A sermon of His Reverence, Archimandrite Parthenius delivered at the Vespers of the festivity of St. George the Triumphant.
Contemplating, my dear ones, about the greatness of our God-given faith, while listening to the wonderful chants and readings of this festive Vespers, my heart cannot but exclaim in joy: Glory and gratitude to our Saviour, Who endowed the humankind with such beauty and honour! Glory and eternal gratefulness to the One who was tormented, spit on, humiliated, crucified, buried and who rose in order to resurrect the entire humankind along with Himself. In His Gospel, he says: I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live (John 11-25).
With His resurrection, the unity between God and man was once again reinstated, as predicted by the inconceivable Providence of Holy Trinity, at the very beginning of the world. Namely, the eternal Logos of God the Father united with His most beloved creation-man. The fact that this unity was achieved in a very complicated and harsh manner — God the Logos had to endure suffering as a human being in a human body, to be humiliated and killed by the hands of the ones He created- all that is a consequence of the abuse of our free will because humankind chose the path of sin and corruption. However, despite the terrible downfall, the good and merciful Heavenly Father did not abandon His beloved creation. Because He loves us endlessly! Because He created us in His own image and likeness! Furthermore, when man mortified himself by departing from his God and Creator and attaching himself to the sin, our Lord felt honoured to offer His blood so that He could restore man to life. He achieved this on the Cross, from where He brought life to the entire humanity. He simply brought a solution to the most terrible problem — the mortality of man, which came to the world as a result of sin. And He left us His promise, as a kind of ticket for the eternal kingdom of His: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.
Today we celebrate a magnificent witness of this victory of Christ over death. A Roman soldier, actually a military general — a tribune, with many victories in his battles. But this mundane glory of his attained as a soldier of the earthly kingdom, means nothing compared to the other, the heavenly glory which he achieved as a brave warrior of Christ testifying courageously the name of the resurrected Saviour. It is not by chance that the memory of the Megalomartyr George is always celebrated in the Paschal period, and that even the festive verses in his honour are connected to the Resurrection. One can say that after the Apostles, he is one of the most glorious witnesses of Christ’s resurrection and eternal life. In fact: all the Saints, the Apostles, the Myrrh-bearing women, the Martyrs, the countless righteous men in history, are witnesses of Christ’s triumph over death. As bright lights they testify in Heavens, as in this world, the truthfulness of Christ’s words: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.
In one of the verses we chanted tonight, among the other things, it says: The brave and bright soldier, St George, brings joy to the heavenly beings with his glorious suffering and now rejoicing together with them, comes to Earth as a faithful servant of Christ to bring together the faithful…. To bring us together so that we could celebrate triumphantly our resurrected Lord. Do you see it? The ecclesiastic poet had to have felt deeply the spiritual presence of the martyr, to be able to describe it with such clarity. So, one can freely say that St. George is a powerful witness who testifies up to today that Christ has risen. Imagine, he was martyred such a long time ago, at the beginning of the IV century. Yet, his testimony is far more powerful and more lasting than the Roman empire and many other glorious kingdoms and states. Just how many churches around the world have been dedicated to him! How many people carry his glorious name! He became a protector of many states, cities, armies…do you think that if he weren’t a soldier of Christ and his witness, he would have had such glory and power on Earth? Do you think we would have felt so vividly his presence? Would he have listened to our prayers the way we can confirm that he does now? Of course not. But. he is alive and renowned in Christ, that is why we feel his living presence among us.
And you should know that we have all been invited to participate. St. George is a martyr whose name and life have been written in the book of history, to strengthen our faith. However, one cannot count all the martyrs who have suffered for Christ during these 2000 years and whose names have not been mentioned in history books but are forever written in the Book of Life, and reside forever in the Heavenly Kingdom. And how many of them originated from our nation — ascetics, monks, righteous etc., starting with St. Cyril and Methodius, followed by numerous known and unknown Saints, and up to present day with our righteous father St. Joanikios of Rakotinci and St. Gabriel of Velika, who have recently been added to the communion of Saints by our own Holy Macedonian Orthodox Church.
