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.
O God, You are my God, I seek You, my soul thirsts for You; my flesh faints for You, as in a dry and weary land where no water is. So I have looked upon You in the sanctuary, beholding Your power and glory. Because You steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on Your Name. My soul is feasted as with marrow and fat and my mouth praises You with joyful lips, when I think of you upon my bed, and meditate on You in the watches of the night. For You have been my help and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me. But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth; they shall be given over to the power of the sword, they shall be prey for jackals. But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by Him shall glory; for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
On April 2nd 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 of Our Holy Orthodox faith: Saint Gregory of Nicomedia; Saint Titus the Wonder-worker; virgin-Martyr Theodora of Palestine; Saint Polycarp of Alexandria; George of Atskveri; Holy Martyr Amphianos and Aedesios of Lydia.
OUR HOLY FATHER TITUS THE WONDERWORKER. He conceived a love for Christ from his earliest years, and despised the vanities of the world. For His sake, he left the world, went off to a monastery and received the Angelic habit. With not a backward glance, he gave himself to the sober and narrow way of monasticism. Through great patience, he attained the two basic virtues of humility and obedience, and in these virtues he exceeded 'not only the brethren, but all men'. He preserved his purity of soul and body right from his youth. In the time of the iconoclast heresy, he was seen to be a steadfast pillar of the Church of God. For his great humility and purity, he was endowed by God with the gift of miracle-working, both in his lifetime and after his death. And when he went to the Lord, he left a large number of disciples behind him. He entered peacefully into rest in the 9th century.
+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:
Old Testament: Isaiah 48:17-49:4
Old Testament: Genesis 27:1-41
Old Testament: Proverbs 19:16-25
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"Always ask for help from the Lord and the Mother of God. Know of a surety that if a person, from the depths of his soul, does not wish to commit a sin, hell itself will not harm him because he will have the help of God. But, if he himself is inclined toward sin, if he engages in converse with evil thoughts, rather than cutting them off as he would a poisonous vermin, then the enemy will find passage into his heart and the Lord will allow sin to abide therein. In the same way, because of high-mindedness, pride or the constant and malicious judging of his neighbor, a man is allowed to fall. For this reason, one must be alert and not provide a cozy place in one's thoughts or one's heart for any kind of vermin, so as not to be stung. Only by means of vigilance, the restraining of our outward senses (sight, hearing, touch), and the ceaseless calling upon the name of God - as much as lies within our power - it is possible to repulse all the enemy's sallies and to keep from falling into a grave sin." [Abbot Nikon (Vorobiev) of Russia]
THE PATH OF THE CHRISTIAN
THE CROSS OF CHRIST: THE PATH, THE POWER, AND THE BANNER OF THE CHURCH
[source: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky]
The dogmatic teaching of the Church has the most intimate connection with the whole moral order of the Christian life; it gives to it a true direction. Any kind of departure from the dogmatic truths leads to incorrect understanding of the moral duty of the Christian. Faith demands a life that corresponds to faith.
The Savior has defined the moral duty of man briefly in the two commandments of the law: the commandments to love God with one's whole heart, soul, mind and understanding; and the commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself. But at the same time the Savior taught that the authentic fulfillment of these commandments is impossible without some degree of self-renunciation, self-sacrifice; it demands struggle.
And where does the believer find strength for struggle? He receives it through communion with Christ, through love for Christ which inspires him to follow after Him. This struggle of following Him, Christ called His "yoke": "Take My yoke upon you... For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (St. Matthew 11:29-30). He called it also a cross. Long before the day of His crucifixion, the Lord taught: "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (St. Matthew 16:24). "He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me" (St. Matthew 10:38).
The Orthodox path of the Christian is the path of the Cross and of struggle. In other words, it is the path of patience; of the bearing of sorrow, persecutions for the name of Christ, and dangers from the enemies of Christ; of despising the goods of the world for the sake of Christ; of battling against one's passions and lusts.
Such a path of following Christ was taken by His Apostles. "I am crucified with Christ" writes the Apostle Paul (Gal. 2:20). "God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal. 6:14). Following the path of Christ, the Apostles finished the struggle of their life with martyr's death.
All believers are called to struggle according to their strength: "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the passions and lusts" (Gal. 5:24). The moral life cannot exist without inward battle, without self-restraint. The Apostle writes: "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the Cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things" (Phil. 3:18-19).
The whole history of the Church has been built on struggles: at first the sufferings of the martyrs in the earliest Christian age; then the self-sacrificing labors of the pillars of the Church, the hierarchs; and then the personal ascetic struggles, spiritual attainments in the battle with the flesh, on the part of the desert dwellers and other strugglers-- "earthly Angels and heavenly men," the righteous ones who have lived in the world without being defiled by the world. And thus up to now Christianity is adorned with Confessors and Martyrs for faith in Christ. And the Holy Church supports in believers this duty of self-restraint and spiritual cleansing by means of instructions and examples from the Gospel and the whole Sacred Scripture, by the examples of the Saints, by the rules of the Church typicon, by vigils, fasts, and appeals to repentance.
Such is the lot not only of each separate Christian but of the Church herself as a whole: To be persecuted for the Cross of Christ, as was shown in the visions of the Holy Apostle John the Theologian in the Apocalypse. The Church in many periods of her history has endured totally open sorrows and persecutions and the martyr's death of her best servants--what one contemporary priest and Church writer has called the "harvest of God"---while in other periods, even in periods of outward prosperity, she has endured sorrows from inward enemies, from the unworthy manner of life of her members, and in particular of the people who are assigned to serve her.
Thus is defined the dogma of the Cross. The Cross is the path of the Christian and the Church.
