The Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (12:1-11) and from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark (15:43-16:8)
Today we have the great joy of celebrating the feast of the Great Martyr St. George which usually falls on April 23rd. St. George has been a witness to the life in Christ for millions of Christians over the course of time. He is often associated with the story of slaying a dragon, but that is certainly not the most important thing that he did in his life. If you have never sat down and read his story, I would strongly encourage you to do so and do it with your children. The heroic stories of the martyrs and saints will be food for the souls of our people during some difficult times that are coming. And there is no doubt that they are coming one way or another because each and every one of us will have difficult times in our lives, times when it is easier, and less painful to deny Christ and follow the crowd and the world. St. George is beloved by the Orthodox Christian faithful because of his bold witness to Christ. In the face of extreme, gruesome and unbearable tortures, he bore them all with patience and faith in the living God. He reminds us that this physical life and reality is not the end all be all of things. He reminds us that while it is easy to save our bodies from certain pains, that will not benefit our souls or our eternal life with the Master.
In today’s epistle reading from the twelfth chapter of Acts we see that “Herod the King laid hands upon some who belonged to the church.” History tells us that Christians were often viewed as the enemies of societies, governments and empires. That was certainly the case with the early Christians who were seen as enemies by the Jews and it was also the case that the Romans viewed Christians as enemies of the state. They felt that it was their duty to squash the church. But blessed be the name of the Lord Jesus Christ who allowed his church to conquer both of those enemies without drawing a sword or shedding a drop of blood. We see this happen again during the communist revolution that began around 1917 and lasted into the early 1990’s. It is estimated that between 40 and 100 million people lost their lives in that brutal environment yet in the end, Christ was victorious. Communism fell and the church is growing more rapidly than ever before in the Russian lands. All of these victories did not happen because Christians fought with swords and clubs and guns. St. George was a highly decorated Roman soldier. One of the best of his time. But he didn’t gain victory by fighting or inciting a rebellion among the ranks of the army. He won by trusting that God alone was his victory and prize.
It is important for us to know that sometimes the world will hate us simply because we believe in and follow Jesus Christ. It is important for us to know that even when we are attacked for our faith, that is not a sign that we have done something wrong. It is in fact a sign that we are walking in the footsteps of our Lord. He says to His disciples “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me” (Jn 15:18-21).
We as the people of God are given grace to suffer for the name of Christ because He loves us and because we know that this life is definitely not the end of our story. The legions of martyrs and saints that have worked miracles for the faithful throughout the ages bear witness to the truth that life goes on and that true, eternal life is only in and through Jesus Christ.
What is necessary for us is to live in, and through Christ now, today. It is easy to think that if trouble comes to your doorstep you will be ready to act courageously like one of our heroic martyrs but that is not a given. Instead of assuming that you will be ready, assume that you won’t be ready for such struggles and spend time every day trying to improve yourself through your relationship with God. Spend days courageously looking at yourself and your sins and recognizing that you would be nowhere if not for the mercy of God. Spend time fighting against sin in your own life and then you may have the necessary strength to fight sin face to face as did our glorious martyrs.
The world offers us many distractions so it is really important for us to carve out disciplines and structured schedules that help us grow. It is like the man who has suffered a heart attack and then begins to take seriously the words of the doctor to eat well and to exercise regularly and to take his vitamins and medicines. It becomes a routine habit, a regular part of one’s life or else it doesn’t work.
We know the courage of St. George and all of the Apostles in the face of their trials and tortures. We don’t always know of the toil and struggles that they personally undertook every day to be close to Christ and to separate themselves from the world and all of it’s temptations and desires. But we know that by the grace of God they were victorious because they had the habit of leaning on the Lord, being strengthened by the Lord and finding their meaning in life through the Lord.
May Christ our true God bless us with courage to live withChrist on a daily basis so that we, like the martyrs might be ready to speak and to act to the glory of His name. Christ is risen!