My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
“ΝΙΨΟΝ ΑΝΟΜΗΜΑΤΑ ΜH ΜΟΝΑΝ ΟΨΙΝ” (“WASH AWAY YOUR SINS, NOT ONLY YOUR FACE”}
As we progress spiritually on our long journey of Holy and Great Lent we pause to meditate and contemplate on our individual spiritual goals and condition. The above poignant and most appropriate message was inscribed on a water font located outside the great Orthodox Cathedral of Agia Sofia in Constantinople. A reminder to the faithful as they approached the church to pray, worship, and partake of Holy Communion. This phrase truly constitutes the very essence of Christian teachings.
It is evident that the majority of people, whether Christian or not, exert a greater effort in their outer appearance and neglect the spiritual condition of their souls. Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk exhorts the faithful “Do not adorn your body with stylish clothes as some are accustomed to do, but let your clothing be appropriate to your station. A Christian’s clothing is CLOTHING OF THE SPIRIT. It should adorn the soul and not the body. The beauty of the soul IS THE IMAGE OF GOD IN WHICH WE WERE CREATED. SEEK THE BEAUTY AND IT SHALL SUFFICE YOU.”
If this Lenten season is to be spiritually profitable and beneficial to us, it is important to set certain spiritual priorities first. It is imperative that we truly understand how our Holy Church views life in Christ. To listen to the voice of the holy Prophet Isaiah who says, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of our God” (Isa. 2:3). Or to listen to the holy Apostle Paul who said, “Let us hurry until we all arrive at the unity of faith and of the knowledge of God, at mature manhood, at the measure of the stature of Christ’s fullness” (Ephesians 4:13). Christian morality is not based upon ideas but upon a living reality: the life of the Holy Trinity in the Church. Further on, Saint Paul writes, “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of the time…but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–CHRIST.” (Ephesians 4:14-15).
We, as Orthodox Christian believers know, that the process of Christian growth requires our FREE-WILL COMMITMENT TO WALK IN “RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HOLINESS” (Ephesians 4:24). A child of light can no longer act as a child of darkness. If we are interested in a change of lifestyle it is only possible because of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, the ORIGINAL “NEW MAN.” So Christ must be “learned” (v. 20), and our relationship with Him must be constantly be “renewed” (v. 23). Instead of deliberating about our apparel and what type of clothing we should wear, to instead think of the most beautiful and elegant clothing, CHRIST. Christ must be “PUT ON” (v. 24), a clothing metaphor, an allusion to baptism, and the baptismal robe. In the Mysterion (Sacrament) of Baptism, we chant: “Grant TO ME A GARMENT OF ILLUMINATION, O Most Merciful Christ our God, Who wrapped Thyself with LIGHT AS WITH A CLOAK.” And at the conclusion of the Baptism, the officiating Priest chants: “AS MANY OF YOU AS HAVE BEEN BAPTIZED, INTO CHRIST, HAVE PUT ON CHRIST. ALLELUIA.” This is true and the most beautiful of all garments that an Orthodox Christian is blessed with for the rest of his/her life.
The way we live affects our relationship not only with God but also with each other–for in Christ we are “MEMBERS OF ONE ANOTHER” (Ephesians 4:25). The moral standard for the new humanity is the life appropriate to A CHILD OF GOD. A committed Christian must avoid all vices, and all immorality, Also, ungodly thoughts and behavior can keep believers out of the Kingdom of God. In the Book of Ecclesiastes 1:2, we are informed that “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; “VANITY OF VANITIES, ALL IS VANITY.” In other words, all that is, everything in life that is apart from the purpose for which God created us, IS VANITY.
Our Most Loving and Righteous God has not abandoned us in our struggle to unite with Him. God the Holy Spirit not only brings us the necessary strength but He empowers us in our weaknesses, especially by helping us to pray. Prayer in the spirit, also called prayer without words, is the highest form of prayer. The Holy Fathers of the Church identify three stages: (a) saying the words of the prayers (b) saying the words with meaning and full concentration (c) praying without words when one is so filled with the Holy Spirit and so in union with God that words are inadequate.
If we are honest and truthful, we must admit that we are all spiritually immature. Spiritual maturity is a long way off. We have hardly made a beginning. Our struggle is difficult but never impossible. Seeking spiritual maturity is a noble undertaking, however, actions speak louder than words or desires. Under the guidance of a father confessor or a spiritual father, we stand a better chance to begin our spiritual journey. We cannot achieve by ourselves. For most this is uncharted territory. Even though there may be setbacks and difficulties in our effort we must never give up or lose faith. At the same time, we should have a prayer life, read the Lives of the Saints, and we should study the Holy Scripture. Our Holy Orthodox Church has the following wonderful prayer before reading the Holy Bible: “Illumine our hearts, O Master, Who lovest mankind, with the pure Light of Thy Divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy Gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of ThyBlesed Commandments, that, trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are pleasing unto Thee. For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee, we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, Who is from Everlasting, and Thine All-Holy, Good, and Life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.” (Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostomos)
As all of you continue your spiritual journey, the blessing of the Lord be upon you through His grace and love for mankind always, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
“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