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.
A PRAYER OF REPENTANCE
O Lord our God, Good and Merciful, I acknowledge all my sins which I have committed every day of my life, in thought, word and deed; in body and soul alike. I am heartily sorry that I have ever offended Thee, and I sincerely repent; with tears I humbly pray Thee, O Lord: of Thy mercy forgive me all my past transgressions and absolve me from them. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy Grace, to amend my way of life and to sin no more; that I may walk in the way of the righteous and offer praise and glory to the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATIONS OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On February 11th 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: Saint Blaise (Vlasios) the Hieromartyr and Bishop of Sevaste; Saint Theodora the Empress, protectress of Orthodoxy; New Holy Martyr George of Serbia (+1515); Saint Demetrius of Prilutsk; Saint Vsevolod, Prince of Pskov; Finding the holy relics of Prophet Zacharias, father of Saint John the Baptist; "Corfu" holy Icon of the Theotokos (Mother of God).
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Bishops, Holy Empresses, Holy Mothers, Holy Princes; Holy Prophets, Holy Fathers, Holy Ascetics, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
THE HIEROMARTYR BLAISE (VLASIOS), BISHOP OF SEVASTE. Born in Cappadocia, Saint Blaise was meek and God-fearing from early childhood. He was chosen for his virtues as bishop of Sevaste, and was a great spiritual and moral light in that pagan town. During a period of violent persecution of Christians, Saint Blaise encouraged his flock and visited the martyrs in prison, among whom was the famous Efstratius.
When the city of Sevaste was left entirely void of Christians--some killed and others fled--Saint Blaise, by then an old man, retired to the mountain of Argeos and lived there in a cave. Ferocious wild beasts, recognizing a holy man, came to him and he gently tamed them. But the persecutors found the Saint in that hidden spot and took him for trial. On the way there, Saint Blaise healed a boy who had a bone stuck in his throat and, at the petition of a poor widow, made the wolf that had taken her pig return it to her. The benighted judges tortured him, flogging him terribly. By his steadfastness in the Christian faith, Saint Blaise brought many unbelievers to the Faith. Seven women and two children were thrown into prison with him; the women were slain first, then Saint Blaise and the two children. He suffered and was glorified in 316 A.D.
SAINT THEODORA THE EMPRESS AND PROTECTOR OF ORTHODOXY. A Greek Empress, she was the wife of the wicked Emperor Theophilus the Iconoclast. After the death of Theophilus, St. Theodora reigned with her son, Michael III, the veneration of holy icons being immediately restored at the Council of Constantinople in 842 A.D. This was the occasion of the institution of the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, which is celebrated to this day on the first Sunday in the Great Fast. This holy woman, who gave such service to the Church, gave her soul to God on February 11th, 867 A.D. By the wonderful Providence of God, it was at that time of the total triumph of Orthodoxy over all heresies that Saints Cyril and Methodius were sent as missionaries to the Slav peoples.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 4:4-16, 5:1-6
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 10:1, 5-8
INSPIRING SAYING FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS, HOLY MOTHERS AND HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"Only the lifeless are exempt from the battles of lust. We know, then, that the struggle of flesh and the spirit is extremely useful to us...to gain self-control and mastery over our desires." (Saint John Cassian)
PREPARING FOR OUR SOLEMN JOURNEY TO THE ALL-HOLY PASCHA
Very soon we will embark on our solemn journey to the All-Holy Pascha. Our aim during Holy and Great Lent is to struggle against temptations as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did during His Forty Day Fast in the wilderness following His Baptism in the River Jordan by Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner. Jesus proved to us that through faith in the Almighty God, prayer and fasting, temptations may be overcome. The All-Holy Pascha and Christ's Resurrection is His triumph over sin and death and promises us our own resurrection and salvation.
During the Four Sundays before Holy and Great Lent, we begin our spiritual preparation for our solemn journey to Pascha. On the fourth Sunday before Lent we heard the Gospel reading of the Pharisee and the Publican. We are taught that humble prayer, recognition of our sins and sincerely asking God for His divine mercy, restores our relationship with Him. The mere keeping of the external religious practices and appearances or reducing religion to an outward display of following rules and regulations for the purpose of showing others how pious we are-serves only to fool ourselves that we are "good and pious Christians" and actually distances us from God.
