Holy Martyrs of Nicopolis – Fruits of life

20130723_robeofchrist_sqIn the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Dear beloved, let us remember the 45 Holy Martyrs of Nicopolis in Armenia today. The multitude of holy martyrs, pray for us!

We remember the placing of the venerable robe of our Lord Jesus Christ in Moscow today (John 19:23-24), as we remember the Life-Giving Cross of our Lord, upon which we are found again.

We commemorate the 45 holy martyrs of Nicopolis in Armenia in the 4th century. The holy fathers and saints before us, Leontius, Maurice, Daniel, Anthony, Alexander, Anicetus, Sisinius, Meneus, and Belerad, affirmed their faith in Christ our Lord before an evil ruler who relentlessly tried to persuade them to give up their Christian faith. The saints were thrown into prison after having their faces were smashed with rocks. In the dark of night, an Angel of our Lord appeared to the saints, and told them that their end was near and their names were already written in Heaven. Two prison guards saw the miracle and believed. The saints were then tortured and executed and their remains discarded into the river. Their holy relics were recovered by the faithful and commemorated in a church built for them. The holy saints of Nicopolis, pray for us all.

The holy martyrs were not cowards, but courageous saints who fought oppression with the fortitude of faith unto their deaths. They did not give in to pressure and simply give up their faith, but defend their faith as powerful witnesses of our Lord. They lived their lives till the end, following the Truth and Calling of our Lord in the Beatitudes (St Matthew 4:25-5:12), especially as peacemakers who did not fear persecution for righteousness’ sake. The Angel of our Lord pronounced to them, that they would inherit their fruits of faith in Heaven.

Therein lies the answer to our perpetual questions as we journey on in life. What is the meaning of life? What is the fruit of life? What is the fruit of faith?

There will be many times we question ourselves, or even our God, as we slog through pain and suffering. But St Ambrose of Milan said this:

“You are a portrait, O man, a portrait painted by your Lord God, a good artist and painter. Do not deface the good picture, which reflects not deceit, but truth; which expresses not guile, but grace.”

Beloved, do not succumb to the darkness of the evil one who may relentlessly pound us with messages to create doubt and fear, and in turn cripple and kill us spiritually.

When we become prejudiced against our brethren, remember that God does not make an error and His creations are all pristine, perfect, and have profound meaning beyond our understanding.

When we become clouded to imagine that we are given more suffering than others, remember that God only intends to refine us towards a reconciliation with Him for the priceless treasure of life in Him, and nothing else.

When we become seduced by the worldly illusions, remember that God will relentlessly pursue us to the end of our lives to perfect us in Him, no matter how much we fail.

Where can we find these?

We see this hope in our Lord, when we reflect upon Jonah 2:6-10 and Psalm 3:3-8, which taught us of a man who ran continuously away from God, and yet God would continue to pursue and embrace him with mercy. God does not give up on us, even if we sometimes even give up on ourselves. We are to hope in our Lord, because He is always with us, and our Panagia, the holy saints and angels pray for us.

As the Armenian fathers and martyrs showed us, as with the Holy Apostles and many saints before us showed us, we are to be witnesses to Christ and His Truth to the world. Christ said, in St Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”

In the modern age and time, we must be extremely careful and always return to Church for reconciliation, and to center our lives upon the unchanging Truth encased within the Church. This is especially so when there will be many manifestations of the evil one, including hiding in the guise of false teachers, exhibiting many false signs and attracting many to their fold, preaching heresies that detract people from the priceless treasure of repentance and reconciliation with our Lord (Jeremiah 35:15, St Matthew 7:15-23, St Matthew 23:11-12, St Matthew 24:24).

Therefore, we are to reflect upon what the true fruits of life in Christ and the Holy Spirit looks like, in Galatians 5:22-6:2, which can be seen as love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We are also not to throw rocks upon another who has fallen, but to lift him up in the spirit of gentleness, for we are witnesses of Christ who bear another’s burdens.

Wonderworker and holy father among the saints, St Seraphim of Sarov reminded us: “Acquire a peaceful spirit and thousands around you will be saved.”

In all things, remember that to truly plant seeds of faith and life, repent our failings even as we profess 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.

Fr Raphael+

Jonah 2:6-10
Psalm 3:3-8
St Matthew 4:25-5:12
Galatians 5:22-6:2