My 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.
PSALM 111 (110)
Praise the Lord! I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright and in the congregation. The works of the Lord are great, studied by all who have pleasure in them. His work is honorable and glorious, and His righteousness endures forever. He has made His wonderful works to be remembered; The Lord is gracious and full of compassion. He has given food to those who fear Him; He will ever be mindful of His covenant. He has declared to His people the power of His works, in giving them the heritage of the nations. The works of His hands are verity and justice; all His precepts are sure. They stand fast forever and ever, and re done in truth and uprightness. He has sent redemption to His people; He has commanded His covenant forever: Holy and awesome is His Name. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His Commandments. His praise endures forever.
[Please note: This psalm gives praise to the Lord for His mighty deeds of salvation. Liturgically this is used as a Christmas psalm. Verse 9a, the Lord "has sent redemption to His people", is the communion hymn on Christmas Day.]
TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATIONS OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On June 24th 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: On the twenty-fourth of this month we celebrate the holy Nativity of the Venerable and Glorious Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist John; Synaxis of the righteous Zacharias and Elizabeth; Holy New Martyr Panagiotes of Caesarea in Cappadocia was martryred in Constantinople in the year 1765 by Muslims; Saint Nicetas, Bishop of Remesiana in Dacia; Saint Father Antholy of Dymya; Saint John of Yarenga; righteous youths John and James of Manyuga.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Prophets, Holy Righteous, Holy Youth, Holy Bishops, Holy Mothers, Holy Fathers, Holy Ascetics, Holy Teachers, O Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
THE HOLY NATIVITY OF THE VENERABLE AND GLORIOUS PROPHET, FORERUNNER, AND BAPTIST JOHN. He that was greater of all who are born of women, the Prophet who received God's testimony that he surpassed all the Prophets, was born of the aged and barren Elizabeth (St. Luke 1:7) and filled all his kinsmen, and those that lived round about, with gladness and wonder. But even more wondrous was that which followed on the eighth day when he was circumcised, that is, the day on which a male child receives his name. Those present called him Zacharias, the name of his father. But the mother said, "Not so, but he shall be called John." Since the child's father was unable to speak, he was asked, by means of a sign, to indicate the child's name. He then asked for a tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And immediately Zacharias' mouth was opened, his tongue was loosed from its silence of nine months, and filled with the Holy Spirit, he blessed the God of Israel, Who had fulfilled the promises made to their fathers, and had visited them that were sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, and has sent to them the Light of salvation. Zacharias prophesied concerning the child also, saying that he would be a Prophet of the Most High and Forerunner of Jesus Christ. And the child John, who was filled with grace, grew and waxed strong in the Spirit; and he was in the wilderness until the day of his showing to Israel (St. Luke 1:57-80). His name is a variation of the Hebrew "Johanan," which means "Yahweh is gracious."
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Fourth Tone
O Prophet and Forerunner of Christ God's coming to us, all we who with longing now extol thee are at a loss to honor thee worthily. For thy mother's barrenness and father's long silence, by thine all-renowned and hallowed birth, were both ended, and the Incarnation of the Son of God is preached unto all the world.
Kontakion Hymn. Third Tone
She that once was barren doth today bring forth Christ's Forerunner, John, the culmination and the crown of all of the Prophets. For when he, in River Jordan, laid his hand on Him Whom the Prophets preached aforetime, he was revealed as God the Word's fore-chosen Prophet. His mighty preacher, and His Forerunner in grace.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Romans 13:11-14; 14:1-4
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 1:1-25, 57-68, 76-80
INSPIRING SAYINGS FROM THE WORKS OF THE HOLY ASCETICS, HOLY MOTHERS AND HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"God, Who is simple in Essence, particularly loves simplicity and those who live simply. He thus enriches with His riches the simple and those who live simply. About this subject, the Proverbs of Solomon, in Holy Scripture, contain sufficient and significant examples. Let us look at some of these: 'He that walks simply, walks confidently' (Proverbs 10:9). 'The faithful man has the whole world full of wealth; but the faithless not even a farthing' (Proverbs 17:6). 'The blessing of the Lord is upon the head of the just' (Proverbs 10:6). 'Every simple soul is blessed' (Proverbs 11:25). 'But he that soweth righteousness shall receive a faithful reward' (Proverbs 11:21). 'The Lord will not famish a righteous soul' (Proverbs 10:3). 'He that trusteth in wealth shall fall' (Proverbs 11:28)."
