Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
FIRST PRAYER OF SAINT JOHN DAMASCENE
O Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ our God, Who alone has authority to forgive us our sins, overlook in Your goodness and love for us our sins, overlook in Your goodness and love for us all our offenses whether committed with knowledge or in ignorance, and make us worthy to receive without condemnation Your Divine, Glorious, spotless, and Life-giving Mysteries, not for punishment, nor for an increase of sins, but for purification and sanctification and as a pledge of the Life and Kingdom to come, as a protection and help, and for the destruction of enemies, and for the blotting out of our many transgressions. For You are a God of mercy and compassion and love for us, and to You we send up the glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
On February 28th 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 and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Basil the Confessor; Saint Kyranna, New holy Martyr of Thessalonikie; Saint John Cassian the Confessor.
OUR HOLY FATHER JOHN CASSIAN. This great spiritual guide was born in Rome of eminent parents. In his youth he studied the secular disciplines, especially philosophy and astronomy. After that, he gave himself entirely to the study of Holy Scripture. He moved from the good to the better, and, desiring higher steps to perfection, Saint Cassian left Rome for the East, to learn more and attain this greater perfection. He went to Bethlehem, then lingered in Egypt, at Nitria, among outstanding spiritual athletes from whom he learned to exercise himself in all the virtues. In Constantinople, he became a pupil of Saint John Chrysostom and was ordained by him to the diaconate. He finally returned to the West and settled near Marseilles, there founding two Monasteries, one for monks and one for nuns. At the request of the monks, Saint Cassian wrote many books, among which the ones on the lovers of the spiritual life are especially helpful: 'Eight books on the struggle against the eight chief passions' (The Institutes). His book against the Nestorian heresy (On the Incarnation of the Lord), which he wrote at the request of Archdeacon (later Pope) Leo, is very important. He served the Lord faithfully and enriched many by his wisdom, then entered into eternal rest in 435 A.D. Saint Cassian's relics are preserved to this day in Marseilles.
OUR HOLY FATHER BARSANUPHIUS. Born a pagan in Palestine, he was baptized at the age of eighteen and immediately became a monk, receiving the name John. When his virtuous life became known, he was chosen as Archbishop of Damascus, but did not stay long in that position. Yearning after a solitary spiritual asceticism, he secretly left Damascus and went to the desert of Nitria. There he presented as the monk Barsanuphius, and was immediately given the obedience of water-carrier to the monastery. By his learned discourses, his meekness and his zeal, he quickly became a model example to all the monks. Only at the time of his death was it revealed to the monks who Barsanuphius was. And so this Saint used his own example as a lesson to the proud and to lovers of power, and as a comfort to the humble and meek. He entered peacefully into rest and went to the Lord in the year 457 A.D.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Fathers, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: I John 1:8-10; 2:1-6
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 13:31-37; 14:1-2
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND MEDITATION
"O God, do not leave me. I have done nothing good in your sight, but according to your goodness, let me now make a beginning of good." (Abba [Father] Arsenius)
HOW TO LEARN TO LOVE THE LORD
by Saint Theophan the Recluse [Blessed Bishop Theophan explains from the Holy Gospel and lives of Saints what love for the Lord is, and how to acquire it. An inspiring sermon from this revered teacher of Orthodoxy.]
The Holy Myrrhbearers instruct us on love and so does Saint John the Theologian also instruct us concerning love. He loved the Lord more than anyone else and was loved by Him. Let us imprint in our minds this image of love, and let us begin to turn our feelings according to it and our attitude in relation to the Lord. How did Saint John the Theologian attain such lofty love for the Lord and become a model of love for all of us? I think that he did this in the same manner that people begin to love one another. They see the beauty and goodness of a person and become attracted to them with all their heart. In like manner Saint John saw the beauty of the Lord and was attracted to Him. He sensed the Lord's special love for him and likewise was inflamed with love for Him. He saw the great, wondrous, and fruitful works of the Lord and, immersed with his whole heart in this love, took rest in it. Here follows the path of assent in love for the Lord. Let us enter upon it, and in the end we will acquire it.
First: Saint John saw the beauty of the Lord and was attracted to it. In the same manner among people is born. They see someone's beauty, spiritual or physical, and begin to love one another. Let us lift up our mind to the contemplation of the Lord's beauty, and surely we will not remain cold and indifferent towards Him. The Lord's beauty is the sum total of all His perfection. "Look and observe, what does the Lord lack?" says Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk. Anything that you might desire can be found with the Lord in indescribable and unlimited fullness. Do you seek blessedness? He has eternal and true blessedness. Are you seeking beauty? Comely art Thou in beauty more than the sons of men; (Psalm 44:3). Do you seek nobility? Who is more noble than the Son of God? Are you looking for honor? Who has more honor or is more elevated than the King of the heavens? Do you seek wisdom? He is the Person (Hypostasis) of God's Wisdom. Do you want gladness? He is the joy and gladness of blessed spirits and the chosen of God. Do you need comfort? Who can comfort you more than the Lord Jesus? Do you seek rest? Here is the eternal rest of those souls that love Him. Do you want life? He is the Fountain of Life. Are you afraid of being lost? He is the Way. Do you fear deception? He is Truth. Are you in fear of death? He is Life as He Himself assures us: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In short, all the perfection, beauty, and goodness that the human soul could love is found in Him. Force your mind to grasp this and, you will not be able to do otherwise than love the Lord. Saint Catherine the Great Martyr promised to love the One in Whom she would see the same wealth that she possessed, the same beauty, the same wisdom she boasted of, expecting that in the whole world she would not find such a person. But when she came to know the Lord, she saw that compared to His beauty, wisdom, and wealth her own was nothing and contemptible. She then gave herself completely to Him, clinging to Him and offering herself to Him as a sacrifice.
