My beloved spiritual children 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.
A PRAYER FOR THE FAITHFUL STEWARDSHIP OF LIFE
+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
O Lord God Almighty, Who has built Thy Church upon the foundation of the Apostles, under Christ the head cornerstone, and to this end didst endow Thy holy Apostle Saint Barnabas with singular gift of the Holy Spirit; leave not destitute, I humbly beseech Thee, of Thy manifold gifts and talents, nor yet of grace to make a right use of them always without any sordid self-ends, to Thy Honor and Glory; that, making a due improvement of all those gifts Thou graciously entrusted me with, I may be able to give a good account of my stewardship when the Great Judge shall appear, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who reigneth with Thee and the Eternal Spirit, One God, Blessed forever. Amen.
-Saint Barnabas, Second century
TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On December 8th 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 of every righteous soul made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Patapius of Thebes; Holy Apostles of the Seventy: Crispus, Sosthenes, Apollo, Cephas, Tychicus, Epaphroditus, Caesar, and Onesiphorus; Saint Sophronios, Bishop of Cyprus; our Righteous Father Cyril of Chelmogorsk; Saint Parthenios of Chios; Holy Hieromartyr John, Priest of Tsarskoe Selo, who was slain by the atheists (communists) in the year 1917.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Ascetics, Holy Fathers, Holy Apostles, Holy Bishops, Holy Hierormartyrs, Holy Mothers, O Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
OUR RIGHTEOUS FATHER PATAPIUS. Saint Patapius was from the Thebaid of Egypt and struggled many years in the wilderness. He departed for Constantinople, and having performed many miracles and healings, he reposed in peace in a mountain cave on the Gulf of Corinth, where his holy relics are found incorrupt to the present day.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Plagal of Fourth Tone
In thee the image was preserved with exactness, O Father; for taking up thy cross, thou didst follow Christ, and by thy deeds thou didst teach us to overlook the flesh, for it passeth away, but to attend to the soul since it is immortal. Wherefore, O righteous Patapius, thy spirit rejoiceth with the Angels.
Kontakion Hymn. Third Tone
Having found thy Church to be a place of spiritual healing, all the people flock with haste thereto, O Saint, and they ask thee to bestow the ready healing of their diseases and forgiveness of the sins they wrought in their lifetime; O Patapius most righteous, in every need, thou art the protector of all.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 5:8-19
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 13:10-17
INSPIRING SAYINGS FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS, HOLY FATHERS AND HOLY MOTHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"God, as a wellpring of goodness, seeks opportunities richly to bestow on us His abundant benignity and to forgive sins not only in this life, but also in the next. For when our Lord Jesus Christ said that those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, 'either in this world or in the world to come' (St. Matt. 12:32), He implicitly gave us to understand that certain sins may be forgiven after the present life." (Saint Pachomios)
[This is a very subtle point that requires great care, lest one fall into error. The Church has characterized as "deadly" certain sins that cannot be forgiven after death, if they have not been confessed. Forgivable sins, according to Saint Pachomios, may be forgiven if the person had the inclination and disposition to confess them, but was not able to do so. Thus the phrase in the prayer of forgiveness: "...one who has by negligence or indolence failed to obtain forgiveness..."] (Source: The Evergetinos)
OUR SPIRITUAL JOURNEY TO CHRISTOUGENNA (THE BIRTH OF CHRIST)
The Gospel of the Firstborn (on Christmas Eve and at Matins of Christmas Day) Saint Matthew 1:18-25
He who, in obedience and humility, draws near to the Lord Jesus Christ will never again desire to be separated from Him.
The first exercise for a recruit in Christ's army is practice in obedience and humility.
The new world, the new creation, the new man: all began with obedience and humility. The old world trod obedience to God underfoot, together with humility towards Him, and by this destroyed the bridge linking earth and heaven. The spiritual materials for the rebuilding of this bridge are, before all else, obedience and humility.
While Adam was rich in obedience and humility, it was hardly possible to differentiate between his spirit and the Spirit of God, between his will and thoughts and those of God. He could feel, desire or think nothing that was not in God and of God. As the Angels of God stood in the full presence of God, so did Adam (in a direct closeness), and from this closeness gazed on the Source of Light, wisdom and love. He had no need to light a candle of his own, living as he did in the Sun Itself. His candle would, in the Light of the Sun, neither have burned nor given light.
But when Adam violated obedience and loss humility-and those two are always gained or lost together-then his direct communication with God was cut off, the bridge was demolished and he fell into a fearsome, stagnant darkness, in which he had to light himself with his own candle-the candle that the mercy of God had given him when God's righteousness drove him out of Paradise. He then began not only to make a difference between himself and God, between his will and the Will of God, his feelings and those of God, his thoughts and those of God-he not only began to make and see a difference, but was scarcely able (only now and then, in moments of enlightenment) to be aware of his likeness to God.
