Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ the Incarnate Lord and Our Only True God and Savior,
CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΓΕΝΝΑΤΑΙ, ΔΟΞΑΣΑΤΕ!
"For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His Shoulder, and His Name will be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace their will be no end." (Isaiah 9:6-7)
You, the Almighty God, are indeed the Child of Bethlehem! You alone can govern effectively our contemporary world. You are the God with authority, Who is able to win and prevail over our hearts. You are the Prince of Peace Who alone of all the rulers can bring peace to our suffering world. Your power and Might is indeed far more powerful than all the weapons of mass destruction that have been amassed around our troubled world. And You alone can use this power to bring about a life of peace everywhere throughout the world without barriers and boundaries.
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 over-come 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 peace and every real joy in the world. Amen.
On December 27th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers, and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Holy Protomartyr Stefanos (Stephen) the Archdeacon; Saint Theodore the Branded, and his brother St. Theophanes; Saint Maurice of Bithynia and 70 martyrs with him; Saint Luke, monk of Tryglia; Saint Tikhon, Archbishop of Voronezh, and with him 160 martyred priests (1919 A.D.)
HOLY PROTOMARTYR STEFANOS (STEPHEN) THE ARCHDEACON. He was a kinsman of the holy Apostle Paul and one of those Jews who lived in a Hellenic (Greek) milieu. Saint Stefanos was the first of the Seven Deacons whom the holy Apostles ordained for the service of the poor in Jerusalem. This is why he is called the Archdeacon--the first, or chief, of them. By the power of his faith, Saint Stefanos worked many wonders (miracles) among the people. The wicked Jews disputed with him, but were always confounded by his wisdom and the power of the Spirit Who acted through him. Then the shameful Jews, adept at calumny and slander, stirred up the people and leaders against this innocent man. They slandered Saint Stefanos, saying that he had blasphemed against God and against Moses, and quickly found false witnesses who supported their assertion. Then Saint Stefanos stood before the people, and all saw his face "like the face of an angel": that is, his face was illumined by the light of grace as was the face of Moses when he talked with God. Saint Stefanos opened his mouth and spoke of God's manifold works and marvels, performed in the past for the people of Israel, and of the people's manifold transgressions and opposition to God. He especially denounced them for the slaying of Christ the Lord, calling them "betrayers and murders" (Acts 7:52). While they ground their teeth, Saint Stefanos looked and saw the heavens open and the Glory of God, and spoke to the Jews of what he saw: "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56). Then the malicious men took him out of the city and stoned him to death. Among his murderers was his kinsman Saul, later the Apostle Paul. At that time, the Most Holy Mother of God was standing on a rock at a distance with Saint John the Theologian and Evangelist, and witnessed the martyrdom of this first martyr for the truth of her Son and God, and she prayed for Saint Stefanos. This happened exactly a year after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the holy Apostles. Saint Stefanos's body was taken secretly and buried by Gamaliel in his own ground. He was a Jewish prince and a secret Christian. Thus this first of Christ's holy Martyrs made a glorious end and entered into the Kingdom of Christ Our God.
"When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, gazed into heaven and saw the Glory of God, and Jesus standing at these right hand of God, and said, 'Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!' Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not charge them with this sin.; and when he had said this, he fell asleep." (Acts 7:54-60)
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy and Great Martyrs, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Acts 6:8-15, 7:1-5, 47-60
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 21:33-42
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND SANCTIFICATION
"This is the sign of Christianity. However much man should do and how many justifying works he should perform, he should feel that he has accomplished nothing. And when he fasts, he should say, "I have not fasted." When he prays, let him think, "I have not prayed." Persevering in prayer he should say, "I have not persevered. I have only begun to practice asceticism and to labor." And even if he is righteous before God he should say, "I am not righteous, I am not working, but I begin each day." He ought every day to have the hope and joy and confidence in the future Kingdom and in redemption and say, "If today I have not been delivered, tomorrow I will be." [Saint Macarius the Great]
CHRIST THE PRINCE OF PEACE
"On Surrender to the Will of God".
by Saint Theophan the Recluse
When a person has repented he gives himself up to the service of God; and immediately begins this service by walking in His Commandments and His Will. This work and labor begins in the sweat of the brow. Commandments are not hard in themselves, but there are many obstacles to practicing them in the external circumstances of the struggler, and especially in his inner tendencies and habits. With God's help a tireless struggler overcomes everything in the end and achieves peace within and a calm flow of events without--relatively, of course.
