Martyrdom Interrupted

 

All Saints

 

On February 9 the Orthodox Church remembers St. Nikephoros of Antioch. His story includes the broken relationship that he shared with the Priest Sapricius. They trade places in a most remarkable way.

Nikephoros contested during the reign of Gallienus in about the year 260. Through the working of the evil one, his friendship with a certain Christian priest named Sapricius was turned to bitter hatred. Nikephoros, repenting of his enmity, tried to reconcile with Sapricius, but to no avail. When persecution broke out under Gallienus, Sapricius was seized as a Christian. Saint Nikephoros learned that Sapricius had been arrested by the pagans and was enduing torments for Christ, he sent intermediaries to Sapricius, begging his forgiveness; but Sapricius would not forgive him. Later, as Sapricius was being taken to his beheading, Nikephoros, hoping that Sapricius, at his end, in such a holy hour, would at last forgive him. Nikephoros met Sapricius on the way, fell before him, and fervently asked his forgiveness; but Sapricius did not forgive him. Even though Sapricius had passed through many sufferings, and the crown of martyrdom was now awaiting him, because he disdained the chief commandments of love and forgiveness, the grace of God – which had been strengthening him in his torments – departed from him, and he told his executioners he would sacrifice to the idols. Nikephoros immediately confessed Christ before them, and being himself beheaded, took the crown that Sapricius had cast away.

This coming Sunday in the Orthodox Church we celebrate the Rite of Forgiveness. It is a short Vespers service but is most often done immediately following the Divine Liturgy. The Church moves into Lent during this service. The very first exercise in Lent, before the Fasting has started, before anything at all, we stand before each other and ask for forgiveness. What Sapricius could not do, we do. Let’s do it.

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