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Friday, May 20, 2022

Saint Asklas the Martyr as a Model for our Lives

St. Asklas the Egyptian (Feast Day - May 20)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Asklas lived in the third century, which was a period of terrible persecution against the Church. He was from the Thebaid in Egypt and was considered a man of deep faith and spiritual courage. He was arrested by the pagan ruler Arrian, who tried, first with flattery and then with threats, to persuade him to deny Christ and sacrifice to idols. Because, however, he remained steadfast in his faith, he was subjected to severe torture, which he faced with admirable courage and patience. He was suspended, his sides torn and then, as he was wounded, he was imprisoned. There in prison, as he was praying, the Grace of God enlightened him and he understood that the ruler Arrian with his companions were traveling by boat along the Nile River. Then he made the sign of the cross over the boat and it was immobilized in the river, as if tied up. He sent a message to the ruler and called on him to confess in writing that Christ is the only true God, otherwise the boat will not sail. The ruler asked for a piece of paper and wrote: "The God of the Christians is great and besides Him there is no other." Then the boat started moving again and arrived at its destination.

Despite this, however, the ruler remained unrepentant. His heart, instead of softening, hardened more, as Pharaoh had done in Egypt long before, and he ordered that the Saint be brought before him. The meekness and serenity of the Saint angered him even more and he ordered his men to torture him as hard as possible. Then they burned his sides with lighted candles and, while he was burning, they tied a large stone around his neck and threw him into the Nile River. Thus, he was drowned, and he received the unfading crown of martyrdom from the giver of the prize Lord.

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

In the case of the pagan ruler, the words of the Patriarch Abraham were confirmed once again, that "if they did not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone were to rise from the dead." This was an answer to the rich man of the "Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus", which Christ spoke. The rich man after his death saw the poor Lazarus being comforted and rejoicing in the "bosom of Abraham", while he was brought to the "place of torment". And he asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers, to exhort them to repent and not to come to this "place of torment." Then Abraham said to him the above words, that is, if they do not obey Moses and the Prophets and do not live as God wants them to, then even if someone is raised again, they will not believe.

In other words, if one is not in the disposition to know God and to live according to His will, then no matter how many miracles he sees, even resurrections, he will still not believe. Because, when a person is enslaved to his passions and consciously commits sin, then his mind, which is the instrument through which he sees and hears, for the "mind sees and the mind hears" as Epicharmus says, is darkened and one can neither see nor hear. He cannot see the "Light of truth", that is, Christ who "illumines and sanctifies all who come into the world", that is, he cannot partake of the Light and experiences the caustic energy of the Light of God, which in reality is hell. And not only does he not have the will to apply the word of God, but he does not want to hear it, and he cannot bear to hear it, because his sinful deeds and dark works rebuke him. This is the meaning of Christ's word to his listeners: "He who has ears to hear let him hear", that is, whoever has spiritual ears to hear, to understand and to apply My word.

And when the heart of man is full of the impurities of the passions and sin, then it thickens, hardens and is not able to accept the Grace of God and to know God. And when we talk about the heart in the patristic texts, we do not mean the carnal organ, but the spiritual heart, which, as His Eminence the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou Hierotheos emphasizes, is the center of the spiritual work of man. It is the place which is discovered by asceticism and where God is revealed, after it is cleansed of the passions, by the Grace of God and the struggle of man.

This truth was also proclaimed by the Prophet Isaiah, eight centuries before Christ, who, speaking on behalf of God, said: "Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and return and be healed" (Isaiah 6:10). In these reasons it is clear that in order to repent, to be spiritually healed and to be saved, one must have a pure and "refined" heart, healthy spiritual ears, and open spiritual eyes. When the heart is thickened and hardened by the pride from which the greatest sins and passions are born, then it does not have a spiritual antenna, that is, he does not have the ability to receive the messages of God, who emits in the frequency of humility and love and reveals his heart, as Saint Paisios the Athonite would say. And the mind of man, when it is not enlightened by the Grace of God, then it is darkened and does not see, does not understand, and in this state man is unconscious, and therefore incurable. He is the one who does not tolerate any advice for his correction. On the contrary, prudence, according to the teaching of the Church, as expressed by Saint Thalassios, "is a counselor who is tolerant, and in fact a spiritual father who counsels according to God". And the prudent is corrected-healed by the Grace of God and his personal struggle.

The prayer addressed to God by the Holy Psalmist, "make me prudent and I will learn your commands", is always timely and creates inspiration, philotimo and a disposition for a more intense spiritual struggle.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.