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 Χριστός έν τώ μέσω ημών. Και ήν και έστι και έσται.
Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who would stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope, My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning--Yes, more than those who watch for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption. And He shall redeem Israel From all his iniquities.
On February 13th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and intercedes the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics and Teachers of Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saints Aquila, Priscilla, Apostles of the Seventy; Saint Evlogios, Patriarch of Alexandria; Saint Martinian of Caesarea; Saint Symeon the myrrh-gusher of Hilander; Saint Zoe of Bethlehem; Saint Joseph of Volokolamsk; father and son, crucified.
HOLY MARTYRS AQUILA AND PRISCILA, APOSTLES OF THE SEVENTY: The Apostle Paul wrote of this husband and wife, "Not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the nations." They were tent makers from Pontos of Asia Minor in the first century and moved to Rome. When the pagan Emperor Claudios expelled Christians and Jews from there, they became tent makers in Corinth and plied their craft with the Apostle Paul for eighteen months. Saint Paul baptized the couple and traveled with them. Saint Paul left them there to lay the groundwork for the missionary effort, and so they established a church in their own house that many attended regularly. They later moved back to Rome and there were beheaded by pagans.
OUR HOLY FATHER SIMEON THE OUTPOURER OF MYRRH*: Stevan Nemanja, the great ruler of the Serbian people, unifier of the Serbian lands, creator of an independent Serbian government, defender of Orthodoxy, driver-out of heresy, was first baptized in the Latin (Roman Catholic) Church, but later became a member of the Orthodox Church. In its organization, it was at first dependent on Greece, but later shook off this dependence and became completely autonomous. When he had strengthened the state and the Orthodox Church within the state he then, following the example of his son Sava, received the monastic habit at the monastery of Studenica in 1195 A.D., being given the name Simeon. His wife Anna also received the monastic habit and the name Anastasia, and retired to a women's monastery. After two years' monasticism at Studenica, St. Simeon went to the Holy Mountain (Mt.Athos). There he stayed at first in the monastery of Vatopedi, together with Sava. Father and son spend days and nights in prayer. They built there six chapels: to the Savior, the Unmercenaries (Anargyroi), Saint George, Saint Theodore, the Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner, and Saint Nicolas. They bought the ruins of Hilandar and built a beautiful monastery, in which St. Simeon lived only eight months before his death. When he was at his last breath, Sava, according to his wish, placed him on a simple rush mat. With his eyes fixed on the holy icon of the Mother of God with the Savior, the blessed elder pronounced these words: 'Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.' And he went to the Lord, on February 13th, 1200 A.D. [*His holy relics have, through the ages, given off a healing myrrh]
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Martyrs, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: 1 John 2:18-29, 3:1-8
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 11:1-11
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"Great will be the contest, O brethren, in those times, especially for the faithful, when signs and wonders will be wrought with great authority by the serpent himself. He will show himself in awful apparitions as being similar to God... Who, brethren, will then prove to be guarded, unshakable, having in his soul the faithful sign -- the holy coming of the Only-begotten Son, Our God - when he beholds the unspeakable afflictions which will come from every direction on every soul and from which there will be utterly no comfort, no respite whatever, neither on earth nor on the sea? ... Who will persevere when he sees every eye pouring forth tears and with strong desire asking, "Is the word of God to be found anywhere on earth?" and hearing the answer, "Nowhere!?" [Saint Ephraim the Syrian]
TURNING OUR BACKS TO SIN
by Saint John Climacus
"Once John outran Peter, and now obedience is placed before repentance. For the one who arrived first represents obedience, the other repentance."
With these words, Saint John Climacus introduces us to Rung Five of the Ladder of Divine Ascent which leads us to heaven. His definition of repentance is striking:
"Repentance is the renewal of baptism and is a contract with God for a fresh start in life. Repentance goes shopping for humility and is ever distrustful of bodily comfort. Repentance is critical awareness and a sure watch over oneself. Repentance is the daughter of hope and the refusal to despair. (The penitent stands guilty---but undisgraced.) Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the performance of good deeds which are the opposites of the sins. It is the purification of conscience and the voluntary endurance of affliction. The penitent deals out his own punishment, for repentance is the free persecution of the stomach and the flogging of the soul into intense awareness."
A friend of mine sometime ago asked an experienced monastic for a word of instruction. The monk looked at him and said:
"You spend too much time trying to do everything right. You try too hard to be successful. This is your problem. You are not good enough to make it to heaven on the basis of your good deeds, but you don't repent enough to make it on the basis of your sorrow. Try harder to repent and you shall be saved."
The spirit of this monastic advice is in keeping with the words of Saint John. Not that we shouldn't try hard to do things right, but we should realize at all times and in all things that we are, to use the words of Jesus, but unprofitable servants.
We should indeed try harder to repent than to do anything else. We should be more concerned with finding our faults than we are with noticing our accomplishments. We should sorrow more for our failures than we rejoice in our successes. We should blame ourselves more readily than others. We should accept the disappointments and difficulties of life without complaint. For as Saint John notes:
"A proof of our having been delivered from our failings is the unceasing acknowledging of our indebtedness. ... A sign of true repentance is the admission that all our troubles, and more besides, whether visible or not, were richly deserved."
Without repentance no one will ascend the Ladder of Divine Ascent to heaven. This is why Satan works so hard at keeping us from true repentance. His methods are diverse.
"God is merciful before a fall, inexorable after--so the demons say, And when you have sinned, pay no attention to him who says in regard to minor failings: 'If only you had not committed that major fault! This is nothing by comparison.' The truth is that very often small gifts soften the great anger of the Judge.
He who really keeps track of what he has done will consider as lost every day during which he did not mourn, regardless of whatever good he may happen to have done... We ought to be on our guard, in case our conscience has stopped troubling us, not so much because of its being clear but because of its being immersed in sin."
In contemporary American Orthodoxy, how important this reminder is! The way to God is hard, and not everyone that enters the race will receive the prize. Yes, God is loving and desires that all will be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. But not all are willing to endure the suffering and pain that come from embracing the truth about themselves. Only the humble and the penitent can be saved, because only the humble and penitent are willing to embrace despair of themselves. And it is only despair of self which leads to true faith in the Infinite Other, Who alone can save.
We must be very careful as Orthodox Christians not to fall into the heresy of Origen, who taught that all will be saved. Saint John's words are addressed to us:"All of us... should be especially careful not to be afflicted with the disease of the Godless Origen. This foul disease uses God's love for man as an excuse and is very welcome to those who are lovers of pleasure."
Sin is serious! To offend the Living and Loving God is monstrous evil. To turn away from His compassion and to follow our own way is the height of rebellion and the greatest offense. Let us be done with playing around with sin. Let us be done with downplaying the significance of our offenses. Even the littlest offense is worthy of eternal hellfire!
Let us bow low before God and beg of Him the forgiveness of our sins. Let us beseech Him to remove far from us coldness of heart and insensitivity to offense. Let us stop pretending that we are holy when we are empty of true sanctity. Let us be honest with God and with ourselves. And let us repent!
"Through repentance you have reached the fifth step. You have, in this way, purified the five senses, and by choosing to accept punishment have thereby avoided the punishment that is involuntary."
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George