Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS AND IS AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
An Extemporaneous Prayer to the Divine Child of Bethlehem
Lord, before You came to us here on earth, You were for us the great Expected One. You were the expectation of the ages and of the generations. Poets wrote of You before they knew You. The philosophers spoke about You before they saw You. The righteous were nostalgic for You, the prophets proclaimed You, and the simple people looked up to heaven for some sign that would indicate Your coming.
Lord, we expected You to come with might and power to redeem us, to govern and lead us. The pagans expected You to come with might to free bound Prometheus. The Jewish people also expect You to come as a glorious descendant of King David bearing his powerful sword.
"But when the time had fully come" (Galatians 4:4), You, the Almighty God, came into the midst of us fallen human beings here on earth. "Being God Eternal before all the ages, You appeared upon the earth and dwelt among men" (Saint Basil the Great). Yes, You came indeed, O Great Expected One. You were seen by the shepherds of Bethlehem, "keeping watch over their flock by night." The Angel brought them the message of "great joy which will come by night." The Angel brought them the message of "great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord." And the shepherds "went with haste" and found You as a "babe lying in a manger" (St. Luke 2:10-11, 16). On that holy night of Your Birth, a multitude of Angelic hosts praise You with heavenly hymns and divine harmonies...
Humbly therefore we bow down to worship You in Your holy manger. We entrust to You our soul, our life, our world. Govern us, You Who are the Divine Child of Bethlehem, so that we may not be overcome by evil and revert to chaos. Govern us, Lord, You Who are the Almighty God made Incarnate in the Person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the Lord of every real place and every real joy in the world. Amen.
On December 8th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers, and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Patapios of Theves; Holy Apostles Sosthenes, Apollos, Cephas, Tychikos, Epaphroditos, and Onesiphoros of the Seventy (70); Saint Cyril, Abbot of Chelma Hill; Saint Sophronios, Bishop of Cyprus.
OUR HOLY FATHER PATAPIOS. Born and brought up in the Faith and in the fear of God by pious parents in the Egyptian city of Thebes, he early perceived and rejected the empty vanity of the world and went into the Egyptian desert, where he devoted himself to cleansing his heart from every worldly thought and desire for the sake of divine love. When his virtues became known among the people, they began to come to him and seek relief from their troubles. Afraid of human glory which darkens a man's mind and separates it from God. Saint Patapios fled from the desert to Constantinople, for this wonderful Saint thought that he could more easily hide himself from men in the heart of a city than in the desert. He built himself a hut close to the Vlacharnae church and there, enclosed and unknown, took up again his interrupted life of asceticism. But the light cannot be hidden. A child, blind from birth, was led by divine Providence to Saint Patapios and begged him to offer a prayer that he might be given his sight and look upon God's creation, and praise God all the more. Saint Patapios had pity on the suffering child and prayed to God, and the child saw. Through this miracle, Saint Patapios's godly life became known throughout the entire capital, and people began to turn to him for healing, comfort and teaching. Saint Patapios healed one eminent man of dropsy after blessing him with a cross and anointing him with oil. Making the sign of the Cross in the air, he freed a youth from an unclean spirit which had cruelly tormented him, and the evil spirit went out of God's creature like smoke, uttering a great cry. He made the sign of the Cross over a woman who had sores on her breasts all filled with worms, and she was healed. Saint Patapios worked many other miracles, all through prayer in the name of Christ and by the power of the Cross. He entered into rest in great old age, going to the Kingdom of God in the 7th century.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, and Holy Ascetics, O Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Galatians 5:22-26, 6:1-2
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 13:19-29
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND SANCTIFICATION
"Here is where freedom is! The mind is bound with bonds of ignorance, delusions, superstitions, and uncertainties. It struggles, but cannot get away from them, cleave to the Lord, and He will enlighten your darkness and dissolve all the bonds in which your mind languishes. The passions bind the will and do not give it space in which to act. It struggles like one bound hand and foot, and cannot get away. But cleave to the Lord and He will give you the strength of Samson, and will dissolve all the bonds of untruth that bind you. Constant worries surround the heart and give it no peace. But cleave to the Lord, and He will soothe you. Then, at peace, and seeing everything around you clearly you will walk with the Lord without hindrance or stumbling through the gloom and darkness of this life, to the All-Blessed, complete joy and spaciousness of Eternity." [Saint Theophan the Recluse]
DIVINE GRACE ACCORDING TO OUR HOLY ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN FAITH
by +Athanasios S. Frangopoulos [Theologian - Preacher]
(source: Our Orthodox Christian Faith)
In order to delve into, and analyze more deeply, the meaning of Divine Grace, we say that Divine Grace is the good will, the benevolence, the love, the aid and the gift which God shows and offers to man. Divine Grace also means God's favor and love which sinful man is not worthy to receive from Him but God's compassion and goodness are so great that God offers His Grace of His own accord without man having to ask for it. And He offers it abundantly. He offers it to man so that he may come to know Christ the Savior and to appropriate to Himself Christ's redeeming work, and moreover, so that this grace may be for Him a powerful force in the work of His spiritual renewal and his life of holiness in Christ. And this grace is given freely. It is not a remuneration, a reward for good works and labors and sacrifices on man's part, it is not even an offering in response to man's petition. It is the gift which flows from the Lord's sacrifice on the Cross. As the Apostle Paul states, "And if (it is) by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise, grace is no more grace" (Romans 11:6). And it is with this meaning that Grace is found in the New Testament, as the gift of God to unworthy man. "The gift by grace which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many" (Romans 5:15) says Saint Paul. That is, this Grace of Christ was given as the gift of God and was given abundantly--indeed, more than necessary.
