Today’s Christian Martyrs – A most-beautiful and inspiring lecture about martyrdom in our age
This is an English translation of the lecture of Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra (Mount Athos) held in the mid-80s, in Limassol, Cyprus, narrated in English for otelders.org by Peter Eliades.
Special thanks to Fr. John-abouna D’Alton for helping with the English translation.
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Audio source (Greek): omilies.net
Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra:
With great joy, my dears, I find myself among you.
Who come in church to give glory to God and kneel before the Holy Trinity.
I heard that many among you celebrate the Great Holy-Martyr Saint Demetrios which shows that you have an exquisite love, an appreciation, a respect for him and you feel him as if he was alive.
But could it be, my dears, that Saint Demetrios is indeed alive? Since we celebrate his memory this means that he is alive and all the more, really closer than us, in front of God so he can intercede for us the sinners, the weak, the sick, the humiliated, the suffering, for every human in general.
These days as you know Thessaloniki celebrates her Patron-Saint. This whole week there is program and every day there is a feast in honor of Saint Demetrios. He lives inside all Thessalonians and all Christians. He even lives outside of Greece and everywhere one goes, Saint Demetrios is the Great Holy Martyr whose deeds are known one by one.
What can one really say for this Saint? One could say … they managed to kill yet another one. But what does it mean “they killed him”? Anything but the ordinary, because he was proven able to direct the path of his life. He was the one who was looking with his eyes Christ…in order to receive the command what to do. He was not afraid; he was not shaking at all. Death by martyrdom for him, was the greatest glory he could ever achieve.
Where is Maximilianos? Everybody remembers him with disgust, and everybody thinks of him a failed man. Saint Demetrios, on the other side, is honored. Saint Demetrios with this martyrdom for Christ, achieved the greatest glory that could have probably been achieved.
When, as you know, inside the prison he was approached by this young child, Nestor in order to beat Goliath. This giant who was feared by everyone. What did Saint Demetrios do?
Nestor bowed his head and Saint Demetrios sealed him and gave him the blessing to become great. And the young kid left to become a martyr. Because within the church there is no greater glory from the glory of martyrs. So, Saint Demetrios says “Go to beat Lyaeus and let Christ grant his glory and his greatness”. And when, my dears, Saint Demetrios martyred because he blessed Nestor, the king was left with the guilts, was left with the hate, the passion, the weakness of his nature. But the more the king fell, the more rose the spirits, the fleshes, the persons, the faces of the Church. They who knew that they are built for eternity. Thus, one of them whose name you also know, Lupos, what did he do? He sees bloodstained clothes and the blood of Saint Demetrios and puts the clothes on, why was that? First of all, to perform miracles with the holy blood of Saint Demetrios and at the same time to make a statement: “I want to rise to heavens, I want to become a Martyr”. Indeed, Maximilianos made him glorious in heavens as well. They did not escape the martyrdom, to the contrary, but they ran to it.
How many of the believers took blessings from their wives so they could go become martyrs. And their wives hugged their husbands, kissed them, greeted him, his children greeted him and he run to become a martyr before the persecutions of Christians end.
How many of them grabbed the eternal glory? Martyrdom means victory and, all the more, victory against fear, against secularism, against vanity…victory also against the demons. They were not afraid of the faithlessness; they were not afraid of the provocativeness of the emperors and the idolaters. “I want to fight against Lyaeus” said Nestor. “Against Lyaeus” means I will face anything human with respect to God and by becoming eternal.
At the time he was martyring, a lot of others also became martyrs—on the eve of the martyrdom and before that day as well. I am not sure, my dears, if you have noticed another moving martyrdom which we celebrated only yesterday. The time when another great martyr was martyring, Arethas his name, a mother with a little kid, 5 years old, appeared and they asked to become martyrs as well. The world does not shape us said the mother. I wish nothing else but to live with Christ. They forbid me to live my Christ and for this, I prefer to be placed in fire. And the same emperor ties the mother and they prepare a whole mountain of wood to put her inside and burn her. Brave the mother and her child, 5 years old, approached the emperor, the tyrant and tells him “Untie my mother”. The Emperor looks at him. “Untie my mother” he repeats. “Why?” the emperor says.
“Because my mother is a hero…because my mother taught me that the greatest thing in life is to become a martyr and she expects me to martyr. The Emperor, the executioner, the tyrant, the one without shame asks: “My kid, what does it mean martyrdom?”
“Martyrdom means to die for Christ because I know that I will live again with Christ…Forever!”
