that their friends are never going to betray them and leave them, but will always be near them to accompany and protect them.

Truly blessed are they who have "seed in Zion, and household friends in Jerusalem" (Is. 31:9), namely genuine and true parents and friends.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ὁσιομάρτυς Ἐλέσα", July 2015. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.