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HOMILY: Love endures - February 9th, 2020.
Readings: Romans 13:8-10, Matthew 8:23-34
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen
There was much to choose from today in topics to talk about. There is much the Church remembers on this day: The translation of the relics of Saint John Chrysostom; the venerable Peter of Egypt; new Martyr Demetrius of Constantinople; and, this is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. For, we are the Church of remembering; remembering those who have gone before us; remembering those who walk beside us; and remembering the promises of the world to come. All of us, the Church united, bound by faith, and sealed in the bonds of love.
We have heard in our readings for today both of love, and of faith. Love is the very essence of our Orthodox faith; this you already know. For, God is Love; the source of all love; the fire of love that burns in each of us; and, the incarnation of Love through Jesus Christ our Lord. As Christ is, so should we seek to be. Love is not a feeling, or an emotion, but exists and is expressed by what we do. Though, this is a point I have iterated numerous times before, so I will not repeat it here. Even God’s act of creation was an act of love, for he needed nothing outside of himself. The created order was made by, and exists because of, the love of God. The intended order of all things is founded on love. This is why, as Paul exhorts to us in our Epistle reading for today, that love is the fulfillment of the whole law, for it is only in love that the proper order of creation exists. Without love, we have nothing; without love, we have gained nothing; without love, we are nothing. Our faith, which we must all have and hold, in word and in deed, orients us towards Christ; but, it is in love, by love, and through love that we will reach Him. It is by faith, bound with the bonds of love to our Lord Jesus Christ, motivated by love towards our fellow man, that we each strive towards salvation. We each fight for the endurance of Truth, and that by love we change the world around us.
So what does this love look like? I believe Saint Paul details love eloquently enough in his first letter to the Corinthians:
“ Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Love is an action. Love is something we manifest into the world. Love is what will change the world. Love lives within the peace of God which the world cannot give. The world knows no love, for there is no love found in it. Yet, what the world calls love is nothing more than sin polished to look alike, but crumbles the moment it is tested. Love, the Love of God, the Love that binds our faith together, this love perseveres. This love changes the world.
This, that is love, I believe has been the mission of the Orthodox Church - the pillar and foundation of truth, and the abode of the Holy Spirit - since its foundations were laid by the prophets and the Apostles, and established by the honorable blood of Christ. The first ten centuries the Church withstood heresies and persecutions of every kind, but the Church prevailed. The Mongols conquered Kievan Rus’ in the 13th century, but the Church prevailed. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks conquered the great pearl of the Byzantin empire, Constantinople; but, the Church prevailed. As the world became “enlightened” and “reason” abounded, the theology of our Fathers remade into Cataphatic visions of what once was, the Church prevailed. The Great saints and Fathers of the Russian Church set out into the world: Saint Nicholas established the Church in Japan, Father Maxim Leontiev led the first Orthodox Church in Beijing, and Saints Innocent and Herman evangelized the Alaskan territory. Saint Tikhon, the Patriarch of Moscow, Saint John Maximovith of Shanghai and San Francisco, Saint Sebastian of San Francisco and Jackson, all evangelized America under the direction of the Russian Orthodox Church. The faithful carried the light of life into the world, and the Church prevailed.
That light is love.
Love is the unending and enduring fire of God’s grace on earth, burning through the hearts of men, and bringing light to where there is none. It is within the light and warmth of love that the faithful persevere in the cold, and the darkness of this world. It is this love the Church carries into the world, and it is by this love that the Church has prevailed, prevails today, and will continue to prevail in the ages to come. For, the world is a cold and dark tempest, against which we are all tested. It is only by the fire of God’s love that we can survive and prevail.
Indeed, the Church is the boat by which we endure the tempest of this world. Though, Christ is not sleeping, for He is with us; He is the Church, and the Church is He; and, He is present by His body and blood within the Holy Mysteries we will soon receive. The tempest becomes the myriad trials and temptations of the world by which we are tested, the persecutions we must survive, the winds of change we must endure, and the cold Godless life we are called to live by the world in which we live. But, despite all of these, we also learn that no storm lasts forever; we learn that no matter how far the darkness reaches, the sun will always rise. That is why we must keep love alive, for it is the fervor of our faith. “If the Fervor of Faith in our heart is not kept alight, then our apathy may entirely extinguish our faith.”
