We hear the word used in our contemporary society, and it is 'thrown around' as if it should apply to many. But while there have been many martyrs, those who have earned the crowns of martyrdom share little (and I might go so far as to say "share nothing") with those who are improperly associated with the name today.
Per Webster, a martyr is "one who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty for refusing to renounce his religion." The more appropriate definition would come from the Greek root, which means "witness".
Note carefully that in neither of these defining forms is there mention of one who murders others for a cause.... Curious, then, that the term has been subverted to use for people who choose to commit suicide in the process of killing others. We should be righteously indignant at the improper use of the word in contemporary society for those who should simply be labeled "mass murders"? Shall we agree that any who deserves the name "martyr" has not committed murder - either of self, or of others?
With that starting premise, this article focuses on Saint Sophia, whose feast was celebrated in September, and who serves as the patron of our parish Sisterhood. With her we recognize as martyrs her daughters, Faith, Hope, and Love. Named after the three Christian virtues, her daughters were examples who lived up to their virtuous names.
Under the evil rule of the Emperor Hadrian, these four were called to his court, and the daughters one by one were called upon to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ and offer sacrifice to pagan idols. As they refused, one by one, they were exposed to cruel tortures, and ultimately beheading. For their faith, they indeed received their martyr's crowns.
But what of Saint Sophia? Her name translates to "wisdom". She stood by and witnessed the torture and murder of her beloved daughters. In the Troparion we offer in her honor, we sing, "In your contest you offered to Christ the sweet fruit of your womb, your daughters Faith, Hope and Love."
It is difficult for us, I think, to put ourselves in the position of Saint Sophia. Which of us could contemplate going to a courthouse in our current day, with children in tow aging from 9 to 12, and encourage them to say things to the judge which would bring about their torture and ultimate death? It's unfathomable. And yet, this is the contest and offering of Saint Sophia.
Her encouragement to her daughters was not about giving up a glorious life on earth. She knew that the only glorious life is in Christ, in the Kingdom of Heaven. And so her encouragement to her daughters was to seize their opportunity to lay claim to their places near to their Master, to our Lord and Savior.
Saint Sophia suffered none of the tortures levied at her daughters. She left Hadrian's court physically possessing all that she had when she entered. And yet, the Church recognizes her as no less a martyr than any other throughout the history of the Church, and no less than her own daughters. For she witnessed to her faith, she stood and witnessed to the love of Christ by her remaining steadfast in encouraging her daughters to endure, even to death. And because of her faithfulness in so doing, she too was rewarded with her own martyrs crown, giving her life after burying her beloved daughters.
Why the repeated reference to "crowns"? From 1Peter 5:4 - "When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away." From Revelation 2:10, to the Church of Smyrna - "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life." From Revelation 3:11, to the Church of Philadelphia - "Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown." Finally, from Saint John Chrysostom, "On the Priesthood", Book 2 - "For Christians above all men are forbidden to correct the stumblings of sinners by force.... It is necessary to make a man better not by force but by persuasion. We neither have authority granted us by law to restrain sinners, nor, if it were, should we know how to use it, since God gives the crown to those who are kept from evil not by force, but by choice."
No human body was put in danger by Sophia and her daughters. No human life was threatened. No ill came to any at the hands of these whom we recognize as martyrs. In fact, today in the Kingdom, these four intercede before the Lord for any who are set upon by unrighteous acts of mankind toward those who with wisdom follow the Lord in faith, in hope, and in love.
Welcome to Saint Herman's, Hudson, Ohio
This blog is a partial compilation of the messages, texts, readings, and prayers from our small mission community. We pray that it will be used by our own people, to their edification. And if you happen by and are inclined to read, give the glory to God!
The blog title, "Will He Find Faith on the Earth?" is from Luke 18:8, the "Parable of the Persistent Widow." It overlays the icon of the Last Judgment, an historical event detailed in Matthew Chapter 25, for which we wait as we pray in the Nicean Creed.
We serve the Holy Orthodox cycle of services in contemporary English. Under the omophorion of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph of the Bulgarian Patriarchal Diocese of the USA, Canada and Australia, we worship at 5107 Darrow Road in Hudson, Ohio (44236). If you are in the area, please join us for worship!
Regular services include:
Sunday Divine Liturgy 10AM (Sept 1 - May 31)
930AM (June 1 - Aug 31)
Vespers each Saturday 6PM
We pray that you might join us for as many of these services as possible!
Sunday, October 14, 2012
It's an expression we use a lot, I think. We try to help one another by encouraging each other to live here, but live as if we are already in the Kingdom of Heaven. The saints have a way of showing this to us.
But for us, it seems difficult to grasp the concept. I mean, I'm HERE, aren't I. How can I be HERE in body, but not in spirit? How can I project my spirit to a place where my body is not?
As I write, I do so from the lobby of a very nice hotel (no, not expensive, just 'nice') adjacent to the airport in Tokyo. Sitting here, I "believe" that a business colleague is coming to collect me in about 30 minutes. I "believe" that we will be driving to a place with which he is familiar. I "believe" that he will deposit me in another suitable hotel for the night, where we'll prepare the efforts for the day ahead, and try to satisfy a secular customer of the business for which we both work.
And as I write, I come to recognize that my body is HERE, but my spirit is truly somewhere else. For as a pastor, my heart is with my flock, with the people whom God has entrusted to my imperfect care. I am a sinful man sitting 7000 miles from his sheep, and praying that my own Master will keep them from danger and harm while I am gone.
What a thing to pray! For how can one pray in such a manner now, while the body is HERE, but the spirit is somewhere else? How can prayers now be any different in fashion from those when the body is THERE, where the spirit is also? Do I really think that it is by my own actions and care that said flock stays well and secure when my body is THERE simply because I am THERE? Such a thought is utter foolishness! For regardless of where my body is, those who belong to the Lord are His. He shares their care with sinful men like me, and it is not until our bodies are HERE that we come to recognize the smallness of our being THERE in comparison with His divine care at all times, not only for the flock, but for the shepherd who cares for them.
It is in that recognition that one can find peace with being HERE, or in fact anywhere. For all things are His, and happen according to His holy will. All we can do is be faithful to remain focused on His teachings to us, His instructions for us, being thankful for all we receive, both blessings and strife, both health and sickness, both sadness and joy. For in all things we can turn to Him and find Him.
Because He is HERE, no matter where HERE is!