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 THIRD PRAYER OF OTHROS
From the early morning watch, O God, our spirit rises to You, For Your Commandments are for us as the Light of life. Teach us, O God, Your Righteousness, Your Commandments, and Your judgments. Enlighten the eyes of our mind, that we may never slumber in sinfulness unto death. Cast out every darkness from our heart, and grant to us the Sun of Righteousness. Keep our life safe from evil influence and preserve in it the seal of the Holy Spirit. Guide our steps on the road of peace. Give us this dawn and this day to raise up our morning prayers in gladness to You. For Yours is the Dominion, and Yours in the Kingdom, and the Power and the Glory, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
by St. Gregory of Sinai
"...the Lord says: 'In your patience possess your souls' (St. Luke 21:19). He did not say: in your fast or in your vigil. By patience I mean that patience which is of God and is the queen of virtues and the basis of manly valor. It is in itself-peace amid strife, stillness in the midst of storm and an impregnable position for those who have acquired it."
On February 5th 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 Polyefctus, Patriarch of Constantinople; Saint Theodosius, Archbishop of Chernigov; Saint Agatha of Palermo in Sicily; Holy Martyrs Helladius, Macarius, Voethos, and Evagrius; Holy Neomartyr Anthony of Athens; New holy Martyrs Agatha (+1938), Schema Monk Evgene (+1939); and Righteous Paramon (+1941) of Belo-Russia; Saint Gregory Rosca of Romania; "Searcher of the Lost" Holy Icon of the Theotokos (Mother of God).
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Bishops, Archbishops, Patriarchs, Holy Neomartyrs, Holy Mothers, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 3: 8-21
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 6:7-13
FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS AND HOLY FATHERS AND MOTHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"Each man makes his own plagues through his own free will." (Saint Gregory of Nyssa)
"A MAN MADE A GREAT BANQUET AND INVITED MANY"
by His Eminence Metropolitan Panteleimon of Antinoes
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of God, many times used Parables in order to make the people understand the heavenly truths which He revealed. Thus He used an image from the daily life, in order to reveal the importance of man's participation in the Banquet which is offered by God's Love, the Holy Mysterion (Sacrament) of the Divine Eucharist.
Before us lays a banquet. A Great Banquet, which is offered by God. It is a Banquet which the Wisdom of God invites all men saying: "Come, eat my bread and drink wine, which I offer to you." It is a banquet of which Prophet king David has spoken of: "You have prepared before Me a banquet contrary to those who make Me sad; You have anointed My head with oil and Your cup I drunk as the most best." It is a Great Banquet which is offered for our salvation by the Lamb, the Son and Logos (Word) of God. A Great Banquet, in the midst of which the Heavenly Lamb of God invites everyone saying: "come, for all is prepared."
In the midst of the Holy Mysterion (Sacrament) of the Divine Eucharist the extreme Love of God is expressed, Who "desires that all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). The special characteristic of God's Love towards man is the Offering and the Sacrifice. He who loves sacrifices everything for him whom is loved. He, who loves less, offers less. But, he who loves more, offers more. Our Lord Jesus Christ extremely loved "His own in the world." Saint John the Evangelist speaking about the greatness of this Divine Love says: "Thus God so loved the world, that He gave His own begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not parish, but have eternal life" (St. John 3:15-16).
"Come, for all is ready", the Savior of the world is inviting all those who call upon His Name, He Who is broken but not divided, He Who is been eaten but never consumed. But, how many times we found ourselves distracted by worldly cares; or by vain goals and sinful desires, and we showed indifference to approach and participate with the Fountain of Life? How many times we surrendered our hearts to the worshipping of the golden bull, mammon, the love for money and material riches and we had ignored the heavenly and most precious wealth? How many times we had enslaved our hearts within the tentacles of pleasures and carnal sins of the flesh and we had deprived from ourselves the Precious Body and Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ? Saint Paul spoke well when he said: "You cannot drink from the Lord's cup and the cup of demons."
Our communion with the Savior Christ has as its result the forgiveness of our sins and the offering of Eternal Life. But, when man distends himself from Holy Communion he faces the negative results. Our Lord has assured us that: "Truly, truly I say to you, if you do not eat the Flesh of the Son of man and drink His Blood, you cannot have eternal life with yourselves" (St. John 6:53). So, he who does not partake of the Body and Blood of Christ deprives himself from the eternal life. On the contrary, "he who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood, says the Lord, has eternal life, and I will raise him at the last day" (St. John 6:54).
Within the Mysteriaki Zoe (Sacramental life) of the Orthodox Church the renewed man in Christ, he who lives in Christ, according to Christ and for Christ, partakes not only in the Body of Christ, but has communion with all the members of the entire Orthodox Church around the world. The True Christian knows the essential problems of man and prays daily to God for their solution. He does not show indifference towards man's needs, as the Foolish Rich Man of the Parable, whose land, although, prospered and gave plentifully, he never thought or even considered for the needs of his poor neighbors. He just restricted to build greater store rooms in order to store all the goods which God had given him. But, his end came as the result of his ego-centered selfishness and greed.
