Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Seeing the Things of God

(32nd Sunday after Pentecost) (Luke 18:35-43)

How do you see the world? When you read or watch the news, or talk about events, whether national, international, or local, what do you see? Do you see the glory of God in creation? Do you see God’s mercy and protection through the course of your day? Do you see God’s love in action, especially in the love you share with others, and the love of others for you?

Chances are, these aren’t the things we see – at least, not without being prompted. If someone mentions these things, of course, we can see them. But for most of us, it’s not “natural” for us to be aware of the grace and mercy and love of God as we go through the course of our day. When it comes to seeing the things of God, most of us are blind, as blind as the man who sat by the road near Jericho.

Bartimaeus was blind, and so he could not see our Lord as He traveled the Jericho road. But the blind man heard the commotion, and knew something out of the ordinary was happening. He asked, and when he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he called out for mercy, for this blind man knew that Jesus is the Messiah, the one God promised would come to save His people. Nor would he be silent, but continued to call until the Lord had the blind man brought to Him. And when Bartimaeus asked for the ability to see, our Lord healed him, and he could see.

Because the eyes of our bodies function, we think we can see; but we do not realize that we are spiritually blind. Maybe if we knew that what often troubles us is the commotion in our souls as the Lord draws near, we would also cry out for mercy, and draw near to the Lord to be made whole. But we miss the chance, and so nothing changes.

Today, we also celebrate the Chains of St. Peter. King Herod, having ordered the death of St. James, the brother of our Lord, had cast St. Peter into prison, bound in chains between two soldiers; but when an angel of the Lord entered the cell, filling it with light, the chains fell from St. Peter, and, obedient to the angel’s command, he left the cell, and returned to the faithful, who had been praying for his safety, and for his return.

We are also bound with chains. We are chained to this life, and to this world, by our passions; and because we are not free from the chains of our passions, we sin, and it is our sin that blinds us to the things of God, blinding us to the vision of heavenly things. Brothers and sisters, this should not be.

Fasting is a step to removing the chains that bind us to this world and this life. Fasting teaches us obedience. Fasting weakens our flesh, and its grip on worldly things. Fasting teaches us restraint, so that we can also restrain our sinful impulses and desires. Fasting is a necessary part of the Orthodox life.

Giving is a step to removing the chains that bind us. When we give, we set ourselves free from grasping the things of this life, things that will perish, things that only give the illusion of permanence, and of being able to satisfy us. When we give, we acknowledge that we are not the masters and rulers of our lives, but stewards of the good gifts that God has entrusted to us to use in His service. Giving weakens our flesh, and its grip on worldly things. Giving is a necessary part of the Orthodox life.

The single greatest weapon in our spiritual warfare is prayer. Bartimaeus prayed for mercy, and received his sight. The Church prayed for the safe release and return of St. Peter, and he was set free. Prayer brings us into the presence of God, as the blind man was brought into the presence of our Lord. Prayer brings our guardian angel to our side, and to our defense. Prayer is a necessary part of the Orthodox life.

Brother and sisters, would you be set free? Do you desire to see heavenly things? Then we must pray, and fast, and give, and struggle. Let us pray that God will have mercy on us, and take from us our spiritual blindness, that we may see Him, and glorify God. And let us pray that God will save His people, and set them free; let us pray, as we do again and again, “Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Thy grace.” In this way, our chains will fall off, and we shall be free to love and serve the Lord. In this way, our eyes will be opened, and we will see the glory of God. Let us, then, live the Orthodox life, to the glory of God, and the salvation of souls.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Light and Darkness

(31st Sunday after Pentecost) (Matthew 4:12-17))

The themes of “light” and “darkness” run throughout the pages of holy Scripture. Very early in Genesis, on the first day of creation, after God has created the heavens and the earth, He says, “Let there be light”; and then He separates the light from the darkness, calling the light, “day,” and the darkness, “night.” On the fourth day, God creates lights in the heavens: a greater light, the sun; and a lesser light, the moon; and the stars – all to give light to the earth, and to separate the light from the darkness. Later, God gave His people His law; of which the Psalmist says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Ps. 119:105)

In the first chapter of the Gospel according to St. John the Theologian, speaking of the Word, the evangelist says, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” (John 1:4-5, 9)

In the reading today from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, we hear more about this theme of the light and the darkness. The evangelist tells us that the prophesy of Isaiah was fulfilled by the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ after His baptism in the Jordan and 40 days of preparation in the wilderness: “The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.”

