Today’s parable of the Prodigal Son clearly highlights for us the sad consequences of turning away from God, as well as God’s infinite Paternal love for every person, no matter how sinful. In the life of the Church, we have many striking examples of being a faithful Christian. Many of these exemplary people became known as Holy Martyrs (Witnesses), responding to the great love that God has for humanity, which was ultimately demonstrated with the sacrifice of His Son at Calvary. Out of love for Christ, the Holy Martyrs were willing to give their lives for His sake. Among them is St. Theodore (Tyro), who is celebrated from tonight at Vespers (The Saint is called Tyro, due to him belonging to the military unit of the Tyrones---this name being to distinguish him from other Saints named Theodore).
St. Theodore was from the village of Amaseia in Asia Minor and lived during the reign of the Emperors Maximian (286-305 AD), Galerius (305-311 AD), and Maximine (305-312 AD). He was questioned by the commander of his military battalion for suspected Christian beliefs, who interrogated him and sought to establish whether or not he was a Christian. St. Theodore courageously confessed his faith in Christ without hesitation, this confession coming from the grace of the Holy Spirit. His commander attempted to sow deceit in the Saint’s heart, saying to him that he can believe whatever he likes privately, but that he should come out publicly to worship and sacrifice to the Roman gods in obedience to the Emperor. The Saint of course refused this temptation, firmly declaring that he is a Christian soldier who worships Christ alone, and any sacrifice is only to Him. As a result of this declaration of faith, he was imprisoned. The fanatical idolaters later threw St. Theodore into a burning furnace, where he was martyred for Christ’s love. The Lord said, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends" (John 15:13). In this, St. Theodore the Great Martyr expressed his supreme love for Christ.
For St. Theodore (as it was with countless other Martyrs), sacrificing their lives for Christ was quite natural. Christ, the Son of God, became man, and to save us from eternal death, he sacrificed Himself! To give our own lives in gratitude and love for Christ is certainly possible. Of course this does not mean that all Christians are called to be martyrs in this way, but we are all called to have the spirit of this sacrifice in our hearts for the love of Christ, Who "first loved us" (1 John 4:19). In order to love God, we must know Him. As St. Silouan the Athonite said, it is one thing to believe in Christ, and another to know Christ. The question that each of us must ask ourselves is this: do I know Christ? Do I have a true image of Christ within me? Do I see Christ as an angry punisher of my sins and fear Him? Or do I feel Christ is a friend? Our Lord told us, "I have called you friends" (John 15:15). Some people may be offended by this concept, feeling that this somehow diminishes Christ. Can we really consider Him a friend? It is truly amazing! It would be unbelievable, except for the fact that He Himself repeated this for us to understand: "You are My friends" (John 15:14).
The root of the word friend is much deeper than what is now commonly understood. It is the embrace of the other, a kiss. Literally translated from the old meaning, it is “to love.” My friend is my favorite person. The relationship between two friends is a relationship of love, not simply fellowship. So my relationship with Christ, as a friend, is one rooted in love. This aspect of the relationship is dominant. I love my friends, I am not afraid of them. So it is with Christ; I love Him, and I’m not afraid of Him. "The perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18).
How does one usually express true love to a friend? What am I doing? In reflecting on these questions, we can examine our actions and understand what has to be done to grow closer to Our Lord. What to do for our great friend, Christ? We can be more attentive in our daily lives, trying to discern His will and strive to do it. We do this, not out of fear of divine retribution or self-interest, but out of pure unselfish love. This is how we maintain our relationship with Christ, as He Himself said: "You are My friends, if you do whatever I command you" (John 15:14). Additionally, when two people are close friends, they work to find as much time as possible to spend with each other. This is exactly what happens with a Christian who loves Christ. They are joyful to be with Him, whether it is in the home, at Church, with others or alone. Where ever they are, it is their great pleasure to spend this precious time with their beloved Christ in prayer.
My brothers and sisters, by the intercessions of St. Theodore, may we continually grow in our love for Christ. May we be warmly united with Him in sincere love, and continually enjoy His presence here and in Heaven forever. Amen.