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.
FROM THE LITURGY OF THE PRESANCTIFIED GIFTS
Priest standing before the holy icon of Christ offers the following prayer:
Almighty Lord, You have created all things in wisdom. In Your inexpressible providence and great goodness You have brought us to these saving days, for the cleansing of our souls and bodies, for control of our passions, in the hope of the Resurrection. After the forty days You delivered into the hands of Your servant Moses the tablets of the law in characters divinely traced. Enable us also, O Benevolent One, to fight the good fight, to complete the course of the fast, to keep the faith inviolate, to crush underfoot the heads of unseen tempters, to emerge victors over sin and to come, without reproach, to the worship of Your Holy Resurrection. For blessed and glorified is Your Most Honorable and Majestic Name, of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
On March 9th 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: Forty Holy Martyrs of Sevaste; St. Caesarius, brother of St. Gregory the Theologian; St. Philoromos, Confessor of Galaria; St. Urpasianus of Nicomedia; St. Tarasios of Liconium; St. Jonah, Archbishop of Novgorod; New Holy Martyr Archpriest Mitrophan of Voronezh (1931).
FORTY HOLY MARTYRS OF SEVASTE. Symbolic crowns are placed on the heads of the bride and groom in the Orthodox wedding in remembrance of the Forty Holy Martyrs. The priest reads, "Remember them O Lord as Thou didst Thy Holy Forty Martyr, sending down upon them crowns from Heaven." In the year 320 A.D., there was a garrison of forty Christian Roman soldiers in the city of Sebaste in Armenia. The pagan Roman Emperor Licinius tried them for not worshiping pagan gods. They were given a choice to disavow Christ or lose their military status and die. They chose death. A commander ordered them stoned, but the stones turned back in midair on the throwers, one breaking the commander's teeth. The soldiers were then stripped in bitter cold and forced into a lake, which froze around them. Fires and warm baths were built to lure the soldiers into renouncing Jesus. One did, but as he left the lake, he died. Thirty-nine crowns in the hands of Angels descended from Heaven. This caused a guard at lakeside to be converted, and he rushed into the freezing lake. The fortieth crown was placed on his head. The next day, the men were still alive, so their legs were broken and their bodies were hidden in the lake. Three days later, the holy martyrs appeared to Bishop Peter, telling him where to find their bodies for burial.
+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: Hebrews 12:1-10
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 20:1-16
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"Knowing the Savior and thus acquiring eternal blessedness is man's primary happiness on earth, and his only treasure..." Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov
CONCERNING SPIRITUAL WARFARE
Everyone who would follow our Lord Jesus Christ is engaged in spiritual warfare. The Saints by long experience learned from the grace of the Holy Spirit how to wage this war. The Holy Spirit appointed their footsteps and gave them understanding and the strength to overcome the enemy; but without the Holy Spirit the soul is incapable even of embarking on the struggle, for she neither knows nor understands who and where her enemies are.
Blessed are we Orthodox Christians because we live under the protection on God's mercy. It is not difficult for us to wage this war: the Lord had pity on us and gave us the Holy Spirit, Who abides in our Church. Our only sorrow is that not everyone knows God and how greatly He loves us. The man who prays is conscious of this love, and the Spirit of God bears witness in his soul to salvation.
Our battle rages every day, every hour.
If you have upbraided, or passed judgment on, or vexed your brother, your peace is lost. If you have been boastful, or have exalted yourself above your fellow, you have lost grace. If you did not drive away forthwith the wanton thought that came to you, your soul will lose love for god and boldness in prayer. If you are fond of power, or money, you will never know the love of God. If you have followed your own will, then you are vanquished by the enemy and despondency will come upon your soul. If you detest your brother, it means that you have fallen away from God, and an evil spirit has taken possession of you.
But if you will do good unto your brother, you will gain quiet for your conscience. If you subdue your own will, your enemies will be driven off and you will receive peace in your soul.
If you forgive your brother the affronts he puts upon you, and love your enemies, then you will receive forgiveness for your sins, and the Lord will give you to know the love of the Holy Spirit.
And when you have entirely humbled yourself, you will find perfect rest in God.
When the soul is humbled, and the Spirit of God is in her, man blissfully rejoices in spirit in the love of God. The soul when she feels the Lord's mercy knows no fear of any earthly calamity - her longing is to abide forever in humility before God, and to love her fellow-men. But if a soul be puffed up, the her day of rejoicing is over, for grace forsakes her and she can no longer pray with a pure heart, and evil thoughts come to harass her.
Why is it than man suffers on earth and is beset by affliction and adversity?
We suffer because we lack humility. The Holy Spirit dwells in the humble soul, bringing freedom, peace, love and blessedness.
We suffer because we do not love our fellow men. The Lord said, "Love one another and ye shall be my disciples." God's love comes with loving one's brother. Sweet is the love of God, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit and made known in full only through the Holy Spirit. But there is a lesser degree of love, to be found in the man who strives to observe Christ's commandments and goes in fear of grieving God in any way; and this love, too, is good. Every day we must urge ourselves towards what is good, and with might and main seek after the humility of Christ.
The Lord said to His disciples, "My peace I give unto you."
We must entreat God for this peace of Christ's, and the Lord will give to him who asks; and when we receive it, we must watch over it with care, and seek to multiply it. But whoever has not submitted to the will of god in times of distress cannot know God's compassion.
If misfortune overcome you, do not lose heart but recollect that the Lord in mercy looketh upon you, and do not allow yourself to think, 'Is the Lord going to look upon me when I grieve Him?' For mercy is the nature of the Lord. Instead, turn to God in faith, and like the prodigal son say, "I am no more worthy to be called Thy son," and you will see how pleasing you will be to the Father, and your soul will be filled with joy indescribable.
People do not try to learn humility, and because of their pride are unable to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit, and so the whole world is filled with suffering. Whereas if men but came to know the Lord and how merciful, humble and meek He is, the face of the whole world would be changed in a single hour, and great joy and love would reign in every heart.
The merciful Lord has given us repentance, and through repentance are all things put right. Through repentance we receive forgiveness of sins; repentance brings the grace of the Holy Spirit, and thus we come to know God.
If one among you has lost grace and things go hard with him, let him repent, and the Lord will give him His peace. If a people or a nation are in tribulation, all must repent, and then God will set everything right.
When grace is present, it is easy to love God and pray day and night; but the wise will endure and periods, too, trusting firmly in the Lord and knowing that He will not confound her hopes but will turn to her in His good time. The grace of God is sometimes swift to come, sometimes long withheld; but the wide soul will humble herself and love her neighbor and meekly bear her cross, and thus overcome the attempts of the enemy to sever her from God.
When her sins, like clouds, hide the light of God's compassion the soul, though she thirst for the Lord, remains feeble and helpless, like a bird prisoned in a cage, unable to escape to the green grove whither it would fly in liberty to sing the praises of God.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God