The “great light,” the fathers tell us, is the Gospel, the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ. The law, we are told, was also a light, but a lesser light: as King David said, it could shine so as to point out the path we were to follow, but it could not, by itself, illumine us – that is, fill us with light – for light casts out the darkness; light, in effect, destroys the darkness. The law, as a light, was greater than the darkness; but it was an external, and in order to be transformed, something more was needed – and provided for us by our Lord Jesus Christ.

The fathers also tell us that the “shadow of death” is sin. Sin is the likeness, the silhouette, of death. Dead in Adam, dead in our sins, we could not comprehend the light, the life of men. But Christ illumines us; after someone is baptized, we speak of that person as being the “newly illumined servant of God.” We have light within us; although when we sin, we turn from light once more to darkness; and the only way to overcome the darkness is to turn back, once more, to the light – by repentance and confession of our sins.

This is the message that our Lord, the Giver of light and life, preaches: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” We tend to think of a kingdom as being a place: the kingdom of Great Britain, for example. But the fathers tell us that the kingdom of heaven is not a place, it is Christ; and it is the life of virtue – but that is saying the same thing, for we can only live the life of virtue by being in Christ. We enter into Christ by baptism; we remain in Christ by repentance, and by perseverance in the life we learn from His Church: prayer, and fasting, giving, struggling for the virtues, caring for each other, caring for those around us in the world. When we live in this way – in humility, rather than pride; in simplicity, rather than filling our lives with possessions; forgiving, and asking forgiveness of others; yielding to others (and not just on the highway!), and considering them to be more worthy than we are; and praying for those we may happen to see sinning, as if the offense was our own – when we live this way, we are drawing near to the kingdom of heaven, near to the angelic life, near the life of our Lord Himself. If we live this way, we will find the rule of the kingdom has been established in our hearts. We will find in our hearts and minds the peace of God, which passes all understanding, and which no earthly power can disturb. We will find love for our enemies, and for those who hate us.

And if these things are not yet the hallmarks of your life, do not despair; but examine your life, and find the places in your being that have not yet been brought into the light, but remain in darkness. Then take these into the light by prayer, by repentance, with fasting and prostrations, and see if God is not as good as His word – for the light that is our life, the light of Christ, will overcome the darkness.

Brothers and sisters, let us pray that God will make us bearers of His light, and allow us to shine forth in a world of darkness, that we may show forth the life of Christ in us, and by doing so, may guide those who have not yet come to Him to turn from their ways and seek Him; to the glory of God, and the salvation of souls.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Showing Forth Christ to the World

(The Theophany of our Lord) (Matt. 3:13-17)

At the entrance with the Gospel, we heard the introit, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. We have blessed you out of the house of the Lord. God is the Lord, and hath appeared unto us.” This, indeed, is what happened when our Lord Jesus Christ was baptized in the Jordan River. St. John the Baptizer knew there was more to this man than meets the eye – but then, he had, in his mother’s womb, leapt for joy at the sound of the voice of the Theotokos as she bore in her womb the Son of God. When our Lord went into the waters, he was, as far as anyone else present was concerned, simply a man, one of a multitude who had come to be baptized. All that changed, of course, when He came up out of the waters, as the heavens were opened, and the voice of the Father declared Him to be His beloved Son, and the Spirit of God descended upon Him in the form of a dove.