This is a lesson imbued within the Russian Orthodox Church, and embedded within her very bones. For, today is the day we also remember the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Orthodox Church. Today is the day we commemorate the untold millions of Orthodox faithful who were killed by the Godless Soviet atheists in the wake of Bolshevik revolution. Though no hard numbers can be provided, estimates state that up to twenty million Orthodox Christians were killed. In the first years of Soviet power, over twelve hundred Orthodox Priests were executed, including 28 Bishops. Orthodox clergy and Orthodox faithful alike were tortured, executed, and sent to prison camps, labor camps, and even mental institutions. Churches were destroyed, sometimes with the faithful within them. Priests were crucified to the doors of their churches, or dragged into the street and shot. Millions of Orthodox faithful were exiled, many coming to America, where the work of Saints John, Tikhon, Sebastian and others were instrumental in their care. The great missionary work that had been started by Moscow in America had been interrupted. Though, In time, the sun rose, the Soviet era ended, and the Church prevailed. By the blood of her martyrs, the confession of the faith, and the fervor of the faith kept alive in love within the hearts of millions, the Church prevailed. Untold staretz and saints, known and unknown, rose to pierce the darkness of the storm with the uncreated light of their enduring love, and with the aid of their guiding light the Church prevailed. It is that light we should all strive to carry. It is that light we have all received. It is that light that we are all exhorted to uphold within the darkness of this world.
We stand upon a foundation of prophets and apostles, strengthened by the blood of uncountable martyrs, and joining the voices of confessors who never stopped speaking truth in the face of oppression and persecutions, torture, and even death. Be courageous in speaking truth to power, be unfailing in your dedication to Christ, but most of all, become love and incarnate Christ unto the world. It is by love alone, that the Church will prevail.
HOMILY: Theophany - A day of illumination - January 19, 2020
Readings: Matthew 2:1-12, Isaiah 60:1-6
Thus ends the twelve days of Christmas! Having just celebrated the birth of Christ our Savior, our God and our King, here marks the beginning of Christ’s ministry on earth. Today is a day of illumination, the revealing of God the Son incarnate in the flesh, and the revealing of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a day that predates our celebrations of Christmas, preserved from the second century. It is also a public holiday in a number of European nations. If only we could be so lucky.
This is a feast which I find to be somewhat unique in the life of those Orthodox Churches who celebrate the western rite. It is a multi faceted feast day, whose focus of celebration and remembrance differs depending on the direction you are facing. In the western traditions, this particular feast day is referred to as the day of epiphany, where the day is identified with the visit of the Magi in Bethlehem to behold the Christ child, to which the star in the east had led them. This is the event foretold in our lesson from Isaiah:
“A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.”Isaiah 60:6
On this day, through the visitation of the Magi, is celebrated the physical manifestation of God incarnate in the flesh, and His revelation to the Gentiles. The Magi were the first Gentiles to whom He was revealed, but this is not a revelation they could have come to on their own, for they were teachers of a false faith. They had been illumined by the grace of God overflowing from the birth of Christ. As Saint John Chrysostom has said, “The Magi are enlightened so that the goodness of God may be made manifest: so that no one need despair, doubting that salvation through faith will be given to him, seeing He bestowed it on the Magi. The Magi therefore were the first from the Gentiles chosen for salvation, so that through them a door might be opened to all the Gentiles.”
