April 3, 2020

Saint Paul the Russian and his Wife as Models for our Lives

Holy New Martyr Paul the Russian (Feast Day - April 3)

By Protpresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The neomartyr Paul was from Russia and lived in the seventeenth century. He was enslaved by the Tartars who brought him to Constantinople. There he was bought by a Christian, who then liberated him. Seeing a fellow Russian girl who had been enslaved, he bought her, liberated her, and they were married. Soon after their wedding, Paul, for an unknown reason, had epilepsy. His wife, who truly loved him, would not leave his side for even a minute. She stood by him and helped him in every possible way to heal him, without being hurt by his actions and words that he acted and said during his crisis. She brought him, with the help of her relatives, to the Church of the Theotokos known as Mouglouniou, and she supplicated her on behalf of his healing. The Panagia did not take long to answer her prayer, which was made out of love, intensity and pain, and she healed him. After Paul was healed, together with his wife, he thanked the Panagia and returned home. As soon as he left the church, however, certain fanatical Muslims, who did not forget some of the things he said during his crisis, arrested him and led him to the Turkish judge, accusing him of being a Muslim and renouncing his faith.

His wife, who was always by his side, tried to encourage him, in their own language, and to not despair in the face of torture and death, but to remain steadfast in the faith of his fathers, because in this way he would join the chorus of martyrs and would rejoice for eternity. "If you deny Christ," she said, "in order to live a few more years of this temporary life, I will be the most unhappiest woman in the world. However, if you confess Christ and spill your blood on His behalf, then I will be blessed, because I will be the wife of a martyr." When the Muslims heard what she was saying to him, they harshly beat her, but she remained firm and continued to encourage her husband, who himself was enduring tortures with wondrous bravery. And when he was finally beheaded, she rejoiced and prayed to Christ to make her worthy also of such a blessed end.

The life and conduct of the neomartyr Paul, as well as that of his wife, gives us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, authentic love by its nature is sacrificial, it is a cross, and it does not end, but it "converses with eternity." It is the love praised by the Apostle Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, where he says that "love never fails," because love is connected with its source, the Triune God, who "is love." Therefore, those who are united with God, these truly love, daily sacrifice, crucify their will, keep the commandments of God, and offer and is offered without expecting a return. They love all people, even their enemies, "in the Holy Spirit." And when they love everyone, then is it possible for them to not love their family, their spouse and their children?

The greatness of genuine and selfless love is manifested especially in times of temptations, one of which is illness. This is because when one spouse becomes ill, even seriously ill, then they are truly revealed, and it becomes clear whether or not their love is genuinely true or false. If their love is true, then they sit beside the one who is ill and in pain, and they support them, and they even love them more than before they became ill. If their love however is false, then they abandon them without compassion, in order "to rebuild their own life."

False, counterfeit love springs from selfishness, and this selfishness according to Saint Maximus the Confessor is "the irrational love towards the body," and is intertwined with the passions of the love of pleasure, the love of money and vanity, from which spring all the other passions. It is, in other words, a passionate love and lasts only as long as the passions are satisfied. When for some reason these passions cease to be satisfied, then they abandon the other and they fly off into the unknown.

Therefore, love in its authentic form is not simply a feeling, but it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, who "dwells" and "moves" within such a person, having conquered their passions and purified their hearts from the infection of the virus of the "ancient serpent," namely the man-killing devil. And genuine, true love does not deteriorate over time, but, on the contrary, as time goes by it increases and grows.

Second, "epilepsy is a central nervous system (neurological) disorder in which brain activity becomes abnormal, causing seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness." For people with epilepsy it is recommended to take measures so they "do not harm themselves during an episode."

Remarkably, however, as some people point out, "people with epilepsy are in a crisis," but "those who have a crisis are not necessarily epileptic." This means that epilepsy, which is a brain disorder, causes various criseses that endanger the life of the patient, as well as other people, but there are also people who do not have epilepsy but have a crisis, which creates serious problems with themselves or their families or in society in general. Such a crisis lies in the passions, and especially in the great passion of pride, which makes people hard-hearted and makes them aggressive towards those who express differing views than their own. And aggressiveness reveals a human being to be psychologically and spiritually ill, one who accepts demonic influences, who is proudly tortured by their proud demons and is their plaything.

When someone forgets the gifts and benefactions of God, this reveals that they are suffering from the illness of ingratitude, which is worse than epilepsy. Gratitude, from which springs philotimo, which according to Saint Paisios the Athonite is distilled love, leads to the confession of faith and living in communion with God within the unwaning Light of His Kingdom.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.