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.
THE PSALTER According to the Seventy
Blessed are all they that fear the Lord, that walk in His ways. Thou shalt eat the fruit of thy labors; blessed art thou, and well shall it be with thee. Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine on the sides of thy house, Thy sons like young olive trees round about thy table. Behold, so shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord. The Lord bless thee out of Sion, and mayest thou see the good things of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. And mayest thou see thy children' children; peace be upon Israel.
Saint Gregory the Great
"True patience consists in bearing calmly the evils others do to us, and in not being consumed by resentment against those who inflict them. Those who only appear to bear the evils done them by their neighbors, who suffer them in silence while they looking for an opportunity for revenge, are not practicing patience, but only make a show of it."
ON HOLY SCRIPTURE
Elder Cleopa of Sihastria
"Holy Scripture can be likened to a situation where you are walking through a field and come upon a well with a bucket. If you were thirsty, you would not drink the entire well. What would you do? You would draw water out with the bucket, pour the water from the bucket into your own pail, part of the pail onto a pitcher, and then pour water from the pitcher into a glass; then you would drink as much water as you need from the glass. The well remains clean, and you have satisfied your thirst.
That is the way you should read the Holy Scripture. The various sects have sprung up because each one has interpreted Holy Scripture on its own. Holy Scripture is very deep, and whoever tries to read it without guidance, without knowing how the Holy Fathers explain it, will be lost. It is not the fault of Holy Scripture, for that water is the Word of God. The fault lies in the man who dives into Scripture unprepared and without understanding."
TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On February 18th 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 Leo the First, Pope of Rome; Saints Leo and Paragorius in Patara; Holy Catholicos Nicholas of Georgia; Holy Martyrs Victor, Doretheos, Theodoulos, and Agrippa; Saint Blaise (Vlasios) of Mt. Athos; Holy Martyr Pioulios; New Holy Martyrs Priest Alexander (+1932) and Hieromonk Benjamin (+1938) of Russia; Saint Kosma of Yakhromsk; Saint Agapetos, bishop of Synnada; New Holy Martyr Agapetus, Archbishop of Ekaterinoslav.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Bishops, Holy Ascetics, Holy Hieromonks, Holy Archbishops, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
SAINT LEO THE FIRST, POPE OF ROME. Born in Italy of devout parents, he was first archdeacon with Pope Sixtus the Third, then elected against his own will to the papal throne after Sixtus's death. When Attila drew near to Rome with his Huns and prepared to ravage and burn the city, Leo went out to him in his episcopal vestments, tamed the wrath of the Hun leader and averted the fall of Rome. Attila was willing to be guided by St. Leo both because of his holiness and because of a vision he had of the Apostles Peter and Paul, standing behind St. Leo and threatening Attila with a flaming sword.
Saint Leo not only saved Rome, he also contributed greatly to the safeguarding of Orthodoxy against the heresy of Eutyches and Dioscoros. This heresy consisted in the merging of the Divine and human natures of Christ into one, and, following from this, the denial of the existence of two wills in the Person of our Lord and Savior. This led to the summoning of the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon, at which Saint Leo's Epistle was read--a letter which Saint Leo, after writing it, had placed on the tomb of Saint Peter, and which Saint Peter had corrected. Saint Leo's epistle to Marcian, to condemn the teachings of Eutyches and those who supported him. Saint Leo's epistle to Flavian was read at the Fourth Ecumenical Synod, and confirmed by the Holy Fathers as the Orthodox teaching on the incarnate Person of our Lord; it is also called the "Tome of Leo." The Saint wrote many works in Latin. As death drew near, he spent forty days in fasting and prayer by the tomb of the Apostle Peter, begging him to tell him if his sins were forgiven. The Apostle appeared to him and assured him that they were, except for his sins in the ordaining of priests (from which it is seen how grave a sin it is to ordain an unworthy man). The Saint fell to prayer again, until he was told that these also were wiped out. Then he gave his soul to the Lord in peace. Saint Leo entered into rest in the year of our Lord 461.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Fourth Tone
The truth of things hath revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, an icon of meekness, and a teacher of temperance; for this cause, thou has achieved the heights by humility, riches by poverty. O Father and Hierarch Leo, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.
Kontakion. Third Tone
Seated on the priestly throne, O great and glorious Leo, with the Holy Trinity's inspired and God-given doctrines thou didst stop the gaping mouths of spiritual lions and didst shine upon thy flock the light of God-knowledge, and art glorified now as a divine initiate of the sublime grace of God.22
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: I John 3:9-22
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 14:10-42
FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS, HOLY MOTHERS AND FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"Short and fleeting are the joys of this world's pleasures which endeavors to turn aside from the path of life those who are called to eternity. The faithful and religious spirit, therefore, must desire the things which are heavenly, and being eager for the Divine promises, lift itself to the love of the Incorruptible Good and the hope of the True Light." (Saint Leo the Great)
THE SUNDAY OF THE PRODIGAL SON (St. Luke 15:11-32)
By His Eminence Metropolitan Panteleimon of Antinoes
The Gospel embodies God's message to the world. The Parable of the Prodigal Son shows us the longing of the Holy Trinity for the repentance of mankind. According to the Holy Fathers of the Church, if the whole Gospel were to be lost, except this Parable, it would be possible for us not only to recreate the complete teachings of Christianity, but also to emphasize the love of God for mankind.
It is natural for youngsters, when they grow up, to want to be independent. They no longer want any authority over them. They try by any means to be free, without always considering the consequences of their actions.