Secondly, Saint John the Theologian, sensing the Lord's love for him, was inflamed with love for Him. Sincere and selfless love, when experienced from another, always inspires a corresponding feeling. Let us experience the Lord's love and kindle our love for Him. "What did the Son of God not do for us?" asks Saint Tikhon. "What did He not attain for us? What did He not bear and suffer for the sake of our poor and needy souls? What labors and sufferings did He not take upon Himself in order to bring us, who had fallen away, to His Heavenly Father? He came down from Heaven in order to raise us, who had been cast out of Paradise, up to Heaven. For our sake He was born in the flesh in order to bring us unto Himself through spiritual regeneration. He humbled Himself for our sake, in order to lift us up He became impoverished, in order to enrich us wretched ones. He suffered dishonor and wounds in order to heal and glorify us. He died for us in order to give life to us who were dead. Behold what condescension and humility His perfect love and sympathetic mercy brought Him to." Has not each one of us experienced this movement of God's love? How often have we fled from this love by sinning? Every time, because of one phrase, "I am guilty and will not do it again," have we been reunited through His mercy. How many times have we angered Him by giving into the temptation of the delights of this world. Then when we turned to Him again we were admitted to the Lord's Table, to partake of His Body and drink of His Blood. Is this not the embrace of His merciful love? Christ is among us in our everyday life. Who among us has not experienced His caring nearness to us, in deliverance from misfortune, illness, sorrow, difficult circumstances, in all needs spiritual and physical? Is it possible not to respond to such great love and turn to One Who so untiringly loves us? Is it possible because of distraction and inattention to forget about the Lord's love for us? Having known and remembered this love, it is then impossible not to experience a feeling for the Lord no matter how calloused one's heart might be. He who continually walks in the presence of God's love will always be kindled with love for Him. Such is the nature of love!
Thirdly: Saint John the Theologian tasted the sweetness of love for the Lord and with perfect peace rested on his breast. Love is in itself a gift which can be compared with no other. It brings a blessing which is higher than anything in heaven or on earth. The Lords says, "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him, and If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him" (St. John 14:21, 23). How comforting are these words! What great and exalted promises the Son of God offers to those who love Him--that the true lover of Christ will share in friendship with the Father and His Son! The human mind cannot fathom God's goodness. God Who is Great, Endless, and Unattainable, desires to have friendship with man whom He created and who is His slave. He desires to have friendship as long as man does not reject it...fellowship is the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ (I John 13) writes Saint John. Where the Son and the Father are, there also the Holy Spirit is not excluded. Behold what the love of Christ attains! He who loves is worthy to be the dwelling and home of the Most Holy Trinity. The Tri-Hypostatic God-Father, Son and Holy Spirit-is well disposed to dwell in man by Grace. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." (I John 4:16). Blessed indeed is such a heart! Even here on earth it feels joy which is abundantly forth into the hearts of the chosen unto eternal life. The heart tastes the very essence of "how good the Lord is" and possesses that which is meant by the words, "the Kingdom of God is within you."
For there where God is, is also all that belongs to Him. If God is within you because of your love, than you will have His justification for your sins, deliverance from your captivity, peace instead of your evil conscience, joy instead of your misery, comfort instead of your sorrow, justification at God's judgment, assistance against your enemies, wisdom and intelligence instead of confusion and ignorance, strength in your weakness (from Saint Tikhon same citation). If the Lord dwells in you for the sake of your love, then who can be against you, what harm can befall you? If He is your strength, then who can overcome you? If He is your King, then who can subjugate you? "If God is with us then who can be against us," boldly exclaims Saint Paul together with all those who love the Lord (Romans 8:31). Such is love, and behold what it brings with it! Those who enter into the love of the Lord feel that they are more and more filled and perfected. For love is "the bond of perfectness" (Col. 3:14).
As it is, we have loved something instead of Him, something not pleasing to Him and not blessed by Him--and are not capable of loving Him since we have but one heart and not two. Therefore we cannot work for God and mammon [the world]. Remember, brethren, that the "friendship of the world is enmity with God" (St. James 4:4). "Enmity with God!" This is terrible! But worse are the words, "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema, maranatha" (I Cor. 16:22). Such was the expression of Saint Paul's zealous love.
Let us dwell on these things brethren, and force ourselves to love the Lord with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our strength. Even better, let us arouse the love for Him sleeping in us and bring it out into action to be seen by us and everyone. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God