Preparing Spiritually for the Holy Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ our Savior

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.

PSALM 6

A Psalm of Repentance

O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled; But You, O Lord--how long? Return, O Lord, deliver me! Oh, save me for Your mercies' sake! For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who will give You thanks? I am weary with my groaning; all night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears. My eye wastes away because of grief, it grows old because of all my enemies. Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity; for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication; The Lord will receive my prayer. Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly troubled; Let them turn back and be ashamed suddenly.

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[Psalm 6: A psalm of repentance, this is used both as a prayer of confession and an evening prayer in the Church (Great Compline during Lent). Verse 1 is a frequent repeated refrain in liturgical hymnography throughout the Church year. Psalm 6 includes (1) a calling out God (vv. 1-5); (2) the matter of complaint (vv. 6, 7); (3) a petition for deliverance (v. 8); and (4) an expression of confidence (vv. 9, 10).]

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LET US LISTEN TO THE DIVINE AND SAVING WORDS OF OUR LORD SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST:

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of exhortation and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness..." (St. Matthew 23:25-28).

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The Holy Apostle Paul writes the following: "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1).

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Scriptural Commentary: "An escape from "filthiness" requires more than thinking repentant thoughts. For we are enmeshed in a spiritual war zone, entrenched in patterns of sin which become habitual. Often, darkness becomes imprinted in our souls and bodies, so that even our wills are by-passed and we sin automatically. To "cleanse ourselves" means that by the "promises" of God, we embark on a sustained struggle for "holiness". This cleansing includes genuine sorrow for our sins, confession, and repentance. It means a willful avoidance of sin-arousing situations, reconciliation with those we have wronged, the resolute practice of Christian virtue, and cleaving to God through faith and prayer. It calls us to participation in the Holy Sacraments. Is this too difficult for us humans? Yes. Thus it is the Holy Spirit, Who cleanses us from every stain and heals all our infirmities, who empowers us to live this life of peace with God and repentance before Him." (Orthodox Study Bible, page 414)

As devout Orthodox Christians we need, now more than ever before, true fasting. We must rediscover the value of spiritual fasting. Spiritual fasting is about self-denial. It involves the subjection of our own will ("Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…") so that it is purified by conforming to the wisdom and will of our Creator and God. Spiritual fasting works against the forces of evil and disobedience in us that led our ancestors, Adam and Eve to break the fast which God commanded them to adhere to. Whatever the sacrifice, our Lord replenishes us and rewards us many times over, both in this world and in the world to come.

Saint John Chrysostom asks, "Do you fast", "Give me proof of it by your works (meaning 'works of charity'). If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him. Do not let only your mouth fast, but also your eyes, and the ears, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of your bodies. Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice. Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin. Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful. And let the ear fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip. Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism. For what good is it if we abstain from fowl and fish, but bite and devour our brothers?" (Daily Reading from the writings of Saint John Chrysostomos, The Proof of Fasting, page 37).

Our great obstacle in our struggle and fight to triumph over evil and sin are our passions.

"...but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (1 Cor. 7: 9).

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"Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience...but now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another…" (Colossians 3:5-9).

Scriptural Commentary: True asceticism: As baptized Orthodox Christians, we are becoming in practice what we are already in spirit. As we died with Christ, so we must will to experience death daily by "killing" old sinful and disintegrating passions (vv. 5-9).

As we were raised with Christ, so we must experience life daily by the virtuous and unifying desires of the "new man" which we all are in the body of Christ (vv. 10-14). (Orthodox Study Bible, page 467)

What are the Passions?

a)     Passions result from repeated sin
"...when a sin is repeated often and lurks in our soul for a long time, it is called a passion...(the passions are) natural powers of the soul which have been corrupted by sin and by our withdrawal from God" (Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos. Orthodox Psychotherapy. The science of the Fathers. Pub. Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 1994, p. 245).

b)     Passions are the wound of the soul
"Passions are our inner sounds, those deep marks of our heart that require healing…our passions indicated not so much that we are doing something wrong, but that we are not in control" (Fr. John Chrysasavgis, In the Heart of the Desert, p. 54).

c)     Habitual sins
"They (passions) may be habits of seeing, of hearing, of thinking, of acting...There are habits which have hardened over time, becoming like a second nature to us. Hence the grueling battle to break them, to redirect them" (Fr. John Chryssavgis, In the Heart of the Desert, p. 54).

d)     Passions of the will
"The Passions represent the lowest level to which nature can fall...In fact, they overcome the will, so that the man of the passions, is no longer a person of will; we say that he is a person ruled, enslaved, carried along by the passions" (Dumitru Stanilose, Orthodox Spirituality, STS Press, 2003, p. 77)

Knowing the Passions

"Knowing the passions…is a way of being aware of oneself within one's environment" (Fr. John Chryssavgis, In the Heart of the Desert, p. 55).

Two Ways of Responding to the Passions:

Passions are intrinsically evil, they are pathological condition-the source of the devil. They are to be suppressed, eliminated, eradicated, destroyed.

"Abba (Father) Poemen, said: "When David was fighting the lion, he seized it by the throat and killed it immediately. If we take ourselves by the throat and by the belly, with the help of God, we shall overcome the invisible lion". "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

"Abba (Father) Pityrion, the disciple of Abba (Saint) Anthony said: "If anyone wants to drive out the demons, that person must first subdue the passions. For, then, the demon of the passion that is mastered will also be banished. For example, the devil accompanies anger, so if you control your anger, the devil of anger will be banished. And therefore it is with each of the passions.

Abba (Father ) Isaiah of Scetis (Ascetic Discourses)

The Passions are given to us by God for a particular purpose:

  • Anger is to be directed towards injustice in the world.
  • Envy is given so that we may seek to emulate the virtues of the Saints.
  • Desire is given so that we may thirst after God.

(To be continued)

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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.

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Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George