It is true that man was created by God to be free. God respects absolutely man's freedom, so much so that Saint Chrysostom teaches us, that "God created man without the help of man, but without the cooperation of man, He cannot save man."
Today's Parable tells us the story of a young man. Young people because of their age, their problems and their questions concerning the truth often feel an urgent need to satisfy their spiritual longings and to fill the empty spaces they feel in themselves. Their endeavor is very praiseworthy. But the question is: Do they search for the truth in the right place? When we search for God, do we go to the right people to guide us to Him? There are many who preach in the name of Christ and churches spring up everywhere. But, the question is, are they preaching correctly and which is the True Church?
In this country we have many different churches, all claiming to teach in the name of Christ, and all claiming to be the True Church. The question is: which of all of these churches embodies the Truth? The Truth is One and not many. In the same way the Church is One and not many. If we accept the multiplicity of churches, then automatically we accept that salvation can come through any heretical teaching.
Christ came into the world to teach us One Truth, that is to say the true knowledge of God in the Holy Trinity.
The quest for truth of young people is embodied in the son of the Parable. He is the symbol of their longing for freedom from all parental restraint. The father symbolizes love, concern, moral principles and the ideal of the family.
In the personal life of each one of us, the agony of the Prodigal Son is reflected. We all long for the True Knowledge of God. Young people, because they wish to be independent, often insist upon following their own way, but in fact they are wide off the mark. The Prodigal Son suffered the same illusion.
He lived prodigally "squandering his property in loose living" (St. Luke 15:13). This means that he threw to the dogs every ideal, every virtue and all his family ties. Without thinking, he followed blindly those who tempted him to live in this way.
Today, in this country, how many young people, influenced by other young people, are led astray? How many young people find themselves approached by others who claim to preach the truth, but, who in fact lead them far away from the True Faith?
Anybody can ask the question, "But Father, aren't they also preaching Christ? What is wrong, if we listen to them also?"
The answer to this question is given by our Lord Himself, Who said, "and many false prophets will arise and lead many astray" (St. Matthew 24:11). And elsewhere in the Gospel He warns us saying, "then, if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'Look, there he is!' do not believe for false christs and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect" (St. Mark 13:22).
Today, we can see these prophetical words of Christ fulfilled. Everyone has the right to talk about Christ, but no one has the right to teach what he likes or to interpret the Holy Scriptures as he pleases, to his own advantage. If they want to teach about Christ or to interpret the Holy Scripture, they have to learn to do it correctly.
Orthodoxy does not criticize people for wanting to learn about the Truth. The Orthodox Church loves mankind and wants its salvation. For this reason Christ came to teach us the Truth and to lead us back to the house of God our Father.
Saint Gregory the Theologian teaches us that "It matters not only that you preach Christ, but how you preach Him." When we preach the Truth to satisfy our selfishness, it ceases to be the truth and becomes a lie. When we fail to interpret faith correctly, it becomes heresy and heresy means to be far away from the Truth.
Orthodoxy means true opinion, that is to say the True teachings of Christian Faith. Orthodoxy is based on the authentic teaching of Christ and His Disciples. Orthodoxy has always had the aim of guiding every "prodigal son" back to the True Faith in Jesus Christ.
Whoever, isolated the Holy Bible from the Holy Tradition, tries to interpret the Faith in Christ, ends in heresy. This comes about because he relies on himself and his own ability and not on God. "First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:20).
Orthodoxy is self-knowledge. The Prodigal Son "came to himself" and recognizing his mistakes returned to his father's house asking for mercy and saying: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants" (St. Luke 15:18-19). In this way he abandoned the lie that his life had become and returned to the Truth. He abandoned vice and adopted virtue. Forsaking heresy he returned to the True Knowledge of God.
The Orthodox Church is the only one which didn't deviate from the Truth. She remained faithful; and will remain faithful to the True Teachings of Christ. History proves which Church is the True One. Whoever wishes to search for the Truth, and Scripture encourages us to search, will find it in the Orthodox Church.
It is our duty not only to know our Faith, but to practice it. We must not only know what Christ said, but must do as He commanded.
Before His Ascension He said: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (St. Matt. 28:20), our Lord meant that we were to accept knowledge of God in the True Way. Salvation is given only in God Who is the Truth. The Truth is found only there where it is given according to the authentic teaching of our Lord and His Disciples.
For any man wishing for salvation, Orthodoxy is the way. Orthodoxy not only teaches the way of salvation, but gives the means to accomplish it. Orthodoxy has two sources, the Holy Bible and the Holy Tradition. Should any one deny either of these two sources he will fall into heresy. Man, wishing for salvation, has an obligation to search for the Truth. The Orthodox Church respects absolutely man's freedom.
My beloved brothers and sisters, in the era in which we live, we have so many means to learn about the True Faith. We have the opportunity to search. Christ has commanded us to search. In the Orthodox Church man will discover the True meaning of life, which is to be a son of God and also the final aim of life, which is to be holy, even as His Father in heaven is Holy.
If we want to succeed in this aim, we have to do only two things: First, we must have faith and trust in Christ. Secondly, we must fulfill His Commandments by loving one another and forgiving one another. In this way we prove that we have returned the house of the Father.
My beloved brothers and sisters, the gospel teaches us of one who returned. May it encourage us to strive with brotherly love for the return of those who were Orthodox, but who have gone astray. May it also inspire us to know the depths of our Faith.
I pray that the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ will strengthen us all in the struggle for the Truth, and will enable us to be the True light of our country, according to His word: "You are the light of the world." A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven" (St. Matthew 5:14-16).
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia
The sinner and unworthy servant of God