June 10, 2020

Saints Alexander and Antonina as Models for our Lives

Sts. Alexander and Antonina (Feast Day - June 10)

By Protopresbyter George Papavarnavas

The holy martyrs Alexander and Antonina lived at the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth century. They were from a town called Kardamos. As Christians they lived with self-control and prudence. Antonina dedicated her life to works of love, to the service of her neighbors, and had as her main occupation the care of the widows, the orphans, and of the weak and persecuted people in general. Her way of life and especially her preoccupation with works of love gave birth to the suspicion among the pagans that she was a Christian, and for this reason she was reported to the prefect Festos, who had her arrested, and he tried to convince her to deny Christ and sacrifice to the idols.

When she boldly confessed her faith and refused to offer a sacrifice to the idols-demons, then the prefect, instead of other tortures, ordered her to be thrown into a house of prostitution and forced to commit sin. Because he knew that Christians attach great importance to purity and prudence, he wanted to humiliate her in this way. When, however, they led the Saint to the house of prostitution, then a strong light shone and a powerful earthquake followed. The women who lived there were frightened and because they understood that the cause of the earthquake was the presence of Antonina, that's why they expelled her. When the prefect found out, he arrested her again and took her to another house of prostitution. Then a young Christian man named Alexander went to the house of prostitution on the pretext of sinning and he helped Antonina escape, disguising her. When this became known, both of them were arrested, Alexander and Antonina, and they were subjected to horrific tortures. Their hands and feet were cut off, they were smeared in tar, and they were cast into a fire. Their bodies burned, but their souls flew off to heaven, to eternal gladness with all the saints.

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

Internal cleanliness, purity, and prudence are ornaments of the true members of the Church. These are the true riches of the people of God. They are the preconditions for communion with the Triune God, who is revealed to those who are pure of heart, and they are made worthy to see Him, feeling His presence throughout their entire being, in their soul and in their body. And the presence of God regenerates people, it renews them, just as the youth of an eagle is renewed. The Prophet David, in his 102nd Psalm, speaks of this internal regeneration/renewal, when he says, "so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's." But when are people renewed like an eagle, and how is an eagle renewed?

Apparently, the sacred psalmist, in speaking the above words, had in mind the fact that an eagle, when it gets old, has the ability to be renewed, to be rejuvenated.

According to a tradition, the eagle, which is one of the longest-lived birds of prey and has the ability to live up to seventy years, at the age of forty it begins to get old, with the result that its nails grow very large, become bent and therefore they lose their ability to hook its prey, so that it can feed, and its long and sharp beak becomes very curved and it loses the ability to cut its prey. Also, its aged wings are filled with feathers, which stick to its chest and prevent its from flying. Then it has two choices, to die or to be renewed. The second choice, which concerns its renewal, is painful and lasts around a hundred and fifty days. If it chooses the latter, then it flies to its nest and there it cuts off its beak on a stone and waits. As soon as a new beak sprouts, it cuts off its nails with them and with the new nails that will sprout, it plucks its old wings and so, in about five months, it is renewed for another thirty years.

Therefore, having this in mind, the Prophet David compares the internal regeneration/renewal of people with the renewal of an eagle's youth. But there is an essential difference. When a person is regenerated they don't only live for another thirty years, but for eternity. Of course, this regeneration/renewal is spiritual, but, nevertheless, the body is also affected, since people are psychosomatic beings, and a regenerated person feels less burdened physically as well. Because, when the soul is heavy due to remorse and guilt, then the body becomes heavy and the person - even when they are young - becomes burdened and "cannot drag their feet," according to the common saying, meaning that they find themselves in a situation in which they no longer want to live. They have no dreams, no meaning in their life. On the contrary, when a person is internally settled with repentance, they become unburdened. They acquire spiritual wings and have the ability to fly over their temptations. Just as a plane flies over the clouds and is illuminated by the sun, likewise a renewed person transcends the various temptations, difficulties and problems of the present life, and is brightened by the invisible Sun of Righteousness, Christ, who is the source of life, joy and all good things, and in this way they can truly rejoice in their life.

Man came from non-existence into existence, from non-being to being, and, according to the teaching of the Church, as expressed by Saint Gregory the Theologian, he has the ability to be led from "being" into "well being," as well as "ever well being." In other words, when man is regenerated by the Grace of God and his own personal struggle, then he experiences communion with God, namely eternity from this present life. It foretells Paradise, which is the uncreated glory of God, it is the presence of God within man.

The life of a renewed/regenerated person is truly beautiful, because it has meaning and fulfillment, light and peace, joy and grace.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.