What about today (and I am not referring to the Feast we celebrate today)? Are there any theophanies of Christ today? Not as it occurred on the day we remember and celebrate; our Lord will not be going again to be baptized in the Jordan River. That took place at a certain date in time, that He might be made known to the world; and in order to restore fallen Adam, and, through that restoration, all of us who are the heirs of Adam. So, on that basis, the answer is, No, there are no theophanies today.

But maybe there are still ways that Christ is shown forth to the world today; maybe we can speak of a Theophany in this day and age. But how is this possible?

It is possible when we live the life of Christ given to us in our baptism. We are given a reminder of this every time someone is baptized, as took place here last night; and we heard the reminder today, when, in place of the Trisagion hymn, we sang, “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia!” So, when we live a Christ-like life, we show Him forth into the world. When we love our enemies, when we forgive those who hate and hurt us, when we turn the other cheek, when we go the extra mile – as Christ has done for us, to save us – we show forth His life, His presence in the world today. When we live the life of Christ, people can see that there is something different about us, that we are not just another person, not just one of the multitude. We have a great, even an awesome, opportunity – which we all too often fail to accomplish.

Living the life of Christ isn’t easy; and we fall, and fail, all the time. Yet, if we will pursue, with all our powers, the way of life we are taught by the Church – prayer, and fasting, giving, struggling against our passions; loving and caring for each other, and reaching out to those in need around us – the life of Christ becomes more and more obvious to those who are looking for something beyond what the world has to offer – who are looking for a Theophany to transform their life.

Brothers and sisters, as we celebrate this great Feast, let us humbly beseech our God to make us shine forth with the life of Christ, for the glory of His name, and the salvation of our souls.

Preparation for the Coming of the Kingdom

(Eve of Theophany) (Luke 3:1-18)

We hear again today of St. John the Baptizer, and his calling to the people, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” He is telling them – and us – that the Lord is coming, and we need to be ready. For the people of his day, St. John is speaking about the day when the Lord would be revealed to all, although he did not know the date, place, or time. For us, this is a reminder that our Lord will come again, and there will be the great and terrible Day of Judgment. We need, then, to prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts, and labor to make the paths we travel straight, not crooked or distorted by our sins. As we have heard before, this task of making straight what has been bent begins with repentance for our sins.

St. John the Baptizer is calling to the people to repent in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom of heaven, in the person of the King. We are, in a way, also making a journey through the wilderness of this life, in a world that is not meant to be our home, but simply a place of preparation as we journey towards the Kingdom of heaven. The way to the Kingdom is the way of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who Himself prepared the way, and calls us to follow Him, so that He might lead us to our eternal home with Him. We who have been baptized have had our tickets stamped; we have our boarding passes in our hands; but we must now go to the departure gate; and pass through a security checkpoint along the way.

The security checkpoint is the great and terrible Day of Judgment, when we each will be called to account for every word, every deed, every thought, every feeling. We should not come carelessly; we need to prepare. On the way there, we should learn from what St. John the Baptizer was teaching the crowds who came to him. The first step is to turn away from evil. This is the direction he gives to the tax collectors and the soldiers: stop doing what is evil. The next step is to do good; and the concrete example he gives is that those who have in abundance should share with those who have nothing; if you have two coats, give one to someone who does not have a coat at all. Of course, none of this is possible without God’s help; but each of us who bears the life of Christ within us has the power that is needed, not in ourselves, but in Christ, to be transformed in the way that is needed to save our souls, and allow us to reach the Kingdom of heaven.

So we should follow the way of the Orthodox Church and faith, the way of life we have received from the saints, our fathers before us. Prayer and fasting bring us closer to God, and farther from evil; giving allows us to do good for others in the name of God; and struggling against the passions which lead us into sin also helps us to do good, and to turn away from evil. Diligently pursued, our lives are transformed; and so we can truly have hope that God is with us, and of the salvation of our souls.

