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UPCOMING EVENTS




St. Clement of Ohrid
 
28TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

Dear brothers and sisters, before the feast of the Nativity of Christ, our Holy Orthodox Church reminds us that the feast is approaching and prepares us to greet it worthily. On this first preparatory week before the feast, the Church remembers the saints who lived before the Birth of Christ—the Old Testament prophets and all the pious people who with faith awaited the coming of the Savior, which is why this week is called the week of the forefathers. By this remembrance the Church takes us mentally to Old Testament times, to the times that led up to the appearance of the God-promised Redeemer; and in order to encourage us to morally purify ourselves, it sets before us a whole host of great forefathers who shone by their God-pleasing life.

All the forefathers lived by hope in the Redeemer Who would come, and they continually expressed their faith in Him. But while a small number of pious people awaited the coming of Christ the Savior on earth and accepted Him, a large portion of the God-chosen people of Israel did not accept Christ the Savior, rejected God’s voice and care for their salvation, and deprived themselves of eternal blessed life, about which we read today in the Holy Gospels.

By the good master of the house in this parable is meant God the Heavenly Father, Who continually calls us to His supper—that is, the supper in the Kingdom of Heaven, which was prepared for us from the creation of the world, inherited through the acceptance of faith in our Redeemer, Christ the Savior, and which will be revealed toward the end of this world. According to the holy fathers’ interpretation, the servant in this parable is the Only-Begotten Son of God, Who accepted the form of a servant for the sake of our salvation, and Who always calls us: Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Mt. 11:28).

This parable relates very closely to the Jews and pagans contemporary to our Lord Jesus Christ, who over the course of many centuries had been prepared by the action of Divine Providence to receive the Savior and enter Christ’s Church, and who out of their stubborn unbelief, because of the attraction of mundane cares and sinful pleasures, nevertheless did not wish to appear at the wedding feast of the Son of God, and did not enter the bosom of His Holy Church. The Bridegroom Himself of the Church, and His friends, the holy Apostles and Prophets, called them to the path of repentance and salvation in Christ Jesus.

After those called were shown to be unworthy of the wedding feast, God’s Servant invites at His Master’s behest all the poor, halt, lame, and blind, who respond thankfully to the invitation to enter the feast and become participants in the great supper. By the poor, halt, blind, and lame are meant the people who really do have natural faults, who respond with great eagerness to the divine invitation to follow the Lord and acquire the Heavenly Kingdom, as the Apostle Paul say:

We can understand the poor and wretched people to be those who are imperfect in the moral and spiritual sense; people who are sunk in error and vice, not gifted by nature with virtues, and who nevertheless responded to their Lord’s call to repentance, and who will enter first into the Kingdom of God.

Although this parable is, as we have said, very closely related to Jesus Christ’s contemporaries, it is also closely related to all of us. If we only listen to the voice of our conscience, each of us will find an image of our own relationship to Christ’s Church and to our own eternal salvation. From the parable we see that to the supper are first invited people who are involved in lawful labors and enjoying innocent familial joys—which are not an insult to God’s goodness, because the Lord Himself gave the commandment to labor, and to have a wife. Nevertheless, the fate of these people involved in lawful labor and innocent pleasures finishes very regrettably. It all ends for them with the loss of their participation in the eternal royal feast, and they perish. For what? Of course, they are not condemned for laboring and enjoying family life, but because amidst their mundane cares and worries they were haughty about their honored positions. Passionately attached to their labors, trades, and joys, they forgot about their duty of obedience and honor towards their Lord, and disdained the invitation to His feast.

There can be such people among us, dear brothers and sisters, who possess obvious good qualities, merits, and virtues, but spend their time in various labors and occupations, entertain themselves with innocent pleasures and joys; and in their labors and joys they completely forget about God and their obligations to Him. Proudly hoping in their righteousness, they consider themselves to have no need of God’s mercy, gifts, and graces; they resolutely refuse works of self-denial and obedience to God, and remain deaf to every call to salvation.

Attachment to earthly things, to delights, riches, and the pleasures of this age, attachment to specific persons of another sex—all deafen a person to the call to the Kingdom of God; and like those called in the Gospel parable, that person answers, I pray thee have me excused. Of course, those called ones will not taste the Lord ’s Supper, they will not delight in the eternal blessedness that they themselves renounced. During their earthly life they will not obtain anything for life in the habitations of the Heavenly Father. Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (Gal. 5:22:23)—those are the qualities that open the heavenly gates to a person and lead him into the heavenly chambers. These qualities, which comprise the fruits of the spirit, are unknown and inaccessible to those who live according to the dictates of the flesh, who live only for the earth, without a thought of Heaven, or of Jesus Christ and His commandments. Therefore, without having apparently heavy sins, without any evil deeds that might trouble the soul, the lover of the world and lover of pleasure gives himself over to his worldly cares and joys, forgetting about God, and is finally given over to eternal death: For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption (Gal. 6:8).

Now, the people of the second type, called from the roads and byways—that is, people less gifted and capable in life—turn out to be more responsive; and God’s call to them is crowned with success sooner than His call to the people who are haughty over their righteousness or their gifts. The poor in spirit, aware of their nothingness, their moral paucity and inability to gain their own salvation through their own efforts, who hunger and thirst after righteousness, with their fervency answer the call to Christ’s Kingdom, to Christian life; and from among them come the best guests at the wedding feast of the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.

All great people who render benefit to the Church through their labors, all great pastors and teachers of the Church, the holy martyrs who by their death sealed their unconquerable love for Christ, the holy ascetical men and women, and all the saints of God came from among those called—the poor in spirit, the humble of mind; and they now triumph at the wedding feast of the meek Lamb. Entering the hosts of God’s chosen are many people who are poorly endowed with mental and moral gifts—the lame, the blind, and many of those who abused and wasted their God-given gifts on wicked and shameful deeds but then repented with all their hearts, healed their sinful wounds, and put on the bright wedding garments. We are convinced of this by the many saints who after wicked, sinful lives became pure and righteous—for example, St. Mary of Egypt or St. Moses the Black.

Brothers and sisters! We are also called to the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us therefore be attentive to God’s voice, remembering that there is an end to our earthly existence, that the time will come when God’s mercy, which now calls us to repentance and correction, will as if give place to Gods’ righteous judgment and wrath. Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2). Let us cleanse ourselves by repentance and be corrected, in order to greet the feast of the Nativity of Christ with a pure conscience and spiritual joy; and from a fullness of joy and feeling, let us chant to the Divine Child born in Bethlehem: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (Lk. 2:14). Amen.

 
VENERABLE NAHUM OF OHRID THE WONDERWORKER

He was the disciple of the Saints Cyril and Methodius and one of their disciples who most zealously cooperated with these Apostles of the Slavs. Saint Nahum went to Rome where he became renowned for his great erudition and his gift of working miracles. He had an excellent command of several languages. With the support of King Boris Michael they settled on the shore of Lake Ohrid when they returned from Rome. While Saint Clement acted as Bishop of Ohrid, Saint Nahum founded a monastery on the south coast of the lake. This monastery ornaments the lake coast as the name of Saint Nahum ornaments the history of Slav Christianity and represents a source of miracle-working power and shelter for the sick and infirm. Numerous monks from all parts of the Balkan gathered around Saint Nahum. He was a wise teacher, unique guide of the monks, resolute ascetics, wonderworker and spiritual father. He relentlessly struggled in the translation of the Holy Scriptures and other church books from Greek into Slavonic. He worked miracles during his life on earth and after he had departed. His miracle-working relics overwhelm by the great many miracles, especially healing of severe illnesses, above all mental illnesses. He fell asleep in the Lord at the first half of the X century.

