Becoming Light for Those in Darkness
(from the dismissal hymns of the Feast of St Photios the Great)
by Mary Long
In the last couple of months, there has been such a drought in Texas that the state government has banned outdoor fires of any kind because of how susceptible the arid land is to wildfires. Tragically, many wildfires have already destroyed homes and caused the deaths of several people.
Isn't fire supposed to be a good thing? We know that in primitive days, people had fire as their only source of light after the sun went down. And who among us hasn't been relieved to see the light of a campfire and feel its warmth on a chilly night?
I know of someone who went camping with some friends and got lost on an evening hike. After sunset, he was still lost and began walking in the darkness, not knowing if he was headed in the right direction. In the distance, he saw a faint light and headed towards it. As he got closer to the light, he realized it was the campfire from his friends' campsite. A half hour later, he was back at his cabin, safe and sound, having been guided by the light of the fire.
Fire. It has the ability to give light and security, but it also has the power to destroy.
Have you noticed that we are all like little fires?
We have the capacity to be very destructive toward others (like those wildfires in Texas), but we also have the ability to help others, giving our light to them (like that campfire). How many times have we comforted a friend at school, and then later the same day, insulted someone else? As little fires, we have the ability to do both - bring light and bring destruction.
In our Church, we look to saints as our examples of people who used their fire to enlighten others by spreading Christ's love. This month, on February 6, our Church commemorates St. Photios, one such person. He was the patriarch of Constantinople in the 9th century and lived in a time of great political controversy. He was no stranger to being burned by the destructive words and actions of others. His very name, which means "light," tells the story of how he used his fire to illumine others and maintain the truth of Orthodoxy. The hymns of our Church call him a "radiant beacon of wisdom" and "light of the holy churches" because he defended our Orthodox Faith against false teachings and tried to spread the light of the Church by sending out missionaries like Ss. Cyril and Methodios, who were responsible for bringing Christianity to Russia.
All of us are like small fires. Literally.
During liturgy, when we receive communion, as you know, we are taking Christ Himself into our bodies. The prayers read before and after communion tell us that the Eucharist is like a fire - burning away the bad things within us and bringing us light. Not only are we enlightened by Christ through the fire of holy communion, but we are also given the ability to spread that light to others. It's no coincidence that the Greek word for fire (photia) comes from the word for light (phos).
Christ gave us our little fires so that we can spread light, not destruction. He tells us this in the Gospels: "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matt 5:14-16).
So this month, as we commemorate St. Photios, let's remember what he stands
for: light. We all have the potential to become lights, as we use our fires to bring the light and healing of Jesus Christ to others.
Mary Long is currently a senior at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, where she is earning a Masters of Divinity. Originally from Austin, Mary received her Bachelor's degree from the University of Texas and is a devoted Longhorns fan.