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Bishop and Confessor (entered heaven around 251)
Depression is real, but it’s conquerable. Christian joy can overcome it. Really. Let me explain. The thing is that God doesn’t change. His love doesn’t change, his wisdom, his Providence, his power, his mercy, his interest in us his children (even the cantankerous ones) – all that is steady, dependable, unshaken by circumstances. Christian joy is rooted in God and his unchanging love, and so it can share his constancy. In that sense it’s a virtue; it can be developed and strengthened. When we are tossed about by circumstances (like feelings of depression), renewing our faith and hope in God anchors us in his steady goodness, so that even then we are able to rejoice, not emotionally perhaps, but spiritually, virtuously – and that goes deeper than depression. This was one of the most important lessons learned by the early Christians, like today’s saint.
Acacius was bishop of one of the many cities named Antioch, probably in Palestine or Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). When the Emperor Decius initiated his purge of Christians, the provincial governor passed through Antioch and asked to see the bishop. Acacius came forward and proceeded to engage in a gripping verbal exchange with the Roman official, defending the Christian faith and refusing to sacrifice to the pagan gods. It was recorded, and the transcription was sent to the Emperor, while Aciacius, imprisoned, awaited his sentence. The Emperor was so impressed by the defense of his faith and by his prudence that he let Acacius free without requiring him to sacrifice to the Roman gods.
In his famous defense Acacius exposes the inconstancy and undependability of the pagan gods, characteristics that sharply distinguish them from the solidity of Christ, whom even death could not stifle. Here are a few lines, for your edification and enjoyment. Notice how he exposes the flippancy and undependability of pagan deities as a way of emphasizing the solidity of Christ (the Roman official’s name was Martian):
“Acacius: ‘Tell me who are those gods to whom you would have me sacrifice?’ Martian: ‘Apollo, the savior of men, who preserves us from pestilence and famine, who enlightens, preserves, and governs the universe.’ Acacius: ‘Do you mean that wretch that could not preserve his own life: who, being in love with a young woman, (Daphne,) ran about distracted in pursuit of her, not knowing that he was never to possess the object of his desires? It is therefore evident that he could not foresee things to come, since he was in the dark as to his own fate: and as clear that he could be no god, who was thus cheated by a creature. All know likewise that he had a base passion for Hyacinth, a beautiful boy, and was so awkward as to break the head of that minion, the fond object of his criminal passion, with a quail. Is not he also that god who, with Neptune, turned mason, hired himself to a king, (Laamedon of Troy,) and built the walls of that city? Would you oblige me to sacrifice to such a divinity, or to Esculapius, thunderstruck by Jupiter? or to Venus, whose life was infamous, and to a hundred such monsters, to whom you offer sacrifice? No, though my life itself depended on it, ought I to pay divine honors to those whom I should blush to imitate, and of whom I can entertain no other sentiments than those of contempt and execration? You adore gods, the imitators of whom you yourselves would punish.’”
We have not built our lives around such whimsical and undependable deities, my dear niece. And so, even while storms of depression may disturb the surface of our souls, the calm of joy endures in their depths.
Your loving uncle,
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