 
THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD GOD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, was born of the Most Holy Virgin Mary in the city of Bethlehem during the reign of the emperor Augustus (Octavian). Caesar Augustus decreed that a universal census be made throughout his Empire, which then also included Palestinian Israel. The Jews were accustomed to be counted in the city from where their family came. The Most Holy Virgin and the Righteous Joseph, since they were descended from the house and lineage of King David, had to go to Bethlehem to be counted and taxed.

In Bethlehem they found no room at any of the city’s inns. Thus, the God-Man, the Savior of the world, was born in a cave that was used as a stable.

“I behold a strange and most glorious mystery,” the Church sings with awe, “Heaven, a Cave; the Virgin the Throne of the Cherubim; the Manger a room, in which Christ, the God Whom nothing can contain is laid.” (Irmos of the 9th Ode of the Nativity Canon).

Having given birth to the divine Infant without travail, the Most Holy Virgin “wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger” (Luke 2:7). In the stillness of midnight (Wisdom of Solomon 18:14-15), the proclamation of the birth of the Savior of the world was heard by three shepherds watching their flocks by night.

An angel of the Lord (Saint Cyprian says this was Gabriel) came before them and said: “Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). The humble shepherds were the first to offer worship to Him Who condescended to assume the form of a humble servant for the salvation of mankind. Besides the glad tidings to the Bethlehem shepherds, the Nativity of Christ was revealed to the Magi by a wondrous star. Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Theophylactus, commenting on Saint Matthew’s Gospel, say that this was no ordinary star. Rather, it was “a divine and angelic power that appeared in the form of a star.” Saint Demetrius of Rostov says it was a “manifestation of divine energy” (Narrative of the Adoration of the Magi). Entering the house where the Infant lay, the Magi “fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented Him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” (Mt. 2:11).

The present Feast, commemorating the Nativity in the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, was established by the Church. Its origin goes back to the time of the Apostles. In the Apostolic Constitutions (Section 3, 13) it says, “Brethren, observe the feastdays; and first of all the Birth of Christ, which you are to celebrate on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month.” In another place it also says, “Celebrate the day of the Nativity of Christ, on which unseen grace is given man by the birth of the Word of God from the Virgin Mary for the salvation of the world.”

In the second century Saint Clement of Alexandria also indicates that the day of the Nativity of Christ is December 25. In the third century Saint Hippolytus of Rome mentions the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, and appoints the Gospel readings for this day from the opening chapters of Saint Matthew.

In 302, during the persecution of Christians by Maximian, 20,000 Christians of Nicomedia (December 28) were burned in church on the very Feast of the Nativity of Christ. In that same century, after the persecution when the Church had received freedom of religion and had become the official religion in the Roman Empire, we find the Feast of the Nativity of Christ observed throughout the entire Church. There is evidence of this in the works of Saint Ephraim the Syrian, Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory the Theologian, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Ambrose of Milan, Saint John Chrysostom and other Fathers of the Church of the fourth century.

Saint John Chrysostom, in a sermon which he gave in the year 385, points out that the Feast of the Nativity of Christ is ancient, and indeed very ancient. In this same century, at the Cave of Bethlehem, made famous by the Birth of Jesus Christ, the empress Saint Helen built a church, which her mighty son Constantine adorned after her death. In the Codex of the emperor Theodosius from 438, and of the emperor Justinian in 535, the universal celebration of the day of the Nativity of Christ was decreed by law. Thus, Nicephorus Callistus, a writer of the fourteenth century, says in his History that in the sixth century, the emperor Justinian established the celebration of the Nativity of Christ throughout all the world.

Patriarch Anatolius of Constantinople in the fifth century, Sophronius and Andrew of Jerusalem in the seventh, Saints John of Damascus, Cosmas of Maium and Patriarch Germanus of Constantinople in the eighth, the Nun Cassiane in the ninth, and others whose names are unknown, wrote many sacred hymns for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, which are still sung by the Church on this radiant festival.

During the first three centuries, in the Churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Cyprus, the Nativity of Christ was combined together with the Feast of His Baptism on January 6, and called “Theophany” (“Manifestation of God”). This was because of a belief that Christ was baptized on anniversary of His birth, which may be inferred from Saint John Chrysostom’s sermon on the Nativity of Christ: “it is not the day on which Christ was born which is called Theophany, but rather that day on which He was baptized.”

In support of such a view, it is possible to cite the words of the Evangelist Luke who says that “Jesus began to be about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23) when He was baptized. The joint celebration of the Nativity of Christ and His Theophany continued to the end of the fourth century in certain Eastern Churches, and until the fifth or sixth century in others.

The present order of services preserves the memory of the ancient joint celebration of the Feasts of the Nativity of Christ and Theophany. On the eve of both Feasts, there is a similar tradition that one should fast until the stars appear. The order of divine services on the eve of both feastdays and the feastdays themselves is the same.

The Nativity of Christ has long been counted as one of the Twelve Great Feasts. It is one of the greatest, most joyful and wondrous events in the history of the world. The angel said to the shepherds, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Then suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts, glorifying God and saying: Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Those who heard these things were astonished at what the shepherds told them concerning the Child. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:10-20).

Thus the Nativity of Christ, a most profound and extraordinary event, was accompanied by the wondrous tidings proclaimed to the shepherds and to the Magi. This is a cause of universal rejoicing for all mankind, “for the Savior is Born!”

Concurring with the witness of the Gospel, the Fathers of the Church, in their God-inspired writings, describe the Feast of the Nativity of Christ as most profound, and joyous, serving as the basis and foundation for all the other Feasts.

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

 
SYNAXIS OF THE MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD

The Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos: On the second day of the feast, the Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos is celebrated. Combining the hymns of the Nativity with those celebrating the Mother of God, the Church points to Mary as the one through whom the Incarnation was made possible. His humanity—concretely and historically—is the humanity He received from Mary. His body is, first of all, her body. His life is her life. This feast, the assembly in honor of the Theotokos, is probably the most ancient feast of Mary in the Christian tradition, the very beginning of her veneration by the Church.

Six days of post-feast bring the Christmas season to a close on December 31. At the services of all these days, the Church repeats the hymns and songs glorifying Christ’s Incarnation, reminding us that the source and foundation of our salvation is only to be found in the One who, as God before the ages, came into this world and for our sake was “born as a little Child.”

 
FEAST OF ARCHDEACON STEPHEN THE FIRST MARTYR

The Holy Scripture testifies: “And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7, 59-60).

According to the Jewish law of the time, if someone was accused, those witnesses testifying against him had to also be the executors, if a death sentence was set. So, there wasn’t just an outside executioner with no conscience whatsoever and paid for such. In the case of Stephen, the accusers that most likely made use of their Jewish law, had to strip off their clothes, and place them at the feet of a very zealous young Jew, who by being a minor, could not take part in the execution. This young man was named Saul and would later become the Apostle Paul, through conversion. Saul was a persecutor of Christians. And because he could not participate in the stoning of Stephen, he was happy at least to watch the clothes of those who killed Stephen.

I was reflecting on this, making a parallel with what is happening today. If in times of persecution under communism and even in our times, when Christians were denounced to the authorities that convicted and inprisoned them, I thought that those who testified against them were not the executors. If they would have kept the Jewish law – “Those who have testified against him, kill him!” – I think that many would have been hesitat and would avoid to condemn. But because their denouncement was kept anonymously, they seemed to bare no responsibility; and because of this, the human villains and wickedness have multiplied. In this sense, I think that the Jewish law was better: You’ve testified against him, you will be responsible…! And perhaps many people would have given back.

Let us be attentive!

Throughout Christian history and its martyrdom either earlier in the Roman times or later in the modern times, this martyrdom takes sometimes violent and other times less violent forms: trials, falsifying the truth, mockery and so on. All these take part in the string of Christian suffering.

