As the period known as the Triodion begins, marking the beginning of the ten-week journey to Pascha, the Church reminds us that we should not spend our life justifying ourselves to ourselves. In order to be justified by God, we must humbly accept that we are sinners and that we are no better than anyone else. There will always be someone following the rules better than us. If we can embrace this truth, the journey to Pascha will be a blessing to us.
In the story of the Canaanite Woman in Matthew 15.21-28, heard both in the Holy Unction service and the Seventeenth Sunday of Matthew, is more for our healing than for her daughter. Christ, knowing her deep faith and humility, allows us to witness her devotion in the face of her pain and suffering. Her begging not for herself but for her daughter, combined with her willingness to accept whatever crumbs Christ would offer her, should be a lesson to us.
Nobody ever likes to hear about money in Church, but when the Gospel boldly speaks about money, as it does in Matthew 25.14-31, we cannot ignore the relationship that money has with our salvation. According to the Parable of the Talents, how we use (or do not use) the money which God has given to us, will be used when we are judged in the Kingdom of Heaven. We each have been given resources according to our ability, not to hide it but to use it to glorify God.
When we prepare our home for an important visitor, we spend time and effort preparing the house. We clean the house and cook and make sure everything is just right for the important visitor. When it comes to welcoming Christ into our soul, what are we doing to prepare for His visit? Do we clean our soul? Do we prepare our heart? In the story of Zacchaeus, because he knew Christ was approaching, he went out of his way to get ready to see Him.
One day a blind man was begging by the side of the road when Jesus passed by. After inquiring about the commotion, the man knew this was his day to be healed by God. He understood that he may never had another chance to interact with God, so he called out “Son of David, have mercy on me!” He wasn’t about to let the change pass by, so he insisted, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Because the man took advantage of the chance he had with God, he was healed and live a new life continually glorifying God. We have the same chance today, and every day we come to Church.
On the Sunday before Epiphany each year, the Church recalls the opening verses of the Gospel According to St Mark, “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ…” (Mark 1.1) which recalls St John the Baptist’s invitation for us to a life of repentance. Repentance is a word that recalls the imagery of returning to the beginning, where it all began. Repentance is a word that means to change the way with think and look at life.
Choose to fight on God’s Side As the Gospel teaches us, just moments after Christ was born, the world turned against Him. King Herod killed thousands of innocent children in his attempt to kill Christ. Throughout history the world and the Devil has been at war with God, and we are caught in the middle. Although, living in America we do not fully understand what it means to live in persecution, hearing the Gospel stories of persecution and watching the nightly news coverage of persecuted Christians gives us a glimpse of what it means to fight on the side of God in this war.
On the Sunday before Christmas, the Church reminds us of the earthly ancestors of Christ going back to Abraham. This long list of names is not for lack of purpose. In this ancient custom of recalling our ancestors, we recall both those who have been faithful and those who have not been so faithful. This annual custom of the Church of recalling the ancestors of Christ reminds us how much God loves us. From the very beginning of creation, God has always had a relationship with humanity as His People.
In the Parable of the Great Banquet, we learn that God’s invitation for us to join Him around His Table, is dependent upon our free will. As the story goes, after those who made excuses to be excused from the banquet, the Master found others to attend in their place. They were not begged by the Master to reconsider, nor will we be begged by God to reconsider when we use our free will to reject God’s invitation to join Him around His Table in Church. God will not force us to join Him, but He will find others to fill His Church and He will find others to fill our spot in heaven.
Around this time of year, I get many requests from faithful Orthodox Christians, those who may not be in Church often, but recognize that something is special about this time of year, for some sort of “something” they can do special to prepare for Christmas. Often this is in response to their coming into contact with a western advent calendar, or a variety of Christian holiday countdown activities. The same, of course, is true during Great Lent, but for some reason I tend to get extra frustrated this time of year.