Brothers and sisters: Our King and Savior is coming again. Let us hear the cry of St. John the Baptizer, and prepare ourselves, and the ways of our hearts, and the paths of our lives, that we may be ready to meet Him when He comes; to the glory of God, and the salvation of our souls.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Baptism, Repentance, and Confession

(30th Sunday after Pentecost) (Mark 1:1-8)

“I have baptized you with water; but He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Bishop Alexander (of blessed memory) taught that there is, in each of us, an innate desire for happiness; and yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we are very seldom happy, even when we are not threatened in any way. The reason why we are not happy is because, by God’s grace, we are aware of the darkness within us, caused by sin – both our own personal sins, and the corruption of human being that is produced by sin. Sin is spiritual sickness; and, left untreated, spreads like a cancer within us, causing the darkening of our mind, the weakening of our will to do what is good, making us bitter and depressed, angry and resentful, and increasingly inclined to repeat our sins again and again. This is the way of sin; this is the way of death. The treatment of this spiritual sickness begins with repentance.

And so it was that the people from the region around the River Jordan, where St. John the Baptizer was found, came to him to be baptized. Their baptism was an act of repentance, whereby they acknowledged their sins, and expressed their desire to be made clean from the stain and shame of what they had done. The baptism of St. John did not set them free of their sins; but it “prepared the way” for them to receive the baptism of forgiveness which our Lord Jesus Christ was soon to bestow upon those who came to Him in faith. Drawn to repentance by the grace of God, their burden of sin was loosened, until it was removed from them completely by faith in Christ.

When we were baptized, we were washed clean of our sins; and we received as well the Holy Spirit, Who was seen by some descending upon our Lord Jesus Christ when He came to St. John the Baptizer at the Jordan River. Thus, what St. John the Baptizer said was true: “I baptize you with water, but He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Not only have we received the forgiveness of our sins; we have received power in the Holy Spirit to live a new life, the life of Christ, Who alone was without sin among all born of a woman. Even so, we must continue to struggle against our sins, lest these should grow once more in the darkness, and make us spiritually ill once again. For us, as for those who came to St. John the Baptizer, this way begins with repentance, and confession. For it is in our repenting and confessing our sins that we are washed clean again for the sins we commit after we have been baptized.

We have said that sin causes us to be spiritually ill – and that the course of treatment for this illness, and its symptoms of a darkened mind and a weakened will and bitterness and anger and a turning away from doing what is good to pursue our passions, begins with repentance. But the course of treatment has many more steps. Indeed, the entire Orthodox way of life serves for the treatment of our spiritual ills, and to lead us to health and strength in living the life we have been given in Christ. Prayer and fasting, giving, and struggles against our sinful desires draw us closer to God, and farther from our sins. The greatest medicine of all, of course, is the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and all who want to be spiritually well will not neglect the opportunities offered to partake of this most powerful treatment. Of course, the way of preparation for Communion also involves us in prayer and fasting, and also confession – so that we might receive the Body and Blood to our benefit, and not to our condemnation. Then, having partaken, with Christ mystically feeding us by His presence with us, we are strengthened, we are blessed, we are more and more transformed – and so we are better able to embrace and live the life of the Church, which is the way of our salvation.

Brothers and sisters, all this is here for you, today. Here we are gathered, as if at the Jordan River. Here we hear the words of God, calling us to repentance, that we might be restored to a blessed communion with Him. Here we can receive the spiritual food to strengthen and help us in our lives in Christ, so that His life might be seen in us; and we may have life without end in Him. As we prepare to celebrate the Theophany of our Lord, let us also prepare ourselves to live the life He gives. Let us repent, and confess; and let us fast and pray and give and struggle, and receive His most precious and holy Body and Blood, to the glory of God, and the salvation of our souls.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Herod and Christ

(29th Sunday after Pentecost) (Matt. 2:13-23)

When the wise men from the East came to King Herod and asked him where they could find the new-born King of the Jews, Herod was worried – and for good reason. He was the King of the Jews only because the Romans had appointed him to the position. Not only was he not a descendant of King David, he was not a Jew at all. A true descendant of King David could cause the people to rally on his behalf, and to reject Herod and his family’s claim to the throne. As a result of his fear, Herod sought to find the Child, in order to kill him; and, when his plan was thwarted by the wise men, who did not return to him because they had been warned by an angel of God not to do so, Herod put to death all the children in Bethlehem and its surrounding area that were two years old or younger. Church tradition puts the number of children killed by Herod at 14,000.

