The Centurion Who Became a Saint
When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:54 (From the Gospel of Vespers on Good Friday Afternoon) Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Lent
Good morning Prayer Team!
It is truly amazing how the Lord calls all kinds of people in all kinds of circumstances to serve Him. Some people who have committed the greatest sins and mistakes have become saints. It is said that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. It is not a person’s past mistakes that costs one the ability to live a saintly life. Repentance, change, is what allows any person to be a Godly person, and even allows one who has committed a grievous sin to become a saint! Consider the life of St. Longinus:
Longinus was a Roman centurion, a military officer with one hundred soldiers under his command. When Jesus was crucified, it was a band of soldiers under Longinus who conducted the execution. Because the Crucifixion occurred on Friday afternoon, the Jewish leaders were concerned that it be concluded before the Sabbath, for no work, even an execution, was allowed on the Sabbath. So the soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves, because unable to raise themselves to breathe, they would quickly expire. They did not break the legs of Jesus, because He was already dead and there was no need to.
As we read in the previous reflection, after Jesus expired on the Cross, “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear and at once there came out blood and water.” (John 19:34) This soldier, according to Church Tradition, was Longinus, the Centurion. In fact, some historians are not sure if Longinus was the actual birth name of the Centurion, or rather a name now given to him since he was the one who held the spear, which is “longhi” in Greek.
Longinus had a disease in his eyes and was healed of his affliction when the blood and water poured forth from the side of Christ and touched his eyes. Looking upon all that had happened shook Longinus to the depths of his soul, and he confessed his faith that “Truly this was the Son of God.” Longinus and his band of soldiers also stood guard at the tomb and were present at the Resurrection. The Jewish authorities attempted to bribe the soldiers but Longinus and two others refused to be paid for their silence. They declared their belief in Christ and in the Resurrection. They left the military service, were baptized and they went out to preach the good news of Christ in Cappadocia.
Upon hearing of mass conversions in Cappadocia, the Jewish authorities persuaded Pontius Pilate to send soldiers to Cappadocia to kill Longinus and his companions. They beheaded the three of them, taking the head of Longinus back to Pontius Pilate. Pilate ordered the head be thrown into a garbage heap outside of the city. A blind woman whose son was ill and died was “led” by a dream about Saint Longinus to find his head, which, when she touched it, caused her sight to come back. She buried the head of Saint Longinus together with her son. Saint Longinus is commemorated in October 16 in the Orthodox Church and on March 15 in the Roman Catholic Church. (Some of the above information was gathered from the website of the Orthodox Church in America, or OCA, under the lives of the saints section.)
There are at least three lessons to take away from the story of Saint Longinus. First, even a sinful person can become a saint. Here was the man who presided over the Crucifixion of Christ, who is now remembered as a Saint, not as an executioner. Second, Longinus had a moment of conversion, when his whole life changed. Each genuine Christian will have one (if not more) conversion moment, when something will happen that will erase all doubt that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, our Savior. And third, Longinus seized on the moment and allowed it to change his life. He went from soldier of Rome to soldier of Christ, from leader of armies to leader of the Christian army; from killer of Christ, to leader of Christ’s church. We have to seize on our moments of conversion to move us to change, and to become not only loyal soldiers but devout and enthusiastic leaders.
Your Cross, O Lord, is life and resurrection to Your people; and trusting in it, we praise You, our crucified Lord. Have mercy on us. (From the 15th Antiphon of the Service of the 12 Gospels on Holy Thursday evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
Allow our Savior to change your life today!
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