Alas, in what a miserable and abysmal state, through his disobedience and pride, does he find himself who was originally created "in the image and likeness" of the Holy and Divine Trinity Itself! (Philaret of Moscow says, in his homily on the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple: "In man in a sinless state, 'the image of God' was the source of blessing; in fallen man, it was [only] the hope of blessing.") Alas, we are all descendants of Adam, all low shoots from the stump of the felled cedar that had once majestically been raised up above all God's creatures in Paradise; low shoots overcome by the tall weeds of cruel, brutal nature, which had grown up like a curtain between him and the Source of immortal love.
Only see how, as at the waving of a magician's wand, the disobedience and pride of man's forefather all at once changed all creation around him, and he becomes surrounded by an army of the disobedient and the proud!
Look now at the Lord Christ. All is obedience and humility. The Archangel Gabriel, the representative of Angelic obedience and humility; the Virgin Mary-obedience and humility; Saint Joseph-obedience and humility; the shepherds-obedience and humility; the Wise Men from the East-obedience and humility. Storms obedient, winds obedient, sun and moon obedient, men obedient, beasts obedient, the grave itself obedient. All is obedient to the Son of God, the New Adam, and all is humble before Him, for He also is unconditionally obedient to His Father, and is humble before Him.
(Saint Ignatius says that the Virgin was betrothed "that His birth should be concealed from the devil; that the devil should think of Him as born of a married woman, and not of a virgin." This is also found in St. Jerome's 'Commentary on Matthew,' and in Saint Gregory of Neocaesarea's 'Second Talk on the Annunciation').
"Before they came together..." These words do not mean that they afterwards came together as man and wife, or that this was in the Evangelist's mind. The Evangelist is, and in this case, interested only in the birth of the Lord Jesus, and nothing else, and he writes the above words in order to show that His birth was without the coming together of man and woman. Therefore understand the wise words of the Evangelist, as though he had written: "and without their coming together" she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit." Only by the Holy Spirit could He be conceived who was, in the midst of the kingdom of darkness and evil, to found the Kingdom of the Spirit of Light and Love. How could He be able to fulfill His Divine Mission on earth if He had come on earth through all the usual earthly channels, blocked as they are by sin and stinking of mortal corruption? In that case, new wine would have stunk of old wine skins, and He Who had come to save the world would have been in need of salvation. The world could only be saved by a miracle from God; this was the belief of all men on earth. And when God's miracle is wrought, it must not be doubted but venerated, and healing sought from it, and salvation.
How did Joseph react to the knowledge of the Virgin Mary's pregnancy? "And Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily." He acted, we see, in obedience to God's law. He was obedient to God's will insofar as it had, up till then, been revealed to the Israelites. He also acted in humility before God. "Justify not thyself", warns wise Solomon (Sirach 7:5). That is: do not force too much justice on those who sin, but feel your own weakness and your own sins, and strive with mercy to lighten your own weakness and your own sins, and strive with mercy to lighten justice towards sinners. Imbued with this spirit, Joseph did not consider giving the Virgin Mary over to justice for the suspected sin: "and not willing to make her a public example (he) was minded to put her away privily." This plan of his shows us what an exemplary man Saint Joseph was, exemplary in justice and in mercy, such a one as the spirit of the old Law was able to instruct. With him, all was as simple and clear as it could be in the soul of a God-fearing man.
"But while he thought on these things, behold, the Angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying: 'Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit." The Angel of God, who had earlier proclaimed to the Most Pure Virgin the coming into the world of the God-Man, now comes to clear the way before Him and level it out beneath His feet. Joseph's doubt was a hindrance on His way-a very great and dangerous hindrance that must be removed. In order to show how easy it is for the heavenly powers to do things that are very difficult for men, the Angel did not appear to Joseph in a vision, but in a dream. With these words to Joseph the son of David, the Angel wanted both to reward him and to warn him. As a descendant of King David, you should rejoice at this Divine mystery more than other men, and you should also understand better than others.
But how is it that the Angel refers to the Virgin as his wife: "Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife"? In the same way that the Lord said from the Cross to His mother: "Woman, behold thy son!", and to His disciple: "Behold thy mother!" (St. John 19:26-27). Indeed, heaven is sparing with words, and says nothing superfluous. If it had not been necessary to say this, why did the Angel say it? If this calling Mary the wife of Joseph is a stumbling block to some unbelievers, it is a defense of purity against the impure powers. For God's words are not listened to only by men, but by all world, both good and evil. He who wishes to penetrate to the heart of all God's mysteries, the same must have God's view of all things, visible and invisible. (Source: Saint Nikolai Velimirovic)
(To be continued)
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God