Great Vesper Service for Saints Sergios and Bacchus

IMG_3984The Holy Metropolitan Church of Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene in Rondebosch, was filled to the brim on Sunday evening for the Vespers Service preceding the Feast Day of Saint Sergios, on Monday October 7,one of the greatest and most revered Christian martyrs and also the Nameday of our own Archbishop Sergios.

Saint Sergios and Saint Bacchus were high-ranking soldiers in the Roman army under Emperor Maximianus in the early 4th century. They were committed Christians but had to keep their faith a secret as the Edict of Milan allowing Christianity as one of the Roman Empire’s permitted religions had not yet been created. Their Christian Faith was uncovered when they refused to enter a pagan temple and honour the Roman god, Jupiter, with sacrifices.

The emperor was outraged at this open refusal to bow to false gods and ordered them to be humiliated, tortured and put to death. They were on the Syrian frontier at the time and after a severe scourging, they were dressed in women’s clothes and paraded in the streets of the surrounding villages to disgrace and degrade them. Saint Bacchus succumbed first and died after a brutal beating. Saint Sergius was then taken to Resafa in Syria where he was again cruelly tortured and finally beheaded.

His tomb in Resafa became a famous shrine and pilgrims travelled there from all over Western Europe to pay homage to this great martyr. Later the town was re-named Sergiopolis to venerate him and a basilica was built on the site of his grave.

These are the words of  Saint Sergius as he was led away to be tortured. They ring true today as much as they did then.

“We, O Emperor, are obliged to render to you earthly service of this corporal body; but we have a true and eternal king in heaven, Jesus the Son of God, who is the commander of our souls, our hope and our refuge of salvation. To him every day we offer a holy, living sacrifice which is our thoughtful worship. We do not sacrifice to stones or wood, nor do we bow to them.”

Both these saints and celebrated martyrs are remembered on their Feast Day which is October 7.

Saint Sergius of Radonezh, a blessed ascetic who lived in the wilderness and spent many years  praying for the ills of the world then became an incredible monastic reformer and wonderworker in 14th century Russia, is also remembered and celebrated on this day. He was a holy man committed to poverty and self-discipline and deeply humble, wanting only to help others. He was well-known for his unshakeable faith in the power of God’s help, whether it be for a beggar or a king.

Towards the end of the Vespers service, the congregation had a very pleasant and uplifting surprise when Father Zacharias from Robertson was inducted as an Archimandrite. It was a very touching, serene and sacred moment for everyone present.

In his closing address, His Eminence, Archbishop Sergius, underlined how vital it is that we remember the martyrs of our Faith who put their love of God first. Their refusal to give in  no matter what is an example and inspiration to all of us in our daily lives, on every possible level. He told us that whatever form of martyrdom these incredible saints experienced, whether it was a short life ending in blood like Saints Sergios and Bacchus or a long life of extreme abstinence  with many tears like Saint Sergius of Radonezh, their suffering and selflessness was extremely helpful to the Church.

He also thanked everyone in  the congregation and the Cape Town community for supporting him in his work as our Spiritual Leader and for all the help and friendship he has gained since becoming Archbishop. He also thanked Archimandrite Father Evlogios from George, Archimandrite Father Zacharias from Robertson, Right Reverend Father Nikolaos and Deacon Father Michael for their unstinting co-operation and hard work and praised the chanters for always making the services so special with their voices.

His Eminence also asked that we all remember him in our daily prayers.

A celebratory cocktail party brought the evening to a very happy and relaxed close as everyone enjoyed a true Nameday feast of delicious snacks and mouth-watering Greek and Cypriot confectionery.

By Pepe Sofianos

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