For the Faithful, Martyrdom is a Festival

Several times on this blog I’ve mentioned the Spiritual Counsels series by Elder, now St. Paisios the Athonite.  Last night, as I was re-reading Vol. II, Spiritual Awakening, I landed on the chapter called For the Faithful, Martyrdom is a Festival and I couldn’t help think of the evil that just transpired recently to the 21 Christians in Libya.

I refuse to share the video that was so expertly crafted for our viewing pleasure.  I will not give them what they want, and that is for their evil to circulate to cause fear among us, the people they hate so much.  I’ve shared the names of those men on Facebook so that we could pray for them to be crowned accordingly and the peace and comfort of Christ to come upon their families.


Too long we have been in a slumber, choosing to make our crosses fit in with our comfortable lifestyles rather than picking them up and carrying them through the rough terrain, sweating and bleeding to keep them aloft.  We, the people of the Cross–that’s what they called them, called us–what a glorious thing to be referred to as, what an incredible blessing!  To be associated so openly with Christ the Lord!

They sent a message to all of us.  What did you hear in that message?  I heard a wake up call.  A reminder to heed the command of St. Paul and “be sober and vigilant”, to stop getting drunk on the things of this world and be VIGILANT!  To keep my eye on the prize, that no matter how politically correct the world becomes, or how much they want us to believe that they have everything under control and we are well protected, God’s will WILL be done.  We know the prophecies, we see the signs but we choose to ignore them simply because it is more convenient or gives us peace of mind to pretend that these things are not happening, or maybe they are happening but not to us.  Who wants to trade a perfectly happy and comfortable life with a life of vigilance or preparation for the difficulties that lie ahead?  No one wants to think this could really happen to them.  But we are in denial.  We see over and over again in the lives of the saints how Christians have suffered.  Do we really believe we are exempt from those sufferings?  This fight will be on our doorstep sooner than we think.  What will we do then?  A soldier prepares for war before it comes, not once it arrives.  It is too late then.

Have we not heard the Scriptures?  Do we not know what is prophesied in Revelations and by so very, very many of our saints?  Why do you think this is?  For centuries we have been warned of what is to come but those words have lost their sense of urgency to many of us after all this time.  People are too concerned with being politically correct, afraid to stand up for what is right, choosing instead to blend in rather than stand out, God forbid we say something or someone is wrong.  All this talk of embracing differences and becoming more diverse and tolerant is nothing but a facade unless you fall into the very slim categories they have deemed acceptable.  The world now has this “we can accept differences unless your difference offends me” frame of mind.  And everything right has slowly been moved into the “Offensive” category.  Wake up, people!  I can’t imagine how many less saints there would be if the spirit of political correctness existed during the early Christian persecutions!  How many of them would have had the ever popular, it’s not my business attitude?  Not a single one, of that I am certain.

I can’t bring myself to write in detail about this incredible act of evil, I can’t even wrap my head around the statements they made, there are just too many raw emotions.  Anger, pain, sadness, a resolve certainly made stronger through their sufferings…but Ann Voskamp eloquently conveyed much of what I feel in this post of hers.   I highly recommend each of you taking a moment to click over to her blog and read that post because what she is spot on.  I particularly love her closing line, “How once when I was a little girl, I tried to behead a dandelion in full orb and if you behead a dandelion in full head—you send a thousand more bravely out on the wind.”  Indeed, a thousand more are bravely on the wind.

So, I want to share with you what I read in St. Paisios’ book.  May the Lord have mercy on us all…

-Geronda, when someone does not do the necessary spiritual work, will  he have the faith that God will help him when a difficult time comes, so he can call upon Him in prayer?  Are we perhaps so put at ease by the thought that God will help us in our time of need, as to neglect the trouble of preparation?

-We must do the work of preparation.  If one does not sow, how can he expect God to bless an abundant harvest of wheat?  Man must sow, and according to what is sown, God will provide.  Even in the army they say, Be prepared.

-Geronda, how are we to prepare ourselves?

-When someone is prepared?  When the army is on the alert, the soldiers are always ready, with their boots on, with weapons in hand, with ammunition, waiting for the command to go into battle.

-How long can one stay on the alert?

