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.
Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who built it; Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate.
[Psalms 120-134. These are Songs of Ascent or the "gradual" psalms. They were sung in Israel by the faithful as "pilgrimage songs" while the people processed from great distances up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. From this usage, the principal liturgical use in the Orthodox Church comes as we progress through Holy and Great Lent toward Pascha (Easter). These are the psalms chanted each Wednesday and Friday at the Presanctified Liturgy as we make our pilgrimage to Pascha with Christ our Passover.]
Saint Neilos the Ascetic
"Do not pray for your wills to be done; for they do not always agree with the Will of God. Rather, pray as you have been taught: "Thy Will be done" in me. And in everything ask God that this same will be done. For He wants what is good and beneficial for your soul, while you do not always seek this."
TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On February 19th 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: Holy Apostles Archippus, Philemon, and Apphia; Holy Martyrs Maximus, Theodotos, Hesychius, and Asclepiodote, from Marchianopolis in Thrace, who were beheaded in Adrianople; our Righteous Father Rabulas of Samosata; our Righteous Fathers Eugene and Macarius, the Confessors, who after many tortures were exiled to Mauretania by Julian the Apostate; Saint Conon of Cilicia, who lived in asceticism by the Jordan River; our Righteous Martyr and Mother Philothei of Athens; Holy New Hieromartyr Nicetas of Epirus, who was martyred in Serrai of Macedonia, Greece in the year of our Lord 1808.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Mothers, Holy Fathers, Holy Ascetics, Holy Confessors, Holy Apostles, O Christ Our God have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
HOLY APOSTLES ARCHIPPUS, PHILEMON AND APPHIA. Saint Archippus was one of the Seventy Apostles. The Apostle Paul mentions him in his Epistles to the Colossains (4:17) and to Philemon (2), calling him his fellow-soldier in the battle. The Christians' gathering-place for prayer in the town of Colossae was in the house of Philemon. The Apostle Paul, writing to Philemon, calls this 'The Church in thy house.' This was in the time when the Apostles were consecrating their disciples to the episcopate--some to permanent sees and others as missionaries, traveling to various places. Saint Philemon was one of these latter. Apostle Apphia, Philemon's wife, remained to serve the house-church (domestic church) with fasting. At the time of a feast of the pagan goddess Artemis, all the faithful in Colossae were, as was their custom, gathered at prayer in the house of Philemon. The pagans came to hear of this gathering, rushed in on them and seized all the Christians. They flogged Archippus, Philemon and Apphia as their leaders, then buried them up to the waist in the ground and stoned them. Saint Philemon and Apphia died on this day, but they took Saint Archippus out of the hole barely alive and left him for the children to play with. They took knives and stabbed him all over, and thus this fellow soldier of Saint Paul's in the battle made a good end of his earthly road.
With the divine lightning-bolts of thine all-wise preaching, thou didst enlighten those held in the night of ignorance, O all-blessed and godly-minded Archippus.
Kontakion. Fourth Tone
Having thee, O Archippus, as her own great star, and enlightened with the rays of thy most wondrous miracles, the Church now crieth aloud to thee: Save them that faithfully honor thy memory.
Saint Antony teaches: "As a man comes forth naked from his mother's womb, so the soul goes forth naked from the body. And one soul is pure and light, a second soiled by sin and a third blackened by many sins. If a body coming forth from an unhealthy womb cannot live, so also a soul, if it has not come to the knowledge of God through good conduct, it cannot be saved or be in communion with God. The organ of bodily vision is the eye; the organ of spiritual vision is the nous. As the body is blind without they eyes, so is the soul blind without a right nous and a right life."
TODAY'S SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: 1 John 3:21-24; 4:1-11
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 14:43-72; 15:1
FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS AND HOLY MOTHERS AND FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"It is indeed the home is a little Church." (Saint John Chrysostom)
THE MYSTERION (SACRAMENT) OF HOLY CONFESSION AND REPENTANCE
"So Jesus said to them again, 'Peace to you! As Father has sent Me, I also send you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'" (St. John 20: 21-23)
The Holy Church "is declared in mysteries." Through the Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church the Christian proves that he is a member of the Body of Christ, because he is united to the Theanthropic Body of Christ and tastes of Divine grace, through the Mysteria (Sacraments).
The most misunderstood Mysterion (Sacrament) of our Orthodox Christian Church is that of Confession and Repentance. Tragically only a few Orthodox Christians know anything about it or of how necessary it is in their spiritual life and preparation for the reception of Holy Communion.
Saint Macarius of Egypt says: "Just as God has created the heavens and the earth for man to inhabit, so He has created the body and the soul of man to be His abode, that is why the Apostle says, His "house we are" (Hebrews 3:6).