Herod acted out of fear, greed, and a love of power, and did not hesitate to use murder in order to maintain his grip on an earthly throne. Had it been within his power, he would have killed the new-born Child Who is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We need to consider how like Herod we are, as well.

Think about it: Christ has been born in each of us, by virtue of His grace and mercy when we are baptized. He has come to save us; and we would be wise to allow Him to rule in our lives, and be our King. But we love too much the pleasures and powers and temptations of this world; and we will do anything, it seems, not to be forced to set aside worldly things. We persist in our sins; and, when we refuse to follow the way of life identified for us by the Church – the life of prayer, and fasting; of giving; of struggling to achieve holiness in thought, word and deed, and to rid ourselves of following our passions – it is as if we, too, are trying to put to death within ourselves the holy One Who has come to dwell in us, that we might live forevermore in Him. Of course, we cannot put Him to death, any more than could Herod. But it is possible for us to put to death our own innocence – that is, to so deaden our conscience that we no longer recognize the good, nor desire to obtain it, if doing so conflicts with satisfying our flesh.

Brothers and sisters, this should not be. Even as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we should be vigilant to protect and nurture what God has done in and for us, as Joseph acted to protect the Child and his mother, taking them away to a place of safety. When we are beset with thoughts or desires to fulfill our passions, we should flee to God in prayer; and should take refuge in fasting, and prostrations. We should set ourselves free from attachments to this world, again, by fasting, and by taking from what God has entrusted to us to give for the needs of others, and for the work of the Church. We should fortify ourselves with the words of holy Scripture, and the teachings of the fathers, and the lives of the saints, and, above all, by taking into ourselves the most precious and holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we might nurture the life within us, and make it our own, and let it be seen in and through us.

Herod died in great torment; and so, too, does great torment await those who do not repent of their sins. As we remember and celebrate the birth of Him Who came to die that we might have life, and have it abundantly, let us dedicate ourselves anew to the labor of making Him the Lord of our lives, to the glory of God, and the salvation of our souls.

Christ is born!

"We have seen His Star in the East"

(The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ) (Matt. 2:1-12)

As the world was preparing to celebrate western Christmas, there was an article in the news reporting the efforts of astronomers and historians to reconcile the history of appearances in the heavens with the reports in the Bible of the birth of Christ. What, they wonder, was the star that appeared in the east, which brought the wise men to Israel? Was it a supernova? A planetary conjunction? Was it a comet? Or was it just a legend, invented years later? The news article is clearly uncomfortable with miracles, and suggests, as its first paragraph is concluding, that the explanation can be found in naturally-occurring events.

A quick reading of the Fathers would have saved them all a great deal of time and trouble. They tell us that the “star” was an angelic power who appeared to guide the Magi to Christ. Two questions can help make this abundantly plain.

First, how can a star disappear, and then reappear? After all, the wise men followed the star to Jerusalem; but then had to ask of King Herod, “Where is He Who is born King of the Jews?” When they departed from Jerusalem to go to Bethlehem, the star reappeared to guide them.

Second, we are told that the star that went before them as they came to Bethlehem “stood over the place where the young Child was.” Either the star had to move in the heavens in a way totally uncharacteristic of the heavenly bodies we call stars; or it was not one of the lights God created in the heavens to light the night skies, and to reveal Himself through the wonders of nature. The Fathers use this example: You see the moon, or a particular star, and it appears to be over your house. Yet someone else, miles away, sees the same moon or star, appearing to be over their house. This can hardly serve to guide a traveler from afar to either house! And so, if the star stood over the house where our Lord was to be found, it was not a star, but an angelic power appearing to be a star, in order to bring the wise men to our Lord and His mother.

