Niketas Stethatos: Do You Devote Yourself to the Lives of the Saints? Part 2

Feast of Sts Carpus, Papylus, Agathodorus & Agathonica, the Martyrs of Pergamus

Symeon_New_Square_5.jpgIN FACT MOSES, the man who saw God, bears witness to me that our doing this is acceptable to God and thus that the grace of the Holy Spirit from above has made it happen, for he recorded the lives of men from former times, as well as his own life. So does Ezra, and the most wise Solomon who recorded the life of Job, and also John Chrysostom himself in eulogizing the saints. For he says,

For this reason the grace of God has bequeathed to us in writing the lives of the saints and their conduct, so that when we learn that they accomplished every kind of virtue while being of the same nature as we are, we may rouse ourselves to do this and may kindle in ourselves a fierce desire to show our love for them. So how will this happen? If we devote ourselves constantly to those men and hear them in mind, we may lead the same sort of life as them. For God will be glorified in this way more than by all the others put together. For if “the heavens are telling the glory of God” and they do so without a sound, making others do this through their appearance, then those who have led a wondrous life glorify God all the more, even if they are silent, when others glorify God because of them.

So you see, my masters, how God is glorified by the honor that we render annually to my father. And you should also surely learn that this not only renders glory to God but is also most beneficial to the people. This is clear from the words of the wise Solomon, who says, “When the righteous man is eulogized the people will rejoice,” a statement which Basil the Great explains as follows while eulogizing the martyr Gordios:

The people rejoice with spiritual joy simply at the recollection of what the righteous accomplished, and they are thus encouraged to emulate and imitate the good deeds about which they hear. For the story of people who live good lives creates a kind of light in those who have been chosen for salvation, leading them toward the path of life. For the eulogies of other men are composed of exaggerated words, but in the case of the righteous the truth of their actual deeds suffices to show the excellence of their virtue. As a result, when we narrate the lives of those who have been distinguished by their piety, we first glorify the Master through His servants, then we eulogize the righteous through the evidence of what we know, and finally we make the people rejoice by hearing about good things. For just as illumination results automatically from fire and sweet fragrance from perfume, thus also benefit necessarily results from good deeds.

In order to emphasize my point, I will show you that failure to honor, as I myself do today, those who have lived good lives in all sorts of ways is of no benefit to the quality of our lives. I will introduce the renowned theologian Gregory as a witness, and then will conclude my statement. What then does he say in his eulogy of Athanasius? “It is neither devout nor safe for those who have spent their lives in piety to be dismissed in silence, when the lives of impious men are honored with memorials.” If then, as you, holy synod, have heard from me today, the Gospel thus commands us, the apostles who actually saw the Word for themselves teach us, and our fathers have told us to act in encouraging the faithful just as I have, why should we listen to anyone else at all who teaches the opposite of these declarations? But if my accuser knows something more profound than this that perhaps has escaped me, as well as the fathers and apostles, let him present it to your holiness. I will listen in silence, and indeed, if he can offer a persuasive argument from holy scripture, I will be convinced and will carry out what is established by holy law with a cheerful spirit.

—Niketas Stethatos, The Life of St Symeon the New Theologian

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