My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
THE ORTHODOX PILGRIM ON A FORTY-DAY SPIRITUAL JOURNEY
+ In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee.
Let up pray to the Lord.
O Christ our God,
At all times and every hour, in heaven and on earth,
You are worshipped and glorified;
You are long-suffering, most merciful, most compassionate,
You love the righteous and have mercy upon the sinners;
You all ever one to salvation
through the promise of future blessings;
Receive, O Lord, our prayers at this hour
And direct our life toward Your Commandments.
Sanctify our souls; make our bodies chaste;
Correct our thoughts; purify our intentions;
And deliver us from every grief and pain that comes from evil.
Encompass us by Your Holy Angels,
So that guarded and guided by them
We may attain to the unity of the faith
And to the knowledge of Your inapproachable glory,
For You are blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Orthodox Christians began their forty-day journey to pay homage to the Son of God, our True Messiah, Whose Divine Birth is commemorated on December 25th. However, just as with all journeys, the Orthodox believer prepares spiritually for that long journey through fasting, prayer, repentance, and most definitely faith.
The Holy Nativity of Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ for the genuine and practicing Orthodox Christian is not simply an annual event when families gather and a time of exchanging gifts. But, it is a profound spiritual experience, a time of personal renewal, a time when the Orthodox Christian exalts and glorifies God knowing that due to His great mercy and unconditional love becomes man in order to "go after the one which is lost until He finds it." (Luke 15:4). Jestus continues: "And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven OVER ONE SINNER WHO REPENTS than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:6-7).
Our Heavenly and Divine Lord and Savior Jesus Christ clearly connects "joy in heaven" with the "repentace of a sinner." (Lk. 15:7). Therefore, Jesus connects REPENTANCE WITH JOY, NOT SADNESS. He emphasizes again, "Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the Angels of God over ONE SINNER WHO REPENTS" (Luke 15:10). This illustrates God’s unconditional love and forgiveness of the repentant sinner.
According to Saint John Climacus, "repentance (Gk. metanoia) is the renewal of baptism and is a contract with God for a fresh start in life. Repentance goes shopping for humility and is evere distrustful of bodily comfort. Repentance is critical awareness and a sure watch over oneself. Repentance, is the daughter of hope and the refusal to despair. The penitent stands guilty–but UNDISCRASED. Repentance is RECONCILIATION WITH THE LORD by the performance of good deeds which are the opposites of the sins. It is the purification of conscience and the voluntary endurance of affliction. The PENITENT deals out his own punishment, for repentance is the fierce persecution of the stomach and the flogging of the soul into intense awareness."
Saint Paul the humble, once stayed in front of the churh gate of a monastery and was watching the state of the monks’s souls, since he had a discerning gift from God. The monks who entered the church had a very nice and pleasant look, and each of them was accompanied by his happy-looking Angel. The holy father glorified God for what he had seen. But at a certain time he saw a monk with a dark look, accompanied by many demons and his Angel at a distance looking gloomy and anxious. When Paul saw this, he started crying and did not want to leave his position so as not to miss watching that monk again during his exit from the church. After the Divine Liturgy, while the monks were leaving the church, he watched that monk again, but this timehis face was shining and was all white, gleaming like light and close to him his Angel was following happily whereas the gloomy looking demons were at a distance.
When Paul saw this, rose up from his position and glorified God. He stood at higher place and narrated the miraculous things he had seen. Everymody kept asking the monk what had happen to him. He said out of extreme humility: "I am a sinful man but sin has not left me yet. When I entered the church, I listened to the words of Prophet Isaiah, which are God’s words: "Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. Come now, let us reason together", says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land."
When I heard this, I came to myself, I felt pain in my heart, I cried and sighed: "My Lord God, Who came to this world to save the sinners, please bestow on me, who is a sinner and an unworthy man, all the things you promised through your Prophet. I promise you that form this very moment I give up every lawlessness and sin which I have committed until now and fron now on I will never sin again with Your help." When the fathers heard these words, they glorified God for His Great Philnathropy and extreme condensation, since the power and the consequences of the sinner’s repentance was obvious. (From the book of Evergetinos)
The Progigal son "came to himself" and recognizing his mistakes RETURNED TO HIS FATHER’S HOUSE asking for mercy and saying: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants" (Luke 15:18-19). In this way he abandoned the lie that his life had become and returned to the Truth. He abandoned vice and adopted virtue. He escaped death by returning back to his home and loving father. And his father waiting for his return when he saw him "had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him" (Luke 15:20). What followed was a celebration upon the return of the son. "And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; FOR THIS MY SON WAS DEAD AND IS ALIVE AGAIN, HE WAS LOST AND IS FOUND" (Luke 15:23-24).
Christmas, the Nativity of Our Savior, is our personal homecoming. Our Almighty God always longs for the return of all sinners to His forgiving embrace. Someone said, "it is not the sin that condemns the sinner, but the unwillingness of the sinner to repent of his sin." We must heed the Divine words of our Lord and sincerely repent of our sins. To the Orthodox Christian this means to participate in the Mysterion (Sacrament of Repentance and Confession). If we are to attend this glorious celebration that our Heavenly Father is preparing for us we must be clean and chaste. It is our duty not only to know our Christian Faith, but to be willing to practice it. It is not enough to know what Christ said, but we must all be willing to do as He commanded.
There is no other way for the Orthodox Christian to celebrate His Divine Birth. We cannot allow this secular and atheistic society in which we live in to dictate or even idocrtinate us to believe that Christmas is all about food, drinks, parties, a time of leisure, and gifts. If we desire to succeed in this aim, we have to be obedient to His will (e.g. "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.."). We must have faith and trust in our Lord Christ. We must fulfil His commandments by loving one another and forgiving one another. In this way we prove that we have returned to the house of the Father.
May the Divine words of our Savior encourage and inspire us to welcome Him in our hearts for that is where He wants to be. Holy Apostle Paul reminds us: "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Corinthians3:16). If we are to Grow spiritually we need, "The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit." It is never accomplished by us. God desires our cooperation or synergy since we were created by Him to have a free will. He imposes not His will upon anyone.
Let us continue our holy journey to Bethlehem to pay homage and fall on our knees with humility and in repentance. Let us join the Heavenly Host and joyfully celebrates His Birth on earth and our birth in heaven. He, Jesus Christ, is our True Messiah, He is our salvation, He is our the Master of our life. "Jesus said to him, ‘I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE. NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME" (John 14:6).
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God