July 24, 2017

Saint Christina the Great Martyr as a Model for our Lives

St. Christina of Tyre (Feast Day - July 24)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Christina was born in Tyre around the year 200. Her parents were both pagan idolaters, with her father being a general in the Roman army whose name was Urbanus. A pious woman catechized her in the truth of the Christian faith. From the moment she became a member of the Church her life changed and she lived within the love of God and in service to others. It was not long after that her father was informed that his daughter became a Christian, and in a rage he shut her up in a tower and tried by every means to persuade her to return to idolatry. Because she remained firm in her faith, he had her imprisoned. After her father died, the eparch Dion had her horribly tortured. Then the eparch Julian cast her in a place of wild beasts and fierce snakes, but the Saint remained unharmed, since the irrational beasts, as opposed to the rational ones, respected her. When many pagans had seen that the Saint remained unharmed after her horrible tortures, the wild beasts and the fierce snakes, they believed in Christ and boldly confessed their faith. Then the eparch ordered for all of them to be killed, and in this way they received the unfading crown of martyrdom. Saint Christina delivered her pure and untainted soul into the hands of the living God, when a spear was driven through her side and heart.

Her life and conduct gives us the opportunity to emphasize the following:

First, Christ after His Resurrection sent His Disciples to preach the gospel throughout all of creation, and He said that those who believed in their message and are baptized, would be saved, while those who did not would be condemned. Furthermore, for those who believed, the following signs would follow: "In My name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." Indeed, after Pentecost the Apostles traveled to the ends of the earth and preached everywhere, while the Lord helped them and intervened in their preaching with miracles that followed. One of these miracles was that wild beasts and deadly snakes would be calm near them and not bring harm to them. This was repeated throughout the centuries in the lives of many saints, and indeed several times this was the reason for multitudes of well-intentioned people to believe and be baptized.

Miracles take place in every age, since Christ is "yesterday and today and forever." This is why we must not be impressed by miracles, but we must be inspired by the way of life of the saints, which attracts the Grace of God, and in turn brings about miracles. And this way of life of the saints, which flows from their love for God, is associated with prayer, the sacramental life and the application of all His commandments, which leads to the acquisition of humility, meekness, love for all people and all creation, patience, and endurance through temptations and the difficulties of this present life.

Second, many times, influenced by teachings that are foreign to our Orthodox tradition, we believe that material wealth and social recognition are blessings from God and, also, if someone loves God then everything in their life will run smoothly and things will come easily. But the Gospels say the complete opposite, since it speaks of the cross, martyrdom, mourning and sorrow. Christ Himself told us, "In this world you will have sorrow." He added however, "Take courage! I have overcome the world." Indeed courage is needed, that we may not fail, because by patiently enduring sorrows in this present life and bearing our personal cross, which is our partaking of the sufferings of Christ, there is consolation and joy. A true consolation and inner joy, spiritual, which no one can remove from the people of God, no matter how many external sorrows may come. A typical example is the Holy Martyrs, who were tortured harshly and unrelentingly, but because they were united with God and flooded with His Grace, they faced everything calmly, serenely and joyfully. The idolaters would see them and be astonished and, naturally, they could not understand how something like this could take place.

This truth is also stressed by the divine Chrysostom, when referring to the Apostle Paul who suffered many and various temptations and numerous sorrows, but Christ, Who appeared to him on the road to Damascus, strengthened him and also consoled him. He said: "For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our consolation abounds through Christ." Elsewhere he said that God "consoles us in all our sorrows, so that we can console those in any sorrow with the consolation we ourselves receive from God."

The more sorrows we have, the more we participate in the sufferings of Christ. This is why he goes on to stress that we should not fear afflictions and sorrows, but sin, which alone should cause us sorrow. For when there is no sin, then the prudent soul is unable to sorrow in afflictions, for just as if you take a flaming spark and dipped it into the sea it would immediately extinguish, so does sorrow disappear completely when we acquire a good conscience.

The most poisonous snake is sin, because its bite causes eternal death. The antidote to the poison of sin is repentance, which brings about a good conscience and inspires a life according to Christ, through Whom all sorrows are overcome, which brings us perfect joy and true consolation.

Source: Ekklesiastika Paremvasi, Μεγαλομάρτυς Χριστίνα, June 2017. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.