February 14, 2018

Venerable Abraham of Cyrus as a Model for our Lives

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The Venerable Abraham lived in the fifth century, specifically during the reign of the Roman Emperor Theodosius the Great. He was born in Cyrus of Syria, where he was also raised and lived in asceticism as a monk. After many years of asceticism he went to a village where pagans lived in order to teach them the true faith. However, when he began to speak to them about Christ and His Church, the pagans arrested him and buried him in dirt up to his head. They then removed him and ordered him to go far away. As he was about to go away tax-collectors came and demanded of the inhabitants the royal tax, and those unable to pay were beaten mercilessly. Venerable Abraham felt sorry for them, and after he had consulted with the tax collectors, he gathered money and made a payment in the name of those who were unable to pay. When the tax collectors left, the villagers, who were amazed by his forbearance and philanthropy, fell at his feet and begged him for forgiveness and to stay with them. He forgave them, catechized them and baptized them, and he remained with them for three years making them firm in the faith. Then, after he had built them a sacred church and provided for them a priest, he withdrew to his ascetic cell.

In the book Philotheos History by Theodoret, it says that the Venerable Abraham, as long as he remained in the village, he communicated with all the inhabitants, and did not cease doing this for a minute, like the Apostle Paul, to counsel and teach with his words and his bright example, "with tears, night and day." This is why he writes: "Some he healed of greed, others of anger, elsewhere he bridled debauchery, others he awoke from the lethargy of deceit, to another he brought the teachings of wisdom, to someone else that of righteousness." And as he points out, he did this by using only one medicine in all cases, and that was his fervent prayer to God.

Later he became Bishop of Carrhae in Palestine. After wondrous struggles and sacrifices he catechized the pagans there and baptized them. When Emperor Theodosius heard of his wondrous ascetic struggles, as well as his love and care for his flock, he expressed his desire to meet him and invited him to Constantinople. The Bishop responded to the invitation of the Emperor, but he did not remain for a long time since the Lord called him to the eternal mansions. The pious Theodosius initially wanted out of reverence to bury the body of the venerable one in the Queen of Cities, but in the end sent it back to the city of Carrhae, so that the shepherd may be with his flock.

The life and conduct of the venerable one gives us an opportunity to highlight the following:

"The best mission is that which is done with the ardor of prayer and by example." These words of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, who lived in the 19th century, were in fact the way of life of the Venerable Abraham, who lived fourteen centuries before, and by his life and conduct showed us practically how the true love of a shepherd towards his flock creates a spiritual earthquake, which alters man internally and leads him along the path of sanctification and salvation. It also reveals how this kind of pastoral work, with love and prayer, certainly bears spiritual fruits. According to the spiritual law, what you reap, you will sow in return. Therefore, the one who offers love will receive love, and even multiplied. And love, the genuine and authentic, when coupled with prayer, produces miracles, as long as, in the same way, human beings respond in kind. Because, as in the case of physical illness, not only the diagnosis and the counsel of the doctor for the treatment is enough, but also the sick person must apply this advice for the treatment of the illness, so also in order to defeat the passions, the application of the counsel of the spiritual doctor is needed, as well as seeking the help of God with fervent prayer.

The Apostle Paul, as mentioned above, instructed the Christians of the Churches that he founded with his visitations and his oral speeches, but also with his epistles. Nevertheless, he also gave guidance to the faithful individually, and did so with tears, as he had done when he spoke to the presbyters of Ephesus, whom he invited to Miletus where he was, who "night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears." And elsewhere he says that "I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some."

This reveals a true shepherd, a genuine spiritual father, because general advice addressed to the people of God with speeches and sermons and the other forms of guidance is one thing, and it is another thing to give individual guidance, especially through confession, where one opens their heart and the spiritual father knows their spiritual state as well as their physical and spiritual potentials, since man is a psychosomatic existence, and he directs them accordingly. Also, all humans do not have the same physical and spiritual age, or the same bodily and spiritual powers, or the same character, or the same zeal. That is why he needs discernment, because, as Gregory the Theologian points out, one person needs to be bridled and another motivated, one praised and another reprimanded, and certainly they are done at the right time. Otherwise they are harmed when they become ill and unreasonable. Also, as he says, they are corrected by consolation, kindness, humility, and our willingness to inspire hope in salvation.

Prayer, a bright example, and discernment from the spiritual father and shepherd, but also the positive response on the part of the flock, namely the willingness to apply Christ's commandments, give meaning to life, and support, console and cure.

Source: Ekklesiastika Paremvasi, Ὅσιος Ἀβραάμης, February 2018. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.