A HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE
HOLY MARTYRS SERGIUS
(Oct. 7/ 21)
Angels Help Us to Endure Sufferings
Brothers and sisters!
We all know that the holy angels, in obedience to God’s will, help people in various ways. Out of concern for our salvation, they suggest to us good, kind thoughts and feelings; frustrate our evil intentions; guard us from the assaults of demons; carry our entreaties to the throne of God; and intercede on our behalf with the Lord Almighty. But do you suppose, brothers and sisters, that with this the list of blessings the holy angels confer on us is complete? You should know that there is another very important way in which the angels help us. This is to stand beside us when we suffer, consoling us, strengthening us, and fostering courage in us.
To make this clear, I would like to relate to you in brief the Passion of the holy martyrs Sergius and Bacchus, whom we commemorate today. These saints were secret Christians and trusted counsellors at the court of the Roman Emperor Maximian. Moved by envy, other courtiers informed the ruler that his two advisers were Galileans. Maximian began to watch the saints and saw that they would not enter heathen temples. When he confronted them, they responded by confessing Christ and upbraiding him for worshipping idols. At this, Maximian stripped them of rank and their military garb, dressed them in women’s clothes, and had them paraded through the city to be mocked. Nevertheless, he could not bring himself personally to torture the saints, for whom he retained a certain affection, so he sent them to one of his governors, the persecutor Antiochus, who had a reputation for the utmost cruelty.
The martyrs were led out of Rome in fetters. They travelled all day and stopped for the night at an inn. At midnight, while the guards were asleep, the saints rose to keep vigil. They entreated the Lord to enable them to bear every torment for His holy name’s sake, and their prayer was heard. An angel appeared, shining with celestial light, and said, “Take courage, servants of Christ. Contest with the devil like good soldiers. You will quickly overcome the foe and for your struggle receive crowns of victory from the Lord. Christ will not forsake you, but will enable you to trample down the adversary.”
The martyrs were filled with ineffable joy and offered thanksgiving to God, Who had deigned to send the angelic messenger and guardian. Succored by the angel, the saints fearlessly glorified Christ, reviled the idols, and reproached the persecutor to his face. Bacchus was flogged to death with such brutality that his flesh was torn from his bones, his belly split open, and his blood flowed like water; however, he did not deny Christ. Sergius was compelled to walk more than five miles in iron sandals studded with long, sharp nails which pierced his feet; but he was healed by a second angel. The next morning Antiochus saw that Sergius could walk perfectly well and, having decided that he was a wizard, shod him again in the sandals. After Saint Sergius had walked another eight miles in them, Antiochus took off his head, but without obtaining his agreement to sacrifice to the false gods. Thus, strengthened by angels, both saints received a celestial crown.
From this, brothers and sisters, it is clear that God sends His angels to our aid when we are suffering or in distress, and that they console, strengthen, and heal us. And so, let us ask ourselves: what does this mean for us? First, when we are undergoing tribulations or sufferings, we should ask the Lord to send His angels to our assistance. Second, we should be grateful to God and to our angelic defenders and consolers, and remember to express our thanks in prayer to them. Third and most important, we should strive to make ourselves worthy of the assistance of angels, by committing our trials and sufferings to Christ, and undertaking to bear them submissively for His name’s sake: by doing our best to be patient and uncomplaining, unconditionally accepting God’s will, whatever that might turn out to be.
Dear Christians, the word of God teaches us, The angel of the Lord will encamp round about them that fear Him, and will deliver them.1 Do you hear? He will encamp round about them that fear God, not around them that have no fear of the Lord, who are heedless of His law and defiant of His judgments. Angels go nowhere near people who have a proud, insubmissive spirit, who think they will never have to answer to their Creator. “As smoke drives away bees and foul smells drive away doves, so gloomy, foul sin drives away the holy angels,” writes Saint Basil the Great. O Lord, deliver us from the stench of sin, and grant us the fear of Thee and acceptance of Thy holy will, that we may ever have Thine angels at our side to see us through all of life’s many trial and tribulations! Amen.
 Ps. 33:8