Today is a day of illumination, or more appropriately a celebration of illumination. We remember the illumination of the Magi in the west, but we also remember our own illumination in the east, wherein the focus of this day - the Feast of Theophany - is centered on the Baptism of our Lord and God and savior Jesus Christ in the waters of the Jordan river. This is the day that Christ made himself known to all mankind, for the people had not yet known him. It is also upon this day that the Holy Church asserts its faith in the mystery – most noble and incomprehensible to the rational mind – of the Three Persons of the triune God. Jesus Christ ascended out of the waters of Baptism, the Holy Spirit descending upon him in the form of a dove, with the voice of the Father echoing from above, unseen, “this is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” Jesus Christ, having no need of cleansing, having no sin to be cleansed of, and being born of a Virgin and without the corruption of Adam’s sin, was baptized in the waters of the Jordan not for His sake, but for our own. Christ descended into the waters of the Jordan that all the waters of creation may be sanctified for our sake, for our own purification and cleansing of sin through our own baptism. His baptism is our baptism. His life is our life. His death is our death, and His resurrection is our resurrection.
By our baptism, cleansed of our sin and joined to Jesus Christ, we renounce the world and live a new man. So, it is not unreasonable for us to remember our own baptism on this day, remembering the vows we took, or were given on our behalf if one was blessed enough to be born into the Church. It is within these vows, as Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) has said:
“...in which a Christian has promised God to renounce Satan and all his works and to join himself, to unite himself with Christ, these vows are not only forgotten by people, but many in general know nothing about them or about the fact that these vows were pronounced for them and that they ought to think a little about how they must fulfill [them]... One thing is needful – only one thing is necessary – and to remember that we must join ourselves with Christ, that is, not only fulfill His commandments, but also endeavor to unite ourselves with Him.”Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesenksy) - Holy on Theophany.
He further exhorts us later in his Homily to think and remember what it means to each of us to renounce Satan and all his works; that we may join ourselves to Christ. We do this through the process of theosis, which we began through our own baptisms, when we were purified of our sins, and purified of all the defilements of this world. Having been cleansed, we began “the perfecting of Holiness in the fear of God,” just as Saint Paul exhorts in his second letter to the Corinthians. Holiness is achieved through the path and process of Theosis, a path which begins in the Church, for the Church is Christ, and He is “the way and the Truth and the life.”
The Church is humanity illumined; a humanity baptized in the grace of God; a humanity illumined by the beauty of its creator; a humanity illumined and healed by His dignity - our own dignity restored - God becoming man that we may become more like Him; a humanity illumined in His beauty, that we may incarnate His beauty into the world, becoming living icons of truth; and a humanity illumined by the Light of Life, that we may shine like morning stars, and lead others to the truth just as the Magi were led to Christ.
Theosis presupposes life within the Church, the body of Christ; the body of illumined humanity. We enter it by following Christ through the waters of baptism, and together are illumined by the same Spirit that sanctified them. It is within the Church that we become a part of, and partake of, the body of Christ. It is within the Church in which we partake of the sacraments, that which is necessary to acquire the sanctifying spirit and be transformed into the divine likeness of God. It is within the Church that we come into communion with Christ, and so participate in the divine worship of the Church triumphant, the Church militant being the living icon of that Church in heaven, the living icon of Christ. It is within the Church that the meaning of the scriptures are revealed to us. It is in the Church alone that the truth is revealed to us, and the means necessary to our salvation are provided to us. The Church is taught by the Holy Spirit, and there exists an indissoluble unity between God and His Church, for “The Church is the earthly heaven in which the heavenly God moves and dwells.” We must choose to be where God is, in striving towards a unity of spirit.
Christ’s baptism on the Jordan River revealed this unity of spirit, the unity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Theophany illumined all of creation with the revelation of the Triune God: God in three persons, yet one essence; three wills, and two natures; infinite and present in all things, yet udivided; ineffable, yet knowable through Jesus Christ, our King and our God. Christ’s baptism opened the door to follow him into unity with Him as living stones within the Church provided by his honorable blood. This Church confesses and asserts our faith in the mystery of the Trinity. It teaches to confess and glorify with equal honor and divinity each person of the Godhead. It reveals and renders impotent the teachings of those wherein finite and human terms attempted to describe the Creator of all things. It establishes for us the place, importance, and necessity for our own baptism, a gift and grace of God granted unto us by the Holy Spirit, for “as many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ."