God was the guide of these travelers from afar, who were not “people of the Promise”; they were gentiles, outsiders – and yet they had come, with knowledge, with prophecy, to find the King of the Jews. When they found this peasant family and their new-born Child, they bowed down to Him, and offered gifts of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. They recognized our Lord Jesus, even as a baby, to be King, and offered worship to Him. Compare this to those who thought themselves to be the people of God, who had the prophesies of the coming of the Messiah – who interpreted these to help the Magi come to Bethlehem! They did not worship Him; they did not even bother to try to find Him, Who was – or, at least, should have been – the fulfillment of all their hopes, and the answer to all their prayers.

Brothers and sisters, God will guide all those who seek Him, and will bring them to worship Him. He has brought each of us here, to this place, that we might worship and honor Him. He gives us the gift of Himself, and His love, and the hope of life without end in the wonder and enjoyment of His presence. Will we, in return, give Him gifts? He does not need or want our gold, our wealth – that is entrusted to us to use on His behalf, in making possible the work of the Church, and to care for the needs of those around us. He does not ask for frankincense, but for our prayers to be offered to Him – not for Himself, but for our benefit. He does not require of us myrrh, for He has already died, and been resurrected, so that we might not be bound any longer by death. Let us, then, in love, give Him the gift of our selves, our worship, our obedience, and our loving care for each other, and for all those who are made in His image. As we live the way of life of the Orthodox Church, our Lord Jesus Christ, born in us by baptism, will shine forth to bring all who seek Him to Himself, and be born in them as well. Let us live according to the Orthodox life, that we, too, may be stars to guide those who are on a journey to find the Lord may find Him here, and worship Him with us!

Christ is born!

Visions of Angels

(Eve of the Nativity of our Lord) (Luke 2:1-20)

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

The life of the shepherd is not an easy life; but it is a simple life. Shepherds don’t eat fine food, or wear fancy clothing. They don’t have access to a wide variety of entertainment or diversion; they don’t sleep in soft, comfortable beds. Their food and their clothing are simple; their entertainment, likewise, simple – and their bed is the ground. Shepherds also do not live in the midst of a number of people, nor among the delights – and temptations – of cities and towns. Rather, they live apart from the world, and from all the ways of the world. All around them are the works of God in nature, especially at night, as they behold the glories of the heavens, where God is also revealed.

As a result of living simply, and apart from the world in the midst of God’s creation, shepherds tend to be without guile; and so it is that, when our Lord is born, the angels appear to the shepherds, in a divine vision, revealing to these simple and humble men the good news of His birth. And the shepherds say to each other, “Let us go and see what has come to pass”; and, having seen, they leave rejoicing, glorifying God, and they themselves become heralds, as were the angels to them, telling everyone the good tidings of great joy for all people – the Savior is born; God is with us.

There aren’t too many of us who live a simple life away from the world – so we should not be surprised not to see visions of angels. Even so, God, in His mercy, has brought us to His house, and entrusted to us the good tidings of His presence with us, and that He has come to save us from sin and death. We may not live according to the circumstances that helped prepare the shepherds to receive the divine vision; but we can pursue simplicity and a life apart from the ways of the world, even as we dwell in the world, and not in the wilderness. We can pray, and fast; we can give, and we can struggle against our passions and the sinful impulses and desires that arise from them. We can study the words of Scripture, and the lives of the saints, and the teachings of the fathers – and we can live with humility, peace and love – love for God, for each other, and for those who have yet to hear the good news, those who are not yet members of the household of God.

