Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Ascetic who became a Rapist who became a Saint

Often enough, Christians believe that a Saint is always a Saint. We, mistakably, believe that Saints were never tempted or did not live a secular life, with problems and temptations. However, this is further from the truth. There are many routes one man or woman can take in order to become a Saint, reach the objective we all have, i.e. theosis and communion with God. A brilliant example of this is St. James the Ascetic – also known as the fallen ascetic - , who is celebrated today (28th January) by the Orthodox Church. The following story, taken from the Synaxarion of Nicodemos the Hagiorite, emphasises the grace and love of God and shows that anyone can truly become a Saint.

“James was a reputable ascetic, but he defiled a girl who was brought to him for healing, and following this rape, he killed her and her brother, and threw their bodies in a ravine, in order to try to cover his crime. When he realised the extent of his sin, he was so overwhelmed by it that he thought he was beyond salvation, and was ready to give up his struggle, when a more experienced ascetic reminded him that nobody is beyond salvation. Following that, he lived in a grave, praying for the grace and the forgiveness of God. Years later, when the country was hit by a prolonged draught, God revealed to the bishop of the neighbouring city that it would rain again only if James prayed for it. The bishop and the people found James in his grave of repentance, and asked him to pray. When he did, the drought was broken. Instead of taking this as a sign of sanctity, James merely took it as a sign of encouragement, and doubled his efforts, until he gave up his soul to the hands of God.
This is a story of sin and repentance, and as his vita says, God allowed James to fall to grave sins, so that many virtuous who think it would be difficult for them to fall, would be cautioned by his example. By the same token, many sinners who think that they are beyond forgiveness and salvation, would also be inspired by his return to grace”[1].

[1] Andreopoulos, Andreas, Gazing on God – Trinity, Church and Salvation in Orthodox Thought and Iconography, (Cambridge, James Clarke & Co, 2013), p. 143.  

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