August 2, 2022

The Holy Seven Maccabees, their Mother Solomone and their Teacher Eleazar as Models for our Lives

(Feast Day - August 1)
By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The holy seven Maccabean martyrs lived and were martyred before the incarnation of the Son and Word of God, but the holy hymn writer calls them, apart from "guardians of the doctrines of the law", also "martyrs of Christ", that is, of the Incarnate Word. And he calls them so, because these martyrs also had communion with the Son and Word of God, since all the appearances of God in the Old Testament, namely to the Patriarchs, the Prophets and the Righteous, are appearances of the Pre-Incarnate Word.

These, then, the seven martyrs lived in the years of the Syrian king Antiochus, who was a cruel, barbaric and deadly persecutor of all those who worshiped the true God. Therefore, this ungodly king, after first arresting, torturing and killing their ninety-year-old teacher Eleazar, who remained steadfast in his faith and teaching on the exact observance of God's law, then arrested them as well. At first he treated them with feigned kindness, offering them honors and positions, if they would deny their faith in the God of their Fathers. In fact, he offered them delicious food, which, however, was forbidden by the law given by God to His people, through the Prophet Moses, and insisted that they try it. They refused and then Antiochus showed his true face, the cruel and inhuman one. He had each of them, one by one, endure wheels, javelins and fire. Their mother Solomone was constantly near them and strengthened them, and then followed them in martyrdom. She was also thrown into the fire and thus everyone received the unfading wreath of martyrdom.

Their lives and their conduct give us the occasion to emphasize the following.

Saints who lived before the incarnation of the Son and Word of God are also listed in the Church's list of Saints. These are the Patriarchs, the Prophets and the Righteous of the Old Testament, who were keepers of God's law and confessors of the true faith. In fact, many of them sealed their confession with the blood of their martyrdom. All of them had communion with God the Word, they accepted the Divine revelation, therefore their faith was a living, authentic, experiential faith, which is connected with confession and martyrdom and unites people with God, transforming them from being weak and cowards to strong and brave, and from small and insignificant to important and truly great.

The Apostle Paul speaks of these Saints of the Old Testament in his Epistle to the Hebrews and praises them, saying that these saints with the power of faith "subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented — of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth." And they achieved all this because they believed God and believed in God. Because, as Saint Gregory Palamas says, "I believe God" is one thing and "I believe in God" is another.

"I believe God" means that I consider His promises certain, that is, that God is faithful to His promises, He does not break them, He does not repent, but He fulfills what He promises, as we sing in the "Entrance Hymn" of the feast of the Nativity of Christ: "I have begotten you from the womb before the morning. The Lord has sworn, and will not repent." And "I believe in God" means that "I think correctly about Him", not that I simply admit His existence, but that I have correct faith. That is, faith is connected with the doctrines of the Church, with the truth as a revelation, as expressed by the Church through the Prophets, the Apostles and the Holy Fathers. It is connected with the Orthodox mindset and the Orthodox way of life, and therefore those who do not possess both are in reality unbelievers. Therefore, as the Saint emphasizes, an unbeliever is not only the one who does not believe in the existence of God, but also the heretic is an unbeliever, because he falsifies the faith and alters the Orthodox way of life, and an unbeliever is also the one who became Orthodox through Baptism, however, he does not have Orthodox morals and thinking, and his way of life is not in accordance with God's will.

In other words, faith is an experience and is connected to Orthodox doctrine, repentance, good works and obedience to the Church. Anyone who does not possess the above characteristics is an unbeliever or has an empty, false faith, like that of demons. Because even the demons "believe and fear", but their faith does not save them, because of their pride they do not repent, and their way of life is not in accordance with God's will. Therefore, the faith that saves man is the one that remains pure, unadulterated and is connected to obedience to God's will and absolute trust in His love and His promises.

Let us also listen to the exhortation of the Apostle Paul: "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith." Let the Saints of our Church, past and present, be for all of us a model of faith, obedience, hope, patience, self-denial and sacrificial love. Let us be inspired by their authentic faith and their self-sacrificing love, so that we can always remain upright and steadfast, and especially in the difficult moments and circumstances of our lives.

When we call on them in faith, they will always be by our side, to sweeten our pain, to dry our tears, to give us courage, to comfort us and to support us, so that we can endure to the end and remain faithful "unto death", so that we may be found to receive "the crown of life".

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.