Orthodox Spiritual Life (Part XIII)

Nativity of Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner

Nativity of Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner

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.

THE THIRD PRAYER OF ORTHROS (MATINS)

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 nous, 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 is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION 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 souls made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: The holy feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner; Synaxis of the Righteous Zacharias and Elizabeth; Saint Athanasios of the island of Paros, Greece; Saint John the New of Romania; Saint Michael, Great Prince of Tver; Saint John of Solovki; Saint John and Saint James of Novgorod; Saint John the Hermit of Bohemia; Saint Anthony of Novgorod; New holy Martyr Panagiotes of Caesarea; Saint Nekitas, bishop of Remesiana.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Righteous, Holy Prophets, Holy Mothers, Holy Fathers, Saint Hermits, Holy Bishops, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

THE NATIVITY OF SAINT JOHN THE FORERUNNER AND BAPTIST OF CHRIST. Six months before his appearing to the Most Holy Virgin Mary in Nazareth, the great Gabriel, Archangel of the Lord, appeared to Zacharias the High Priest in the Temple in Jerusalem. Before he revealed the miraculous conception by a virgin who had not known a man, the Archangel revealed the wondrous conceiving by an old and barren woman. Zacharias was unable at once to believe the words of God's herald, and for this his tongue was bound in dumbness and remained thus until the eighth day after St. John's birth. The kinsfolk of Zacharias and Elizabeth gathered together on that day for the infant's circumcision and naming. When they enquired of the father how he wished the child to be called, he, being still dumb, wrote on a slate: 'John.' At that moment his tongue was loosed and he began to speak. Zacharias's house was on the heights between Bethlehem and Hebron. The news of the Angel's appearing to Zacharias, of his dumbness and of loosening of his tongue at the exact moment that he wrote 'John', was carried throughout all Israel, coming to Herod's ears. So, when he sent men to kill all the infants around Bethlehem, he sent men off to Zacharias's family house in the hills, to slay St. John also. But St. Elizabeth hid the child in good time. The king was enraged at this, and sent an executioner to the Temple to kill St. Zacharias (for it was then his turn to serve in the Temple again). Zacharias was killed between the court and the Temple, and his blood clotted and solidified on the paving slabs, and remained as an enduring witness against Herod. Elizabeth hid herself and the child in a cave, where she soon died. The young Saint John remained in the wilderness alone, in the care of God and His Angels.

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TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:

Holy Epistle Lesson: Romans 13:11-14:4
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 1:1-25, 57-68, 76-80

INSPIRING WORDS FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS, HOLY MOTHERS AND HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:

"Do not sit at the hour of the Divine Liturgy. Your mind should not fly here and there. As long as you are in church make the decision to devote all of the time to prayer". (Saint George Karslides of Drama)

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ORTHODOX SPIRITUAL LIFE: SUFFERING AS AN UNAVOIDABLE ASPECT OF

THE LIFE IN CHRIST

"It is not possible for any man to draw near to Christ without tribulation, and without afflictions his righteousness cannot be preserved unchanged."--Saint Isaac the Syrian

"If we would obtain this kingdom we must remember that every spirit created I the Divine image will have to cross the threshold of suffering--voluntary suffering for the sake of holy love."--Elder Sophrony

Suffering is seen as a sign of God's love for man. Saint Silouan also considered suffering as a sort of 'measuring stick' of man's love for God. In his characteristic simplicity he sums up this particular point using the example of Panayia. Referring to her limitless love for her Son and her inconceivable grief as she stood at the foot of the Cross, Saint Silouan states succinctly: "The greater the love, the greater the suffering."

Suffering is thus seen as an unavoidable outcome of the believer's fervent desire for the life in Christ. It is the condition without which there can be no participation in His life and hence no entry into His Kingdom of love. The New Testament teaches this quite clearly: "We must through many tribulations enter the Kingdom of God." This is not a question of whether the believer 'may' suffer; the operative word here is "must". It is inevitable. Anyone actively pursuing the life in Christ will suffer. In fact, there is no true spiritual progress without suffering, sorrow, pain and persecution.

However, Saint Silouan teaches that man often makes his sufferings out to be more unbearable than they really are. This is a source of great anxiety and it is due to a lack of faith. It shows that the believer has not humbled himself, nor given himself over completely to the will of God. The believer must realize that it is ultimately the Lord Who is in complete control of every facet of his life. By allowing such sufferings, the Lord actually directs and disciplines the believer, thereby making him His own 'legitimate' son or daughter. One must bear in mind that it is the Lord Who allows these afflictions for the spiritual benefits of the believer, and it is also the Lord Who delivers him from them. According to Saint Silouan: "...the Lord Himself guides with His grace them that are given over to God's will, and they bear all things with fortitude for the sake of God Whom they have so loved and with Whom they are glorified forever..." The believer is thus 'tested' as to the extent of his complete commitment to the will of God, as well as to the measure of his unconditional love for Him.

The life of man is a time of testing. This is clearly seen in every aspect of human life and especially within human relationships. This is not confined to the testing of a teacher toward his student or an employer toward his workers. Friendships too are often tested, thereby revealing a true friend. Marriage is constantly tested, thus allowing the sacramental union of love to grow continually. Parents test their children in the lessons of life, yet children too test their parents to see how much they can get away with, i.e., as to the extent of the parent's permissiveness or strictness.

It seems as if love itself is mean to be tested, for only in this way is it proven to be 'true'. In fact, it could be said that love is 'true' when it is tested and when the person loved fails yet is still loved in spite of this failure. Such is the unconditional love of God toward man. It is interesting to note that in monastic life the Greek word for the person who is actively seeking tonsure is 'dokimos' (δόκιμος), which means literally, 'he who is being tried or tested.' The testing of one's commitment and love is a formative experience. It is not a question of whether one is tried or proven in a juridical sense. Rather, the point is that through 'testing' one is offered the opportunity to advance in the acquisition of spiritual virtues and to grow in the grace of the Holy Spirit."

(Next: Suffering as a Christ-centered experience)

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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.

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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