On the Third Sunday before Holy and Great Lent, we heard about the Prodigal Son. We are the prodigals (sinners) that have deserted our Heavenly Father, God, through falling short of obediently doing His will. We remain distant, arrogant, rebellious, defiant from our Creator until we come to our senses, recognize or acknowledge our sins and repent wholeheartedly. Repentance is more than reeling off a list of sins during the Sacrament of Repentance and Confession. It is the painful realization that we have separated ourselves from God and have a heart-felt desire to return to Him with humility, contrition and tears.
This coming Sunday, the Second Sunday before Holy and Great Lent is Meatfare (Apocreas) Sunday, from this day we do not consume meat until the celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Pascha. During the following week, we can eat everything except meat, for the whole week. This Sunday is also called Judgment Sunday, the theme is the Final Judgment of each one of us. The criterion which our Lord will use to judge us is the love and compassion we show for all other human beings. Love is much more than giving of material aid and food. It is the kind word, the smile, the steadfast and compassionate support during difficult times, the giving of ourselves, of our own time-limited as it may be, and much more.
The First Sunday of Holy and Great Lent is called Cheesefare Sunday, it is the last day that we consume dairy products and fish before the All-Holy Pascha. It is also called Forgiveness Sunday. The Lord tells us that if we forgive others, God will forgive us as well. We must remember that when we pray the Lord's Prayer, we ask for forgiveness of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. We also remember Adam and Eve's expulsion from Paradise. Through their pride in wanting to become like God, they put their trust in Satan who tempted and deceived them-and they ate of the fruit of the one tree in Paradise which was forbidden. It is after this fall of man that sin, disease and death entered the world. Our human nature changed as a result and now we all have the inclination towards sin.
Holy and Great Lent is the beginning of our road to freedom. We lost Paradise through eating what was forbidden now we are called to fast in order to regain it. We must remember that we have both a body and soul. Everything we do with our bodies affects the soul, the opposite is also true. The fast of the body benefits the soul. It strengthens our will and enables us to say 'no' to temptations-of all kinds. Jesus fasted for forty days and defeated the temptations of the devil. Fasting has many other benefits too; it is good for our physical health.
Saint John Chrysostom writes that fasting is not only for the mouth. Our ears need to fast from hearing gossip, our hands acts of injustice and our eyes from seeing impure sights. Saint Basil the Great protests that is useless for us to fast from food and yet indulge in cruel criticism and slander. "You do not eat meat, but you devour your brother." We must not pass judgment on others; we must especially not inspect and judge the fasting practices of others. Each person does whatever his/her health permits in consultation with their physician, if necessary, and of course with their spiritual father or confessor.
"Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make his stand...He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks." (Romans 14:3-6)
The first day of Holy and Great Lent, Clean Monday (Kathara Deftera) is a very strict fast, especially in monasteries, where food is not consumed for three days. For us, we fast at least for this one day, (more if we can), and do not have olive oil. Those who follow the fast exactly as it was set out by our Church Fathers-do not consume any oil on weekdays, only on Saturdays and Sundays during Lent. Holy and Great Lent goes far beyond a legalistic set of fasting rules. It is the 'spring cleaning' of both the body and soul. We struggle (askesis) during Lent to achieve more frequent and intense prayer, humility, heart-felt repentance, true Christian love and forgiveness for others. All these Christian virtues help us to struggle against our sins so that we too may be resurrected with the Lord and truly begin to live our lives with Christ from now to eternity. For if we do not feel God's presence and see Him in our lives in this world, how will we see Him the next?
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
The word Pascha is the Hebrew word which means Passover. As Orthodox Christians we use Pascha instead Easter. Pascha is used because it describes that Christ did for us. Just as the blood of the sacrificed lamb kept the angel of death away from the Hebrews (Ex. 12: 3-49) so it is Christ's Sacrifice as the New Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7) and His Blood allows us to "pass from death to Life" (St. John 5:24).
The word Easter comes from the pagan goddess of Fertility. Easter is actually the Assyro-Babylonian demon Ishtar. She is the goddess of adultery and a special patroness of accomplished liars. The rabbit associated with Ishtar under her German name Easter is a pagan fertility symbol connected with the worship of Ishtar.
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
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.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God