February 21, 2022

Saint Eustathios of Antioch as a Model for our Lives

St. Eustathios of Antioch (Feast Day - February 21)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Eustathios, Archbishop of Antioch, was born in Sidon of Pamphylia in 260 AD. In 320 he was elected Bishop of Beroea (Aleppo) in Syria, and after three years the Archbishop of Antioch. He took part in the proceedings of the First Ecumenical Synod, which convened in 325 at Nicaea in Bithynia and condemned the heresy of Arius.

He was in the front lines for the battle for Orthodoxy and a fellow-struggler of Athanasios the Great, who called him "a man who is a confessor". That is why he was envied by the leading followers of Arius, namely the Bishops Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nicaea and Eusebius of Caesarea, and was slandered as an underminer of secular authority, and as unethical, therefore he was exiled. In other words, they claimed that he was attacking the mother of the Emperor Constantine, namely Saint Helen, but also that he had an illegitimate child with a woman of loose morals, whom they bribed to accuse him. Thus they managed to exile him, but God protected him and finally glorified him. A result of his flawless life and his painful struggles for the Orthodox faith, was that his flock was not seduced by heresy.

It is worth noting that a wonderful discourse of Saint John Chrysostom is preserved, which refers to the life and conduct of Saint Eustathios, as well as to his God-pleasing struggles "On Behalf of the Immaculate Faith".

His life came to an end in deep old age while in exile, in Traianopolis of Thrace. However, in 482 his holy relics were transported to Antioch and the faithful received them with emotion, giving their Pastor the proper honor and their utmost respect.

His life and his conduct give us the opportunity to emphasize the following.

First, the Apostle Paul, as referred to in the 20th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, speaking in Miletus to the Presbyters of the Church, advised them to be vigilant and to be careful in regards to themselves and their flocks, because after his departure, as he told them, there will invade within the fold of Christ, that is, the Church, savage wolves to devour the rational sheep, that they will drag the faithful away from the Church and make them their own slaves. And these savage wolves are the heretics and the schismatics who tear the seamless robe of Christ, which was respected even by those who crucified Him, who did not tear it apart, but drew lots among them as to who would take it. This expression, which means the disintegration of the unity of the members of the Church, belongs to Christ Himself, in the sense that Christ appeared in a vision to Saint Peter, Archbishop of Alexandria, with a torn robe, during a time when the heresy of Arius was ransacking the Church. And to the question of the Saint about who tore His robe, Christ answered: "Arius the ignorant."

The cause of error, heresy and schism which ransack the Church and lead people away from Christ and the Church, namely to eternal destruction, is pride, which is born out of zeal without knowledge, and those who bear this do not respect the sacred institution of the Church and stubbornly refuse to obey the decisions of the ecclesiastical bodies, which ensure the unity of the members of the Church. Unfortunately, even today we witness such divisive behaviors of passionate people, who distort the truth and disintegrate the unity and cohesion of the members of the Church and society as a whole. That is why he who truly respects and loves the Church must resist this mentality by his devotion and obedience to the holy institution of the Church, which is the "institution of God." Those who love Christ and the Church, which is His blessed Body, and strive to live according to His commandments, according to their spiritual maturity, experience the presence of Christ in their life and His protection.

Of course, sometimes, stunned by the anxious worries and storms of the temptations of this life, we forget His love and His many favors to us, and we think that He abandons us. But, at the right time, that is, when we strive and "drink from the cup of patience to the dregs", He intervenes and calms the waves of temptation, expels the darkness of ignorance and despair and disperses generously His peace, "which is beyond comprehension".

Second, when temptations come, then "the thoughts of the heart are revealed", since then no one can pretend. In times of peace one can pretend to be a chivalrous man, but courage and chivalry are examined on the battlefield. Likewise piety, the love for God and the love for others are tested in the furnace of temptation, and there their authenticity is ascertained. The true disciples of Christ are those who "bear" in their bodies the marks of His Cross. Those who endure with joy the sorrows, the sicknesses, the persecutions, the slanders for the love of Christ, without grumbling, but with a thankful and doxological disposition.

A modern saint of our Church, Saint Kallinikos, Bishop of Edessa, speaking to Clergy, among other things said: "Blessed is the Clergyman who is insulted, persecuted, slandered." Of course, this also applies to all believers. However, by common confession, slander is one of the harshest and most difficult temptations, and it cannot be endured by anyone, except those who have reached the "measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ," namely those who are saints.

If, however, one is to feel sorry for someone, it should not be the one who is slandered, but the slanderer. The slandered participate in the sufferings of Christ and for this they have His protection, as well as His peace in their heart, while the slanderer, "because he gave his heart to become a dwelling place of evil spirits", has lost their soul, their peace of mind and spiritual joy, and they experience insecurity, confusion and turmoil. And only sincere repentance can free them from this tragic situation.

The presence of the saints in every age contributes to the preservation of the Orthodox faith, but also to the support, reinforcement and comfort of the faithful.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.