"Jesus Christ, this wondrous Heavenly Guest, often comes among us and wishes to enter under the roof of our soul. He appears among us through the unfathomable mystery of Holy Communion. He knocks on every door, longs to come into every home, desires to talk with every heart, wants to make every believing soul happy and to give it His Heavenly Gift.
But how do we meet Him? Can He stay in each one of us as He would like to?
Here is a person approaching Holy Communion and inviting the Lord into the hidden room of his heart: "Come, Lord Jesus, and settle in me!" he whispers in his prayers before Communion. "Come under my roof, in the home of my soul; come in, please! I will open the doors of my heart! Settle in me!"
But Jesus Christ draws back with disgust from these hospitably opened doors! Such an unbearable spiritual stench is coming from the inside! There it stinks of debauchery and malice, of avarice and envy, of pride and selfishness...And the heavenly Guest draws back. He cannot enter such a home, where the person and the demons--these spiritual pigs--are co-existing under the same roof." (The Forgotten Medicine)
"The Mystery of Repentance and Confession is a Grace-giving sacred rite in which, after the faithful offer repentance of their sins, the remission of sin is bestowed by the mercy of God through the intermediary of a priest of the Church, in accordance with the Savior's promise.
In the Mystery of Repentance the spiritual afflictions of a man are treated, impurities of soul are removed, and a Christian, having received forgiveness of sins, again becomes innocent and sanctified, just as he came out of the waters of Baptism. Therefore, the Mystery of Repentance is called a "spiritual medicine." A man's sins--which draw him downward; which dull his mind, heart, and conscience; which blind his spiritual gaze; which make powerless his Christian will--are annihilated, and his living bond with the Church and with the Lord God is restored. Being relieved of the burden of sins, he again comes to life spiritually and is able to strengthen himself and become perfected in the good Christian path.
The Mystery of Repentance consists of two basic actions: (1) the confession of his sins before a priest of the Church by the person coming to the Mystery, and (2) the prayer of forgiving and remitting them, pronounced by the priest.
The Mystery is also called the Mystery of Confession (even though the confession of sins comprises only the first, preliminary part of it), and this indicates the importance of the sincere revelation of one's soul and the manifestation of one's sins.
Confession--that is, pronouncing aloud--is the expression of "inward repentance," the result, its indicator. And what is repentance? Repentance is not only awareness of one's sinfulness or a simple acknowledgment of oneself as unworthy; it is not even contrition or regret (although all these aspects should enter into repentance). Rather, it is an act of one's will for correction, a desire and firm intention; and this condition of soul is united with a petition for God's help in the battle against one's evil inclinations. Such a heartfelt and sincere repentance is necessary not only so that the effect of this Mystery might extend to the removal of sins, but also so that there might enter the opened soul a Grace-giving healing, which does not allow the soul again to become immersed in the filth of sin.
The very uttering aloud of one's spiritual afflictions and falls before a spiritual father--the confession of sins--has the significance that by means of it there are overcome (a) pride, the chief source of sins and (b) the despondency of hopelessness in one's correction and salvation. The manifestation of the sin brings one already near to casting it away from oneself.
Those who approach the Mystery of Repentance prepared themselves for it by an effort of prayer, fasting, and entering deeply within themselves, with the aim of uncovering and acknowledging their sinfulness.
The mercy of God goes out to meet the repenting Christian, testifying, through the lips of the spiritual father, that the Heavenly Father does not reject one who come to Him, just as He did not reject the prodigal son and the repentant publican. This testimony consists in the words of the special prayer and the special words of remission which re pronounce by the priest.
The Lord instituted the Mystery of Repentance after the Resurrection, when, having appeared to His Disciples who, except for Thomas, were gathered together. He solemnly said to them: "Peace be unto you...And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them: Receive ye the Holy Spirit. Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained" (St. John 20:21-23 and also see St. Matt. 16:19; St. Matt. 18:17-18).
Priests are only visible instruments at the performance of the Mystery, which is performed invisibly through them by God Himself.
Saint John Chrysostom, having in mind the Divine institution of the authority of the priests of the Church to loose and bind says: "The priests decree below, God confirms above, and the Master agrees with the opinion of His slaves." The priest is here the instrument of God's mercy and remits sins not on his own authority, but in the name of the Holy Trinity." (Orthodoxy Dogmatic Theology).
(To be continued)
Please note: The Sacrament of Repentance is absolutely necessary before one is to receive Holy Communion. If an Orthodox Christian fasts, prays, etc. but does not participate in the Sacrament of Repentance is not prepared to receive the Holy and Precious Body and Blood of Christ our Savior. I don't know how the Sacrament of Repentance became optional!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God