In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Dear beloved, we remember the Holy and All-Praised Apostle Andrew, the First Called (Protokletos), today. Holy Apostle Andrew, pray for us!

In a few days (Dec 6/19), we commemorate St Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra. The sainted hierarch showed us what true faith in Christ can be in our contemporary lives. He was a spiritual father to many, and yet, he would also show great compassion to all those in need, distributing all his inheritance to the poor, and even secretly helping those who were poor so that they would not fall prey to sin. There was a father who fell into poverty, and wanted to sell his 3 daughters to prostitution, but St Nicholas threw 2 bags of gold into the window secretly, and the old man was able to redeem his life, and prevented the disaster of selling his daughters to slavery.

As we walk this journey during the Nativity Fast, let us strengthen one another, let us pray for one another, let us stretch out our hands to one another in need.

St Symeon of Thessaloniki said of the fast, “The Nativity Fast represents the fast undertaken by Moses, who having fasted for forty days and nights, received the Commandments of God on stone tablets. And we, fasting for forty days, will reflect upon and receive from our Theotokos the living Word, not carved upon stone, but born, incarnate, and we will commune of His Divine Body.”

Father among the saints, St Peter Chrysologus, Archbishop of Ravenna, said this profoundly, “The poor stretch out the hand, but God receives what is offered.” Therefore, do not neglect those in need, as we are reminded in St Matthew 10:42, “And whosoever shall give to drink to one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, amen I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”

The Holy Apostle Andrew, whose name in Greek means valor, brother of the Holy, Glorious and All-Laudable Apostle Peter (Simon), together were called by our Lord Jesus Christ, who told them, “come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (St Matthew 4:19).

Two fishermen, simple men, who would rise up in complete abandon to a total faith in their Lord and God, our Lord, Jesus Christ (St John 1:35-51), and lay down their lives to follow our Lord, not in glory of the material world, but to seek the glory of His Kingdom and to bring people to taste the Kingdom of God. And in so doing, they laid down their lives, in faith, in humility, in prayer, showing us of the pastoral vocation, the very pillars of what it means to be servants of God.

In Apostle Paul’s epistles, he too, made known that those who would follow Christ our Lord to vocation, would have to walk on flames and suffering, to bring the beloved children to God (1 Corinthians 4:9-16). As the name of the Holy Apostle Andrew reminded us, the work of being a servant of God, requires less than valor, rooted in faith, repentance, humility, and prayer, relying on simply faith in God, in whatever the journey may unfold (Psalm 27:7-14, LXX 26).

In these days of decay and degradation of the world, we see that the evil one is hard at work, finding every opportunity to gnaw and destroy the faith of God’s people, through destruction from the outside, and even from within. The world will increasingly resonate with a majority that may be cynical of faith, but remember that the Kingdom of God is not a popularity game.

Father among the saints, St John Cassian the Roman, reminded us, “Do not grow cold through the example and the lukewarmness of the multitude, but live as do the few, so that with the few you may deserve to be found in the Kingdom. For many are called, few are chosen.” (St Matthew 22:14)

We must remember, that we who dare to call ourselves Christian, must remember from the holy apostles and those who continued after them till today, many of whom placed faith in God above all else, that there will be hardships and suffering, the more we attempt to walk closer to God, the more we try to grow our faith, the more we struggle to pray, the more we raise our voices in repentance. But we must remember that in all comfortable journeys and difficult journeys, God is right with us as long as we lower ourselves, and place God above all else, and to love His creation. God will not forsake us even as we sometimes forsake ourselves. We are to look forward to being counted in the land of the living (Psalm 27:7-14, LXX 26), through a lifelong commitment to struggling towards God.

Holy father among the saints, St Anthony of Egypt, gave us this lesson, that God is with us all the time, and it is our intention and deeds that would push us away, or draw us closer to God. St Anthony said, “Beloved, know that there is present with you an angel whom God has appointed for each person. This angel, who never sleeps and cannot be deceived, is always present with you; he sees all things and is not hindered by darkness. Know hat with this angel, is God.” It is at once terrifying and comforting.

Elder Porphyrios of Mt Athos, a great contemporary elder of spiritual discernment, in the work “Wounded by Love”, said,?”We should refer all our problems, whatever they are, to God, just as we say in the Divine Liturgy that we ‘commend our whole life to Christ our God.’ We leave everything to Thee, O Lord. Whatever Thou willest. Let Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The person who belongs to Christ turns everything into prayer. He makes both difficulties and tribulations into prayer. Whatever happens to him, he begins, ‘Lord Jesus Christ…’* Prayer is beneficial for everything, even for the simplest of things… “.

God in His infinite Mercy does not shy from us even when we falter and fall. His Light, Truth, and Love will always shine for us. He is always with us (Isaiah 59:1-3). Therefore, we march on in life. There will be weaknesses. There will be falls. There will be pains. There will be tears. But there will be immense joy. There will be love. There will be peace. There will be faith. There will be strength. In all things, we commend to God our Father, just as our Lord and Christ have shown us (Psalm 31:5, LXX 30, St Luke 23:34). In His Most Holy Name, we commend all things, and turn all things into prayer, every day. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.

Let us close by praying the thanksgiving prayer:

It is truly meet to call thee blest, the Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious than the Seraphim, without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word: True Theotokos, we magnify thee.

O virgin Theotokos, rejoice; O Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fr Raphael+

Readings
Isaiah 59:1-3
Psalm 27:7-14 (LXX 26)
St John 1:35-51
1 Corinthians 4:9-16