The Freedom to Die

Today I would like to focus on one of the saints of the day: St. Kyriakos (Cyriacus) the hermit of Palestine.

In the United States of America we are obsessed with freedom in a way that is not seen in the rest of the world. We have the freedom to own and use guns. We have the freedom to pray in public and to worship in the places that we choose. We have the freedom to vote. We have freedom to work and to purchase as we like (provided that we pay our taxes). We have the freedom to speak our minds. Many of these freedoms are guaranteed to us by the U.S. Constitution as well as the bill of rights. But ultimately it is not these old documents that give us such freedoms. These freedoms are a birthright from God almighty. What I mean by this is that God has created us and given us the freedom to be and to do whatever it is we choose to do. It was so in the garden of Eden. God gave Adam and Eve freedom to thrive or to fail.

One of the teachings of St. Paul is that “all things are lawful but not all things edify” (1 Cor 10:23). What does that mean for us as Christians? It means that we may have the freedom to do whatever we want, but that does not mean that exercising that freedom will build us up or make us saints and holy people who are well pleasing to God. We strive for our freedoms and the truth is that we sometimes become quite bitter and angry and resentful when others try to take our freedoms away. With that in mind let’s look briefly at the life of St. Kyriakos of Palestine.

He was born around the year 448 in the city of Corinth. His father was a priest and his mother was also faithful to Christ through the life of the Church. He was immersed in the life of the Church and before he was 18 he had decided that he must give up all earthly ambitions to seek a life of prayer with God. He heard these words of the Lord one Sunday in church “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mt.16:24). From that moment he left directly for the docks without even going back to his home to get anything. He boarded a ship to Jerusalem. After visiting the holy sights he went to the lavra (monastery) of St. Euthymius. Because of his youth Euthymius directed him to be the disciple of St. Gerasimus. Later he lived out in the wilderness and from the age of 27 to 37, roughly ten years, he did not speak to a single living soul.

Most of us wish we could stay in our twenties or thirties for the rest of our lives. We wish we could turn back the clock. Grown men and women have mid-life crises (which is simply a manifestation of our fear of death). St. Kyriakos spent these youthful years in prayer. In the desert it was said that the only things to eat were bitter herbs. At the prayers of this holy man these herbs became sweet.

He spent much of the rest of his life either living as a hermit in the wilderness or at times living with others within the monastery setting near Palestine. This idea of living out in the wilderness and doing nothing but praying is considered strange. Today we might call such a person a bum. They did not go out and get a job and work their way up the corporate ladder. They did not own a plasma tv or a car or even a bus pass. They did not pay taxes or wear nice clothes. He had freedom but used that freedom differently than we choose to us ours.

He was ordained as a deacon and later as a priest. He became renowned for his ability to heal and exorcise demons. He did not enjoy the attention and would continually move so as not to be disturbed from his primary goal of silence in prayer. He was a gifted teacher who also received visions from the Virgin Mary and other saints. He performed many miracles later in life and actually lived until he was about 109 years old. He did this without medical insurance or multivitamins. As we worry about our lives we buy more insurance and ask for more laws. He gave himself to God.

We constantly see that the great ascetic saints of the Church find new ways to give everything back to God. They are given freedom and they constantly find ways to entrust God with their lives. They remind us of the words of the Lord Jesus “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it.” They remind us that growing in the Christian faith requires some radical behavior. They remind us that the essence of our faith is to put our lives at the service of God. They remind us that we must learn to struggle to know God. They remind us that the greatest work any man can undertake is to love God through a life of prayer.

We may not have to sacrifice everything for the Lord, but saints such as Kyriakos teach us that it is possible. This is why you are blessed with all sorts of freedom. Even the freedom to die to yourself and live for Christ. May we do this and more through the prayers of St. Kyriakos And Glory be to God AMEN.

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