And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. [Acts 2:42]
Of utmost important to Orthodox Christians is the preservation of the faith as it was given to the Apostles by our Lord. This desire to maintain the purity of the faith and avoid novelty and innovation led to the compilation of the New Testament scriptures and to the formulation of the Nicene Creed. It prompted the calling of Church Councils and it is foremost among the responsibilities of church hierarchs.
Christians can be thankful for the generation of faithful saints after the Apostles who took this responsibility so seriously. Among these saints is Clement, a bishop of Rome who died around the year 100 and whose feast day the Church celebrates on November 23.
Clement has at times been identified as a nobleman of the city of Rome, but scholarly “detectives” are more inclined to regard him as a member of a household (perhaps an ex-slave) of the Roman consul Titus Flavius Clemens. This consul was a cousin of the Emperor Domitian, who was executed (and his wife, Domatilla sent into exile) during his cousin’s persecution of Christians on a charge of atheism – the usual accusation made of Christians who would not sacrifice to the imperial deities. Archeological excavations have revealed what was believed to be the first century Clemens house, which was the meeting place for a “house church” – under a 4th century church, upon which was built the present 12th century church of St. Clement.
Whatever his position in this household, St. Clement was an important element in God’s plan for his Church in these crucial early days. As one who knew both St. Peter and St. Paul when they came to Rome in c. 60 and 61, he is the Clement mentioned by St. Paul in Phil. 4:3. Clement absorbed the teachings of these great Apostles and after St. Peter’s martyrdom and the brief episcopacies of Linus and Cletus, he was made bishop and entrusted with the care of the church in Rome.
Not only did Bishop Clement offer pastoral care for the Christians in his city, but he also took some responsibility for Christians in other cities. It is through his letter to the Corinthians that we learn much about the state of the Church in the first century. The Corinthian church had evidently continued to experience problems after St. Paul’s epistles to them were written, and St. Clement followed this apostolic practice in writing (c. 96) to the Corinthians of the proper practice of their faith. The letter was still being read in the Liturgy at Corinth 75 years later. It was disseminated to other churches as well and at times was considered part of the New Testament in Egypt and Syria.
The persecutions ordered by the Emperor Trajan resulted in the deportation of Bishop Clement to the Crimea to labor as a stone cutter. Other Christians had been exiled to this place and they were overjoyed by the presence and ministrations of the holy bishop. Many others were inspired by his teachings and miracles and they became Christians. For this, the saint was condemned to death and was thrown into the Black Sea with a heavy stone around his neck.
By the marvelous providence of God, the relics of the holy martyr were protected in an underwater cave until centuries later, when Ss. Cyril and Methodius were led to discover them and return them to Rome, where they were laid to rest in St. Clement’s Church, c. 868. Frescoes were painted to depict this joyous return and these were preserved in the later church structure.
We give thanks for this faithful servant of God, who cared for his people and offered spiritual counsel to others; who continued to preach the Gospel in exile; and who gave his life for the faith. We especially give thanks for St. Clement’s preservation of the teachings of the Apostles and we ask for his prayers as we strive to continue “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”