We live in a world where Christianity is not too applauded or loved. We live in a world in which modernism, science, libertinism (…) mock (in) Christianity and us. They say that to believe in God means to be mentally retarded, for indeed, those so called semi- docts (and when I say semi-docts I mean people who read a lot… scientists) fail to raise themselves outside the boundaries of intellectual, physical or sensual knowledge. For beyond all these, you ask yourself, is there something else? And they do not ask and know only in part.

Peter Tutea (a Christian philosopher) used to say “all sciences including mathematics reached a high school level, only theology goes beyond and has achieved a license,”… because theology works with things beyond the cognitive and sensory knowledge, it works with the absolute elements of the faith. And I agree with him. That is why, symbolically, he called those people who stayed at the “high school level”: “semi- docts”, because they have no power to know more.

And they do not wish to raise themselves outside this box, because they are the prisoners of their intellect and senses, and the devil holds them back not allowing them to reach God, and because they feared nothing.

It’s not so easy to deny one self and to ascend into the Divine. It is not simple for us to give up some things, (right?): to give up pride, your position, your economic status and to say, “today is Sunday, I will not work and I will go to church; today is a feast day, I’m not going to attend a party, I will go to church, to glorify God” – I can do the rest other days. It’s hard to do these things. (…)

So I am very glad to see you here (in church) and I pray God to keep your heart clean and grounded in faith and despite our infirmities, to be numbered among those who renounce at least a part – of this world so we may receive Christ, to be near Him, to follow the example of St. Stephen and all the great martyrs and in a world where martyrdom is no longer asked of us, we are required at least the courage to confess Christ, to bear the scorn of those who know nothing but what they comprehend with the mind, to bear their shame because we know through faith more than anything: we know God and know Jesus Christ, in our hearts we caved the manger where He was born at Christmas, and we are ready to follow Him to His baptism (Theophany) and beyond, to death on the cross, that we may die with Him and be resurrected with Him! Amen.

 
ST. BASIL THE GREAT,

Saint Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, “belongs not to the Church of Caesarea alone, nor merely to his own time, nor was he of benefit only to his own kinsmen, but rather to all lands and cities worldwide, and to all people he brought and still brings benefit, and for Christians he always was and will be a most salvific teacher.” Thus spoke Saint Basil’s contemporary, Saint Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium.

Saint Basil was born in the year 330 at Caesarea, the administrative center of Cappadocia. He was of illustrious lineage, famed for its eminence and wealth, and zealous for the Christian Faith. The saint’s grandfather and grandmother on his father’s side had to hide in the forests of Pontus for seven years during the persecution under Diocletian.

Saint Basil’s mother Saint Emilia was the daughter of a martyr. On the Greek calendar, she is commemorated on May 30. Saint Basil’s father was also named Basil. He was a lawyer and renowned rhetorician, and lived at Caesarea.

Ten children were born to the elder Basil and Emilia: five sons and five daughters. Five of them were later numbered among the saints: Basil the Great; Macrina (July 19) was an exemplar of ascetic life, and exerted strong influence on the life and character of Saint Basil the Great; Gregory, afterwards Bishop of Nyssa (January 10); Peter, Bishop of Sebaste (January 9); and Theosebia, a deaconess (January 10).

Saint Basil spent the first years of his life on an estate belonging to his parents at the River Iris, where he was raised under the supervision of his mother Emilia and grandmother Macrina. They were women of great refinement, who remembered an earlier bishop of Cappadocia, Saint Gregory the Wonderworker (November 17). Basil received his initial education under the supervision of his father, and then he studied under the finest teachers in Caesarea of Cappadocia, and it was here that he made the acquaintance of Saint Gregory the Theologian (January 25 and January 30). Later, Basil transferred to a school at Constantinople, where he listened to eminent orators and philosophers. To complete his education Saint Basil went to Athens, the center of classical enlightenment.

After a four or five year stay at Athens, Basil had mastered all the available disciplines. “He studied everything thoroughly, more than others are wont to study a single subject. He studied each science in its very totality, as though he would study nothing else.” Philosopher, philologist, orator, jurist, naturalist, possessing profound knowledge in astronomy, mathematics and medicine, “he was a ship fully laden with learning, to the extent permitted by human nature.”

At Athens a close friendship developed between Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian (Nazianzus), which continued throughout their life. In fact, they regarded themselves as one soul in two bodies. Later on, in his eulogy for Basil the Great, Saint Gregory the Theologian speaks with delight about this period: “Various hopes guided us, and indeed inevitably, in learning... Two paths opened up before us: the one to our sacred temples and the teachers therein; the other towards preceptors of disciplines beyond.”

About the year 357, Saint Basil returned to Caesarea, where for a while he devoted himself to rhetoric. But soon, refusing offers from Caesarea’s citizens who wanted to entrust him with the education of their offspring, Saint Basil entered upon the path of ascetic life.

After the death of her husband, Basil’s mother, her eldest daughter Macrina, and several female servants withdrew to the family estate at Iris and there began to lead an ascetic life. Basil was baptized by Dianios, the Bishop of Caesarea, and was tonsured a Reader (On the Holy Spirit, 29). He first read the Holy Scriptures to the people, then explained them.

Later on, “wishing to acquire a guide to the knowledge of truth”, the saint undertook a journey into Egypt, Syria and Palestine, to meet the great Christian ascetics dwelling there. On returning to Cappadocia, he decided to do as they did. He distributed his wealth to the needy, then settled on the opposite side of the river not far from his mother Emilia and sister Macrina, gathering around him monks living a cenobitic life.

By his letters, Basil drew his good friend Gregory the Theologian to the monastery. Saints Basil and Gregory labored in strict abstinence in their dwelling place, which had no roof or fireplace, and the food was very humble. They themselves cleared away the stones, planted and watered the trees, and carried heavy loads. Their hands were constantly calloused from the hard work. For clothing Basil had only a tunic and monastic mantle. He wore a hairshirt, but only at night, so that it would not be obvious.

In their solitude, Saints Basil and Gregory occupied themselves in an intense study of Holy Scripture. They were guided by the writings of the Fathers and commentators of the past, especially the good writings of Origen. From all these works they compiled an anthology called Philokalia. Also at this time, at the request of the monks, Saint Basil wrote down a collection of rules for virtuous life. By his preaching and by his example Saint Basil assisted in the spiritual perfection of Christians in Cappadocia and Pontus; and many indeed turned to him. Monasteries were organized for men and for women, in which places Basil sought to combine the cenobitic (koine bios, or common) lifestyle with that of the solitary hermit.

During the reign of Constantius (337-361) the heretical teachings of Arius were spreading, and the Church summoned both its saints into service. Saint Basil returned to Caesarea. In the year 362 he was ordained deacon by Bishop Meletius of Antioch. In 364 he was ordained to the holy priesthood by Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea. “But seeing,” as Gregory the Theologian relates, “that everyone exceedingly praised and honored Basil for his wisdom and reverence, Eusebius, through human weakness, succumbed to jealousy of him, and began to show dislike for him.” The monks rose up in defense of Saint Basil. To avoid causing Church discord, Basil withdrew to his own monastery and concerned himself with the organization of monasteries.

With the coming to power of the emperor Valens (364-378), who was a resolute adherent of Arianism, a time of troubles began for Orthodoxy, the onset of a great struggle. Saint Basil hastily returned to Caesarea at the request of Bishop Eusebius. In the words of Gregory the Theologian, he was for Bishop Eusebius “a good advisor, a righteous representative, an expounder of the Word of God, a staff for the aged, a faithful support in internal matters, and an activist in external matters.”