At the same time it is also "the power of the Church". Looking with his mental eyes "unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith" (Heb. 12:2), the Christian finds spiritual strength in the awareness that after the Lord's death on the Cross there followed the resurrection; that by the Cross the world has been conquered; that if we die with the Lord we shall reign with Him, and shall rejoice and triumph in the manifestation of His glory (I Peter 4:13).
The Cross, finally, is the "banner of the Church. From the day when the Savior bore the Cross on His shoulders to Golgotha and was crucified on the material Cross, the Cross became the visible sign and banner of Christianity, of the Church, of everyone who believes in Christ.
Not everyone who belongs to Christianity "in general" has such an understanding of the Gospel. Certain large Christian societies deny the Cross as a visible banner, considering that it has remained what it was, an instrument of reproach. The Apostle Paul already warned against such an "offense of the Cross" (Gal. 5:11), "lest the Cross of Christ should be made of one effect. For the preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are being saved, it is the Power of God" (I Cor. 1:17-18). He exhorted men not to be ashamed of the Cross as a sign of reproach: "Let us go forth therefore unto Him with the camp, bearing His reproach," he teaches (Heb. 13:13-14). For the reproach on the Cross led to the Resurrection in glory, and the Cross became the implement of salvation and the path to glory.
Having always before oneself the image of the Cross, making on oneself the sign of the Cross, the Christian first of all brings to his mind that he is called to follow the steps of Christ, bearing in the name of Christ sorrows and deprivations for his faith. Secondly, he is strengthened by the power of the Cross of Christ for battle against the evil in himself and in the world. And thirdly, he confesses that he awaits the manifestation of the Glory of Christ, the Second Coming of the Lord, which itself will be preceded by the manifestation in heaven of the "sign of the Son of Man," according to the Divine words of the Lord Himself (St. Matthew 24:30). This sign, according to the unanimous understanding of the holy Fathers of the Church, will be a magnificent manifestation of the cross in the sky.
The sign of the Cross that we place upon ourselves or depict on ourselves by the movement of the hand is made in silence, but at the same time it is said loudly, because it is an open confession of our faith.
Thus, with the Cross is bound up the whole grandeur of our redemption, which reminds us of the necessity of personal struggle for the Christian. In the representation of the Cross, is also the history of martyrdom and the confession of Christianity in all ages.
Reflecting deeply on the wealth of thoughts bound up with the Cross, the Church hymns the power of the Cross: "O invincible and incomprehensible and divine power of the precious and life-giving Cross, forsake not us sinners."
Please note: In explaining why Christians venerate the Cross, Saint John Damascene sums up what has been accomplished through the Cross, which, as he says, is a term denoting the death of Christ: "Every action of Christ and all His working of miracles were truly very great and Divine and wonderful, but of all things the most wonderful is His honorable Cross. For by nothing else except the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ has death been brought low, the sin of our first parent destroyed, hell plundered, resurrection bestowed, the power given us to despise the things of this world and even death itself, the road back to the former blessedness made smooth, the gates of Paradise opened, our nature seated at the right hand of God, and we made children and heirs of God. By the Cross all things have been set aright. For "as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ," says the Apostle Paul, "were baptized into His death." (Romans 6:3), and "as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27); moreover, "Christ is the power and wisdom of God" (I Cor. 1:24). See how the death of Christ, the Cross, that is to say, has clothed us with the subsistent wisdom and power of God!"
Saint Gregory Palamas writes: "Christ overturned the devil through suffering and His flesh which He offered as a sacrifice to God the Father, as a pure and altogether holy victim--how great is His gift! --and reconciled God to our human race. He underwent the passion according to the Father's will and became for us, who were destroyed through disobedience and saved through obedience, and example of how obedient we should be...When Christ had risen from the dead on the third day and had shown Himself alive to His disciples, He ascended into heaven. He remained immortal and bestowed on us, with complete assurance, resurrection, immortality and truly blessed, eternal, incorruptible life in heaven. By means of the one death and resurrection of His flesh, He healed our twofold death and freed us from our double captivity of soul and body."
Saint Gregory continues on the Cross: "Crucifying the flesh with its passions and longings means stopping all activity which is displeasing to God. Although our body may pull us down and exert pressure on us, we must still lift it up urgently to the height of the Cross. What I am trying to say? When the Lord was on earth He lived a life of poverty, and not just lived but preached poverty, saying, 'Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple' (St. Luke 14:33).
"...Not only the word and the mystery of the Cross are divine and to be reverenced, but so also is its sign. For it is a holy, saving and venerable seal, able to hallow and perfect all the good, marvelous and indescribable things which God has done for the human race. It can take away the curse and condemnation, destroy corruption and death, bestow eternal life and blessing. It is the wood of salvation, the regal sceptre, the divine trophy of victory over visible and invisible enemies, even though the heretics' followers are insanely displeased...The Lord's Cross discloses the entire dispensation of His coming in the flesh, and contains within it the whole mystery of this dispensation. Extending in all directions, it embraces everything above, below, around and between…By what means were we reconciled with God and how did we hear the Good News of peace with Him? Surely it was on the Cross and by means of the Cross. Let those who doubt listen to what the Apostle Paul's writes to the Ephesians, "For Christ is our peace, who hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the Cross, having slain the enmity thereby " (Ephesians 2:14-16).
Inclining our hearts as well as bending our knees, come, "let us worship", with David and psalmist and prophet, "at the place where his feet stood" (Psalm 132:7), where His All-Embracing hands were outspread and His Life-Giving Body was stretched out for our sake. As we reverence and greet the Cross with faith, let us draw and keep the abundant sanctification flowing from it."
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God