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.
Let us pray to the Lord.
At nightfall, dawn and noon, we sing to You, we bless You, we give thanks to You, and we beseech You, Master of all, Lord and lover of mankind: guide our prayers aright as an offering of incense before You. Let not our hearts be led to wicked thoughts or words, but deliver us all from those who pursue our souls. For it is on You, Lord, Lord, that our eyes are fixed, and in You that we have our hope; do not put us to shame, O our God. For all glory, honor and adoration are Your due, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
On February 24th 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 and Teachers of Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: First and Second Finding of the Venerable Head (κάρα) of Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner; Uncovering of the holy relics of Saint Romanos, Prince of Uglich, St. Erasmus of the Kiev Caves.
THE FINDING OF THE HEAD OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST: The great and glorious Forerunner was beheaded at the wish and request of the wicked Herodias, wife of Herod. When Saint John had been beheaded, Herodias ordered that his head should not be buried with his body, for she feared that the terrible prophet would somehow rise from the dead. So she took his head and buried it in some hidden and unworthy place, deep in the earth. Her lady-in-waiting was Joanna the wife of Chuza, a courtier of Herod's. This good and God-fearing Joanna could not bear that the head of the godly man should remain in an unworthy place, so she disinterred it secretly, took it to Jerusalem and buried it on the Mount of Olives. Not knowing about all this, king Herod, when he heard about Christ and His great miracles, was afraid and said: 'It is John, whom I beheaded; he is risen from the dead!' (St. Mark 6:16). After a considerable time, an eminent government official came to believe in Christ, left his position in the world and became a monk. Under the name Innocent, he settled on the Mount of Olives, in precisely the place where the Baptist's head had been buried. Deciding to build himself a cell, he dug deep and found an earthen pot containing a head which, it was revealed to him secretly, was that of the Baptist. He venerated it and re-buried in the same place. By God's providence, that wonder-working head went from hand to hand, disappearing into the darkness of forgetfulness and then being once more revealed, until it was finally taken to Constantinople in the middle of the 9th century, in the time of Patriarch Ignatius and the God-fearing Empress Theodora, mother of Michael and wife of Theophilos. Many miracles were performed by the head of Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner. It is important and interesting to note that, while he was alive, Saint John did not work a single miracle (St. John 10:41), but to his holy relics was given the blessed power of working miracles.
+ By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Martyrs, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 4:6-15
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 11:12-15
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"Repress the feelings of irritation in your soul with love, deaden the powers of the senses with temperance, and let the power of thought soar with prayer. Then, the light in your soul will never dim" (Saint Maximos the Confessor).
According to the Orthodox Study Bible, "Apostasy is literally, "turning away." This sin is committed when a Christian or body of believers rejects the true faith of Christ". In 1st Timothy 1:5-7 we read: "Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm." Also, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron" (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
The path that the world has chosen to take is quite clear to all. For many centuries the world has been determined to discredit, dilute, undermine and even eliminate any religious or spiritual beliefs and values. Christianity is the primary target although other religions have been affected as well. The effort to secularize society throughout the world has had a significant success. This is indicated by the fact that the majority of Christians, i.e., Western Europe (from Greece to England) less than ten percent of the Christians practice and remain loyal to the Faith.
Orthodox Christianity is resisting to the existing world apostasy. Our Holy Church has dealt historically with horrific and savage persecutions under all kinds of political systems and conditions. Countless of our fellow Orthodox Christians would rather die and did or were tortured, rather than to abandon or deny our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His Church.
Every Orthodox Christian must remain steadfast in his/her faith and continue to be vigilant and aware of what is taking place around us at all times. It is also necessary that we remain true to Our Lord and not to betray Him.
Apostasy describes those who have voluntarily and consciously abandoned and rejected Christ and their Christian faith.
Some of the warning passages in the New Testament describe at least three dangers which could lead a Christian to commit apostasy:
- TEMPTATIONS: Christians were tempted to engage in various vices that were a part of their lives before they became Christians (idolatry, sexual immorality, covetousness, etc.)
- DECEPTIONS: Christians encountered various heresies and false teachings spread by false teachers and prophets that threatened to seduce them away from their pure adoration and devotion to Jesus Christ.
- PERSECUTIONS: Christians were persecuted by the governing powers of the day for their allegiance to Christ. As we know from history our fellow Christians were threatened by Emperors and Atheistic rulers with certain death if they would not deny Christ.
Persecution is highlighted in the Epistle to the Hebrews and the First Epistle of Peter. The issue of false teachers/teachings is found in Johannine and Pauline epistles, and in the Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude. A number of sections in the writings of Saint Paul and Saint James are on vices and virtues. "These and other early texts helped to shape the trajectory of Christian response to the phenomenon of defection in the post-Apostolic era. The Christians were to persevere through various types of opposition, standing firm against temptation, false doctrine, sufferings and persecution.
Saint Ignatius of Antioch writes: "Keep yourselves from those evil plants which Jesus Christ does not tend, because they are not the planting of the Father. Not that I have found any division among you, but exceeding purity. For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of repentance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the Kingdom of God." (Epistle of the Philadelphians).
The Epistle of Barnabas both admonishes and warns his readers about coming dangers:
"Since, therefore, the days are evil, and Satan possesses the power of this world, we ought to give heed to ourselves, and diligently inquire into the ordinances of the Lord. Fear and patience, then, are helpers of our faith; and long-suffering and continence are things which fight on our side... We ought therefore, brethren, carefully to inquire our salvation, lest the wicked one, having made his entrance by deceit, should hurl us forth from our [true] life" (Barnabas 2:1-2, 10).
"Let us then utterly flee from all the works of iniquity, lest these should take hold of us; and let us hate the error of the present time, that we may set our love on the world to come: let us not give loose reins to our soul, that it should have power to run with sinners and the wicked, lest we become like them." (Barnabas 4:1-2).
In an ancient sermon the author exhorts his audience to pursue righteousness and abstain from vices"
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God