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November 2, 2021

Homilies on Holiness and the Saints - The Venerables and Ascetics (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

The Venerables and Ascetics

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

During the persecutions, which was the greatest and most glorious period of the Church, the Martyrs emerged, about whom we spoke on one of the previous Sundays. When the persecutions ended, the martyrdom of the Christians stopped, their bloodshed stopped, but the secret and invisible martyrdoms did not stop. The spirit of martyrdom in the Church continued with the life of the Venerables and Ascetics.

The word "venerable" is translated from the Greek "hosios" and has many meanings, but here it is used in the sense of the pious, devoted to God, the pure, the immaculate. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Hebrews uses this term for Christ, the Great High Priest, saying: "For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is venerable, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens" (Heb. 7:26). Because the High Priest is venerable, that is why the Bishops who are a type of and in the place of Christ must be venerable, according to the words of the Apostle Paul: "...a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, venerable, temperate” (Tit. 1:8). But this venerableness must be possessed by all Christians and even by those who pray, which is why the Apostle Paul says again: "I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up venerable hands, without wrath and doubting" (1 Tim. 2:8).

Especially with this term were described the Holy Fathers, those who lived an ascetic and venerable life, fought all their lives in monasteries, in deserts, in caves to carry out the commandments of Christ and had venerable deaths. That is why in synaxaria it is said of them "reposed in peace".

If the martyrs were found worthy to shed their blood and give their lives for the glory of Christ and the Church, the Venerables and Ascetics who lived in a time of peace of the Church proved to be the "martyrs according to conscience", according to the expression of Athanasius the Great. This means that they had the sanctified life of the martyrs, they saw God and had communion with Him, they had in them the desire and the inspiration to testify of Christ, but they were not given the opportunity to do so. In reality, however, they lived throughout their lives the painful torment of the struggle to overcome the passions and death that exist in man, and to defeat the devil and his wiles.

When one reads the life of Anthony the Great, written by the Pillar of Orthodoxy Athanasius the Great, one will see how Anthony the Great throughout his life suffered many years of martyrdom against the devil and lived the glory of the martyric life. You can see this when you read all the synaxaria of the Venerables and Ascetics, but also the famous book written by Saint John of Sinai, called "The Ladder".

Both the Martyrs according to blood and the Martyrs according to conscience must be our role models. These are our older siblings who fought in the arena of life, these are the disciples of the Spirit. And we now sit in the stands of this spiritual stadium and watch their struggles and admire their courage, their patience, and their strength, which was the power of Christ. But one day we too must not stand in admiration, but go down to the stadium to fight the good fight of faith, to receive the crown of life.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.