Brothers and sisters: Let us celebrate the joyous Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ by giving thanks and praise to God for the hope of our salvation; and let us labor to bring forth in our own lives the testimony of the reality of His presence by letting Him be seen in us – in what we say, and in what we do, in what we think and feel, and in who we are. Having come to where He is, and been in His presence, let us go forth rejoicing to tell all the world that God is with us, and that the Savior has come, to the glory of God, and the salvation of souls.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Conceived of the Holy Spirit

(28th Sunday after Pentecost) (Matthew 1:1-25)

Among other things, today is the secular New Year. But, as we wish each other a happy New Year, we do well to recall that, for the Church, the New Year begins, not on January 1st, but on September 1st. In a way, it is a blessing for us that the Church is “out of synch” with the world; for we are in this world, but not supposed to be of this world. We are called to a different way of living; and when we encounter what appears to be a “disconnect” between the Church and the world, as with the calendar, it can help to remind us that this world is not meant to be our home. It is temporary; it will one day cease to exist. Our true home is in eternity; and the way to enter into that life without end in a state of blessedness is the way that we can only find in the Orthodox Church.

Today is also the Sunday before the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ; and, on this day, the Church recalls the Holy Fathers of our Lord, as evidenced in the reading from the Gospel according to St. Matthew assigned for use today. The Gospel begins with the genealogy of Joseph, showing him to be the “son” – that is to say, the heir – of David the King, whom God had promised that one of his sons would always sit on the throne as king, as long as they were faithful in following God, as David had been. Joseph is not the father of our Lord in the sense that “father” means “procreator”; but he certainly was a father to the young child born of the Theotokos, Who is Christ the Lord. Indeed, the Church Fathers tell us that Joseph was chosen by God and appointed to be the protector of Mary and her Child; and he shows his fatherhood in giving the Child the name proclaimed by the angel, naming Him “Jesus,” because He would save His people from their sins. By naming the child, Joseph also gives the child his lineage. When we read the genealogy set forth in St. Luke’s Gospel, we see that the Theotokos is also of the lineage of King David; and so our Lord is the fulfilling of the prophecy from both His earthly parents.

Joseph, we are told, was a righteous man; and we see his righteousness demonstrated in this reading from the Gospel. Finding that the young woman to whom he had been betrothed was pregnant, and knowing he was not the father of the child, he knew that he could not marry her, for it would have been marrying someone guilty of adultery; and so, in his desire to do what would be pleasing to God, he resolved to put an end to the betrothal. We also see righteousness with mercy; for he would have been within his rights to have had Mary stoned; but instead, he resolved to divorce her secretly. The Fathers tell us there is more; for Joseph, knowing she had conceived of the Holy Spirit, knew he was not worthy to keep as his wife this woman who had received such divine grace. But the angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream, and told him not to fear taking Mary as his wife, and to raise the child as his own.

One of the key points in the angel’s words to Joseph have some significance for us, as well. The angel said, “That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” Of course, it was the Son of God Who had taken human being in her womb, that He might save us in the fullness of our being. The Author of Life came to life in her womb, and she gave birth to the Creator of the World, that He might be also the Savior of the world.

That which is conceived in us who have been baptized is also of the Holy Spirit; and we also have developing within us the life of Christ, the Son of God, born of the Virgin, the Savior of the world. We are meant to bring Him forth into the world; we are meant to reveal Him by giving ourselves to His service, and by laboring to be transformed into His likeness. This process of transformation is the foundation of the way of life taught by the Church: of prayer, and fasting, giving alms and offerings and tithes and sacrifices, and struggling against the desire to indulge our passions and our flesh, doing instead what is virtuous and pleasing to God. Yet how many of us live in such a way that we can be seen to be bearers of Christ? How many of us have been given the great gift of new life in Christ, and yet continue to live according to the ways of this world, and are unrecognizable as Christians? We will rightly receive a greater condemnation at the great and terrible Day of Judgment than will those who knew nothing of our Lord Jesus Christ, if we have failed to follow the heavenly way of life to which we are called, and instead bury within our flesh the image of the Son of God, Who should shine forth from within us to be the light of the world.

Brothers and sisters, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us renew our dedication of our lives and persons to Him. Let us repent of our sins; let us pray, and fast; let us be generous and humble; and beseech God to have mercy on us, that we may fulfill the ministry given to us: to show forth Christ, born in us by water and the Holy Spirit, in every aspect of our lives – to the glory of God, and the salvation of our souls.