August 28, 2016

Saint Susanna of Georgia as a Model for our Lives

St. Susanna of Georgia (Feast Day - August 28)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Susanna, or Shushanik as she she was affectionately called, lived in the fifth century. She was from Iberia, known today as Georgia, and the king at the time was Vakhtang I Gorgasali. Shushanik's husband, Varsken, was a feudal lord (pitiakhsh) of Kartli in Georgia. He was a Christian, but only by name. Eventually, he denied his faith and for no special reason subjected himself to the king of Persia and embraced the fire-worshiping faith of the Persians. He also asked his wife, who was a woman of God, to deny her faith. She rebuked him for his apostasy and then boldly confessed her faith in the true God. He then had her harshly tortured in an unforgiving way, and full of wounds she was cast into prison, which was a sunless dungeon. There the Saint spent the last six years of her life with patience, fasting and prayer.

At one point, when she was informed that her children changed religion, she was deeply hurt and wept bitterly, and fervently prayed for their repentance and return to Christ and His Church. And she did not cease praying for her husband also and pleading for his repentance and salvation. She completed her life in a venerable fashion.

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

First, ignorance and forgetfulness are the basic causes that lead to departure from God and denial of the true faith.

Ignorance is not knowing the Triune God, but also not wanting to know Him. Because if someone wants it, they will succeed in having it with God's help. When a young man visted Saint Paisios the Athonite, he expressed to him his desire to know God - "if He exists," he said. Saint Paisios advised him to first go to confession, and then to begin to pray, saying: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, please, if You exist, I want to know You." The result was that this young man visited Saint Paisios again after a few months, and with tears in his eyes said that indeed there was a God. And Saint Paisios told him, smiling, that the things he saw were nothing, but were only the beginning. And he encouraged him to continue going to confession, to pray, to attend church, and in general to live according to the will of God.

Forgetfulness (oblivion) of the love of God and His multiple benefactions, shows a lack of acquaintance and ungratefulness, and leads to expelling God from one's life and being distanced away from the Church.

Humility, which is always associated with love, is the mother of gratitude, which helps a person not forget their benefactors and their beneficence. And, of course, there is no greater benefactor that the Holy Triune God, who brought us to life through our parents, and who loves us and constantly cares for our salvation, without ever discriminating, since "the sun rises on the wicked and good, and the rain comes down on the righteous and unrighteous." Furthermore, the denial of the true God reveals forgetfulness of His multiple benefactions and ingratitude. And when someone denies God, in a variety of ways, then their heart becomes more hardened than a rock, and they becomes aggressive, cruel and inhuman. They behave with hatred and fury against those who do not agree with them and refuse to meet their unreasonable demands.

Gratitude is a fragrant flower, which mainly grows in the hearts of those watered with the life-giving spring of the Holy Spirit, and exudes an unspeakable spiritual fragrance, which dissolves the stench of ingratitude. The grateful person is pleasant, in the double sense of the word. That is, they thank continuously those who have benefited them, and their presence is gratifying, because they have within them the Grace of God. In other words, they are "always thankful for all things," and their words are "full of grace, seasoned with salt," transferring joy, calmness, peace and a pleasant atmosphere which creates around it a repulsion to sullenness, confusion and agitation.

Second, the greater the love the deeper the pain. This means that those who genuinely love someone will not blame them or criticize them, no matter what they have done, but they pray with tears and pain for their repentance, correction and salvation. They will not share someone's mistakes, but will hide them in every way for them to not be reported, but also will protect from being scandalized those with a weak conscience. Besides, this also is a characteristic of true love, according to the Apostle Paul, namely to conceal all things. And the blessed Psalmist blesses those whose sins are forgiven and covered after their sincere repentance, and obviously so others would not be scandalized and be given over to condemnation and various other sins. He writes: "Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered" (Ps. 32:1). Those who disclose and tout the falls of others, will sooner or later be accused, criticized and mocked according to the spiritual law, and will fall to an equal or greater sin and be shamed. And God will allow their own sins to be uncovered, so that they will be humbled and repent, to wisen up and be corrected. For apart from human laws which are enforced to organize the nations, there is the spiritual law, according to which a person, whatever they do they find before them, "if either it be good or evil." There is certainly freedom, but everyone is responsible for their actions, and spiritual mistakes are expensive to pay back.

Ignorance of God and forgetfulness of His multiple benefactions lead to the foul-smelling path of denial, hardness of heart and ingratitude. While the knowledge of God and the remembrance of His love and His rich gifts, brings fragrant and sweet-scented flowers which are called gratitude, and fills the heart with love and peace.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasis, "Ὁσιομάρτυς Σουσάννα ἤ Σουσάνικ", July 2016. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.