The world changed when Christ rose from the waters of the Jordan: the waters of creation were sanctified, the divinity of Christ was revealed, the triunity of God was made manifest unto men, and Christ went forth to begin his ministry. Christ left the waters the same as He entered into them: God the Son incarnate in the flesh; yet, everywhere he went, the fire of God’s love molded the very hearts of men. So, go and do likewise.
By the prayers of our holy fathers and mothers, and Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.
A Desire for tears - January 15th, 2019.
It is said, the Devil is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Does he not hunt? Does he not prowl nor prey upon? He roars because he is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. He devours those who have given themselves over to him, caught in the subtle snares of temptation. For he has no power over us except that which we give him. Yet, we can avoid such traps, but often our curiosity gets the best of us. What is behind that door? What if? What will happen? What does this feel like, taste like, or look like? We already know the answers to these questions, but we open the door, or pursue the answer in hoping that it will be different this time. We continue to do the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result; a different answer. This is a basis for insanity. The world is insanity.
I pray for the fortitude to avoid these temptations, but from time to time my imagination gets the best of me, haunting me from the edges of my own volition. I try to look back upon my sins with contrition, and sometimes I may get a tear or two to shed from my wearied eyes in the midst of prayer. Though, I am not an emotional person, and lament my own lack of tears. I do find music to be a key to the heart, and so there is a song I play when I feel the need to cry, because for the lyrics alone, I cannot but help cry. It is not even a Christian song, but the words reverberate in my very soul.
?Shine, shine your light on me
Illuminate me, make me complete
Lay me down, and wash this world from me
Open the skies, and burn it all away
'Cause I've been waiting, all my life just waiting
For you to shine, shine your light on me?
O Lord, that I would be purified from the stains of this world; that your all consuming love would burn away the superfluities of the flesh, and my soul would be free of the passions that plague me May your light illumine me, that I may shine your light into every dark corner of this world you lead me into.
Sickness and death
In order for us to approach and understand the Church’s view towards sickness and death, I think it is important to first examine and understand how Christ approached and treated sickness and death. Christ spent a good majority of his time ministering to the people by healing, raising people from the dead, forgiving sins, and the performing of miracles all towards that end. For Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, the healing of the body, the destruction of the devil, and also the raising of the dead are all one and the same act of salvation. Jesus’ ministry of healing was a healing of the whole person, body and spirit. He showed us that death could be defeated. Jesus showed us that He is Christ the Messiah, the fulfillment of the prophets who brings the Kingdom of God into the world.
“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”James 5:14-16
Death grows within us by means of physical illness and decay. Our sufferings of sickness and illness are not normal, but are direct consequences of the ancestral sin, when Adam first rebelled against God, and thus rebelled against life, because God is life. Adam’s rebellion against Life brought suffering, sickness, decay, and death upon himself and Eve, as well as all their progeny. As such, human nature is fallen and is subject to death, and “Death is the enemy to be destroyed.” The one inescapable and unavoidable reality is that each and every human being born into this world, death is now before each and every person.
Death is not a natural part of this life, but something abnormal and truly horrible, and it is something that humanity, the world, strives daily to overcome. The world attempts to avoid death, to avoid the concept of death, even at funerals. Others choose to embrace death, developing a preoccupation with death in all its forms, some believing and treating death as the one true freedom; the one thing they can know with certainty. This latter stance may be one reason that suicide has become so prevalent today. Yet, if death is the enemy, then each person must find a way to combat that enemy. Despite the fact that it is now an inevitable part of life, death is not natural, and is what humanity strives to overcome. It is a endemic condition on humanity, one that is ever present and taking humanity in a way that was never intended.
“The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 5But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”1 Corinthians 15:56-57
Understanding that death is not a natural part of life, and is a plague upon this world, upon humanity, God offers us an answer to this plague of death through Christ. Christ came to earth to redeem man, and to fully restore within us the image of God that we were fully intended to grow into, as witnessed in the Transfiguration of Christ upon Mount Tabor, which was to us a prefiguration of His resurrection. The incarnation of Christ redeemed all of creation, for all of creation fell into disarray when man fell from grace. Christ took on death and overcame it victoriously. He gave himself up to death so that he could take death captive and free all of humanity from the grip death had upon it, and therefore removed the separation of humanity and God in our death. It is for this reason that the Church proclaims in faith “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life,” all through the Paschal season.
