Sunday, July 7, 2013

Hearing and Obeying Christ's Call to "Follow Me": Homily on the Great Martyr Kyriake in the Orthodox Church

          Today we celebrate the memory of the Holy Great Martyr Kyriake, who gave the ultimate witness for Jesus Christ by refusing to worship pagan gods and giving up her life after suffering brutal persecution from the Romans.  A beautiful virgin girl, Kyriake came from a wealthy family and refused the offer of a marriage to the son of a magistrate who wanted their money.  That’s why the magistrate denounced the family as Christians to the Emperor Diocletian.  Even when offered great wealth and marriage to one of the emperor’s relatives, she refused and miraculously survived horrible tortures from four different rulers.  The Lord healed her wounds; her prayers destroyed a pagan temple and the wild beasts to which she was thrown would not attack her.  Immediately after praying before she was to be beheaded, Kyriake gave up her soul. 
            St. Kyriake’s story reminds us that the twelve disciples are not the only ones to whom the Lord has said “Follow me…”  They are not the only ones who have left behind a conventional life in order to follow Jesus Christ in the ministry of the Kingdom.  How odd, then, that of all the people who lived in those centuries long ago, we remember people like Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Kyriake who abandoned the things of this world in order to seek first God’s reign.  Christ said that “whoever desires to save his life will lose it and whoever loses His life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mk 8:34-35)  They were hated and killed by the powerful, but remained steadfast in their commitment to the One Who conquered death and they now share in His glory.  They were treated as the least by earthly kingdoms, but now are they are among the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.  
            The application to our lives is clear.  Though the particular path of discipleship to which we are called is probably very different from that of the Great Martyr Kyriake, we learn from her example that God will not abandon us when we are steadfast in our commitment to Him.  It is through such unflinching commitment that we will become our true selves in Christ.  The Lord sustained her through beatings that exhausted her tormentors, and through being suspended by her hair for several hours while being burned with torches.  The worse the torture, the more courageous she seemed. How amazing for a young virgin girl from a privileged family who had probably experienced little hardship previously.
            We all know of the kidnapping of the Orthodox bishops in Syria and of the killing, torture, and persecutions that our brothers and sisters in Christ endure today there and in so many other places.  Of course, people are murdered and abused for all kinds of reasons around the world.  No matter who the victim is, these are terrible crimes.  Even as we pray for innocent victims and do what we can to help them, we must not allow fear of anything or anyone to keep us from responding faithfully to the call “Follow me” that our Savior brings to each of us.  Faithfulness is not reserved only for those who are called to give the ultimate sacrifice of physical martyrdom.  Instead, their example should inspire us to become free of whatever nets have entangled us and held us back from following Jesus Christ as He calls us to follow Him here and now.
            In order to that, of course, we have to take our faith and our Lord seriously.  For example, if we do not get in the habit of attending to Him in prayer on a daily basis, we won’t be able to hear Him say “Follow me” in our own situation.  If we do not practice some kind of fasting or self-denial, we will probably be so addicted to our own pleasures and desires that we will find it impossible to put Him before ourselves.  If we do not take Confession and Communion on a regular basis with serious preparation, we will lack the spiritual strength to persevere in following Him.  We must embrace the basic spiritual disciplines of the Christian life if we want to live faithfully, even in the relative comfort and ease of our society.
            Otherwise, we will become spiritually lazy and morally weak, and without realizing it we will end up living according to the dominant trends of our culture.  Instead of being good stewards of our resources and generous to the poor, we will worship “the Almighty Dollar” and what it can buy.  Instead of pursuing chastity, purity, and fidelity, we will fall prey to hedonism and immorality. Instead of realizing that our enemies and nuisances provide our greatest opportunities to love Christ, we will turn away from Him by condemning them.  In these and many other ways, we will really come to believe that we simply have more important things to do than to take up our crosses and obediently follow our Lord.
            And in case all this sounds too dramatic, think about the challenges that we face every day.  It often doesn’t take much to inflame our passions against another person, even someone whom we love.  It doesn’t have to be a situation of life or death in order to be a situation of great spiritual significance that shapes us and others in decisive ways.  Every act of selfishness, dishonesty, thoughtlessness, or gossip weakens us in our ability to hear and obey our Lord’s calling.  When we focus on the past or the future in ways that distract us from the here and now, we overlook the only possibilities for the faithfulness that currently exist.  Just like daydreaming keeps us from hearing what someone else is saying, giving our attention to fantasies of any kind is dangerous because it draws us away from reality.
            In many times and places, young virgin girls like St. Kyriake have been thought to be unimportant and surely not of any great significance spiritually or otherwise.  But this young lady was able to stare down emperors and endure torture because, as St. Paul wrote,  she had put on Christ in baptism, in Whom “there is neither Jew nor Greek…neither slave nor free…neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”  She had the dignity and power of a true child of God, as one who inherited by grace the great blessing and salvation fulfilled in our Savior. 

            Though it is hard to believe, the same is true of each of us.  Regardless of any of the details of our lives, we are all invited—each and every one of us—to manifest brightly the holiness of the Kingdom of God by responding to our Lord’s calling to follow Him as His sons and daughters.  Let’s not fool ourselves by saying that we will wait to do so until there is some great crisis in the world or our own lives.  Now is the time to follow Him by doing what we know we should be doing.  Now is the time to turn our backs on whatever separates us from Him.  Now is the time to follow the mighty example of the Holy Great Martyr Kyriake in hearing and responding faithfully to our Lord, for He calls us to follow the path trod by her and all the saints into the glory of the heavenly Kingdom.  The only question is how we will respond.       

No comments: