My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True Lord, God, and Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS,IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
SAINTS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
A Mother and Her Seven Sons Martyred
[2 Maccabees 6:18-7:42]
The Church’s natural and fitting Veneration of the Saints of the Old Testament is very evident in a hymn sung on the second Sunday preceding Christmas, the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers:
“Come feast-lovers, let us extol with hymns the assembly of the forefathers–Adam the
first father, Enoch, Noah, and Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and those after
the Law–Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Samuel; and with them Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel,
Daniel, and the Twelve Prophets, with Elijah and Elisha, and all the rest.”
Besides being remembered on these two Sundays, many Old Testament Saints have their own days of commemoration. The Church holy Fathers often extol these Old Testament heroes. Saint John Chrysostom repeatedly urged his flock to emulate the patient endurance of “the great and noble Job.” Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes, “Noah was a Righteous man, the Scripture say, and Abraham was faithful, Moses meek, Daniel wise, Joseph chaste, Job blameless, and David perfect in patience.”
Eleazar and the Maccabean holy Martyrs, whose story is told in 2 Maccabees 6:18-7:42, deserve special attention. This Jewish scribe and seven brothers, along with their mother, Solomonia. Valiantly defied the sacrilegious commands of king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who was fiercely persecuting the Jews. For their defiance, they were brutally executed in Jerusalem in about 167 B.C. These unwaveringly faithful Jews ARE PROTOTYPES OF ALL THE CHRISTIAN MARTYRS. in their commemoration on August 1, they are called “GREAT MARTYRS, BEFORE THE MARTYRS OF CHRIST.”
The Church’s high esteem for the Old Testament Saints is also seen in her tradition of depicting the Forefathers and Prophets around the base of the interior central dome of a church. And by remembering these Saints in her Liturgical calendar, the Orthodox Church demonstrates her understanding that the Body ofChrist TRANSCENDS LIMITATIONS OF TIME AND SPACE. This awareness is clearly expressed at every Divine Liturgy: “And again we offer unto Thee this reasonable service for all those who in faith have gone before us to their rest: Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, and every Righteous spirit made perfect in faith.”
For Orthodox Christians, it is the experience of worshipping God with all the Saints that powerfully confirms their continuing presence in our midst.
A Mother and Her Seven Sons Are
“It came about also that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and forced by the king to be bound and tortured with whips and cords until they partook of the unlawful swine’s flesh. One of them, acting as spokesman, said, “What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers.”
The king became enraged, and he commanded that pans and caldrons be heated. These were heated immediately; and he commanded them to cut out the spokesman’s tongue, and to scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of the brothers and the mother watched. When he was utterly helpless, the king ordered them to take him to the fire, while he was still breathing and to fry him in a pan. As the smoke from the pan spread out broadly, the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die bravely, saying, ‘The Lord God is taking notice of us and in truth is encouraging us, as Moses proclaimed in his song which he sang, bearing witness against the people to their faces: ‘And God will have compassion on His servant.’
Luke 6:18-31, ch. 7 bears a likeness to the early Christian accounts of the deaths of martyrs for Christ. The details of each death serve to portray the depths of faith in the story of the “Seven Brothers and their mother.” Saint Cyprian, in a letter designed to strengthen one who was on the verge of martyrdom, writes extensively of the martyrdom of each of these seven men and their mother.
Each of the brothers suffered horrific tortures and everyone of them stood firm in their faith. “The second brother in turn underwent the same tortures as the first. “The third fell prey to their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, and said bravely, “I received these from heaven, and from Him I hope to get them back again.’ When he died, they tortured and tormented the fourth in the same way. Next they led forward the fifth and tortured him. After him they led forward the sixth. When he was about to die, he said, “Do not deceive yourself, for we are suffering these things on our own account because of our sins against our own God. Therefore things worthy of wonder have happened. But do not think that you shall be innocent for trying to fight against God!
“The mother was especially admirable and worthy of good memory. Though she saw her seven sons perish in the span of a single day, she bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord! …While she continued speaking the young man said to the king: “What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king’s command, but I obey the command of the law, given to our father Moses. But you have invented all manner of evil against the Hebrews, well not escape the hands of God, for we are suffering because of our own sins… But you, by God’s judgment, will receive just punishments for your haughtiness. Like my brothers, I give up body and soul for the laws of our fathers, crying out to God, that He may soon show His mercy to our nation…Then the king became bitterly enraged a his contempt and treated him worse than the others. So putting his trust completely in the Lord, he died in his innocence. Last of all, the mother died, after her sons.”
Saint John Chrysostom speaking on Christian martyrdom writes: “The blood of martyrs nourishes the Church much more than the moisture of dew brings gardens into bloom…Blessed is God! In our time as well as martyrs have come forth, and we have been made worthy to see people sacrificed for Christ, people who shed their holy blood to irrigate the entire Church. We have been made worthy to see people, advocates of piety, who are victorious, who are crowned…and we now have these crowned ones among us.”
“When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy Angels” [Mark 8:34-38).
The cross, a dreaded instrument of punishment, is also a symbol of suffering by Christians in imitation of Christ. Accepting this suffering is not a punishment, nor is it an end in itself, but a means to overcome the fallen world for the sake of the Kingdom and to crucify the flesh with its passions and desires. The central paradox of Christian living is that in grasping for temporal things, we lose the eternal; but in sacrificing everything in this world, we gain eternal riches that are unimaginable. Persecution is the normal state of being for Christians. Suffering and Martyrdom is a reality for all Christians throughout the centuries.