Christ has triumphed over death, but death still exists in this world. Man is still subject to physical death. Christ “does not 'abolish' or 'destroy' the physical death because He does not 'abolish' the physical world...by abolishing death as a spiritual reality, by filling it with Himself...He makes death...into a shining and joyful passage” So, Christ has destroyed the spiritual aspects of death, but we are not free from the bonds of a physical death. “We all share the same fate, saint and sinner, young and old.”
Recognizing Christ’s role in overcoming death, we can better understand the role the Church, the body of Christ, plays in dealing with sickness and death. The Church must be properly seen as being a part of medicine, and her minsters and clergy its healers. The Church, in all reality, is a spiritual hospital. For Jesus said, ““Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Human beings, as sinners, are considered to be sick; as such, the Church is concerned with the ultimate fate of all human beings, which is their salvation through the forgiveness of sins, which can only be found within the Church, and sin being the root cause of all illness and suffering in the world. Whereas Christ defeated death, the Church is here to reveal it, not reconcile it like so many religious and religions of this world. No, the Church reveals death because it is the revelation of Life.
The Church understand and approaches sickness and death in a holistic manner, healing the root of all illness, and not merely the symptoms. While modern medicine has made many advances in technology and practice, it does not fill the need which are part of the whole of healing and health. The human person requires a healing which does not merely address the physical needs and condition, but healing that deals with the whole human being, both body and spirit. The Church realizes this need, and focuses on the entire person: mind, body, soul, and spirit. Disease may be temporarily addressed the modern medicines of this world, but it is only a temporary fix until the root cause of the problems are cured. So, the Church approaches sickness, death, and healing within the context of sin and redemption.
When one falls ill, they must recognize that whatever illness they may have, it is caused by sin, their own sin or the sins of the whole world. There is no blame for God for their ailment. God does not wish for his children to be sick. If God so wills it, one can be healed of his infirmities, allowing him more time to live in service to both God and man here on earth, fulfilling whatever He has planned. The sickness as well can serve as a means towards serving God, and it should be accepted in this way, offering ones faith and love unconditionally, for there is no greater witness to one’s faith than enduring sickness in love and faith, courage and patience, hope, happiness, and joy. Such a life lived, even to one’s death by such illness, is incomparable to any offering man can provide.
I myself have been witness to the healing mercies of our Father. January 11th of 2016 would see me in the hospital, and slipping into full respiratory failure through pneumonia, and a culmination of other issues. After I was put on life support, Holy Unction was administered. The only thing I can remember from that day was waking briefly two times throughout that day, and hearing the psalms being read to me. The woman from the Church took turns, and sat in my room, reading the entirety of the Psalter to me. I eventually regained consciousness, and at the end of the week was the first person Chrismated into the Orthodox Church in Mountain Home, Arkansas, at my home parish. I have witnessed, believe, and understand the healing power and need of the Church in its role as a spiritual hospital of sorts for the whole and holistic healing of man.
The sacrament of healing is performed for the healing of body and soul, and for the forgiveness of sins, though it is not performed for the sake of the sick alone, but also for the physically healthy. While it may not have the focus importance equal to the rite of Baptism or the ongoing celebration of the Holy Eucharist within the life of the Church, it still addresses a fundamental need in human life. “Healing is a sacrament, not healing as such, the restoration of health, but the entrance of man into the life of the kingdom, into the joy and peach of the Holy Spirit.” As such, the prayers of the Sacrament of Healing are penitential in nature, asking for the forgiveness of one’s sins. The body is anointed, invoking the grace of God upon the ill and infirmed, because it is the grace of God that heals all illnesses, both body and soul.
