In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Dear beloved, let us remember the holy martyr, St Aquilina of Lebanon in this Afterfeast of the Pentecost together.
The holy martyr Aquilina, of Byblos in Lebanon, was raised as a pious Christian by her parents. When the young saint was merely 12, she already persuaded a non-believer to convert to Christianity. However, her act of faith was spread by evildoers to the ears of the local governor, who tried various means to persuade the young saint from deserting her faith, and eventually tortured and humiliated her in public. The torturer even said to St Aquilina, “where if your God? Let Him come before me to rescue you.” The young saint replied, “The Lord is invisibly here with me. The more I suffer, the more strength and endurance He gives me.” Her head was drilled by heated rods and she was left for dead.
But an angel of the Lord came to her and brought the healing of God to her, and asked the saint to return to the governor to pronounce the might of God. The governor was frightened that the young saint was restored by God and called her a witch, and called for her execution. Before she gave up the spirit after giving thanks and prayers to God, a voice thundered and summoned her to the Kingdom of Heaven. She was then beheaded.
St Aquilina showed us that faith triumphs all evils and triumphs all suffering, no matter how insurmountable they seem, because God, in His Infinite Mercy, pulls us up ever closer to Him however invisible He may seem to many. The saint also showed us that we as Christians bear no grudges against another, friend or perceived foe alike, for we stand to attention to receive the Holy Mysteries with humility, prayers, and love (St Matthew 5:20-26).
One of the greatest deceptions the evil one plants in some people is the idea that God is absent, or unreal.
We Christians fight for our lives and our salvation in the Lord.
The great spiritual struggles and battles we as Christians face is two-fold, living and journeying along the narrow and difficult path of finding the Kingdom of Heaven in us and seeking God at all costs, and that of persuading others who share life’s journeys, of God’s presence everywhere, and every moment. We are called to be witnesses of Christ our Lord, to pronounce the Truth of God, and to share the Love of Christ our Lord with all.
Prelest, loosely defined as spiritual deception and the wounding of our human nature with lies (according to St Ignatius Bryanchaninov), is a disease that afflicts many. The more fervent and earnest we seek God, the more immense and aggressive the attacks the evil one will mount against us. Do not be lax to think that we are forever saved or very smart, for the evil one knows Holy Scripture better than all of us, and have been around way longer, and is the master of deception and lies (Genesis 3:13, St John 8:44).
Likewise, however smart we may think, our pride and vainglory negate our intentions of repentance and prayer, such that we sink in prelest and become deceived by the evil one who seduces our egos. Every step we take is a measure of two things, our faith in God, and the guarding of our gates.
It takes great fortitude to defend our gates against the evil one against his many profound and complex tricks. Therefore, our best defense is always returning to two things – repentance of our failings, and prayer for God’s mercy as we reflect upon Joel 2:12-14 and Psalm 34:16-18 (LXX 33).
Coptic saint Abba Poemen the Great taught, “I prefer a man who sins and repents to one who does not sin and does not repent. The first has good thoughts, for he admits that he is sinful. But the second has false, soul-destroying thoughts, for he imagines himself to be righteous.”
St Ignatius Bryanchaninov reminded us, “Those who are careless about prayer are careless about their salvation, and those who stop praying renounced their salvation.”
We can share every moment with God, or without Him. Every moment can become a defining moment allowing us to draw closer to God if we want to.
Therefore, let us make every moment towards the end, a joyous moment, especially of prayer, such as calling upon the Holy Name, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.
Let us close by praying the thanksgiving 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.
Psalm 34:16-18 (LXX 33)
St Matthew 5:20-26