From this time church governance passed over to Basil, though he was subordinate to the hierarch. He preached daily, and often twice, in the morning and in the evening. During this time Saint Basil composed his Liturgy. He wrote a work “On the Six Days of Creation” (Hexaemeron) and another on the Prophet Isaiah in sixteen chapters, yet another on the Psalms, and also a second compilation of monastic rules. Saint Basil wrote also three books “Against Eunomius,” an Arian teacher who, with the help of Aristotelian concepts, had presented the Arian dogma in philosophic form, converting Christian teaching into a logical scheme of rational concepts.

Saint Gregory the Theologian, speaking about the activity of Basil the Great during this period, points to “the caring for the destitute and the taking in of strangers, the supervision of virgins, written and unwritten monastic rules for monks, the arrangement of prayers [Liturgy], the felicitous arrangement of altars and other things.” Upon the death of Eusebius, the Bishop of Caesarea, Saint Basil was chosen to succed him in the year 370. As Bishop of Caesarea, Saint Basil the Great was the newest of fifty bishops in eleven provinces. Saint Athanasius the Great (May 2), with joy and with thanks to God welcomed the appointment to Cappadocia of such a bishop as Basil, famed for his reverence, deep knowledge of Holy Scripture, great learning, and his efforts for the welfare of Church peace and unity.

Under Valens, the external government belonged to the Arians, who held various opinions regarding the divinity of the Son of God, and were divided into several factions. These dogmatic disputes were concerned with questions about the Holy Spirit. In his books Against Eunomios, Saint Basil the Great taught the divinity of the Holy Spirit and His equality with the Father and the Son. Subsequently, in order to provide a full explanation of Orthodox teaching on this question, Saint Basil wrote his book On the Holy Spirit at the request of Saint Amphilochius, the Bishop of Iconium.

Saint Basil’s difficulties were made worse by various circumstances: Cappadocia was divided in two under the rearrangement of provincial districts. Then at Antioch a schism occurred, occasioned by the consecration of a second bishop. There was the negative and haughty attitude of Western bishops to the attempts to draw them into the struggle with the Arians. And there was also the departure of Eustathius of Sebaste over to the Arian side. Basil had been connected to him by ties of close friendship. Amidst the constant perils Saint Basil gave encouragement to the Orthodox, confirmed them in the Faith, summoning them to bravery and endurance. The holy bishop wrote numerous letters to the churches, to bishops, to clergy and to individuals. Overcoming the heretics “by the weapon of his mouth, and by the arrows of his letters,” as an untiring champion of Orthodoxy, Saint Basil challenged the hostility and intrigues of the Arian heretics all his life. He has been compared to a bee, stinging the Church’s enemies, yet nourishing his flock with the sweet honey of his teaching.

The emperor Valens, mercilessly sending into exile any bishop who displeased him, and having implanted Arianism into other Asia Minor provinces, suddenly appeared in Cappadocia for this same purpose. He sent the prefect Modestus to Saint Basil. He began to threaten the saint with the confiscation of his property, banishment, beatings, and even death.

Saint Basil said, “If you take away my possessions, you will not enrich yourself, nor will you make me a pauper. You have no need of my old worn-out clothing, nor of my few books, of which the entirety of my wealth is comprised. Exile means nothing to me, since I am bound to no particular place. This place in which I now dwell is not mine, and any place you send me shall be mine. Better to say: every place is God’s. Where would I be neither a stranger and sojourner (Ps. 38/39:13)? Who can torture me? I am so weak, that the very first blow would render me insensible. Death would be a kindness to me, for it will bring me all the sooner to God, for Whom I live and labor, and to Whom I hasten.”

The official was stunned by his answer. “No one has ever spoken so audaciously to me,” he said.
“Perhaps,” the saint remarked, “that is because you’ve never spoken to a bishop before. In all else we are meek, the most humble of all. But when it concerns God, and people rise up against Him, then we, counting everything else as naught, look to Him alone. Then fire, sword, wild beasts and iron rods that rend the body, serve to fill us with joy, rather than fear.”

Reporting to Valens that Saint Basil was not to be intimidated, Modestus said, “Emperor, we stand defeated by a leader of the Church.” Basil the Great again showed firmness before the emperor and his retinue and made such a strong impression on Valens that the emperor dared not give in to the Arians demanding Basil’s exile. “On the day of Theophany, amidst an innumerable multitude of the people, Valens entered the church and mixed in with the throng, in order to give the appearance of being in unity with the Church. When the singing of Psalms began in the church, it was like thunder to his hearing. The emperor beheld a sea of people, and in the altar and all around was splendor; in front of all was Basil, who acknowledged neither by gesture nor by glance, that anything else was going on in church.” Everything was focused only on God and the altar-table, and the clergy serving there in awe and reverence.

Saint Basil celebrated the church services almost every day. He was particularly concerned about the strict fulfilling of the Canons of the Church, and took care that only worthy individuals should enter into the clergy. He incessantly made the rounds of his own church, lest anywhere there be an infraction of Church discipline, and setting aright any unseemliness. At Caesarea, Saint Basil built two monasteries, a men’s and a women’s, with a church in honor of the Forty Martyrs (March 9) whose relics were buried there. Following the example of monks, the saint’s clergy, even deacons and priests, lived in remarkable poverty, to toil and lead chaste and virtuous lives. For his clergy Saint Basil obtained an exemption from taxation. He used all his personal wealth and the income from his church for the benefit of the destitute; in every center of his diocese he built a poor-house; and at Caesarea, a home for wanderers and the homeless.

Sickly since youth, the toil of teaching, his life of abstinence, and the concerns and sorrows of pastoral service took their toll on him. Saint Basil died on January 1, 379 at age 49. Shortly before his death, the saint blessed Saint Gregory the Theologian to accept the See of Constantinople.

Upon the repose of Saint Basil, the Church immediately began to celebrate his memory. Saint Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium (November 23), in his eulogy to Saint Basil the Great, said: “It is neither without a reason nor by chance that holy Basil has taken leave from the body and had repose from the world unto God on the day of the Circumcision of Jesus, celebrated between the day of the Nativity and the day of the Baptism of Christ. Therefore, this most blessed one, preaching and praising the Nativity and Baptism of Christ, extolling spiritual circumcision, himself forsaking the flesh, now ascends to Christ on the sacred day of remembrance of the Circumcision of Christ. Therefore, let it also be established on this present day annually to honor the memory of Basil the Great festively and with solemnity.”

Saint Basil is also called “the revealer of heavenly mysteries” (Ouranophantor), a “renowned and bright star,” and “the glory and beauty of the Church.” His honorable head is in the Great Lavra on Mount Athos.

In some countries it is customary to sing special carols today in honor of Saint Basil. He is believed to visit the homes of the faithful, and a place is set for him at the table. People visit the homes of friends and relatives, and the mistress of the house gives a small gift to the children. A special bread (Vasilopita) is blessed and distributed after the Liturgy. A silver coin is baked into the bread, and whoever receives the slice with the coin is said to receive the blessing of Saint Basil for the coming year.

 
SUNDAY BEFORE THEOPHANY

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

Christ is born!


The Gospel according to St. Mark begins not with an infancy narrative like Matthew's and Mark's, but about thirty years after the Lord's birth with the story of the final Old Testament prophet. Isaiah prophesied that God's messenger would appear first and prepare the way for the Messiah. That messenger was John the Baptist.

The Baptist had two messages. He preached repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins. John also preached about the One who was coming after him, “the thong of whose sandal” he said he was unworthy to untie. This One, he preached, would bring a different baptism. It would be a baptism with the Holy Spirit, not merely an earthly baptism, but a heavenly one. In other words, he proclaimed the coming of the Messiah.

