St. Paul the Devout Martyr The Church has had to stand firm during various crises in Her history. The periods of persecution, heresy, schism, and captivity were times of great suffering for the people of God. In these eras we can find amazing examples of Christian behavior through faithful stewardship. The heroism displayed by Christian Orthodox stewards who defended the faith is worthy of our admiration and emulation.
During one of the most trying periods of Church History, the Iconoclastic Controversy took place. It began in the early part of the eighth century and lasted until March 11, 843, when during a church ceremony, a procession of icons took place restoring them to their rightful place in the church. We continue to commemorate this event on the first Sunday of Great Lent each year celebrating the Triumph of Orthodoxy.
Orthodox Christian Church iconography bears witness to the reality of God’s presence in our lives through the mystery of faith. Icons are meant to serve as visual aids to contemplation and prayer. We look beyond the external and deep into the spiritual meaning of living the Christian life. Icons are the witnesses of the presence of the Kingdom of God to us, and so our own presence to the Kingdom of God in the Church. It is in the Orthodox Christian Faith that icons are not only permissible, but are spiritually necessary because "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). Christ is truly man, and as man, truly the "icon of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15, 1 Cor. 11:7, 2 Cor. 4:4).
Among the many faithful servants of God who defended the correct teaching of icons was St. Paul the Devout Martyr. This St. Paul served as an abbot of a monastery on the island of Crete. He was arrested for protecting the holy icons in the year of our Lord 765. As he was being tortured his prosecutor ordered him: "You will either trample on the Icon and live, or else I will torture you with this torturing device." The response of Abbott Paul was made with conviction and faith: "It is impossible that I trample on Your Icon, Lord Jesus Christ!" With this statement of faith he became a victim of the Iconoclastic controversy, as he upheld the teaching of St. Basil the Great that says: "Whatever the word transmits through the ear, painting reveals silently with the icon."
Icons teach us about Christ and His ministry, the saints and their record of faith. Icons are windows into heaven: they seek to symbolize the transfigured cosmos and the victory of redeemed creation by the glory of Christ. In the words of St. John of Damascus: "The icon is a song of triumph, and a revelation, and an enduring witness to the victory of the saints." St. Paul the Devout Martyr of Crete may have been put to death by fire, but his witnessing to the truth of the Christian Orthodox Faith continues to illumine our hearts and minds as a vigil light before the Icon of the living God.
Our Stewardship to Christ and His Church is a lifelong process in which we are called to live the truth Faith. The zeal and courage demonstrated by saints like St. Paul the Devout Martyr must become a beacon for us to emulate the same enthusiasm and support of our precious Christian Orthodox Faith. As we continue to be enlightened by the saints of our Church let us remember the life of St. Paul of Crete by offering this hymn as our prayer:
"Illuminated by the right teaching of the holy faith of Orthodoxy, you courageously refuted the desperation of the iconoclasts. You traversed the narrow path of martyrdom, Devout Martyr of Christ, and you have been recognized as pious. Glorious Paul, beseech Christ our God to grant us the Great Mercy."
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