October 4, 2022

Saints Domnina, Bernike and Prosdoke as Models for our Lives

 By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Domnina came from Antioch and lived in the years of Emperor Diocletian. She embraced the Christian faith together with her two daughters, Bernike and Prosdoke. After their baptism, their way of life changed, since their hearts overflowed with love, joy, peace, and in general with all the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which resided in their hearts. This change in their way of life and behavior did not take long for Domnina's idolatrous husband to understand, who tried to convince his wife and daughters to sacrifice to the idols. And because they refused to do so, then, full of hatred, he wanted his own daughters to be dishonored. Domnina, however, self-sacrificingly protected them, and they all preferred to suffer martyrdom by drowning in a river, rather than lose their faith, their inner purity and the peace of their souls, these precious and priceless goods.

Their lives and their martyrdom were preserved by Saint John Chrysostom, who in his encomium to the martyrs, asks: How did Domnina protect the precious treasure of her daughter's virginity under such a circumstance? And he responds:

"Due to the guarding of the divine laws. She didn't have a room to shut them in and keep guard over, but had the powerful hand that provides shelter from above. She had neither door nor lock, but had the true door that walls off treachery. And just as Lot's house was besieged by the Sodomites and it suffered no harm, for it had angels inside, so indeed too these women martyrs were in the midst of the Sodomites and were besieged on all sides by their enemies, but suffered no harm. This is because the Master of the angels dwelling in their souls. And as they entered the deserted road they suffered no harm.  For they held to the true road that leads them to heaven. It is because of this that they walked with safety in so great a war and confusion, and though threatened by waves... Just as God didn't allow the Sodomites standing near the door to observe their entry, so too at that time He blinded everyone's sight, so that the virgin bodies wouldn't be betrayed."

Their lives and conduct give us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, there are not a few cases where our fellow human beings complain that they do not have human help, especially in difficult moments of their lives. And the complaint becomes greater in cases where some have raised children and grandchildren, and in the end they find themselves alone and abandoned. The pain may sometimes be "muted", i.e. not manifested externally, however, it does not cease to be from strong to unbearable. And there is no other way to soften this pain than if it turns into prayer, supplication, praise and thanksgiving to the good and philanthropic God, because then the Grace of the Holy Spirit descends and settles in the heart of man. And in this case he ceases to feel alone and abandoned, because he acquires heavenly friends, whose presence and protection he feels, that is why his whole mood changes. And these are Christ, the Theotokos, the Saints and the Angels. This, of course, is not understood by many, but only by those who struggle within the Church to overcome their passions and achieve their personal sanctification.

This heavenly friendship and protection is obtained, according to Sacred Chrysostom, by "guarding the divine laws", which according to the Prophet David presupposes prudence, and for this he prays to God, his Creator, and begs Him: "Your hands have made me and fashioned me; make me prudent and I will learn your commandments." This means that in order to learn the commandments of God and to understand them in depth, and most importantly, to make them a way of life, one must be a prudent person. And prudent, according to the teaching of the Church, as Saint Thalassios expresses it, is "to surrender to counsel, and indeed of a spiritual father who counsels according to God." This is very important, because the person who does not trust his thoughts and his will and seeks the advice of experienced and enlightened people, does not commit mistakes, serious and irreparable, which lead to eternal loss. And, in fact, when it comes to matters of faith, then he does not fall into error and does not break the unity of the members of the Church, which is the blessed Body of Christ, but rather contributes to this unity.

Secondly, the Martyrs of Christ, older and newer, filled with the Grace of God, did not cower before horrible tortures and imminent death, because they knew by the Grace of God that the death that follows the confession of the Orthodox faith and its sealing with blood-stained seal of martyrdom, leads to union with God, which is eternal and infinite life in the uncreated Divine Light. The only thing they "feared" in their lives and diligently avoided, or corrected with repentance, was sin. And they struggled with intensity to avoid it, as one avoids a poisonous snake, because they knew very well that sin leads to the loss of Divine Grace and peace flees from the soul, which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and, indeed, a heavenly state. Sin subjugates man to the devil, who causes him "turmoil and cowardice", which is a real hell.

Christ covers the fighters of the good fight of faith with His Grace and protects them from the hatred and malice of the man-killing devil and his instruments, that is, "corrupting and envious people", for He is "the Lord of angels", Who "dwells in their souls", as He precisely protected the righteous Lot in Sodom and these three martyrs, the mother and her two daughters.

Therefore, those of us who wish God's will to be done in our lives should walk the path of the Divine commandments without anxiety and cowardice, but with joy, courage and trust in the Providence of God, Who, according to the Apostle Paul, "does not gave us a Spirit of cowardice, but of power and of love and of prudence."

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.
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