Then again, it is called the "grace of Jesus Christ", "grace given in Jesus Christ". That is, Grace and gift that was offered by the crucified and risen Christ for man's salvation. This Grace has of course as its source God the Father's Goodness, and gushes forth from the sacrifice of the Son of God the Father on the Cross, but is granted and bestowed to man by the Holy Spirit. In other words the renewal which Grace brings to men and the spiritual fruits of life according to Christ are brought about and bestowed by the Third Person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit.
In order that we may take this seriously to account and to seek towards this end the Grace of God, the Holy Fathers of the Church proclaim and underline that every good thing that occurs and exists for us is a gift and the result of God's Grace. Saint Basil the Great says: "Every good thing which reaches us and should be given us by Divine Might is the energy and act of Divine Grace which works in all good things unto salvation". And Saint Gregory the Theologian says: "Renewal is given us by the Holy Spirit. From renewal regeneration comes forth unto us. And from our regeneration, in that from sinful and evil we become good and holy, the value of Him Who recreated, i.e. God, is comprehended", so that those who are reborn may understand that "this is not of yourselves: it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). And Saint Cyril, in his Homily against Julian, writes: "It is incomprehensible and impossible for man's soul to achieve in his life and to accomplish a single good work, and first of all to master himself and to subject his sinful passions or avoid the terrible pitfalls of the devil if he is not protected and strengthened by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and with this Grace his soul to have dwelling constantly within her the Savior Christ."
THE NECESSITY OF DIVINE GRACE
Is Divine Grace necessary and indispensable to the sinner for his restoration and salvation? Indeed, most necessary and indispensable: necessary both for him to make a beginning and to finish, to reach the end of his birth and salvation. For the sinful man to make his beginning and to advance as a Christian, as a spiritual person, as a man of God. Divine Grace must not be absent from man even for a moment, otherwise man cannot stand. He cannot stand, not even for a moment as a reborn Christian without Divine Grace. He must always life, act and execute all his good and God-pleasing works within the presence and with the aid of God's Grace. With his own thoughts he cannot discover God, nor pray, nor communicate with Him. By his own strength, he cannot restore himself from his moral degradation and to stand pure and with integrity, with boldness before God. God moves him to repentance and faith. God restores him and keeps him firmly established upon his Christian course and life. God regenerates and sanctifies him, that is, He cleans him from every evil and sinful notion and impulse, from every irregular and guilty desire. God fills his soul and life with every honest and modest thing, with everything pure and holy, pleasing in everything to God. God does this, i.e., God's Grace.
MAN'S FREEDOM AND DIVINE GRACE
We have already stated that from God come all things, all good things. "Both to will and to do". Both to will and to do, and to advance in virtue. Indeed. But as we said in the beginning, God respects man's self-determination and his freedom and forces no one to believe and to follow His way. And God does this because He himself created man free, and He Himself endowed him with self-determination. But when Divine Grace comes, and moves man to change his life, moves him to repentance and faith, is there no coercion and isn't man's self-determination done away with? It is possible, indeed, that such a thought might pass through a Christian's mind. Let us answer it. No man's freedom is not done away with or violated through the intervention of God's Grace. Because while Divine Grace acts as the primary and chief factor and element in the work of man's salvation, it does not coerce man nor infringe upon man's free will. It does not visit the man who of his own free will reacts negatively towards God and who knowingly rejects Him. This type of person, after the first and second attempt, Divine Grace forsakes, even though, as we have said, God "does not desire the death of a sinner except that he should turn and live". But since man himself stubbornly rejects Divine Grace, it abandons him, because he desires that such be the case, since he desires not Divine Grace but rejects it.
THE FRUITS OF DIVINE GRACE
Divine Grace is the source of life in God; Divine Grace which is abundantly given by God to man for his salvation. Saint Paul speaks of the fruits of Divine Grace in his Epistles to the Galatians and to the Ephesians.
Concerning cooperation (synergy) between man's freedom and God's Grace, Saint John Chrysostom says: "God forces no one, but if God desires and we do not, we lose those gifts which offer us our salvation, not because God's will is weak, but because He desires to coerce and force no one."
And Theodoret of Cyprus, speaking in the same vein, points out that he (St. Paul) called "both to believe and to struggle valiantly gifts of God...nothing can achieve good things; both are necessary: both our readiness and God's aid and assistance. For neither is the grace of the Holy Spirit sufficient for those who do not possess the desire to be saved, nor again is our desire to be saved alone sufficient without God's help and assistance to achieve any virtues". Hence, we alone cannot achieve our salvation."
The first fruit therefore, or better still, the first work or energy of Divine Grace towards sinful man is the calling of the sinner. Divine Grace wakes the sinner. From what? From the lethargy and sleep of sin and calls him to come to God, to be enlightened vivified, and saved. Grace calls the sinner: "Awake, thou that sleepeth and arise from the dead and Christ shall give thee light " (Ephesians 5:14), as Saint Paul says. The sinner is dead, dead by the poison of sin. He has first to be resurrected. He is asleep and senseless with the sleep of eternal death, and he must be awakened, to see and realize his wretched and miserable situation. He must be jolted, he must pull himself together and seek God's mercy. The sinner is God's enemy, and for him to receive God's mercy it is necessary that he become God's friend. But to achieve all these things it is necessary that he be called by God, for by himself he can neither find God nor approach Him. Grace thus summons him: Come, sinner, awake and approach God so that you may be saved, and you shall be saved. The first fruit of Divine Grace therefore is the call. The call, the summons to repentance and faith, the call to salvation.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God