Therefore, my dear ones, let us express our sincere gratitude to our Lord and Saviour for the privilege to know about the opened Heavenly Kingdom, about the invitation to be at the table in that Kingdom, about the invocation to be eternally alive. Recently we have become more and more aware of the misery of this world because the sin has turned the world into a mournful valley. You see how tragic and awful has the human life become, we have ridiculed ourselves, by distancing from God. But as great as the misery of the atheists seems today, far greater is the dignity that our Lord gives to the ones who want to be with Him! Just look what happened with an ordinary Roman soldier who died in the 4th century! Look at the strength and the power that he has up to today! Even this monastery is a testimony of his graceful power! Even here, in this, I would say, desolated place, he has proven his victorious might! He brought resurrection to the monastery, which was once nothing more than a stable, forgotten by all. His powerful spirit, his bold prayers before God, granted him the right to revive the sanctuary and bring new servants of God to this holy place. To bring witnesses! That is exactly what you are — witnesses! What does the Old Testimony say: Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me, there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour. (Isaiah 43,10-11). How do you confess God? By shedding spiritual blood through everyday monastic feats. That is why we should always be careful, my dear ones, not to betray our merciful God. He has given us great dignity. Hold firmly to it. Do not think that St. George did not have great temptations and struggles. Quite the opposite, he was also human like us, he struggled with temptations, but in every struggle, he chose Christ. He was also tempted by the devil with bad thoughts: “Look just how many victories you brought to the Roman Emperor! When you entered Rome, everybody was greeting you with laurel garlands and songs, you are the great tribune George, the strongest one who brought great fame to Emperor Diocletian. Now you must preserve this glory and power and wealth — all you have to say is: “I renounce Christ and give offerings to the fake gods…” Do you think he did not have these thoughts? It is not by chance that these propositions are mentioned in his life, through the words of the emperor and his people. They all promised him great honours if he renounced Christ. But the love for Christ that burned in his soul prevailed. He proved to be more than ready to leave everything behind and take all kinds of suffering for His sake. To leave not just the vainglory and the power and wealth, but also all the honour, all his relatives and friends. He left everything for the sake of His name and entered the family of the eternal. No other Roman soldier, except for the Martyrs, was ever painted on an icon. But they are all children of God now, forever rejoicing in the Heavenly Kingdom, in an inexplicable glory and have the freedom to pray for us. So, up to the present, St. George performs great miracles and speaks to our hearts.
Therefore, my dear monks, having known this, let us stand firm in the faith because temptations are truly immense. We are constantly tempted by suggestions from this deceiving world: “Wait, you don’t have to do this, you can live your life like the others… Look at your peers and friends, they enjoy having fun, while you stay here locked up and do nothing…” No, that is not true! What you are doing is the most important. So, rise above the vanities of the world, these temporary pleasures and make a sacrifice even for the sake of your friends. Because Christ also offered His life for the sake of this sinful world and said: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15,13). We should perceive every human being in this world as our friend and brother. If we are Christ’s, we should not be fooled by the earthly and temporary matters, but rather be friends of people, although they might sometimes do wrong things. Only God knows that maybe one day they too would repent, due to your prayers and feet and sacrifice, and exclaim like the villain on the cross “remember me, Lord, in the Thy Kingdom!” Because, God’s mercy is great, and He gives the same reward to those who come to Him in the end, at the 11th hour, just like the ones who are with Him from the first. That is why the Christians, and especially we the monks, should pray and yearn that all the people be saved no matter what they are like. We should pray for everybody to come to know the truth, and we should in no case despise the Jews, the Muslims, the Buddhist, the Hindu, the atheists… Not only that, but we should also pray they all come to the truth of the Divine revelation.
In this convent dedicated to the brave Christ’s soldier St. George the Triumphant, we have nuns who struggle with temptations. Isn’t that interesting? Usually, the world considers women as weaker creatures. But that is not true. When women are with Christ, they are equal to men, and sometimes even stronger in their feats and sacrifice. Just how many female martyrs are there in Christian history, who had proven to be braver than the strongest men. Thus, every nun, who would remain faithful to the end to the calling and testifies the Resurrection, like the Myrrh-bearing women, would be considered a light in the Kingdom which Christ opened for us. Therefore, be brave and do not be afraid!
I kindly ask you too, my dear Christians, stay faithful to the holiest name that you carry! God invited us to be His witnesses, just like He once called St. George. Of all the Roman soldiers he replied with love to His calling, making no compromise with faith and sealing his name for eternity. So, up to today, he remains the greatest witness of Life. Do not make a compromise with your faith. Sometimes in life, we must compromise with many things, but never with the faith in Christ, because that is a question of life and death. If you betray Christ — you go to certain death.
May the holy and glorious Megalomartyr George, whose prayers are very powerful, give us the strength to finish our path with faith in the resurrected Christ and be His witnesses. Amen!
Christ is Risen!