It is certainly possible to have a letdown after the holiday season. Though it has its own stresses, a time of year filled with parties, rich food, and visiting with loved ones appeals to most people, if only as a cultural observance. The same is surely true for those of us who celebrated the Savior’s birth at Christmas and His baptism at Theophany.
No one likes a hypocrite, someone who says one thing and does another. As Christians, we must be very careful not to condemn ourselves and scandalize others by not living out what we teach to be true. Instead, we must be people of integrity who live out our beliefs every day in what we say and do.
The celebration of the Eucharist provides a necessary context for understanding the pastoral response of the Orthodox Church to contemporary challenges in marriage, family, and sexuality. As St. Nicholas Cabasilas commented on the Eucharist, “its aim is the sanctification of the faithful.” Likewise, the aim of the union of husband and wife is their sanctification, their participation in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
A recent survey of Americans about religion is getting a lot of attention, especially because it shows that fewer people now identify themselves as Christians and more consider themselves unaffiliated with any religion. Perhaps at least part of the reason for these declines is that many people have not found something worth living and dying for in the churches with which they are familiar.
The example of these Saints shows us that it does not matter whether we are young, old, male, female, or face this or that set of challenges. We may still grow in personal union with the Lord regardless of any such details. The door to holiness is fully open to us all.
The weeks of the Nativity Fast are a time of joyful preparation to receive Christ at His birth. They provide us an alternative to the angry and anxious ways of our culture. And on this Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, they call us to follow the example of someone very different from the ones people usually think are most important in life.
If we are honest, we will recognize ourselves in her humble example. Who is not embarrassed and discouraged due to some long-term struggle, some weakness or burden that we have virtually lost hope of overcoming?
It is tempting to think that those who seem to have it all in this world are God’s favorites whose success is a reward for holiness and virtue. It is appealing to think that God’s kingdom is simply an eternal manifestation of the arrangements of this world, of life as we know it, where the powerful usually lord it over the weak and the rich almost always seem to get their way.
Every human being bears the image of God, including our enemies. In that we have done something harmful to anyone, we have done it to the Lord. Remember the words of St. John: If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar (1 John 4:20). It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and souls that we will be able to live out our love of God in relation to every human being we encounter.
Let us use our freedom to become God’s fellow workers in making ourselves holy temples. Let us embrace the divine power that enables us to walk across the stormy seas of our lives, even to share in the Savior’s victory over sin and death. We will be able to do so only when we embrace personally the glorious truth that our nature and purpose is to grow in holiness and union with the Lord.
It is tempting to think that what we read about in the Scriptures and the history of the Church occurred in a world so different from ours that it has become irrelevant. This Sunday of All Saints reminds us that our Lord’s fundamental calling to every generation does not change, but challenges the assumptions of every culture and the preferences of every human being.
Even if we know the words of the Nicene Creed by heart, we may still be tempted to turn Christ into a Savior who fits with our preconceived notions about what we would like from a religion. After all, it is much easier to follow a Lord Who serves our own pursuit of pleasure, power, and pride than it is to embrace One Who calls us to holiness in every dimension of our existence.
It is so easy for people to be blind to the truth about themselves. It is not hard to notice when others do not see the truth about what they do, but it is often quite difficult to notice our own blindness.
Christians must show true compassion toward people who struggle with gender identity without encouraging them to adopt self-definitions that ignore the physical realities of human personhood. Christ invites us to the healing of every dimension of our humanity, which includes embracing the truth about who we are as embodied male or female persons. For all of us, that is a struggle in one way or another. Healing comes through the difficult task of offering every dimension of our lives to the Lord in humility.
We will grow in our participation in the Savior’s victory over sin and death by humbly accepting the opportunities for serving Him that our lives, and the lives of those around us, present. Most of us need look no further than our own families, our parish, and our friends and acquaintances in order to discern quite clearly what God is calling us to do. If we want a Lord Who fits our preconceived notions and calls us to serve Him only in ways that we find convenient, pleasing, or easy, then we will fall into the idolatry of worshiping our own self-centered delusions.
The good news is that Christ does not ask us to conquer sin and death by our own power, for He has already done that. But He does ask us truly to have faith, which requires a faithful life, even as we constantly ask for His mercy and strength to participate as fully as possible in the joy of His resurrection.
Holy Week reveals what kind of Savior Jesus Christ is, and unless we remain squarely focused on Him we will miss the point of these holy days, even as those crowds did. So it is time to tune out our usual distractions and excuses, and enter into the Passion of our Lord by worshiping Him in the services of the Church whenever possible, as well as in every thought, word, and deed this week.
Whenever we experience guilt and shame because of something we have done wrong, we need to ask ourselves a question. Do we feel that way because we are sorrowful that we have disobeyed God or because we cannot stand being less than perfect in our own eyes or those of others?
“Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” That is the only confession that will enable us to prepare for what is to come in the weeks ahead as we enter into the deep mystery of our salvation. As our Savior said, “The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and after He is killed, He will rise on the third day.”
We need the practices of Lent because, in contrast with the glory to which He calls us, we all remain too much like the paralyzed man before his healing. Our weakness before our habitual sins and passions often seems more real to us than do the gracious divine energies that alone bring healing. Perhaps that is because we have far more experience of our own brokenness than of deep personal union with God.
The journey of Lent is not about punishment or legalism, but instead about helping us grow personally into our exalted identity as those called to share in the eternal life of our Lord. It is about turning away from the idolatry of self-centeredness in order to become a more beautiful icon of the divine glory.
The spiritual disciplines of Lent have nothing to do with legalism or punishing ourselves. Instead, they are tools to help us find healing and strength as we wear the robe of light, as we grow in our personal participation in the salvation that the Second Adam has brought to a world of despair and decay. Now is the time to strip ourselves of all that would hold us back from following our Lord to His cross and glorious resurrection, for it is through His Passion that we will enter into the fullness of the glory for which He created us in the first place.
As we prepare for our Lenten journey, we should remember that fasting is not simply a change in diet, but a tool that can help us fight passions that keep us from serving Christ in our neighbors. When done in secret and with humility, fasting weakens the self-centeredness that keeps us from sharing God’s love with others.
Both the prodigal and the elder brother needed to be reconciled with their father. The same is true of each and every one of us this Lent. We will gain the spiritual strength to do so through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and other spiritual disciplines. No matter whether we identify more with the older or the younger son, our Lord’s calling to us is essentially the same: Come home and join in the great celebration of the Heavenly Kingdom.
"Christ surely does not call us all to the rare ministry of a Fool for Christ like St. Xenia, but we may all learn from her example that the humility of embracing our constant need for mercy is at the heart of faithfulness to a Lord Whose Kingdom is not of this world. There must be something of the holy fool in us all, if our eyes are to be opened to a truth that the world does not yet see."
"Christmas will be here soon, and how we respond to the Lord as His birth will make clear the state of our souls. Will we be ready to welcome Christ into our lives at His birth? Will we be ready to accept the invitation to the feast? I certainly hope so, for the good news of Christmas is that in our Lord the fulfillment of all God’s promises is extended to people like us, those poor, blind, and lame with sin, who suffer from the pain, weakness, and corruption of life in the world as we know it, and who are nowhere near perfect."