John's baptism in water for the forgiveness of sins was about the admission and correction of moral failings not just for individuals, but for society as a whole. All the Old Testament prophets addressed injustice and John was no different. They all spoke truth to power. They preached sermons of fire and brimstone against the powers that be. They spoke out against oppression of the poor, widows, orphans, and all forms of inequality. The judgment the prophets said was coming on Israel was because of the faithlessness of the people of God which was manifested in injustice, oppression and inequality in society. That is why many of the prophets were murdered. St. James echoes that message in the New Testament when he proclaims that true religion is the care of orphans and widows in their affliction. James was also a prophet in this social, moral sense.

The word “prophet” comes from the Greek word which literally means one who “speaks before” or “speaks out”. The prophets were not fortune tellers. They were not primarily tellers of the future. They saw injustice and spoke out against it. It just so happens that God inspired their message so that there was more to it than met the eye. Within the message were deeper and more mystical messages. It is the Orthodox understanding that every one of them spoke about the coming of Christ even as they were speaking about injustice and oppression in their times. At the same time they spoke about their own times and about things which were to come, although they may well have been unaware of the later.

A baptism with the Holy Spirit implies something that only God could do, a baptism that would not only bring forgiveness of moral failings, but a transformation of the whole person. The Gospel of Jesus is about far more than the correction of moral failings. Transformation is about change from the inside out. Thomas Merton writes:
"Good moral actions are not enough. Everything in us, from the very depths, must be cleansed and reordered..."

We are in need of a deep cleaning in those areas of which we are conscious and those of which we are not conscious. Only God the Holy Spirit can accomplish this. Only a Baptism with the Holy Spirit can penetrate to the secret corners of human consciousness. As the Resurrected Jesus could pass through walls in his body, the Holy Spirit can penetrate all the closed doors and dark corners of the heart and mind. John the Baptist's baptism was only an introduction to something far more significant.

This transformation is not a transformation into something new. The spiritual life is not the discovery of something “different”, but rather a return to the truth of what really is. God created everything and called it “good”. When he created human beings he called them “very good”. That goodness has never been undone. The creation remains 'good” and humanity “very good” in spite of the not-so-good stuff we participate in and see going on around us. The coming of Christ into this world reveals this truth and wakes us up.

When we bless water this week we will see this truth in action. We add nothing to the water. The water does not change into something other than water. Filled with the transforming power of God it is revealed to be what it was created to be, a means of communion with God. The Holy Spirit's descent enlightens us and reveals the innate beauty and holiness of the water.

Jesus was not changed in the Transfiguration, the apostles' eyes were changed, or rather, opened. The Bread and Wine in the Eucharist remain bread and wine and yet become also the Body and Blood by the power of the Holy Spirit, filling them and revealing them to us transformed into God. Our senses, our hearts, and our minds are the target of the sacraments. The world participates in the all-encompassing work of salvation through them and our perception is healed in the process.

The Christian spiritual life reveals the same thing about us. Our original goodness remains intact, but we have become oblivious to it. We begin to believe we are not good, that we are not worthy, that the sin we commit is what defines us, the thoughts and feelings we have are what define us. No wonder we are so unhealthy!

I like what the Sufi poet Hafiz wrote: "I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, The Astonishing Light of your own Being."

The “astonishing light” is what defines us. Put there by God it never goes out even when we try to put it out! Whatever we do we cannot undo our own goodness. The light in us can never be put out. Dwelling on the essential ground of our being takes us immediately to the One who put it there to begin with. Looking within we see Him. The Light is God and the light is us. When we are cleansed and reordered this is what we discover.

 
DAY OF THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST

St John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople

We shall now say something about the present feast. Many celebrate the feastdays and know their designations, but the cause for which they were established they know not. Thus concerning this, that the present feast is called Theophany -- everyone knows; but what this is -- Theophany, and whether it be one thing or another, they know not. And this is shameful -- every year to celebrate the feastday and not know its reason.

First of all therefore, it is necessary to say that there is not one Theophany, but two: the one actual, which already has occurred, and the second in future, which will happen with glory at the end of the world. About this one and about the other you will hear today from Paul, who in conversing with Titus, speaks thus about the present: "The grace of God hath revealed itself, having saved all mankind, decreeing, that we reject iniquity and worldly desires, and dwell in the present age in prudence and in righteousness and piety" -- and about the future: "awaiting the blessed hope and glorious appearance of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ" (Tit 2:11-13). And a prophet speaks thus about this latter: "the sun shalt turn to darkness, and the moon to blood at first, then shalt come the great and illuminating Day of the Lord" (Joel 2:31).

Why is not that day, on which the Lord was born, considered Theophany -- but rather this day on which He was baptised? This present day it is, on which He was baptised and sanctified the nature of water. Because on this day all, having obtained the waters, do carry it home and keep it all year, since today the waters are sanctified; and an obvious phenomenon occurs: these waters in their essence do not spoil with the passage of time, but obtained today, for one whole year and often for two or three years, they remain unharmed and fresh, and afterwards for a long time do not stop being water, just as that obtained from the fountains.

Why then is this day called Theophany? Because Christ made Himself known to all -- not then when He was born -- but then when He was baptised. Until this time He was not known to the people. And that the people did not know Him, Who He was, listen about this to John the Baptist, who says: "Amidst you standeth, Him Whom ye know not of" (Jn.1:26). And is it surprising that others did not know Him, when even the Baptist did not know Him until that day? "And I -- said he -- knew Him not: but He that did send me to baptise with water, about This One did tell unto me: over Him that shalt see the Spirit descending and abiding upon Him, This One it is Who baptiseth in the Holy Spirit" (Jn. 1:33).

Thus from this it is evident, that -- there are two Theophanies, and why Christ comes at baptism and on whichever baptism He comes, about this it is necessary to say: it is therefore necessary to know both the one and equally the other. And first it is necessary to speak your love about the latter, so that we might learn about the former.

There was a Jewish baptism, which cleansed from bodily impurities, but not to remove sins. Thus, whoever committed adultery, or decided on thievery, or who did some other kind of misdeed, it did not free him from guilt. But whoever touched the bones of the dead, whoever tasted food forbidden by the law, whoever approached from contamination, whoever consorted with lepers -- that one washed, and until evening was impure, and then cleansed. "Let one wash his body in pure water -- it says in the Scriptures, -- and he will be unclean until evening, and then he will be clean" (Lev 15:5, 22:4). This was not truly of sins or impurities, but since the Jews lacked perfection, then God, accomplishing it by means of this greater piety, prepared them by their beginnings for a precise observance of important things. Thus, Jewish cleansings did not free from sins, but only from bodily impurities. Not so with ours: it is far more sublime and it manifests a great grace, whereby it sets free from sin, it cleanses the spirit and bestows the gifts of the Spirit.

And the baptism of John was far more sublime than the Jewish, but less so than ours: it was like a bridge between both baptisms, leading across itself from the first to the last. Wherefore John did not give guidance for observance of bodily purifications, but together with them he exhorted and advised to be converted from vice to good deeds and to trust in the hope of salvation and the accomplishing of good deeds, rather than in different washings and purifications by water. John did not say: wash your clothes, wash your body, and ye will be pure, but what? -- "bear ye fruits worthy of repentance" (Mt 3:8).

Since it was more than of the Jews, but less than ours: the baptism of John did not impart the Holy Spirit and it did not grant forgiveness by grace: it gave the commandment to repent, but it was powerless to absolve sins. Wherefore John did also say: "I baptise you with water...That One however will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Mt 3:11). Obviously, he did not baptise with the Spirit. But what does this mean: "with the Holy Spirit and with fire?" Call to mind that day, on which for the Apostles "there appeared disparate tongues like fire, and sat over each one of them" (Acts 2:3).

