Warrior of the God of Heaven: St. Nicetas the Goth
Forget those things that aren’t worth remembering
Troparion[i], Tone 3
Thou didst defeat error and triumph in martyrdom, Nicetas namesake of victory: for thou didst conquer the ranks of the enemy and end thy contest by fire. Pray to Christ our God to grant us His great mercy.
St. Nicetas lived in the area now approximating the borders of Romania in the 300s. It was a very active area in the early centuries of Christianity. Various tribes moved back and forth over a period of time longer than the US has been a country. Many were Arians and the struggles over that heresy[ii] rose and fell with time, as well as periodic persecutions of Christians.
St. Nicetas was a disciple of Bishop Theophilus, who took part in the 1st Ecumenical Council. There came one of the times when Christians were persecuted. St. Nicetas stood up to the prince of the Goths and suffered the usual results, and even more so, that he is known as a Great-martyr. He gave his life for Christ in 372. His name means “Victorious One.” Let’s see what it means to be a victorious warrior of the God of Heaven.
The early Church understood the need for spiritual struggle or “unseen warfare.” The Orthodox Church today still understands that, and we are filled with marshal images and hymns, especially as we exalt the Cross: “Granting to right-believing kings victory over their enemies.” What brings this victory? The grace of God.
St. Paul tells us in his second letter to the Corinthians, “Receive not the grace of God in vain.” He then gives us examples of what this means. How do we receive the grace of God profitably? From II Cor. 6:1-10:
We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. Giving no offence, in much patience, afflictions, necessities, distresses, stripes, imprisonments, tumults, labours, watchings, fastings; by pureness, knowledge, long suffering, kindness, the Holy Ghost, love unfeigned, the word of truth, the power of God, the armor of righteousness, as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed, as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
Other readings echo these words.
II Tim. 3: Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
Mark 8:34-35: Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me, for whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.
Matt. 10: 16-22: Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you … ye shall be hated … but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
Gal. 2:20: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
These words sum up our goal: to be crucified with Christ and live by the faith of the Son of God, not my faith, not my solo crucifixion. Reaching the goal is only possible as I join my life to His and participate in His Crucifixion and Resurrection.
Now – this goal is way beyond my reach – so why does the Church tempt me, and everyone for 2,000 years, by holding up before us an unattainable goal?
Because it’s not unattainable. But, boy, is it different from what is “preached” by the world today! We are called to cooperate with Christ. Grace is continuously poured out, but we have to use it. “Receive not the grace in vain.” Do something with it!
For example, deny yourself those self-serving thoughts and indulgencies to which we are prone. As the subtitle for this sermon says, forget those things that aren’t worth remembering, i.e. no remembrance of wrongs done to you, or by you, or of petty judgments and jealousies of others, of today’s news, fears, angers, – the passions in general. Dwelling on them just stirs them up anew.
Start right now, from right where you are. Can’t run? Walk. Take a step. Can’t walk? Hop.
For example, in the Atlantic League playoffs in 2014, Sean Smith of the independent league’s York Revolution, hit a home run, but ninety feet after he connected he crumpled to the ground in pain. While watching the baseball leave the yard and likely pondering what may have been the biggest hit of his professional career, [Pride can distract our attention] Smith awkwardly stepped on the first-base bag and went right down. In that one unlucky instant, the ACL in his right knee was torn. After willing himself to his feet, he was unable to put any weight on his right leg. Still, he had another 270 feet to go, and he had to cross home plate for the run to count.
Halfway to second base, Smith motioned to one of the umpires that his knee was gone, but he was going to keep going. And keep going he did, gaining more momentum with each hop on his left leg.
By the time he neared third base, he’d hit his stride, and every fan in the stadium was behind him. As the roar built, Smith fired them up even more by pounding on his chest. Then, he made the turn for the home stretch and saw that waiting for him at home was every single one of his teammates. [As we trust those in heaven will welcome us, wounded though we may be.]
It was both heart-breaking and beautiful to watch as Smith hopped those final 90 feet. Those emotions only heightened as Smith crossed home and was immediately embraced by his teammates, who then carried their injured hero off the field.
It almost felt like a scene out of a movie. Right on down to Smith celebrating with his teammates on crutches after they pulled out the victory. But it was very real. And it was undoubtedly one of the coolest moments we’ve seen in baseball all year. [There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.]
Nicetas means victorious one. He died under persecution and torture but did not receive the grace of God in vain. He faced the difficulties of his time and whatever interior struggles he had.
You and I can also be victorious, even if we have to hop over the line wounded and fainting, but, remembering St. Paul, giving no offence, patient in afflictions, showing purity, knowledge of God, long-suffering, kindness and love unfeigned.
Turn away from the works of darkness in yourself, especially the lies we tell ourselves and the fantasies we enjoy. Guard your tongue and do good. Give up something for the sake of another. When you fall, get up, repent, confess and go on again.
Keep going until we can say about you, as the Church does about St. Nicetas in his Kontakion, “Having cut down the dominion of deception by thy resistance, and received a crown of victory in thy sufferings, thou dost rejoice with the angels.”
You can see the news account with video at https://ca.sports.yahoo.com/blogs/mlb-big-league-stew/indy-leaguer-tears-acl-after-hitting-home-run–hops-around-bases-on-one-leg-075232784.html
You can read Sean’s short report about the event and some of the things that happened as a result at https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/sean-smith-baseball-home-run-injury
[i] Troparion is a type of hymn in Byzantine music, in the Orthodox Church and other Eastern Christian churches. It is a short hymn of one stanza, or one of a series of stanzas;
This is a sermon given in September 2014 by Father Stevan Bauman (firstname.lastname@example.org).