The struggler always acts himself, although with the help of God. But the experience of the first days makes him realize that in spite of all his efforts if anything good is done, it is done only because he is given force from above to do it. The further he goes, the more this conviction grows and becomes deeply rooted. When comparative peace is established within, this conviction is emphasized and takes command, until it finally ends in complete submission to God's will, or in total surrender to His influence. God's influence begins to act in those who struggle for salvation from the first moments of their turning to God, and it effects the turning itself. But it begins to grow as the struggler turns further and further away from himself and cleaves to God and, realizing his own impotence, has a very firm trust in God's power. When at last he surrenders himself entirely to God, God is actively present in him, both in showing what he must do and in fulfilling it. This is summit of Christian perfection, in which "it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do" (Phil. 2:13). As was said in the beginning, the seed of this perfection lies in non-reliance on oneself and in hope in God; but here it is shown in full maturity.
What constitutes the essence of total submission to the will of God can be learnt when it manifests itself in full force. It comes of itself and there are no special rules for acquiring it, so it is impossible to say: do this and do that and you will receive it. It grows imperceptibly under non-reliance on oneself and hope in God.
Know that as long as you are still attached to something earthly, as long as you still lean on something within or outside you, that is not God, as long as you find flavor in something created and enjoy it, you are unfit to be a burnt offering. First endeavor to renounce all this, make all the lives in you stop and only one life remain--life in God. In other words, make it so that you no longer live, but instead God, our Lord Christ and the Holy Spirit live in you. Then immolate yourself to God, or then you will be immolated to God. And, until this comes to pass, have as an offering to God a contrite spirit and a contrite and humble hear, and be content with this for a time, but not forever. For in the end you will have to come to sacrificing yourself wholly as a burnt offer to God.
Spiritual warmth of heart is the fruit of felling for God and for everything divine. It is born at the time when a person turns to God in repentance. In the course of tasks of penitence to purify the heart it acquires more and more strength, and from intermittent feelings of warmth visiting the heart from time to time it gradually becomes constant, until finally it becomes a permanent state of the heart.
Do you wish to preserve this spiritual warmth in your heart? Keep your attention within and stand praying in your heart before God; do not allow your thoughts to wander, distracting your attention, let no sympathy for things of the soul or the body enter the heart, cut off at once all cares and worries at their inception, keep alive your zeal to please God and to save your soul…But I will add that when once you have experienced this warmth, you cannot but strive to keep it; striving, you will use suitable methods to this end; using them you will see the best way to keep it. If you carry out this work with good judgment, spiritual warmth will become your trusty guide, teaching you how to control your whole conduct--in order to keep this very thing.
ON THE MEANS OF PRESERVING INNER PEACE:
To preserve inner peace:
(1) First of all keep your outer senses in order and flee all licentiousness in your external conduct--namely, neither look, speak, gesticulate, walk nor do anything else with agitation, but always quietly and decorously. Accustomed to behave with decorous quietness in your external movements and actions, you will easily and without labor acquire peace within yourself, in the heart; for, according to the testimony of the Fathers, the inner man takes his tone from the outer man.
(2) Be disposed to love all men and to live in accord with everyone, as Saint Paul instructs: "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men" (Romans 12:18).
(3) Keep your conscience unstained, so that it does not gnaw at you or reproach you in anything, but is at peace in relation to God, to yourself, to your neighbors, and to all external things. If your conscience is thus kept clean, it will produce, deepen and strengthen inner peace, as David says: "great peace have they which love Thy law and nothing shall offend them."
If at times you are unable to manage your heart and restore peace in it by driving away all stress and griefs, have recourse to prayer and be persistent, imitating our Lord and Savior, who prayed three times in the Garden of Gethsemane, to show you by His example that prayer should be your refuge in every stress and affliction of the heart and that, no matter how faint-hearted and greived you may be, you should not abandon it until you reach a state when your will is in complete accord with the Will of God and, calmed by this, your heart is filled with courageous daring and is joyfully ready to meet, accept and bear the very thing it feared and wished to avoid, just as our Lord felt fear, sorrow, and grief, but, regaining peace through prayer, said calmly: "Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray Me" (St. Matthew 26:46).
With sincere agape In His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God