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Those brave in God

by Archbishop Stylianos of Australia

The Church's book on the lives of saints (the Hagiologion) is full of heroic figures, both men and women, who spent their whole life on earth in obedience to the will of God, and in the ministry of their fellow human beings. We have a characteristic summary of these pre-eminent people of God in the Letter to the Hebrews (11:32ff). However, that refers to the "pioneers" and indeed only to men. This was the norm in the "patriarchal" milieu of the Old Testament from which women, however, were never absent. From the later Hagiologion of the Church even children are not absent!

The 'Martyrs` have a special place in this boundless catalogue of "divine intervention". As known, the word "martyr" has a double meaning. Firstly it means the one who "gives witness" to a truth unknown or in question, so that the ambivalent ones may be persuaded. Secondly, it means that the one bearing witness to the truth uncompromisingly confronts, without fear, even death if need be!

For this reason in the Church, the confession of blood is considered equal if not higher than the confession of faith which precedes Baptism. Therefore there were Christians who were baptised not only "by water and spirit" but in their very own blood!

St Paul calls upon this distinguished and astounding category of God's "martyrs" in his letter to the Hebrews so as to prick our conscience. 'Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us" (Heb 12:1).

Immediately however Paul hastens to declare the primary power, which inspires the Martyrs, so that we may not think that they draw power from themselves as they confront the difficulties of the race. In this way, after "let us run with perseverance the race before us" he necessarily adds "looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith".

Here in particular we have to note that the encouragement of the Martyrs for "endurance" in the race does not come from their "nature", that is from the fallen world, but from their 'calling` which is from above!

Furthermore the words of Paul are entirely definitive in that the source towards which the struggling person fixes his or her eyes to draw power (this is what the verb 'apo vlepo' means) is none other than the Theanthropos. He begins (as Pioneer), He completes and He perfects (as perfecter) our faith.

The "courage" therefore of the faithful servant of God, has essentially nothing in common with the courage of the world. The courageous person usually has an inflated "self-assurance". That is to say he bases himself primarily, if not entirely on his own abilities, whether these be his bodily, intellectual or professional attributes. For this reason this type of person is usually impudent, and the poor person does not remember that even these powers, which he considers to be his own, are not in fact his own. They were given to him "as a form of credit" from above!

However the brave in God, knowing in advance that "every good act of giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights", does not feel anything but limitless gratitude towards God for whatever attributes he may acquire. This is the reason why, only in humility, will he be capable of confronting any obstacle or temptation with patience and endurance. Only these things ultimately show him to be a hero of the Faith, and if the circumstances in life demand it, even a Great Martyr!

In the Hagiologion of the Church, only few are remembered as Great Martyrs, even though the multitude of unknown or unnamed martyrs is limitless. The fact that they are both men and women is a sufficient indication that the courage which supported them throughout life was a confidence in God and not worldly impudence.

Indeed great power is needed, and great internal courage, to place yourself "beneath all people", as our Saints characteristically say, so as to serve the will of God, no matter what the cost, for the salvation of the "whole world".

Even our Military Saints (to whom the KATHIMERINI newspaper of Athens dedicated a special lift out section on 27-10-2002), did not exercise their "bravery" as a "mind power" of bodily strength or force. Another deeper power, from God inspired them. Only in this way were they often able to put forward an entirely powerless body as a model of resistance and opposition to the "arrows of evil", whether visible or spiritual!

Their schooling in Christ was simple and for this reason entirely effective: "to overlook the flesh, for it passes away, but to attend to the soul since it is immortal". This "inwardness" of the brave person in God acquires a particular timeliness with the recent uneasy period of "terrorism", especially after 11th September, 2001.

It is clear that all cases of terrorism, as horrible and inconceivable as they may appear at first sight, in fact eloquently refer to some dangerous "gaps" generally, in the way goods are managed. Whether in material comforts generally, health and education, or the peace and social justice of persons and of peoples.

Incidents of increased terrorism are declarations of open wounds, even chasms, in the balance of power on the global scene. They declare real (or at least assumed) inequalities, which develop into destabilising imbalances in economy, politics, media and communications of the modern world.

However from this detached "reading" comes a clearer image of the "terror" which is occurring in our days. The fragments of "buildings" and "bodies" which television shows us after every terrorism attack, as horrible as they are, are not the whole picture of terror! The authentic image which hangs continuously upon our heads as the "sword of Damocles" is given more fully by the "EMPTINESS"; the emptiness in the soul of every wounded and underprivileged human being or an entire people. For this reason psychology spoke in good time about the "horror of emptiness" (horror vacui).

Moreover, all these do not concern only the "third" world, which we sometimes shamelessly have characterised as "undeveloped". They also concern the "second" world, where the "middle class" of Europeans or others who are well-off and lacking nothing. Equally they also concern the USA which likes to call itself a "superpower". Because not only do sensitive American citizens, both intellectuals and artists, denounce the many weaknesses of that superpower, but so do the poor neighbourhoods, even in Washington, along with the scattered "homeless" in all areas and the "marginalized" of every age, who wear those lamentable little signs on their chests.

The conclusion is simple, bomb attacks do not occur every day, even though this is propagandised as a constant threat. However this silent emptiness, wherever it might be found, brings forth unforeseen dangers at every moment. And the only type of bravery for one to overcome these dangers is "humility" and "repentance", clearly characteristic of `the brave in God" who cannot be anything but Just". Regarding the 'arsenal' which they possess, the Scriptures also state that: "the just will live by faith" (Gal 3:11).

from Voice of Orthodoxy, v. 24/10, November 2002
the official publication of the Greek Orthodox Archbiocese of Australia

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