From the time Jesus began to teach, He invited us to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4.17) This invitation from our Lord is crucial to our experiencing His love as heaven rather than hell. Since our ancestors fell trap to the devil’s temptation in the Garden, we humans have been looking at the world through our fallen eyes with our fallen human condition. When Jesus invites us to repent, He is challenging us to change our mindset, to change our view point, and look at the world from God’s point of view.
I encounter many faithful Christians, both Orthodox and non Orthodox, who lament the various temptations they feel throughout the day. Look here. Do this. Say that. God there. So many temptations, such frustration. Many think that God had promised to protect us from temptation. Many believe, ‘just believe in God more, and He will place a magical sphere of protection around your mind.’ Of course, living just a few days as a believer in Christ teaches us this is just not the case. Temptation never ceases, but that is to be expected. Jesus was also tempted.
Many times I have heard that Jesus died as punishment for our sins. I have heard people say that He had to be killed (sacrificed) so we could live. I keep hearing about the death of Jesus as if that were the reason He came. The Church teaches He came to unite humanity with divinity, which is our ultimate salvation. We call it being in communion with God, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.
Take a moment and read today’s Gospel reading:
Today is the Feast of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, and since I personally know the current Bishop of Nyssa, today always plays a special reminder for me about our ancient unbroken history as Orthodox Christians. We speak about Apostolic Tradition, but we rarely take notice of it when it occurs in our presence.
“After me comes a man who ranks before me.” (John 1.30) With these words John the Baptist pointed his disciples toward Jesus Christ. He had prepared them to seek the Messiah, Who is Christ. He had promised them that someone greater than he was coming. Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of Epiphany, the Baptism of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. As we have done for some many decades before, we honored the Feast by blessing the Spring Bayou and the entire Tampa Bay Area. In a small way, we did what John the Baptist did so many centuries ago.
In the next few days, Orthodox Christians will be celebrating the Feast of Epiphany (also called Theophany) which commemorates the Baptism of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. During this Feast many references will be made to repentance. "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" But, what does it mean to repent?
We will hear a great deal about John the Baptist in the next few days as he is a central player in the Baptism of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. His Feast will be celebrated on Sunday, the day after Epiphany (also called Theophany). It always astounds me what a profound example of humility John the Baptist offers to us for our Christian journey. His mission given by God, was to make straight the way of the Lord. He is called the Forerunner, and his entire mission (on earth and in Hades according to his apolytikon) was to prepare people to see Christ.
Throughout the day yesterday on social media, I kept reading wishes for prosperity in the New Year. It got me to thinking. Prosperity in what? As Christians we are told by God to deny ourselves. We are told to die in order that we could live. We are told to not worry about where our food was going to come from since we were more important than the birds. So, every time I see a Christian wishing prosperity upon someone, it makes me wonder.
Most of us enter the New Year making promises for a better life, but normally our promises are based upon the physical blessings of life rather than the spiritual. This year, take the lead from St John the Baptist, who Christ called the greatest man ever to be born of a woman. St John the Baptist understood just how unworthy he was of the blessings that God had for him. Focusing in the New Year on our soul and growing closer to God rather than on the physical blessings will be a worthy resolution indeed.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,