Today, unfortunately, we can see the same phenomenon of less participation of the faithful in Holy Communion. They are satisfied in participating only on Pascha (Easter), Christmas and on the Dormition of the Theotokos (August 15th). They believe that this is enough and that they have fulfilled their religious duties.
But, Holy Communion is not something we do casually. It is not only for the great feast-days. We do not remember Christ Only Three Times a Year. Christ invites all of us to participate in His Banquet, because, if we avoid eating we will become ill and even die; in a similar way when we do not participate in Holy Communion, our souls become ill and cannot resist against sinful passions and desires. He who does not participate regularly and through proper preparation is impossible to rise victorious in the stadium of virtues.
Amongst the Holy Mysteria (Sacraments), which have been given by our Lord to His Church, four of them are obligatory for the faithful. In other words, Baptism, for through it a man becomes a member of the Mystical Body of Christ. Holy Chrismation, for through it one receives the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Holy Confession and Repentance, for through it the faithful receive forgiveness of their sins committed after Baptism. Finally, Holy Communion, for through it the faithful participates in the Divine Body and the Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, receiving forgiveness of sins and Eternal Life.
Our participation in the Holy Mysteria (Sacraments) must not be done without proper spiritual preparation (i.e., fasting, prayer, Holy Confession and Repentance, obedience to the Divine Commandments of Christ, reconciliation with our enemies, etc.) and with an illumined heart. It is the Precious and Holy Body and Blood of Christ. It is the same Body of Our Savior which was Crucified on the Cross for our salvation and the salvation of the entire world. Consequently we should approach with the "fear of God, with faith and love."
Saint Paul speaking about the way that we should approach the Lord's Table stressed that every faithful must examine himself and then approach the Lord. Self-examination is the beginning of repentance. When man sees his soul's inner condition, he acknowledges his mistakes and is lead to repentance. Whereas, on the contrary, the egoistic and self-centered or arrogant man remains unrepentant and hard-hearted. He closes his ears to Christ's invitation for repentance and without godly fear approaches the Cup of Life, disregarding the words of Saint Paul: "He who eats this bread or drinks the Lord's cup unworthily, is guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:27).
Our Lord invites continuously all believers to participate in His Great Banquet of His Divine Love. He invites us, let us not turn away. He invites us, let us not find thousands of excuses not to approach Him. He invites us, let us prove that we are worthy of this Divine Invitation.
Pastoral advice: His Eminence explained the importance of receiving Holy Communion eloquently and clearly for all to hear. It is, therefore, necessary to heed carefully his wonderful advice and to receive the Divine Mysteria (Sacraments) of our Holy Church as frequently as possible as long as we first to make every effort to prepare ourselves spiritually to receive them.
It has been my experience that many of Orthodox Christians have become observers at the Divine Liturgy and not participants. And some of those who participate in the Sacraments have not made any effort to prepare themselves. In other words they do not fast, they have never participated in the Mysterion (Sacrament) of Holy Confession and Repentance, they refuse to reconcile with those whom they consider as their enemies, they have never self-examined themselves, they have no prayer life and may not even agree with Christ's Commandments...
Saint Paul reminds us, "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13). Therefore, because of Christ's Sacrifice, we are to take hold of what God offers, accepting His grace, and working toward becoming mature in Christ. Note the cooperation (synergy): we "work out" our "own salvation" (v. 12), while "it is God Who works in" us to do His Will (v.13). We don't remain idle and lazy. The Christian must be always actively involved in his salvation and not passive or indifferent.
There is, however, the mistaken notion by some Orthodox Christians that everything has been done for them and they simply stand by and inherit the Kingdom of God without any responsibility or effort. Salvation does not come without any work and sacrifice on our part. It is not automatic just because we are Orthodox. You should all know that along with Orthodoxia (Right Faith) there is also Orthopraxia (Right Living). The two are inseparable! By claiming to possess the True Faith we are held to a greater degree more responsible before God and more accountable for our actions and life, not less.
What I find perplexing as an Orthodox priest is that of had parishioners in every parish which I have served that consider themselves Orthodox only when they need the Church for Mysteria (Sacraments) i.e., Baptisms, Weddings, and even funerals. Many of them are totally absent from the Church not for a month, a year but for ten or more years and still consider themselves as Orthodox Christians in good standing. What a deception! What a lie! The strange thing is that some of them may participate in the Festivals, Committees, various church related organizations but never come to church services. How do they find the time to take vacations, to go the local Casino, to visit relatives locally or abroad, etc. etc.? But they can never find time to worship God Who has given them so many blessings? Unbelievable!
[Source: Orthodox Newsletter of St. Theodore, Lanham)
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God