Thursday, May 19, 2011

Those who "survived the time of great distress"

Back May 2007 I ended my homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter with the following words:
Like the child heroine of Flannery O’Connor’s story, The Temple of the Holy Ghost, who says, "I could never be a saint but I think I could be a martyr if they killed me quick," it is the lukewarm Christian "who allots himself a measure that seems appropriate to him and considers anyone who gives more to be a professional saint." "It is important to realize," writes von Balthasar, "that the genuine saint never sees his offer to God as something beyond the norm, as a work beyond what is required." One may believe that the era of the saints is over, but it is always the era of saints until Christ returns in glory, when "the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and . . . will wipe away every tear" (Rev 7:17) as they, like St. Gianna Molla, having "survived the time of great distress," join the white-robed multitude.
This is merely a lead-in to the first time I am writing about a Russian Orthodox priest who was martyred in his church in Moscow 19 November 2009 by a masked gunman, who asked for him by name and then shot him in the head and chest when he responded: Fr. Daniel Sysoyev. I have no illusions that Catholic/Orthodox ecumenical dialogue with Fr. Daniel would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, which is no small thing. However, I see him as a martyr, as a saint. I believe that he will eventually be venerated as such among Orthodox Christians. This process is underway as John Sanidopoulos chronicled over on Mystagogy.

In an interview, translated by and posted on the Russian Orthodox website, Orthodoxy and the World, you get a sense of Fr.Daniel, of his evangelical spirit and generous response to God's call on his life, which, for him, meant giving up his life. This Spirit-filled servant of God did not shrink away from preaching to and evangelizing among Muslims. It was very likely this outspoken evangelism that led to his death. Fr. Daniel succinctly laid out the criteria for giving witness (martyr meaning "witness"), "if you wish to tell another about the power of God, you should first feel the power of God yourself."

Fr. Titus (a.k.a. the Byzantine Rambler) wrote in a nice remembrance of Fr. Daniel: "It is beyond doubt that Father Daniel lived in and for Christ. He and only He was the centre and meaning of his life. His daily confession of the faith and his sincere wish to bring people to the Truth was perceived by many as something foolish, not serious, something inappropriate for reputable people."

The apostle wrote about this meant: "For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor. 1:22-25). The italicized words are the Greek word that transliterates as skandalon. As you can see, this is the etymological origin of our English word "scandal."

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