June 15, 2020

Saint Monica as a Model for our Lives

By Protopresbyter George Papavarnavas

Saint Monica lived in the fourth century. She was born and raised in a Christian environment by pious and virtuous parents. Her husband, however, was an idolater, and, unfortunately, a cruel, violent and drunken man, and he ridiculed her for her way of life, which was characterized by love and philanthropy, but, according to her biographer, he never did hit her, which was common at that time, without, of course, meaning that this phenomenon is not observed even in our day. And, as he notes, he did not beat her, perhaps because she did not oppose him. However, she was deemed worthy out of her love and her patience to see her husband baptized, to change his way of life and to have an end that was "Christian", "without shame and peaceful".

From their marriage they had three children, namely Augustine, the later Bishop of Hippo, Navigus and Perpetua, in whom Saint Monica struggled to inspire faith and love of Christ and succeeded. Of course, Augustine in his youth distanced himself from the Church, but with her prayerful tears she brought him back. That is, God listened to her prayer, which was done with tears and pain for thirty whole years. She shed so many tears that Augustine remained in history as "the son of her tears." He himself writes in his Confessions: "My mother shed more tears for me than mothers shed for their dead children. With the warmth of faith, which gave her great reverence, she saw me as morally dead. And, O Lord, you heard her prayer and did not despise her tears, with which she watered the ground wherever she prayed. Her pain to have me reborn by the Spirit was more severe than that which brought me to be born of the flesh."

She died in peace and was buried in Ostia of Africa, but her holy relic was moved to Rome a few years later.

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

First, a true mother is the one who does not just give birth to children, because this is what even irrational animals do, but also one who gives birth to them spiritually, with the meaning that she struggles and takes care for their spiritual rebirth. And this happens when the mother is a Christian with the full meaning of the word, that is, faithful, pious, and tries to pass on this faith and reverence to her children in every way, and especially with her shining example. In other words, a true mother is the one who struggles in every way to help her children be "born from above" and become, not just good people and "good citizens", but citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Regarding this spiritual rebirth, Christ Himself spoke to Nicodemus, the hidden disciple who visited him at night, and said to him: "If one is not born from above, they will not see the kingdom of God." And when Nicodemus asked, "How can a man be born even though he is old? Is it possible for him to reenter the womb of the mother to be born again?" Christ answered him, “Truly I say to you, unless you are born of water and the Spirit, you cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” That is, spiritual rebirth takes place with the mysteries of Baptism and Chrismation, which are performed together. At Baptism one becomes a member of the Body of Christ, that is, of the Church, and by Chrismation they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and the nous is illuminated, which is the eye of the soul. This is why a newly-baptized person is also called an illumined person. The Grace of the Holy Spirit, after Baptism and Chrismation, dwells in the heart of man, where previously was inhabited the wicked and unclean spirits. That is why, before Baptism and Chrismation, the service of exorcism is performed and the priest prays to God and says to him: “Depart from him (from the one to be baptized and chrismated) all evil and unclean spirits, hidden deep within the heart." The Grace of the Holy Spirit is a flame of fire in the heart, which, however, when not rekindled, is slowly covered by the ashes of the passions. That is why, after Baptism and Chrismation, man must strive to live according to God's will, so that this flame may be rekindled. Because, however, people are usually baptized in infancy, and therefore growing up, if they are not careful in their lives, if they turn away from God and the Church, then, as it turns out, this flame is covered by the ashes of the passions. The spark of this flame remains, however, in the depths of the heart, and with repentance, which is considered a "second baptism," and the observance of the commandments of Christ, it is rekindled and the passions are burned. Thus, the heart is purified, the nous is illumined, and prayer emanates from the heart. This prayer, which is performed with tears and pain, as we see it in the life of Saint Monica, but also of all the saints, has great power, it works wonders.

Secondly, the greater the love, the greater the pain, as well as the intensity of prayer to God for a loved one, which is a heartfelt prayer, and is done with tears and weeping. The heart that has been devoured by divine love cries out "from the depths" to God day and night. The pain, which usually no one wants, turns out to be a great benefactor, because it leads the well-meaning person to unceasing prayer, study, the application of God's commandments, and His empirical knowledge. Prayers of a parent for their child, and especially of the mother, have great power and work wonders. Someone said that when he was a teenager he taught his mother to pray, but his mother also confessed that at that time, when her teenage son was having various problems, she prayed with all her heart, day and night.

Let us not be afraid of pain, but rather let us love it, because when it is transformed into prayer and doxology, it proves to be our greatest benefactor.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.