And that the baptism of John did not impart the Spirit and remission of sins is evident from the following: Paul "found certain disciples, and said to them: received ye the Holy Spirit since ye have believed? They said to him: but furthermore whether it be of the Holy Spirit, we shall hear. He said to them: into what were ye baptised? They answered: into the baptism of John. Paul then said: John indeed baptised with the baptism of repentance," -- repentance, but not remission of sins; for whom did he baptise? "Having proclaimed to the people, that they should believe in the One coming after him, namely, Christ Jesus. Having heard this, they were baptised in the Name of the Lord Jesus: and Paul laying his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them" (Acts 19:1-6).

Do you see, how incomplete was the baptism of John? If the one were not incomplete, would then Paul have baptised them again, and placed his hands on them; having performed also the second, he shew the superiority of the apostolic Baptism and that the baptism of John was far less than his. Thus, from this we recognise the difference of the baptisms.

Now it is necessary to say, for whom was Christ baptised and by which baptism? Neither the former the Jewish, nor the last -- ours. Whence hath He need for remission of sins, how is this possible for Him, Who hath not any sins? "Of sin, -- it says in the Scriptures, -- worked He not, nor was there deceit found in His mouth" (1 Pet 2:22); and further, "who of you convicteth Me of Sin?" (Jn 8:46). And His flesh was privy to the Holy Spirit; how might this be possible, when it in the beginning was fashioned by the Holy Spirit? And so, if His flesh was privy to the Holy Spirit, and He was not subject to sins, then for whom was He baptised?

But first of all it is necessary for us to recognize, by which baptism He was baptised, and then it will be clear for us. By which baptism indeed was He baptised? -- Not the Jewish, nor ours, nor John's.

For whom, since thou from thine own aspect of baptism dost perceive, that He was baptised not by reason of sin and not having need of the gift of the Spirit; therefore, as we have demonstrated, this baptism was alien to the one and to the other. Hence it is evident, that He came to Jordan not for the forgiveness of sins and not for receiving the gifts of the Spirit.

But so that some from those present then should not think, that He came for repentance like others, listen to how John precluded this. What he then spoke to the others then was: "Bear ye fruits worthy of repentance"; but listen what he said to Him: "I have need to be baptised of Thee, and Thou art come to me?" (Mt 3:8, 14). With these words he demonstrated, that Christ came to him not through that need with which people came, and that He was so far from the need to be baptised for this reason -- so much more sublime and perfectly purer than Baptism itself.

For whom was He baptised, if this was done not for repentance, nor for the remission of sins, nor for receiving the gifts of the Spirit? Through the other two reasons, of which about the one the disciple speaks, and about the other He Himself spoke to John. Which reason of this baptism did John declare? Namely, that Christ should become known to the people, as Paul also mentions: "John therefore baptised with the baptism of repentance, so that through him they should believe on Him that cometh" (Acts 19:4); this was the consequence of the baptism. If John had gone to the home of each and, standing at the door, had spoken out for Christ and said: "He is the Son of God," such a testimony would have been suspicious, and this deed would have been extremely perplexing. So too, if he in advocating Christ had gone into the synagogues and witnessed to Him, this testimony of his might be suspiciously fabricated. But when all the people thronged out from all the cities to Jordan and remained on the banks of the river, and when He Himself came to be baptised and received the testimony of the Father by a voice from above and by the coming-upon of the Spirit in the form of a dove, then the testimony of John about Him was made beyond all questioning. And since he said: "and I knew Him not" (Jn 1:31), his testimony put forth is trustworthy.

They were kindred after the flesh between themselves "wherefore Elizabeth, thy kinswoman, hath also conceived a son" -- said the Angel to Mary about the mother of John (Lk. 1: 36); if however the mothers were relatives, then obviously so also were the children. Thus, since they were kinsmen -- in order that it should not seem that John would testify concerning Christ because of kinship, the grace of the Spirit organised it such, that John spent all his early years in the wilderness, so that it should not seem that John had declared his testimony out of friendship or some similar reason. But John, as he was instructed of God, thus also announced about Him, wherein also he did say: "and I knew Him not." From whence didst thou find out? "He having sent me that sayeth to baptise with water, That One did tell me" What did He tell thee? "Over Him thou shalt see the Spirit descending, like to a dove, and abiding over Him, That One is baptised by the Holy Spirit" (Jn 1:32-33). Dost thou see, that the Holy Spirit did not descend as in a first time then coming down upon Him, but in order to point out that preached by His inspiration -- as though by a finger, it pointed Him out to all. For this reason He came to baptism.

And there is a second reason, about which He Himself spoke -- what exactly is it? When John said: "I have need to be baptised of Thee, and Thou art come to me?" -- He answered thus: "stay now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill every righteousness" (Mt 3:14-15). Dost thou see the meekness of the servant? Dost thou see the humility of the Master? What does He mean: "to fulfill every righteousness?" By righteousness is meant the fulfillment of all the commandments, as is said: "both were righteous, walking faultlessly in the commandments of the Lord" (Lk 1:6). Since fulfilling this righteousness was necessary for all people -- but no one of them kept it or fulfilled it -- Christ came then and fulfilled this righteousness.

And what righteousness is there, someone will say, in being baptised? Obedience for a prophet was righteous. As Christ was circumcised, offered sacrifice, kept the sabbath and observed the Jewish feasts, so also He added this remaining thing, that He was obedient to having been baptised by a prophet. It was the will of God then, that all should be baptised -- about which listen, as John speaks: "He having sent me to baptise with water" (Jn 1:33); so also Christ: "the publicans and the people do justify God, having been baptised with the baptism of John; the pharisees and the lawyers reject the counsel of God concerning themselves, not having been baptised by him" (Lk 7:29-30). Thus, if obedience to God constitutes righteousness, and God sent John to baptise the nation, then Christ has also fulfilled this along with all the other commandments.

Consider, that the commandments of the law is the main point of the two denarii: this -- debt, which our race has needed to pay; but we did not pay it, and we, falling under such an accusation, are embraced by death. Christ came, and finding us afflicted by it -- He paid the debt, fulfilled the necessary and seized from it those, who were not able to pay. Wherefore He does not say: "it is necessary for us to do this or that," but rather "to fulfill every righteousness." "It is for Me, being the Master, -- says He, -- proper to make payment for the needy." Such was the reason for His baptism -- wherefore they should see, that He had fulfilled all the law -- both this reason and also that, about which was spoken of before.

Wherefore also the Spirit did descend as a dove: because where there is reconciliation with God -- there also is the dove. So also in the ark of Noah the dove did bring the branch of olive -- a sign of God's love of mankind and of the cessation of the flood. And now in the form of a dove, and not in a body -- this particularly deserves to be noted -- the Spirit descended, announcing the universal mercy of God and showing with it, that the spiritual man needs to be gentle, simple and innocent, as Christ also says: "Except ye be converted and become as children, ye shalt not enter into the Heavenly Kingdom" (Mt 18:3). But that ark, after the cessation of the flood, remained upon the earth; this ark, after the cessation of wrath, is taken to heaven, and now this Immaculate and Imperishable Body is situated at the right hand of the Father.

Having made mention about the Body of the Lord, I shall also say a little about this, and then the conclusion of the talk. Many now will approach the Holy Table on the occasion of the feast. But some approach not with trembling, but shoving, hitting others, blazing with anger, shouting, cursing, roughing it up with their fellows with great confusion. What, tell me, art thou troubled by, my fellow? What disturbeth thee? Do urgent affairs, for certain, summon thee? At this hour art thou particularly aware, that these affairs of thine that thou particularly rememberest, that thou art situated upon the earth, and dost thou think to mix about with people? But is it not with a soul of stone naturally to think, that in such a time thou stand upon the earth, and not exult with the Angels with whom to raise up victorious song to God? For this Christ also did describe us with eagles, saying: "where the corpse is, there are the eagles gathered" (Mt 24:28) -- so that we might have risen to heaven and soared to the heights, having ascended on the wings of the spirit; but we, like snakes, crawl upon the earth and eat dirt.