Despite the importance of the Sacrament of Healing, this emphasis on spiritual healing and wellbeing does not mean that one should forgo any attempt at physical healing. All things can be used to the glory of God. All healing, both spiritual and physical should be brought to God with prayer. Faith does not stand in opposition to science, nor science to faith, but science confirms what faith has already revealed. God is the source of both, and all things, and as such the two are not in opposition to one another. Just as theosis is achieved through cooperation with God, so is healing a cooperation of human effort, and prayer, with God and His will.
Ultimately not all people are physically healed, some slipping from this life into the next through whatever illness was plaguing them. It is here we transition from the rite of healing, into the funeral rites of the Orthodox Church. The service helps those in attendance develop a greater understanding of the meaning and purpose of life. It assists us with the emotional response we develop at the time of death, as well as the time that passes after. It also places an emphasis on the fact that death is not the end, and helps to affirm our hope in salvation and life eternal. The funeral rite, by the prayers, hymns, and readings that take place, is a dialogue between God and the people, as well as God and the dearly departed. The service also recognizes the realities of our human existence, our frailty and finite time in this world, and the vanity of this world and all the things in it. We bless the departed and say goodbye with a final kiss of peace, with our pain of separation and the tragedy of death being acknowledged in the hymns that are sung. We pass from this life with both prayers and tears, but are soon welcomed into the joy and gladness of the Lord.
Our sins, our illnesses, and our eventual death are all related one to another. By Adam’s sin both sickness and death were ushered into this world, and it is through Christ and his resurrection that humanity is redeemed and released from the grip of death. The nature of sin and death are recognized within both the rites of healing and the funeral service, yet so is the fact that Christ has conquered all of these things for the redemption for the whole of mankind. He is an offering of truth and life for those within the body of Christ, which is the Church, forgiving all of our sins to the betterment of all mankind. Christ, truly, is the life of the world.
HOMILY: Rejoice in the Lord! - December 29th, 2019
Readings: Philippians 4:4-7, John 1:19-28
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; one God. Amen.
As we come to the end of another calendar year, we approach this time with words of thanksgiving for all that we have and have endured, and also of expectation as we rejoice for what is yet to come. We look at the past twelve months and we realize that most of us have much to be thankful for: we rejoice for our successes and triumphs; we rejoice for our health and wellbeing; we rejoice for our family and friends; and we rejoice that Christ is in our midst, where He is and ever shall be. For all these things we give thanksgiving and praise, prayer and supplication always, for we remember that all things come from the Father.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”
These are the words of Saint Paul in our Epistle reading this morning, and regrettably we recognize that it is not always easy to rejoice, for not all moments seem pleasant to those that endure them; to those that endure loss; to those that endure suffering; to those that endure heartache and hardship; to those that endure the darkness because it seems as though the light has left them. Yet, even in times such as these we can find reasons to rejoice; for, in our sufferings we find strength; in our pain we find the power to endure; in the loss of all things we are freed from the world; in the loss of life we rejoice in hope, and look for an age yet to come. No matter the darkness and how cold it may seem, we hold onto the light of Christ, for the Light will dispel the darkness, or make longer the shadows and reveal the objects within our lives causing them.
Saint John Chrysostom also says similarly in his own Homily on the letter to the Philippians:
“It is comforting to know that the Lord is at hand…Here is a medicine to relieve grief and every bad circumstance and every pain. What is it? To pray and to give thanks in everything. He does not wish that a prayer be merely a petition but a thanksgiving for what we have received…How can one make petitions for the future without a thankful acknowledgment of past things?...So one ought to give thanks for everything, even what seems grievous. That is the mark of one who is truly thankful. Grief comes out of the circumstances with their demands. Thanksgiving comes from a soul that has true insight and a strong affection for God.”
We rejoice because He is with us, and we have much to be thankful for. We look forward to the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we rejoice, because he is our Lord God, and King. Then, we look forward to and celebrate theophany, the revelation of God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - on the waters of the Jordan, and rejoice because He is all merciful and compassionate toward His Children. We endure the somber period of the Lenten season, and we rejoice because He is Risen, having endured His crucifixion upon a cross, dying that we may live. He ascended that the Holy Spirit might descend, and we rejoice that we were worthy to be recipients of God’s grace. We endure the darkness of this world, just as the many saints who have gone before us, but we rejoice in the resurrection yet to come; we rejoice in God’s love and our healing of soul and body, the salvation of many, and the forgiveness of all.