THE MYSTERY (SACRAMENT) OF REPENTANCE AND CONFESSION IN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
By Father Peter A. Chamberas
4. After the readings from Sacred Scripture and the teaching through an edifying talk or sermon (when offered to a group of people), each penitent will come forward individually and, on bended knees, express directly to God his or her readiness to confess: "Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, I confess to you..." The Priest in turn will encourage the penitent to stand up and to confess without hesitation or omissions. When we confess, we confess openly to Christ Himself, Who is in our midst and Who is the real Celebrant of the Mystery (Sacrament). Christ not only knows fully what is in our heart and mind, but He also loves us unconditionally and will accept our sincere and contrite confession. There is no sin that God will not forgive, except the sin for which we do not repent and do not confess...
It is during this time of the actual confession that the spiritual father must exercise all of his spiritual authority and experience to listen carefully to each person with patience and love, guiding each penitent not only away from sinfulness but also toward a virtuous and ever maturing spiritual life in the Church.
After the penitent has completed his or her confession, the father confessor may ask if there are any other matters to be confessed. He then proceeds to offer some guidance and instruction that should be followed by the penitent to help him or her overcome certain sinful habits that were confessed as persistent concerns. The spiritual father may also impose an Epitimion, a rule, such as other spiritual exercises, such as charitable service to others, or even specific restitution for any loss, damage or injury caused. This is not to be taken as a punishment, but rather as a therapeutic spiritual exercise to help one mature spiritually. If necessary, because of serious excommunicating sins (my addition: i.e., blasphemy, adultery, abortion, fornication, murder, apostasy, etc.) the spiritual father may impose a period of time during which the penitent may need to return to the spiritual father for a re-evaluation of his or her spiritual progress, and for another blessing before being fully re-instated into the fullness of the liturgical life of the Church. It must be remembered that the father confessor is neither a prosecutor nor a silent witness; rather he is an image of Christ Himself, Who takes upon Himself the sins of the world. The Mystery (Sacrament) of Repentance and Confession is a sacrament of love and forgiveness, not of judgment and condemnation. The ultimate exhortation must be a call to the penitent for the necessary change from sin to virtue. God does not forgive unless one desires a better life, fights against one's sins and sincerely strives to ascend toward God. (my addition: As the Saints of our Holy Church say, "It is not the sin that condemns one but the unwillingness of the sinner to repent of his sins.)
5. The Final Prayer of Forgiveness and Reconciliation.
In this final section of the Order of the Mystery (Sacrament) of Repentance and Confession, the spiritual father addresses the penitent in a kind and loving way: "My spiritual son, my spiritual daughter...(or My brother or My sister). The extraordinary title of father is only appropriate to God the Father, and it is granted only by grace to the servants of the Holy Mysteries of the Church, and particularly to the servants of the Mystery of Repentance and Confession, where spiritual fatherhood is such an important element. The title of a spiritual father is given to one who generates spiritual life, to one who in fact is in the service of God for the specific purpose of regenerating the spiritual life of man. It is instructive to recall here the word of Saint Paul: "For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus, I have begotten you through the gospel" (I Corinthians 4:15).
In the final prayer the Priest again places emphasis on the power of the tears of repentance. While the fire of sin may be a great one, the spontaneous and heart-felt tears of repentance are most effective in putting out that fire of sinfulness, in cleansing the impurity of sin, and in drawing down the grace of God, Who loves and forgives and renew us.
In this final act, the Priest asks the penitent to kneel again. He places his stole and his hand over the head of the penitent and recites the final prayer of forgiveness: "May the merciful God Who loves mankind forgive you..." H also reassures the penitent to go forth in peace as one who is no longer bound by sin, but certainly forgiven and renewed and reconciled by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Please note: The sacrament of Repentance and Confession cannot be used for any other purpose other than repentance and reconciliation with the Almighty God. To abuse this sacrament is a major violation and brings condemnation to the one who uses it to justify his/her evil actions. The penitent is there not to justify himself or herself or to condemn others. He or she comes with humility not arrogantly, accusingly, pridefully egotistically, sarcastically, hypocritically, but with a broken and contrite spirit. A person with that type of attitude does not only not receive forgiveness but instead he/she receives the wrath of God Who is present at the Sacrament. No one with any kind of conscience who considers himself/herself as a Christian believer can act like that but only an evil and unrepentant sinner who lives in spiritual darkness.
You, as a penitent, are there to seek forgiveness for your sins and take personal responsibility for them and not to accuse or blame anyone else.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God