Having been invited to supper, thou, although satiated before others, would not dare to leave before others while others are still reclining. But here, when the sacred doings are going on, thou at the very middle would pass by everything and leave? Is it for a worthy excuse? What excuse might it be? Judas, having communed that last evening on that final night, left hastily then as all the others were still reclining. Here these also are in imitation of him, who leave before the final blessing! If he had not gone, then he would not have made the betrayal; if he did not leave his co-disciples, then he would not have perished; if he had not removed himself from the flock, then the wolf would not have seized and devoured him alone; if he had separated himself from the Pastor, then he would not have made himself the prey of wild beasts. Wherefore he (Judas) was with the Jews, and those (the apostles) went out with the Lord. Dost thou see, by what manner the final prayer after the offering of the sacrifice is accomplished? We should, beloved, stand forth for this, we should ponder this, fearful of the coming judgement for this.

We should approach the Holy Sacrifice with great decorum, with proper piety, so as to merit us more of God's benevolence, to cleanse one's soul and to receive eternal blessings, of which may we all be worthy by the grace and love for mankind of our Lord Jesus Christ, to with Whom the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, be glory, power, and worship now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

 
SYNAXIS OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

On Tuesday of last week, the day after Theophany, the church celebrated the synaxis of St. John the Baptist. In the Orthodox Church it is customary, on the day following the Great Feasts of the Lord and the Mother of God, to remember those saints who participated directly in the sacred event. So, on the day following the Theophany of the Lord, the Church honors the one who participated directly in the Baptism of Christ, placing his own hand upon the head of the Savior. We were not able to have a service for Saint John and so I would like to honor him by speaking about him in my sermon this morning.

We know that John at the age of thirty, came forth preaching repentance. He appeared on the banks of the Jordan, to prepare the people by his preaching to accept the Savior of the world. In church hymnology, St John is called a "bright morning star," whose gleaming outshone the brilliance of all the other stars, announcing the coming dawn of the day of grace, illumined with the light of the spiritual Sun, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Saint John was a man of great humility and obedience. A quality of the saints, as we see especially in the life of St. John the Baptist, is a combination of both boldness and extreme humility. We lack boldness, the Holy Fathers tell us, because of our lack of humility, because of our sinfulness, but St. John the Baptist was able to speak boldly, yet at the same time yield to Christ, and Christ was the reason that John existed in the first place. John knew this and he was not interested in his own position. He was first and foremost interested in the position of Christ. What humility! And, is this not reality? A hieromonk once told me that humility is reality. This is so true. If we know in truth that something is the way it is, it is only our sinfulness and our pride that allows us to pretend that it is some other way. St. John realized his place and his calling, and in all humility he acknowledged it. He simply acknowledged the reality of his own position. And St. John was able to do this because he himself was living a life of repentance. To the extent that we live a life of repentance, is the extent that we will exude humility in our own lives. The two virtues go hand-in-hand. One cannot be truly humble if one if not repenting. And so, this is where we always come back to. Repentance, as the first calling we have received as Orthodox Christians. For the person who is seeking God, the realization of the absolute difference between the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of the Gospel is because of a repentant spirit. It is significant that the Greek word for repentance, metanoia, means, literally, a "change of mind." So it is not surprising that St. John the Baptist began his public ministry with the injunction, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Likewise, as we heard in today’s Gospel reading, Christ began His ministry with the same message, "From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

St. John of Damascus writes this of our Holy Father John the Baptist: “Let us honor also the prophet John as forerunner and Baptist, as apostle and martyr, for among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist, says the Lord, and he became the first to proclaim the Kingdom. In the law everyone who touches a dead body was considered impure, but the saints are not dead. For how could a dead body work miracles? How, therefore, are demons driven off by the saints, diseases dispelled, sick persons made well, the blind restored to sight, lepers purified, temptations and troubles overcome, and how does every good gift from the Father of lights come down through them to those who pray with sure faith? How much labor would you not undergo to find a patron to introduce you to a mortal king and speak to him on your behalf? Are not those, then, worthy of honor who are the patrons of the whole race, and make intercession to God for us? Yea, verily, we ought to give honor to them by raising temples to God in their name, bringing them fruit-offerings, honoring their memories and taking spiritual delight in them, in order that the joy of those who call on us may be ours, that in our attempts at worship we may not on the contrary cause them offense. For those who worship God will take pleasure in those things whereby God is worshipped. In psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, in contrition and in pity for the needy, let us believers implore the saints, as God also is most worshipped in such a way. Let us raise monuments to them and visible images, and let us ourselves become, through imitation of their virtues, living monuments and images of them.

Let us revere the life of St. John the Baptist, and let us emulate his faith, love, humility, and obedience. And just as St. John was first and foremost interested in the position of Christ, Let us also remember that all things point to Christ. It is not about us but about Christ. Let us remember as Metropolitan Vlakos reminds us that “The greatest gift of grace which we have is that we belong to Christ and His church. The greatest gift that we have is that we are in this great family, a family that includes all of us, The Theotokos, St. John the Baptist, the angels, the prophets, the holy fathers, the great martyrs, and all of the saints. We are not alone. We should value this gift, we should feel very deeply moved, and struggle to remain in the church, experiencing its sanctifying grace and showing by our lives that we are in its place of redemption and sanctification.

May we all beg the intercessions of saint John who obtained favor with God even from his mother’s womb, proclaimed the Kingdom of God to those on earth and to those under the earth, and guided, and continues to guide, all towards it by his words, deeds and prayers to God, in Christ Himself Our Lord, to whom alone belongs eternal glory. Amen.

 
SUNDAY AFTER THEOPHANY

With these profound and holy words, the incarnate Word began His preaching to fallen mankind. Outwardly, such simple teaching! But one must understand it with his very life: then these short and simple words which are contained in all of the Gospel will be revealed. Just as the holy Apostle Paul, when preaching the Gospel, which he did throughout almost all the known world, said that he testified “both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).

Brethren! In order to believe in our Lord Jesus Christ repentance is needed; in order to remain in this salvific faith, repentance is needed; in order to be successful in it, repentance is needed; in order to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, repentance is needed.

All of this is clearly set forth in the Holy Scripture. Holy Scripture teaches us that “God sent His Son into the world … that the world through Him might be saved,” that “he that believeth on Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already,.“ “That light (Christ) is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” (John 3: 17-20) To those afflicted by the passion of vainglory the Scripture witnesses: “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?”(John 5:44). Those bound by the passion of greed did not only not believe the Lord, but they even derided Him when He preached to them the important and most holy teaching concerning the remembrance of eternity, and the arranging of earthly matters in accordance to the immortality appointed for man. (Luke 16: 14) Those attracted to the evil passion of envy did not only not believe in the Lord, but they also conspired to kill Him, and they accomplished this. All those infected with vain and sinful vices, according to the unerring testimony of the Gospel, are cut off from participating in the spiritual wedding of the Son of God, making themselves unworthy of blessed union with Him (Matt. 22:5). “You can not serve God and Mammon!” (Luke 16:14); you cannot serve two masters, God and sin! “Repent: for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! Repent, and believe in the Gospel (Mark 1:15).

