“One can see them scattered in the desert waiting for Christ like loyal sons watching for their father, or like an army expecting its emperor, or like a sober household looking forward to the arrival of its master and liberator. For with them there is no solicitude, no anxiety for food and clothing. There is only the expectation of the coming of Christ in the singing of hymns. Consequently, when one of them lacks something necessary, he does not go to a town or village, or to a brother, or friend, or relation, or to parents, or children, or family to procure what he needs, for his will alone is sufficient. When he raises his hands to God in supplication and utters words of thanksgiving with his lips, all these things are provided for him in a miraculous way.” (Benedicta Ward, The Lives of the Desert Fathers, p 50)
“Believe that for our sins this only begotten Son of God came down to earth from heaven, assumed this humanity with feelings like ours, and was born of holy Virgin and of Holy Spirit, since the incarnation took place, not through an illusion or mirage, but in reality. He did not only pass through the Virgin, as through a channel, but actually took flesh from her, actually ate as we do, actually drank as do, and was actually nourished with milk. For if the incarnation was an illusion, salvation is also an illusion.” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly: Vol.56, Num.2,2012, p 152)
As we continue through the Nativity Fast, we know this season before Christmas, is a time for all of us to confess our sins before God and to acknowledge our need for God’s forgiveness. Archimandrite Hierotheos Vlachos gives us a sense of the deep profoundness of confession. It is not merely listing what commandments we have disobeyed. He writes:
“Profound repentance is the entrance for the uncreated grace of God to man’s heart; it burns passions and makes man a bearer of Revelation.” (The Illness and Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition, p 58)
True repentance is humbling our self before God, emptying our self to allow God to enter into our hearts. It is the realization that I cannot save myself or make myself into God. Only by cooperating with God, and recognizing God as Lord, can I attain theosis. Deification is possible in this lifetime, on this earth, but I must completely open my heart to God to allow this to happen. This is true repentance.
Enumerating sins in confession might lead to true repentance or might result from it, but it is not equivalent to it.
“First, God has created the world…To claim that we are God’s creation is to affirm that God’s voice is constantly speaking within us and saying to us, ‘And God saw everything he had made, and behold, it was very good’ (Gen. 1:31). The Fathers state that even the devil is good by nature and evil only through misuse of his free will. Then there is a second element, inseparable from the first: this world is fallen – fallen in its entirety; it has become the Kingdom of the prince of this world.
The Puritan world view, so prevalent within the American society in which I live, assumes that tomato juice is always good and that alcohol is always bad; in effect tomato juice is not fallen. Similarly, the television advertisements tell us, ‘Milk is natural’, in other words, it is not fallen. But in reality tomato juice and milk are equally part of the fallen world, along with everything else. All is created good; all is fallen; and finally – this is our third ‘fundamental acclamation’ – all is redeemed. It is redeemed through the incarnation, the cross, the resurrections and ascension of Christ, and through the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. Such is the intuition that we receive from God with gratitude and joy: our vision of the world as created, fallen, redeemed. Here is our theological agenda, our key to all the problems which today trouble the world.” (Fr. Alexander Schmemann in Living Icons by Michael Plekon, p 192)
The Gospel lesson of Luke 13:10-17 –
Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.
And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.” The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound-think of it-for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath? And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.
Roman Catholic biblical educator Marielle Frigge comments:
“Healing and exorcism stories in the gospels function as signs pointing to the truth of Jesus’ claim that the kingdom of God is beginning now, in Jesus’ person and work. Because first century Jews believed that any kind of illness was caused by evil powers, every healing performed by Jesus indicated that God was indeed at work in him, overcoming the rule of evil and establishing the rule of power of God (kingdom of God ) in this world. These accounts bear witness that the power of God has truly entered the world in Jesus, thus pointing to him as Yahweh’s chosen anointed agent.” (Beginning Biblical Studies, p 160)
“So then, let us flee (self-indulgence) as quickly as possible, lest we voluntarily choke ourselves to death. And so, if anyone baited in the past has either amassed a dust heap of riches for himself through acts of injustice and imprisoned his mind by worrying over them, or defiled his nature with the indelible filth of lasciviousness, or surfeited himself with other offense, let him, while there is still time, before he comes the final destruction, cast off the greater part of his burdens. Before his ship sinks, let him jettison the cargo he ought not have accumulated. Let him imitate those who work on the sea. For these men, even if they are transporting necessities on the ship, when a raging tempest arises from the sea and threatens to engulf the ship that is loaded down with cargo, as quickly as they can, they jettison most of what weighs them down and are unsparing in casting their merchandise into the sea. They do this to raise the ship above the waves and possibly give only their souls and the bodies a chance to escape from the danger.
