Models of Faith
The Virgin Mary. St. John the Baptist. St. Kosmas Aitolos. And the Feast of our Lord’s Transfiguration. During the lazy days of August, we remember these saints and special feasts and celebrations among others, and each of these great saints offer a model of life for us to imitate. They are God’s Superheroes, to follow the theme of this summer’s Vacation Church Camp, who not only are constantly praying and interceding on our behalf, but who also have set an example with their way of life, leaving us people with whom to be inspired by and motivated to imitate.
First, we begin this month with a Fasting period from August 1-14, when we abstain from meat and dairy products in preparation for the Feast of the Falling Asleep of the Virgin Mary. This Fast is a reminder to keep our focus on spiritual pursuits, even during the lazy days of summer. Let us struggle with the Fast, while trying to attend as many Supplication/Paraclesis Services to the Virgin Mary as we can during this period.
As we reflect on the Theotokos, we remember that she is one of us, yet she is also the first among all saints. She is the one human being chosen from all history to become the Birthgiver and Mother of God. Imagine being so special! Yet, throughout her life she showed utter humility in following the ways of God.
“Let it be to me according to your will” she stated to the Archangel Gabriel when she heard about being chosen. Even though she was the one, she very clearly understood that she was simply an instrument in God’s hands. Her example of utter humility and dedication to following the ways of God are the greatest lesson we can learn from her. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” she prayed, “and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” To magnify and glorify God - with our lives, in all we do, in every decision we make - this is what we learn from the Theotokos. She showed us the path to walk, and constantly is praying for each one of us to stay faithful in walking that path.
In the midst of this Fasting Period, we pause to celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus on August 6th. We remember when Christ climbed up Mount Tabor with Peter, John and James, and miraculously radiated the uncreated light of God. He became brighter than the Sun and His disciples couldn’t even look at Him. He revealed to His followers His divine nature. Yes, He was Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter and itinerant preacher they knew as a friend, but now it was confirmed that He is Jesus the Son of God, the 2nd person in the Holy Trinity. He is God Himself! St Peter would later write in His 2nd Epistle how Christ “has given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world” (2 Peter 1:3-4).
The Feast of the Transfiguration is prominent not only because it reveals the divine nature of Jesus Christ, but also because it reminds each one of us what our potential is as human beings. To be a true human being, fulfilling the likeness of God in which we were created, means to become “partakers of the divine nature;” it means becoming one with God and allowing His Spirit to control and guide our lives.
And this is precisely what the saints have done throughout history. Whenever we honor a saint - whether St. John the Baptist, St. Kosmas Aitolos, or whatever other saint we have depicted on an icon in the Church - we are honoring the fact that they have allowed God’s Spirit to dwell within them. They have followed the narrow path that leads into the kingdom of heaven, and which gradually transfigures each one of them more and more into the likeness of God. They can say, along with the Apostle Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
After our celebration of Christ’s Transfiguration, and honoring the Virgin Mary, we then remember two great saints in the later part of August. On August 24 we remember St. Kosmas Aitolos. Saint Kosmas was illiterate until his late teens, when he decided to leave his little village in the Balkans and try to find a school where he could learn to read. His travels eventually led him to Mount Athos, where he became a monk. He surely thought he would stay on the Holy Mountain for the rest of his life, yet after 19 years in the Monastery of Philotheou, he felt God calling him to go back into the world and preach the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the illiterate villagers in northern Greece and southern Albania During this time in the 18th century, many Christians in the Ottoman Empire where very ignorant of their Christian faith and were even converting to Islam. St. Kosmas traveled from village to village, not only teaching people their faith and showing them how to live, but also helping them to start schools to educate their children. His main purpose of education, though, was for the children to learn their Christian faith and heritage, and begin reading Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers. In the end, he helped to found more than 200 schools.
On August 29, we remember the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. St. John has several feasts throughout the year, but on this day we remember how his bold, courageous, prophetic word - where he spoke the truth of God no matter who threatened him, and no matter who was offended by God’s word - eventually led King Herod to arrest him, and then kill him by cutting off his head. St. John is called “the greatest man born of woman” according to the Bible. He is called the Forerunner because he prepared Israel to receive the Messiah. He spoke the word of God, as did any true prophet, and actually became the first prophet in Israel for more than 400 years. Most of all, though, he totally dedicated his life to God, following His call no matter where it lead him - in the desert, among the crowds, in front of kings. He was a “voice calling out in the wilderness - repent, change your ways, turn back to God!”
I hope we all enjoy some lazy, relaxing days in August, don’t allow your vacations and relaxation to hinder you from staying vigilant in your spiritual efforts. The saints of August remind us of that!
With love in Christ Jesus,
Myron the Martyr of Cyzicus; Straton, Philip, Eutychian, & Cyprian the Martyrs of Nicomedea; Afterfeast of the Dormition of our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary; Demetrios the New, Righteous-Martyr of Samaria; Eutychios, Eutychianos and Kassiani the siblings; Paul, Juliana, and those martyred with them (the executioners)
Our Orthodox Faith
The life of the Orthodox Church perpetuates and fulfills the ministry of Jesus Christ. The close association between Christ and His Church is reflected in the images from the Scriptures which declare that Christ is the Head and the Church is His Body, and that Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church is His bride. Learn more»