“What is this Christ?” says the King
“You don’t know who Christ is? Let’s go together to the church for me to show you Christ”
But, at that time, they had prepared the fire and the child seeing that they pulled his mother to throw her into the flames…then the child understood that the emperor was an idolater. He thought that he was a Christian. When he realizes this, the small infant as he was in the hug of the King…cleverly and with courage, the child grabs his Myron and bites him. He hurt and throws the child. And the child with a yearning falls into the embrace of the mother. And both of them live in the heavens. See what a feast the martyrs had when they were martyring. See that they were not afraid? They did not seek redemption but they knew that life goes through the centuries and stops nowhere but in the gulfs of God.
The prison was a most joyful symposium for the martyrs…the fire was the biggest dew for the martyrs. Death for them meant the beginning of a new and eternal life. The martyr felt and they recognised him that he was a winner of life. The martyr was, remains and will be a close friend of God. That’s why the Psalter says “most of all things I love, I have respect and I honor them friends of God”.
So, my dears, how not to admire … A martyr if you pray to him, if you venerate his relic, if you have trust…you will see with many ways that the martyr drips sweetness, drips blessing. Just as from the basil, the holy water is dripping on our foreheads and sprays us and we become martyrs. The martyr drips God. So the Christians, aware of this, they were happy and they ran. Not even the Easter was so joyful to them, as compared to when someone from their village or their city became a martyr. Martyrdoms were so much more joyful than marriages. National victories were not as joyful as when a new martyr appeared. Besides, they knew that the martyrdom forgives all sins and the martyr sits right away on the right of the Great King, Jesus Christ.
But, my dears, concerning ourselves, what do you think? If it comes to becoming martyrs…we will become martyrs without a second thought. When did the kin of Christians, when did the Greeks flinch? Did they flinch when they heard the gunshots, when the trumpets were sounding, when the swords were sharpened, and they knew that war was coming. They did not care about their blood. If they did that for their homeland—which is temporary for as long as we live in this world—then, much more, we become martyrs for the eternal homeland which was prepared for us. If it comes to becoming martyrs, we will do it. Even those who in their daily lives had forgotten God, found it difficult to go to church, were embarrassed to confess Jesus Christ…when these heroic moments arrived, the strength of the soul prevailed, and you see everyone to be ready. How many billions of martyrs? How many among them, our Greeks?
But my dears, let us not think the martyrdom that we do not have it right now. And nobody asks for it. I ask you, nevertheless, which man does not go everyday through a martyrdom? Every day, all around us people bear their struggle, their pain. They have a thousand martyrdoms. How many times will you see a man to be in his social life great, famous and as soon as you approach him and he opens his heart you will see that he goes through martyrdom.
When somebody loses his one only child, can you tell me whether he becomes immediately a martyr or not? When one faces the death of his child with patience, with humility with faith in God and, most of all, with the certitude that his child is alive…A mother for some months now had her child in full health and strength. She sent him to college, he finished college and when returning from college back home, the child started having a horrible headache. No doctor could do something about it and in a few hours he died.
Who stood then as a hero? Who rushed to take care of the funeral? Who consoled people who went to offer their condolences?
This mother, what a hero! and she was beautifully dressed without wearing black, though the funeral of her child. She was giving courage to everyone because they loved him. He was a special child. And when the funeral finished, before they took him to the grave to his temporary throne before he ascends to the eternal throne on the right of the Heavenly God, the mother says:
“Please, …and she raises her arms to Holy Theotokos and says “My Holy Theotokos, my child loved you even more than he loved me. To you, I trust his journey from now that he departs until he reaches the heaven. Meaning she trusted his soul in the arms of Holy Theotokos. Is this mother not a martyr?”
When we see that life becomes difficult. When all our efforts fail us, when they wrong us, when they slander us, when they forget us, when they defy us, when they see us only because they want to take advantage of us…are not we in pain?
When we fight with our passions, with our sins…are we not martyrs? When I see that I have a passion and I pray to God to take it away from me and it still torments me and I fight and yet I cannot stop falling into sin, is this not a martyrdom in front of God?
Does He not see this soul that struggles on order to be redeemed from sin?
The one who tries to beat his ego and take the decision to confess his sins to a priest, is he not a martyr of life? The trumpets, the wars, the swords of any kind… are not all these considered equal to the martyrdoms that we face in our souls, and in our houses daily? Our daily patience, our joy to the difficulties and the unexpected, our faith when we fall sick, our hope in the Heavens when we lose our sight…
How many martyrdoms … if only we do every little thing for the glory of Christ and then it is right away considered a martyrdom. So, my dears, to martyr is to confess “My Christ I await you, I live for you this tormented life… with my failing liver, with my aching heart, with my intestines that will not let me rest, with my head that they cannot heal it, with the fear I might also have cancer.
The man who endures for Christ, he is truly a martyr. When we fast … is this not a martyrdom in this age that most people do not? When we fight spiritually, when we pray the moment our neighbors do not…when we love our neighbor the moment most people do not pay any attention at all to their neighbor, but only care for themselves. You see that every time in day and night, every occasion can turn into an opportunity for a spiritual martyrdom.
Thus, my dears, when we will be martyring, we will witness the joy, Christ bless us with, the feast our heart will be having because we are going to feel becoming heavenly people.
How many martyrs—at the moment of their martyrdom—received comfort, warmth, relief, fellowship from Christ and the Saints. How did Saint Stephanos—the moment they were covering him with stones to kill him—see the glory of Christ? If only, we could also see it, just for one time, and then die, my dears.
Such honor and such joy, we cannot find anywhere else. Only, one another martyr when they had him crucified, he sees a light, he looks and what did he see?…Christ with the Archangels … he was so joyful, he smiled and the executioner noticed it and told him “Why are you laughing?”
“I saw the glory of my God and my heart rejoiced?”
Someone else again, when God was calling him to be a martyr, what do you think he did?
He says: “My God, come with me and I will be the first to go” and so it happened! And he was thrown first into the abyss of fire.
Another one, his lady asks him “Please go to the East and bring me relics to venerate them” and he says “I will bring you my own relics” … “What are you talking about?”. And he goes to the East to bring to his lady relics. And reaching the amphitheater there in the East, he saw the Christians martyring. Amidst this atmosphere, he was watching how the Christians were encouraging the martyrs to face the beasts. Thus, he, throws himself into the martyrdom by saying “I am a Christian” and he martyred. His relics were sent to his homeland and they made him right away a whole church because he was recognized to be a Saint. You see how easily one can become a Saint. As long as he is not afraid, as long as he does not have a rabbit’s heart.
Let me conclude, my dears. The greatest glory is to be faithful to Christ until death! Martyrdoms are not expected from us today, but we should be prepared for our own martyrdom. What a beautiful verse in Revelation 3:21 “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne”. That is, whoever remains faithful, whoever remains steady to the oaths his heart gave during baptism to Christ … to him I will give my throne, I will not let him sit underneath me/παρακάτω από εμένα but I will place him on the right of my throne.
And the Revelation reads again 3:12 “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God,” says the Christ for the Father. That is, he who remains faithful, I will make him a pillar. What does this mean? In the same way, they add pillars to a crumbling house … “I will make you such a pillar if you are faithful to Christ”. A pillar of the church, such people that are faithful in their life are the ones who support the society, support the parishes, support the churches. It is them that really glorify God.
And then it says: “Here is my throne” and He presents it to St. John during Revelation. And He shows him 12 thrones. 12 Thrones for whom? For the Apostles. Then, He shows him 24 Elders, meaning all those giants of faith, all those who glorified God and became brave and able and pillars of spiritual life, the giants of our church.
Immediately, He says to him, “Look down there” and St. John looks and what does he see? “And behold, a great multitude which no one could number”. He watches a multitude. What does a multitude mean? Crowds of millions of peoples…People believe Christians are a few and the sinners and the unfaithful are many… what is the mistake they are making?
Who truly knows the ones who believe and do not make it public…Who, even at the last moment of their lives, say just like the thief: “My Christ, I betrayed you but please don’t betray me, save me!”
and They are saved, They are saved, my dears, every day. We are in a place to know people who were considered atheists, unfaithful, evil, deniers and yet they lived in secrecy and died heroically. So many that we cannot number them! Why does He place them all together?
But first let me say something else. Christ says to John “Look this way” “And all the angels stood around the throne”. Behind and around the people are the angels and the archangels because the angels and the archangels and the Cherubim and the Seraphim serve the salvation of men. You see then “crowds” … millions … trillions. How can God place all of them on his throne? For this reason, He surrounds them as a sign of respect and fatherly love with the holy angels. St. John walks and falls down, why?
Because he saw that all these angels, all the chests of all those saints of the church … in front of the glory they had, in front of the love they acquired, in front of the triumph God gave them, in front of eternity which they now see open before them.
before the evening light of the face of Christ, in front of the triad divinity of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, all of them fall down and worship by saying to God:
“Let us worship and adore Christ the King and our God… and the Father and the Holy Spirit ”
My dears, let us live by venerating the Saints of our Church even though we are weak and let us have the noble ambition to fill, ourselves, the heavens and not to miss this universal glory and eternity.