-It depends.  A monk must always be prepared, and then he will never fear anything.  What is there to fear?  Death? Death will open the door to Paradise, for under the slab of the tomb lies hidden the key to eternity.  Moreover, a monk is always in a state of repentance, no matter when he dies.  His flight from the world and his monastic vows are a declaration of this.  He repents and proceeds to do refined spiritual work.  As the love for God and neighbor increases, so the love of and concern for self decreases.  That’s when what St. Paul writes comes into effect:  Nothing can separate me from the love of Christ. (Romans 8:35)

The thought of martyrdom compels worldly people to take refuge in God and to say in fear, “My Christ, My Panagia,” while the monk wants to be constantly near God because he loves Him.  Many worldly people will do good simply out of fear of going to hell.  But the monk does good out of gratitude, out of a desire to be thankful to God, his Benefactor.

-Geronda, how am I to feel martyrdom and monastic asceticism?

-For you to understand a little of what martyrdom means, be prepared to accept even contempt with joy.  And if you want to feel a little of what asceticism is, since you cannot fast for forty days as Christ did, (no food or drink the entire day for 40 days) fast at least on Wednesday when He was betrayed and on Friday, the day the crucified Him.  Those who desire to be martyrs out of love for Christ, but for whom there is no martyrdom, can express this burning love of theirs for Christ through a physical form of asceticism for the sake of those departed souls who are burning and need to find some rest.  As martyrdom is a festival asceticism is also a festival, for one finds divine consolation by avoiding all human consolation.

The holy Martyrs felt great joy when they had an opportunity to endure martyrdom.  It was from this early martyrdom that asceticism had its beginning in the spiritual life.  When St. Constantine the Great came to power in the Empire, he released the Christians from the prisons–where they were being kept to gradually eliminate them–and the persecutions ended.  But those in the prisons, who were waiting with joy for their turn to become martyrs, were greatly disappointed when Constantine the Great altered the course of events.  Just when they were expecting to be martyred, they were set free.  Consequently, out of love for God and the burning desire to be martyred, they took to the mountains.  Thus, the suffering they would have endured under Diocletian and Maximinian, they imposed upon themselves through their ascetic rigours.  One would go, with hands tied to ropes, and hang from a tree, praying with pain but with divine gladness.  Another was bound for the love of Christ, saying, “This is how Diocletian used to have me tied up.”  And they felt great joy in enduring their new voluntary sufferings.

The first ascetics began with this divine madness and devoted themselves to asceticism for the love of Christ, and then they were imitated in these ascetic rigours by others who followed them.  This is how asceticism entered into our religious way of life.  Still others–perhaps even madder than the previous ones–said, “We are the sheep of Christ,” and ate only of the grass of the field.  These were the “herders”.  They lived so intensely aware of the benefits of God and their own insignificance that they used to say, “I am an ungrateful animal; all my life I shall eat grass.”  And this is what they did.  They ate grass and rejoiced.  Their heart would soar to heights out of love for Christ.  They would simply say, “Am I not a sheep of Christ?  I shall eat grass.”  Later, however, the Church forbade this practice because hunters mistook these monks for wild animals and killed them.

However, today people cannot understand these things; they consider them to be foolishness!  “Why should I eat grass like an animal?” they say, or “For what reason should I be handing like a tree like this and tormenting my body?” But do you see what St. Isaac says?  May God grant us also to attain to such derangement, to attain such a spiritual irregularity.

Today, for one to be able to face the difficulties he encounters, he must have Christ in his heart, from Whom he will receive divine consolation in order to have the sense of self-sacrifice. Otherwise, what is going to happen at a difficult moment?

3 thoughts on “For the Faithful, Martyrdom is a Festival

  1. I really love this post Sylvia. It is a testament to our faith that the 21 Christians beheaded did so without fear, knowing that God s the one true God, and through His one and only Son, ad the Holy Spirit, their souls would be saved.

    God have mercy on their aggressors for they are blind to the true love of the Christian Orthodox Church which unites through love and ascetic struggle, and not through violence.

  2. Sylvia,

    Just found your blog tonight and I look forward to exploring it more, but I wanted to get your permission to use this post on my blog, I have been blogging for years coming from a Protestant background on my older blog However, after my journey to the Orthodox faith, I was not comfortable with that blog, even though it had quite a few followers. It just wasn’t presenting the theology that my eyes have been opened to, and I decided to leave it active, but discontinue posting on it.

    Randall Gibbons

    1. Hi Randall!
      Sure, feel free to use this post. I look forward to checking out your blog! God bless your journey!
      In Christ,

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