1. THE HOLY MARTYR NICEPHORUS
The biography of this martyr Nicephorus clearly demonstrates how God rejects pride and crowns humility and love with glory. There lived in Antioch two close friends, the learned priest Sapricius and the simple ordinary citizen Nicephorus. Somehow, their friendship turned into a terrible hatred for each other. The God-fearing Nicephorus attempted on many occasions to make peace with the priest. However, at no time did Sapricius desire to be reconciled. When the persecution of Christians began, the presbyter Sapricius was condemned to death and brought to the place of execution. The sorrowful Nicephorus followed after Sapricius beseeching him along the way to, at least, forgive him before his death that they might depart in peace.
"I beseech you, O martyr of Christ," said Nicephorus, "forgive me if I have sinned against you!" Sapricius did not even want to look at his opponent but quietly and arrogantly walked toward his death. Upon seeing the hardness of the priest's heart, God did not want to accept the sacrifice of his martyrdom and to crown him with a wreath but He mysteriously withheld His grace. At the last moment, Sapricius denied Christ and declared before the executioners that he would bow down before the idols. So it is with blind hatred! Nicephorus implored Sapricius not to deny Christ saying: "O my beloved brother, do not do that; do not deny our Lord Jesus Christ; do not forfeit the heavenly wreath!" But, all was in vain. Sapricius remained adamant. Then, Nicephorus cried out to the executioners: "I, also, am a Christian; behead me in place of Sapricius!" The executioners informed the judge of this and he ordered the release of Sapricius and, in his place, beheaded Nicephorus. Nicephorus joyfully lowered his head on the block and was beheaded. Thus, he was made worthy of the kingdom and was crowned with the immortal wreath of glory. This occurred in the year 260 A.D. during the reign of Gallienus.
2. THE PRIEST-MARTYR PETER DAMASKIN
Some think that Peter Damaskin lived in the eighth century and others think he lived in the twelfth century. This difference of thought comes from the face that there were two Peter Damaskins. The one about whom we are speaking was a great ascetic. He was unselfish beyond measure. Peter Damaskin did not even possess one book; rather, he borrowed books and read them. He read assiduously, gathering wisdom as a bee gathers honey. For a while, he was a bishop in Damascus but when he spoke out against Islam and the Manichean heresy, the Arabs severed his tongue and banished him into exile deep in Arabia. However, God granted him the power of speech so that, even in exile, he preached the Good News [Gospel] and converted many to the Faith of Christ. He compiled and bequeathed to his posterity a precious book about the spiritual life. He died as a confessor and martyr and took up habitation in the kingdom of Christ.
HYMN OF PRAISE
SAINT PETER DAMASKIN
Damaskin numbers eight types of knowledge
For men of spiritual and divine background:
The knowledge of sorrow and all temptations,
The knowledge of the sum of one's transgressions,
one's transgressions and God's forgiveness.
The knowledge of horror, pain and fear,
Before death, in death and after separation,
when before the righteous judgement, the soul stands.
The knowledge of Christ, the Savior,
His life and all the saints,
Of the saints; their deeds, patience and words,
Which, like a silver bell resounds throughout the ages.
The knowledge of natural attributes,
Of physical phenomenon; variation and change.
The knowledge of forms and things,
Natural phantoms and all sensory beings.
The knowledge of the world; rational and spiritual
The angelic world and the world of Hades; both good and evil.
The knowledge of God,
The One, Holy, Mighty and Immortal.
This knowledge is called Theology
To it, few are rarely elevated;
The greatest purity, a theologian needs
For the impure heart, to heaven does not reach,
Damaskin, the seven elementary knowledges appropriates
And to the eighth, to the knowledge of God he reached.
And the eighth is given by God and by God bestowed,
This is neither learned nor deserved.
Saint Peter Damaskin writes about the general and particular gifts of God and says: "The general gifts consist of four elements and all which result from them, as all the wonderful and awesome works of God outlined in Holy Scripture. The particular gifts are those gifts which God bestows upon every man individually whether it be riches for the sake of charity or poverty for the sake of patience with humility; whether it be authority for the sake of justice and the strengthening of virtues or subjugation and slavery for the sake of the expeditious salvation of the soul; be it health for the sake of helping the infirm or illness for the sake of the wreath of patience; be it understanding and skill in gain for the sake of virtue or weakness and lack of skill for the sake of submissive humility. All of this, even though it appears contrary to one another, nevertheless, it is by its purpose very good." In conclusion, St. Peter Damaskin says that we are obligated to give thanks to God for all gifts and with patience and hope to endure all tribulations and evil consequences. For all of that which God gives us or permits to befall us, benefits our salvation.
To contemplate the Lord Jesus as the Source of Joy:
1. In the tribulations of life which only He is able to replace with joy;
2. In the bondage of passions which only He can replace with the joy of freedom;
3. In death, from which he alone can resurrect us.
ABOUT THE WORD OF GOD WHICH IS MIGHTIER THAN DEATH
"Whoever keeps My word will never taste death" (St. John 8:52).
As long as a candle burns in a room, there will not be darkness as long as the candle burns and emits light. If food is seasoned with salt, it will be preserved from spoiling. If someone keeps the word of Christ in his soul, that one keeps salt and light in his soul and life will abide in him. Such a soul will not become dark in this life neither will it taste decaying death.
Whoever keeps the word of Christ in himself, the word of Christ sustains him from within and feeds him and enlightens him and enlivens him. Whether he is in the body or outside the body, he feels equally alive from the word of Christ, i.e., from the undying eternal life. The death of the body will give to his Life-bearing soul only a freer enthusiasm in embracing Christ, the Beloved Life-giver.
But, what does it mean, brethren, to keep the word of Christ within ourselves? That means; FIRST: to keep the word of Christ in our mind, thinking about it; SECOND: to keep the word of Christ in our heart, loving it; THIRD: to keep the word of Christ in our will, fulfilling it in deeds; FOURTH: to keep the word of Christ on our tongue, openly confessing it when it is necessary to do so. Thus, to keep the word of Christ means to fill ourselves with it and to fulfill it. Whoever would keep the word of Christ in this manner, truly, he will never taste of death.
O our Lord, Mighty Lord, mightier than death, give us strength and understanding to keep Your holy word to the end; that we do not taste of death and that death does not taste of us; that decay does not touch our soul. O Lord All-merciful be merciful to us.