October 25, 2021

Saint Tabitha the Merciful as a Model for our Lives

St. Tabitha the Merciful (Feast Day - October 25)
By Protopresbyter George Papavarnavas

Saint Tabitha was from Joppa and lived during Apostolic times. What we know from her life is what the evangelist Luke mentions in the ninth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, where he emphasizes that "she was full of good works and almsgiving". The name Tabitha is Syrian and in Greek it is Dorcas which is interpreted as "gazelle". She was a weaver and made tunics and garments, which she gave to poor people, widows and orphans. And while she was working hard, she suddenly fell ill and died. Her death, of course, caused deep pain, especially to those who experienced her beneficial presence and offering. And while they were all ready for her funeral, the faithful were informed that the Apostle Peter, as part of his apostolic journey for the preaching of the gospel, was in Lydda, which was near Joppa.

This news delighted the people who loved her, so they sent two men to Lydda to ask him to come to Joppa. The Apostle Peter responded to the invitation, and when he arrived, all the widows appeared before him and with tears in their eyes they showed him the tunics and the garments that Tabitha had given them. Moved by this, the Apostle Peter, having taken everyone out of the room, knelt down and prayed fervently. Then he turned to the dead body and said: "Tabitha arise." And indeed the dead woman was resurrected! Then the sorrow of those present was transformed into joy and spiritual rejoicing. This fact became known throughout Joppa, with the result that many believed in Christ.

Saint Tabitha, according to an oral tradition, "reposed in peace" in deep old age, loaded with good works, as "a fruitful olive tree in the house of God".

Her life and her conduct give us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, whatever has a beginning inevitably has an end. Hence, the life of man here on earth begins at some point, and after a few years -more or less- it ends. Life, however, never ends, because the human soul is immortal, not by its very nature, but because God wants it to be. For this reason it is important, not how many years you will live here on earth, since no matter how many years you live there will come a time when you will die, but to live in such a way so as to be found worthy of the eternal divine life. That is, for the soul after its departure from the body to enter into the Light and the glory of Christ. And during the Second Coming of Christ, when the soul is united with its resurrected incorruptible body, it will not to be "cast away" to "eternal hell", but to "eternal life", where there is unspeakable joy and eternal gladness.

To the unbelievers and the idolaters, death causes fear. The philosopher Aristotle said that death is "the most fearful thing",  while for believers life is Christ and death is gain, as the Apostle Paul said, when he confessed: "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain."

When people believe in the resurrection of the dead, and above all when they live it and experience it in their existence, like the Saints who were united with Christ, the victor over death, and conquer death within the frame of their own life, then they experience death as a journey, a transition "from the most sad to the most good and most glad", to "rest and joy". A man of God was once asked, shortly before he reposed, how he feels now that he is leaving this world, and he replied: "Whether here with God or there with God, I am well anywhere."

Secondly, almsgiving and every good work is good, when it is done with good intentions, without deceit, self-interest, scheming, vanity, but with simplicity, honesty, and essentially with selfless love, which is manifested as an offering of material goods, and primarily prayer for all people, especially for the afflicted and the suffering, the "least of the brethren of Christ."

A person who strives to live according to the will of God receives the uncreated Grace of the Holy Spirit, the fruit of which is selfless love, and then with his prayer and his shining example he becomes a benefactor to his fellow man. He becomes spiritual salt, which preserves humanity from decay, extinction, destruction. As it is been aptly explained, saints are those who are not simply merciful, but are merciful to all of humanity, for God gives Grace to His saints. And to understand this, an example from the Old Testament will be cited, and specifically from chapter 18 of the book of Genesis, which records a dialogue between God and the Patriarch Abraham.

God announced - the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnate Word - to Abraham that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed because of the sins of their inhabitants. And then Abraham begged God not to allow them to be destroyed, if there were fifty righteous in these cities. God told him that if fifty righteous were found, then He would not destroy them. Then Abraham asked, "Are there forty-five?" And God answered him in the same way. Abraham continued to ask and to reduce the number, until he reached ten. Again God assured him that if there are ten righteous, then these cities will not be destroyed thanks to the ten. Unfortunately, however, the only God-fearing man who lived there was Lot, the nephew of Abraham, who was saved from destruction, and thanks to him, his family was saved. Of course, his wife, because she disobeyed the command of God and turned back, became a pillar of salt, but she was also saved from destruction.

In our short journey on this earth, if we are not beneficial to our fellow human beings, at least we should be careful not to be catastrophic. Also, let us make sure that our short life becomes a stadium of spiritual struggle, for the acquisition of the "crown of life".

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.