Now it is surely far more appropriate for us rather than for them to think and act in this way. For they lose in an instant whatever they jettison and eventually fall into poverty by force of circumstance. But as for us, the more we jettison our wicked burdens, the more we shall accumulate even better riches for the soul. For fornication and all such things are utterly destroyed when they are jettisoned and are brought to non-existence when washed away by our tears. And then holiness and justice take their place, and being light things, they are not likely to be engulfed by any waves. And yet, when money is jettisoned in a good way, it is in fact not lost to those who have jettisoned it and flung overboard. Rather, as if transported to other, safer ships – the stomachs of the poor – it is saved, and its arrival in the safe harbor is anticipated, and it is kept for those who jettisoned it as an ornament, not a source of danger.” (St. Basil the Great, On Christian Doctrine and Practice, pp 172-173)
We have not been saved from death and judgment in order to engage in self indulgence, but only that we might live to serve and love others.
I saw the prayer below in a New Skete News email, and thought it worth sharing with those looking for a prayer of thanksgiving:
O generous Lord be mindful of our loved ones and all who are away from home; and for members of the military, for aid workers, and peace-keepers: for those who will travel this week, that God will guide their travels, preserve them from harm and lead them home safely. Gracious God, for the preoccupations that burden our minds and for all that we keep in our hearts, accept our thanksgiving on this day. Keep us ever mindful of those who lack the necessities of life and make us generous in sharing all that we have. Grant us rest and relaxation of this moment spent with family and friends. Bless the food, friendship, and hospitality we will share and fill our hearts with gratitude and love through Jesus Christ our Lord… Amen
[from an Ecumenical Vespers of Thanksgiving celebrated yearly in the village of Cambridge, NY]
“St. John of Kronstadt says, ‘Prayer is a state of continual gratitude.’ If I do not feel a sense of joy in God’s creation, if I forget to offer the world back to God with thankfulness, I have advanced very little upon the Way. I have not yet learnt to be truly human. For it is only through thanksgiving that I can become myself. Joyful thanksgiving, so far from being escapist or sentimental, is on the contrary entirely realistic – but with the realism of one who sees the world in God, as the divine creation.” (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, p 55)
Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
“One of the fathers told the following story, saying, ‘I was in the room for receiving strangers, and some poor folk came to receive charity at eventide on the Sabbath, and there was among them only one man who had a mat to lie upon when they lay down; and he threw it down under him, and then reclined upon it. Now it was exceedingly cold, and he took a half of the mat from under him and covered himself over therewith, and he reclined on the other half. And I went out during the night and heard him complaining about the cold, and then the man turned to himself and said, ‘I give thanks unto You, O Lord, because how many are the rich men, and the owners of possessions who are at this present moment lying in irons, and in afflictions, and in prisons, and there are, moreover, others whose feet have been put into the stocks, who are unable to turn round to any side, while I, like a king, can spread out my feet and lie down, and besides this, I can go wherever I so please.’ And when he had said these things, now I was standing up listening to him, I went in and told them to the brethren, and they benefited by the words of that poor man.” (The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, pp 218-219)
As we continue our sojourn to the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, here are some words from the Old Testament Scriptures for us to consider about how to keep the lenten season. In America we are moving through the season of family gatherings, dinners, Thanksgiving and Christmas parties, festal baking, spiked eggnogs and punches. So what should we Orthodox in America be thinking about?
Prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving with righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than wealth with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to lay up gold. For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life, but those who commit sin and do wrong are their own worst enemies. (Tobit 12:8-10)
Nevertheless, be patient with someone in humble circumstances,
and do not keep him waiting for your alms.
Help the poor for the commandment’s sake,
and in their need do not send them away empty-handed.
Lose your silver for the sake of a brother or a friend,
and do not let it rust under a stone and be lost.
Lay up your treasure according to the commandments of the Most High,
and it will profit you more than gold.
Store up almsgiving in your treasury,
and it will rescue you from every disaster;
better than a stout shield and a sturdy spear,
it will fight for you against the enemy. (Sirach 29:8-13)