Dear Beloved in Christ,
God is with us!
Yesterday, Orthodox Christians around the world—including many of you—prayed with the monks of Mount Athos during a vigil dedicated to the Panagia and to St. Haralambos, for the pandemic of the coronavirus.
If you were like me, you might have asked yourself, “Why St. Haralambos?” I didn’t know the answer, so I looked it up on a website called Mystagogy. (If you ever want to know more about saints of the church, this is an excellent resource.)
It turns out that St. Haralambos has a special gift of healing pestilent diseases, and has often halted the epidemics of typhus, cholera and the plague. This gift of his is attributed to the final prayer which he prayed during his martyrdom:
“If it pleases Your goodness to ask a gift of You, I beseech Your majesty and dominion to grant this favor: to whomsoever should find or possess a portion of my relics, and in whichsoever land he may be celebrating the memory of my martyrdom, may he never suffer from hunger or plague or pestilence or an untimely death …”
Since the time of his martyrdom, numerous miracles of healing from disease have been attributed to him, and especially to places where his relics visited. Among these, he delivered…
…the island of Zakynthos from black plague in 1728.
…the city of Epirus from the plague in 1812.
…the village of Avra in Kalambaka from scarlet fever in 1930.
…Mount Athos from a deadly epidemic in 1908.
The 1908 epidemic was halted by St. Haralambos after the monks of Mount Athos held a vigil to him at the central church (the Protaton). Since then, every year a vigil is held there for St. Haralambos—the only saint for whom all of Mount Athos holds an annual vigil, besides the Panagia. So this is why Mount Athos chose St. Haralambos for last night’s vigil. The relic of St. Haralambos’ skull, at St. Stephen Monastery in Meteora, Greece are pictured, above.
As we struggle through these difficult days of isolation, we need not be alone! God has given us “so great a cloud of witnesses,” to whom we can pray and draw near. These are our distant family members, many of whom we barely know. However the fact of us not knowing them doesn’t make them any less our family! We are bound together through Christ’s body and blood. We are all His brothers and sisters, united to each other.
God’s family is large indeed. And God, as a loving Father, desires that the bonds between family members grow. Thus in His love and providence, He gives us opportunities—moments and situations in our lives—to get to know our spiritual family members. Today is one such day, on which we can now begin to know our brother in Christ, St. Haralambos.
Who are the familiar saints in your life? Call upon them now. Pray around your prayer rope with, “O Saint of God [Name], intercede for us.” If an Akathist or Paraklesis exists in their honor, pray it on occasion. And if you don’t have their icon, find one. Just like your family in the flesh, it helps to communicate, to have pictures, and to rely upon them. This is how the bonds of love are formed.
P.S. One of those God-appointed moments in my own life was with St. Nikiforos the Leper. When I left Las Vegas, two Eritrean families in the parish gave me a gift of $100. I decided that I would find an icon in their honor. When I visited the Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring on my way to Oregon, I went to their bookstore and was drawn to a beautiful icon of an unknown saint. I said, “Who is that?” The sister said it was St. Nikiforos the Leper, and that they had just finished translating his life and his Paraklesis into English. So I purchased the icon and books with the gift money. And now he dwells with our other saints in our prayer corner (pictured below).
One of the “blessings” in this time of the coronavirus is that more of you are getting to know St. Nikiforos for the first time. This is the beauty of God’s providence!