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The Importance of Forgiveness

In the days of the Roman emperor Valerian (253-259 A.D.), there lived in Antioch two inseparable friends, Nikephoros and the priest Saprikios.

They loved each other to such an extent that people considered them brothers by blood. But the enemy of humanity, the devil, managed to have them quarrel, so that they began to hate each other.

Several years after their falling out, there broke out an overall persecution of Christians, and the priest Saprikios, as a servant of the Church, was one of the first to be arrested.

The executioners tried using tortures to make the priest renounce Christ, but he courageously endured all torments.

Upon hearing that his former friend had been arrested and would soon be put to death, Nikephoros felt sorry for having quarrelled with him.

He rushed to the place of punishment, in order to make amends with the future martyr in Christ. But the priest Saprikios ignored all pleas for forgiveness.

In distress, Nikephoros fell on his knees. He began to beg Father Saprikios to forgive him, even if only in Christ’s name.

Instead of answering, the priest haughtily turned away from him. Even the executioners were surprised at his stubbornness, and advised Nikephoros to stop demeaning himself before the proud man.

Saprikios was led to the block with the sword raised above his head, when something unexpected occurred: he was overcome by panic and fear, and, leaping up, began to wave his arms and cry: “Do not kill me! I will bring an offering to the gods immediately!”

The executioners were stunned into immobility. Nikephoros, seeing his former friend, a priest, so basely renounce his faith, cried out for all to hear: “I am a Christian and I scorn your loathsome gods!”

The commander who was overseeing the proceedings ordered the priest to be released, and Nikephoros to be put to death in his place.

Thus the crown of martyrdom, prepared for Saprikios, passed to the head of Nikephoros, whose memory is celebrated by the Church on February 9.

How can one explain the sudden fear of Saprikios, who had courageously suffered all torments up to that moment?

Very simply: the Lord Himself had fortified the priest. But when Saprikios steadfastly refused to be reconciled, God removed His Grace from him.


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