In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. My beloved, we remember Saints Adrian and Natalia the Martyrs of Nicomedea, of a love for God and each other. The saints were married in their twenties for one year, and were martyred a year later.

Saint Adrian was a guard of the Roman emperor Maximian, who promised a reward for whistleblowers of Christians. Saint Adrian saw the fearless profession of faith of Christians who would rather die than to denounce their faith, and he became a Christian, and asked to join the band of Christian martyrs too. The emperor threw Adrian into prison. St Natalia rejoiced at the conversion of her husband, because she was secretly a Christian already. She visited him in prison and said, “You are blessed, my lord, because you believe in Christ. You have obtained a great treasure. Do not regret anything earthly, neither beauty, nor youth, nor riches. Everything worldly is dust and ashes. Only faith and good deeds are pleasing to God.” St Adrian was tortured terribly, with the hands and legs broken on the anvil, then beheaded. Saints Adrian was to be burned but a storm came and put out the fires, and the executioners struck by lightning. Saint Natalia took one of the hands of her husband and ran away to live in the outskirts of Argyropolis, and died there later. Beloved Saints Adrian and Natalia of Nicomedea, pray for us.

We also remember the Beheading of the Glorious Prophet, Saint John the Forerunner, this Sunday. Saint John the Forerunner and Baptist of our Lord Jesus Christ, pray for us.

As we can see from many historical accounts of saints and martyrs of Christ, a common theme emerges – that of togetherness. Although there are hermits and ascetics who went alone on spiritual journeys, we find more often, a spiritual journey shared by two or more Christians.

So as we read from Genesis 8, verses 15 to 22, God asked Noah to lead his family and the creatures, together. Likewise, in LXX Psalm 132, we are asked to live together in unity of faith and love, which is a blessing to life itself.

Unity is not about friends and families living harmoniously together. That is certainly expected of us. Unity is also about a religious community living together in unified prayer, mind and heart.

In Matthew 18, verses 18 to 20, we see that our Lord teaching His apostles the inner heart of a community in unity. Contrary to the populist idea, Matthew 18 is not about a few people gathering in the name of Christ and asking God for favors. Rather, these verses are about committed Christians coming together in prayer, with a synergy of mind and heart towards God. This unified community is one of the priesthood and laity, so that we can help each other along the spiritual journey, in a straight and narrow path.

And in the Epistles, we find in 1 Thessalonians 5, verses 12 to 18, of the need to recognize the labor of those anointed to do our Lord’s work, and to be at peace with one another. The advice for each other was clear, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, and be patient with all. And in the same verses, Apostle Paul told us, to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks for everything. The blessed saints before us, often find the greatest joy even in the darkest hours and were able to thank God nonetheless. Let us find our own humble ways to walk in the same paths, to rejoice, to pray, to thank God for everything.

Let me tell you about Saint John the Theban, one of the Desert Fathers.

When Saint John was young, and a disciple of Abba Ammoes, he spent 12 years serving the old and ill Abba. Saint John stayed sitting with the old Abba on the mat. The old Abba never paid much attention to the young Saint John, and throughout the 12 years, never did say even once, “Salvation be yours.” But when the old Abba was near death, he embraced Saint John and said, “Salvation be yours, salvation be yours, salvation be yours.” Then the dying Abba told the rest of the monks to take care of Saint John, and said, “He is an angel, not a man.”

This tells us, that even as we travel on the spiritual journey together, the sacrificial love and dedication we can give to one another, will allow our inner person to soar to the lap of God, just as Saint John the Theban did. It is an inspiration for us to aspire to.

Let us close with a thanksgiving prayer, and ask our Theotokos to intercede for us with our Lord Jesus Christ, the grace to inner unceasing prayer:

It is truly meet to call thee blest, the Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious than the Seraphim, without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word: True Theotokos, we magnify thee.

O virgin Theotokos, rejoice; O Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessings
Fr Raphael+

Readings today:
Genesis 8:15-22
Psalm 132 (LXX)
St Matthew 18:18-20
1 Thessalonians 5:12-18