The Saints Stand By Us

The Saints Stand By Us


Dr. Petros Panayiotopoulos


When we refer to the life of a saint, we tend to extol their actions and promote them mostly on the basis of the wonderful things they performed. From very ancient times, it was thought that this elevation and emphasis, sometimes even exaggeration, in the narrative of the life of a saint was a way of rendering honour to them.

This practice may be considered beneficial in terms of uplifting the minds of the faithful, but it does create a sense of distance between the saint and other Christians: the impression is given that the saint was a person with distinct abilities, someone who, by their very nature, had the ability to distinguish themselves in martyrdom or virtue. But in this way, Christians are unwittingly discouraged from engaging in spiritual struggles, since they believe that they themselves are in no position to avoid the traps and temptations which continuously arise.

Let’s take the case of the five martyrs whom we honour on December 13, Eustratius, Auxentius, Eugene, Mardarius and Orestes, (martyred at the end of the 3rd century). We have there a different approach, however. This concerns a miracle mentioned by the Protopapas of Nafplio, Nikolaos Malaxos (16th century) and preserved by Saint Nikodimos the Athonite. The event took place at the New Monastery on Chios, on the day of their feast.

On that that day, the weather was so appalling that the fathers from the monastery were unable to get to the dependency, and people couldn’t get there either. After the local priest had started Mattins, he saw five men whom he didn’t know coming into the church. The features were similar to those of the saints being honoured, as represented in their icons. Two went to the right choir, two to the left and the youngest, who looked like the martyr Orestes, conducted the chanting, as canonarch. So the Mattins service continued until the moment when the canonarch came to read the narrative of their martyrdom.

At one point in the narrative, the governor of Sebastia, Agricola, ordered a red-hot bed to be brought, on which they laid Orestes. The Life says that Orestes “quailed” (εδειλίασεν). The young canonarch, however, didn’t read what was written, but changed the verb and said “smiled”. He was at once sharply rebuked by the eldest of the five, the one who looked like Saint Eustratius, who told him to read the text exactly as it was written. The young canonarch, who was clearly Saint Orestes, and was ashamed of his want of courage, read the Life again, but again said “smiled”. The eldest, obviously Saint Eustratius, again told him off and said: “Read what’s written as you experienced it, because you didn’t smile when you saw the bed, your courage failed you”.

In the end, the five saints disappeared and, when the priest had recovered, he completed the Divine Liturgy and related the wondrous event to his fellow citizens.

It’s clear, then, that the saints are people, just like the rest of us, with their own strengths and weaknesses. There’s not something distinctive or special in their nature that helps them to conduct their struggle successfully. If we wanted to single out something, it would be their great love for God, which helped them overcome their individual fears and weaknesses.





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Pemptousia Partnership

Pemptousia and OCN have entered a strategic partnership to bring Orthodoxy Worldwide. Greek philosophers from Ionia considered held that there were four elements or essences (ousies) in nature: earth, water, fire and air. Aristotle added ether to this foursome, which would make it the fifth (pempto) essence, pemptousia, or quintessence. The incarnation of God the Word found fertile ground in man’s proclivity to beauty, to goodness, to truth and to the eternal. Orthodoxy has not functioned as some religion or sect. It was not the movement of the human spirit towards God but the revelation of the true God, Jesus Christ, to man. A basic precept of Orthodoxy is that of the person ­– the personhood of God and of man. Orthodoxy is not a religious philosophy or way of thinking but revelation and life standing on the foundations of divine experience; it is the transcendence of the created and the intimacy of the Uncreated. Orthodox theology is drawn to genuine beauty; it is the theology of the One “fairer than the sons of men”. So in "Pemptousia", we just want to declare this "fifth essence", the divine beaut in our life. Please note, not all Pemptousia articles have bylines. If the author is known, he or she is listed in the article above.