We give praise and thanksgiving for the days that have come to pass, and look forward with joyful expectation at what is yet to come. Paul tells us not to be anxious about anything,“but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” We pray with thanksgiving, and we give voice to our thoughts, making them a tangible thing, making them real; for, even all of creation was spoken into existence. So, we say our prayers, say our confessions, say our creeds, that all these things may become real within us; that they may manifest themselves in our lives. Yet, this is only but a single reason why our prayers matter, not only to ourselves, but to the very world in which we live.
Our prayer is an encounter and relationship with God. It is through prayer that we anchor ourselves to the present moment, for indeed it is the only moment in which we can encounter God. Yes, we look back with thanksgiving on the past, and we look forward to the future with hopeful and joyful expectation, but it is only the present moment that matters to us. God is present to us at all times and in all places. He is present simultaneously in the past, present, and future, but it is only in the present moment in which we live, exist, and experience this life. Christ himself exhorts us in the Gospel of Matthew to “not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own,” and there is little we can do about the past, so we pray always, offering up the present moment to God, so that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Tomorrow may remain a mystery, but today is a gift from God, and I jokingly say that this is why it is called the present.
It is only in the present moment that we can be still and know that He is God; but, the world provides no such peace. Far too often the world lives in a distracted state of mind, and with many, their focus of attention is divided between their mobile devices, tablets, and cell phones instead of the people and places around them in the present moment. People would rather interact through an artificial glass wall, numbing any sense of true relationship and warmth we would experience with others. We are often distracted by the advertisements and sales pitches of the world around us, telling us how the world should look - billboards, magazine racks, television commercials, radio commercials, gossip and opinion, and so forth - driving us to focus on that which we should have, instead of what we have right now. Our attention is scattered on a vision of how the world tells us things should be, instead of how the world really is. Our mind is often divided between our past and future concerns, but rarely on the importance of the present moment. Because of this, many people have no joy, cannot rejoice or be joyful, because this can only happen within our present moment. Prayer and thanksgiving can only happen where we are.
We are often so focused on doing, that we leave little time for the act of being, being Children of God, being Saints, being perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect. Though, one should not consider the act of doing, and the act of being, to be two separate things. For, we have been exhorted to pray without ceasing, but this is not always an act of words. We become our prayer within our day to day lives; we incarnate Christ into the world; and we become that which we pray for, that for others and ourselves.
Prayer is the beginning of all theology, as Vladimir Lossky says. Prayer alone will give our soul the spiritual strength to endure all things. So, without prayer, there is no spiritual life alive within us. Our faith, our prayer, should become a state of being - it is not enough to say prayers, but we must become our prayer, become a Christian, and incarnate our faith by word AND deed. Our prayer life should be lived, and our prayers should be interwoven with our life, otherwise they become vestigial words and phrases that we simply offer in our short periods we turn towards God. Our prayers and our actions should become two expressions of the same situation. Also, we must approach our prayer life as a mutual relationship of friendship. God must be the object of our prayer, our wanting, for the intensity and elation of our prayer is often about the object of our prayer rather than the one to whom our prayer is addressed.
“All of life, each and every act, every gesture, even the smile of the human face, must become a hymn of adoration, an offering, a prayer. One should offer not what one has, but what one is.” (Bishop Kallistos Ware)
This is the gift we give: our lives. We do this because it is the only gift we can give which is reciprocal of itself, given in response to the gift which we have received ourselves: eternal life. It is for this gift, and many other reasons we are exhorted not once, but twice by the Apostle Paul in the same passage to rejoice; to be thankful for everything in prayer and thanksgiving. So let us become joy; let us all become Joy to the world because Christ our King has come, and is coming. It is a beautiful day our Lord God has made, so let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Through the prayers of our holy fathers and mothers, and Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.