In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Dear beloved, Christ is Risen! We remember the Syrian St Artemon, martyred priest and wonderworker, who stood firm for his faith, and brought many in his time to embrace the faith. Holy father St Artemon, pray for us!
St Artemon was born in Laodicea, Syria in the 3rd century. Born to Christian parents, the saint served in the Church since young. He served as a reader for 12 years when he turned 16 years old. Bishop St Sisinios ordained the young saint to the diaconate, which he joyously served for another 28 years, and was ordained to the priesthood and then served as priest for another 33 years, evangelizing the Truth to pagans. By the time of the emperor Diocletian, there was widespread persecution of Christians. The old St Artemon, together with Bishop St Sisinios, in defense of Orthodoxy, smashed and burned the pagan idols in a pagan temple, and gathered their flock to admonish them to bravely stand for their faith in God even in duress.
Patricius, a military commander came to the pagan temple, and found the idols destroyed. He fell gravely ill when he came into the vicinity of Christians praying, and decided to ask St Sisinios for help, promising the old bishop of material gains. The sainted bishop told Patricius that he should believe in Christ to be healed. The military commander pretended to believe in Christ, and through the prayers of the old bishop, his illness went away. One would imagine healing bringing forth repentance, but Patricius, afraid of the bishop, went to persecute other Christians in the area instead. He came upon the priest St Artemon, and discovered that the old priest also destroyed the pagan temple. He arrested the old priest and wanted to kill him with snakes. But St Artemon, calling upon the Holy Name of Jesus Christ, killed the snakes instead. Patricius then tortured the old priest further, and then decided to execute him in a burning cauldron. The angels of God rescued St Artemon and Patricius died in the cauldron instead.
St Artemon baptized many pagans, including a pagan priest Bitalios, who later became the bishop of Palestine. Eventually, the old priest saint was beheaded and reposed in the Lord in the year 303.
Let us think about courage today. Courage is a gift of mercy from God. Throughout history, we have seen martyred saints, as well as saints and holy fathers who stood firm in their faith in God, against persecution, against the threats of death and torture, against all odds. While we may be tempted to imagine that courage belongs only to a select few, God grants the gift of courage to all. We are gratefully reminded as we reflect on St John 5:24-30. Often, when challenges arise, we are to expect such challenges in life. The life of a Christian is not easy, 2000 plus years ago, as well as today. What God grants in these challenges, is that we are to sharpen our odd and rough corners, so that we become more and more refined, in our struggling and stumbling towards theosis.
We must remind ourselves, that the evil one strikes harder when we are closer to God. Courage and strength are what we pray for before God, in our repentant prayers everyday, just as we reflect on Psalm 27:1-7 (LXX 26). The evil one has no care for those who are faraway from prayers, faraway from thinking of God. Those the evil one leaves alone. But when we begin to think of faith in God, when we pray, however frail our prayers, the evil one begins to take notice. Therefore, when we pray, lower our pride to the floor, repent before God, and God will grant us mercy, courage and strength to carry on. Those are the gifts we desire of God, not things of the world.
The holy father among the saints, the saint of peace, St Seraphim of Sarov, said this beautifully. “When despondency seizes us, let us not give in to it. Rather, fortified and protected by the light of faith, let us with great courage say to the spirit of evil: What are you to us, you who are cut off from God, a fugitive for Heaven, and a slave of evil? You dare not do anything to us: Christ, the Son of God, has dominion over us and over all. Leave us, you thing of bane. We are made steadfast by the uprightness of His Cross. Serpent, we trample on your head.”
Courage is certainly not restricted to age either. We read in Holy Scripture (Genesis 12:1-4), Abram, being an old man, being granted courage by God. Likewise, St Artemon faithfully served his vocation at various stages of his life, and stood firm in his faith as a priest, even when he was an old man. Even today, we have ordinary people everywhere in the world, who responded to the calling of God to serve His people, whether they are in their early adult years, or way past retirement.
Along our journeys struggling towards God, God will lay before us, people we come to meet. When there are people who begin to show that they are genuinely seeking God and His Truth, do not be afraid. As we reflect on Acts 4:23-31, pray with humility before God, for illumination and strength, to be able to boldly proclaim our love for God, to people who intentionally come to us to learn of the faith. Pray to God for the courage to continue our journeys of pilgrimage and faith, and pray to God for His mercy to reign, that people we meet, in His will, will become fellow pilgrims walking towards God.
Whenever we face danger, persecution, hatred, pain, suffering, doubt and other passions, pray the prayer of the heart, “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 27:1-7 (LXX 26)
St John 5:24-30