However, one who has believed in Christ, and has decided to continually prove his faith, by his actions, is also in need of repentance. What do you think, brethren; what is the first fruit of living faith? What is the first fruit of fulfilling the commandments of Christ? I will give you the answer of St. Simeon the New Theologian, who acquired his knowledge of truth through his holy experience. He said: “The careful fulfillment of the commandments of Christ teaches a man his own infirmities.” Exactly! As soon as one who believes in Christ begins to fulfill the all-holy commandments of the Gospel, or also, to perform the works of renewed nature, his fallen nature is instantly revealed to him, which had been hidden from sight until then, and it enters into a sustained battle with the Gospel. The life of one who struggles for Christ is filled with unseen falls. He involuntarily confesses with the Apostle: ”For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am!” (Acts 7: 22-24). From such an observation of oneself, blessed poverty of spirit is engendered within a Christian, rational, spiritual mourning appears, and a broken and humble heart is established, which God will not destroy (Ps. 50: 20). In living according to the Gospel, there appears in a man, as if naturally, the repentance commanded by the Gospel. Therefore, repentance is necessary not only in order to believe in Christ; it is necessary in order to have a living faith in Christ. “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

There remains to be explained: why is there such a close connection between the words of the Lord calling us to repent, and the announcing of the nearness of the Kingdom of heaven? Why is there not presented between them a kind of intermediate struggle, an intermediate condition? The reason is that our Lord Jesus Christ is “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) --- He has accomplished everything for our salvation. He has reconciled us with God; He has prepared and acquired for us the Heavenly Kingdom. We, mankind, have been presented with one work in the matter of our salvation: the work of accepting salvation, given to us by God free and complete, the work of repentance. The Heavenly Kingdom and the Heavenly King are ineffably close to us --- incomparably closer than we imagine. “Behold, I stand at the door” of the heart of man, exclaims this King, and I knock at it with My all-holy and almighty Word: “if any man hears My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me (Rev. 3:20). The opening of the doors of the heart to the Heavenly King is accomplished—with repentance. “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

 
32ND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

The ruler in today’s Gospel reflects one who’s outwardly kept the commandments of God: he’s kept himself from adultery, he’s not stolen, he’s not cheated his neighbor or born false witness, and, he’s honored his father and mother. In the eyes of the world, this is a ‘good,’ upstanding man. He’s got all these things checked off his list; he’s not outwardly committed any of the ‘big sins.’ He comes to Jesus to reaffirmed in his own thinking that he’s arrived, that his attitude of having done his duty and kept himself from these sins is all that’s expected of him.

Now before we delve into the answer to the ruler’s question, “what still do I lack,” we can acknowledge his outward keeping of the commandments, i.e., he’s not stolen, he’s not committed adultery, he’s not defrauded his neighbor, etc. This is what we’d like to see in other people, that is, to meet someone who is ‘moral’, ‘good,’ someone ‘God-fearing.’ But this is not ultimately what God desires for us; keeping the commandments outwardly, doing our ‘duty’ before God is only the start and not the finish line of our ‘race of faith,’ of our relationship and communion with God; it is meant to be the fruit of a heart that loves and fears God.

This ruler, knowing he’s followed the tenets of the Law, comes confidently, even proudly, before Christ, as if to flatter Him but without acknowledging Who He is as God. He flatters Christ by entrusting to Him the ultimate question but without acknowledging His power to answer that question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He does so to be likewise flattered in return, to be told that he’s good enough. So, he asks Christ, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The reaction he receives startles him: he’s not told, “Oh, you’re already so good, you’re already set. No, instead, Christ shakes him to the core saying, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is God.”

You can almost hear the surprise in the man’s response as if to say: What? You mean I’m not already set for the Kingdom of God; my opportunity to show myself off in my pridefulness isn’t working? It’s not enough just to ‘do my duty’ before God outwardly?

Salvation isn’t a duty; it’s a gift of grace, of God’s goodness towards us and our cooperation with that grace. This is why the correct response and attitude toward God is one of thanksgiving and gratitude, coupled with repentance, a hallmark of the virtue of humility working in us. We cannot save ourselves; we aren’t saved by our deeds, however ‘good.’ Rather, our following of the commandments is meant to be the fruit of a heart, a soul, submitted to God, thirsting for God, desirous of life with God. As Christ points out to us, if goodness—doing one’s ‘duty’ toward God, were the criterion, no one would be saved because One alone is good and that One is God.

The philosophy that one is automatically going to heaven if one is ‘good,’ if one has done one’s ‘duty’ toward God as we subjectively decide for ourselves, continues to be one of the greatest heresies to this day. It isn’t a question of insufficient ‘goodness’ as much as one of trying to put a square peg in a round hole—it just won’t work; it is not what is necessary for us to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven; it is the answer of the Pharisee and not of the Publican.

We remember that King David, an adulterer and a murderer, one who did not keep the ‘outward’ commandments nevertheless found forgiveness and mercy from God because, as he relates to us in Psalm 50, “a contrite and humble heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.”

Without acknowledgement of sin and ‘missing the mark,’ without a firm commitment to repentance, and the accompanying contriteness and humility of heart, one cannot draw close to God, one cannot find salvation because it is this repentant, open and humble heart that is God-pleasing, that is compatible with life with God. Why? Because it is such a heart that is hungering and thirsting after more from God, that is building up treasure in heaven, that is seeking a Savior, and not relying on self and through stoniness of heart, indicating no need for the Savior and subsequently closing his heart to the Savior’s healing and salvation.

The problem of the ruler, then, is not what he’s done or not done, but that he neglects the conversion of the soul within because he has another god: it is not as is sometimes thought just his riches, but rather, also his own self-justification, his own erroneous thinking that he is ‘good enough’ to be saved. Christ God sees into his heart and for that reason, addresses the very thing that will keep this man from being able to follow Christ and be with Christ: his self-reliance. To remedy the situation and enable the man to depend on God for His salvation, His needs, His very breath, Christ admonishes him to give away his possessions and, then, to follow Him. Jesus Christ makes it clear to us here and elsewhere in the Gospel, as He does in the first of the Ten Commandments, that we can have “no other gods” but Him for He alone is God. In his heart, the young man has another god: himself, and subsequently, his riches.

Brothers and sisters, we cannot embrace the life in Christ, communion with Him, if our treasure is not in Him but in our own self-reliance, self-righteousness and self-sufficiency. If we follow the ‘externals’ of God’s commandments, and stop at ‘doing our duty’ before God, if our treasure is elsewhere, in our own self-reliance, then we have no room for Christ to be our God and Savior, we have no room to grow to be transformed more and more into His likeness through deification. Such a one cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. This truth is behind the words of Christ when He says, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God” for the problem is not the man’s riches, per say, but his dependence on them and on himself.

God knows how much of a hold our sense of material well-being and our self-righteousness can have on us and how it can insulate us against the need to put our trust and our faith in Him, to possess that contrite and humble heart that we need to be in Christ God’s near presence and to realize Who it is alone that can save us, heal us, and grant us eternal life.

The young man goes away sorrowful from his encounter with Christ because he realizes that the very thing that grips him, that moves him, and motivates him: his material well-being and self-reliance, is precisely that which he’s asked to give up to inherit eternal life.

And so, we too are cautioned and given the opportunity this Sunday to ask ourselves: Do I have anything in my life that I love more than God, that I rely on in my self-reliance and control instead of trusting in God? Have I put any other gods before him: My time? My priorities? My reliance on self? My earthly possessions? My passions?

Whatever that something may be that seems impossible for us to give up because of the false sense of ‘control’ it gives us, we remember Christ’s other words today, “The things which are impossible for men are possible with God.” May we repent of all such prideful self-reliance. May we beseech God this day to relinquish to the Savior of our souls, to Him who is eternal life, those attitudes of heart, vices, false controls, that may keep us from putting Him and His Church first in our lives, and may we learn to possess to a greater extent that “contrite and humble heart” so pleasing to God and so necessary for us to follow our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ now and in the age to come.


Archbishop †Stefan
Archbishop †Stefan




Mitropolit †Metodij
Mitropolit †Metodij




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