In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Dear beloved, Christ is born, let us glorify Him! As we walk in the afterfeast of the Nativity, we remember the Apostle Nicanor the Deacon today. Father among the saints, Apostle Nicanor, pray for us!
As the new year unfolds before us, we often, like many, think of what we hope to achieve this year. The world around us can shape and dent us, because we are not unmoving and rock-solid in our faith unto God. We can be persuaded and sidetracked by the many wailings and hisses of the evil one, who is relentless in his attempts at drawing us away from God.
From the 12 holy Apostles of Christ, came the first deacons of Christ, the 70 holy men, such as Apostle Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Hermas, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas, etc.
The Holy Disciple Nicanor and the seventy were chosen because they were filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom (St Luke 10:19-21).
There are many instances in our lives, that we may have woefully perceived that the mighty and the rich command over many things, and the impoverished and the meek are trampled upon. In moments of weakness, we may even imagine that perhaps strength and wealth are important. But is strength and wealth that important?
However, Father among the saints, St Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, the 4th century Cappadocian father, reminded us just what we really need. He said,
“We say to God: “Give us bread.” Not delicacies or riches, nor magnificent purple robes, golden ornaments, and precious stones, or silver dishes. Nor do we ask Him for landed estates, or military commands, or political leadership. We pray neither for herds of horses and oxen or other cattle in great numbers, nor for a host of slaves. We do not say, give us a prominent position in assemblies or monuments and statues raised to us, nor silken robes and musicians at meals, nor any other thing by which the soul is estranged from the thought of God and higher things; no – but only bread! Give us bread – that is to say, let me have food through just labor. For, if God is justice, anyone who procures food for themselves through covetousness cannot have his bread from God. You are the master of your prayer if your abundance does not come from another’s property and is not the result of somebody else’s tears; if no one is hungry or distressed because you are fully satisfied. For the bread of God is, above all, the fruit of justice.”
It is the same thing we petition, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, which Father among the saints, St John Chrysostom (the Golden Mouth) said is the crown of all prayers.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we too ask for only our daily bread, which is foremost, seeking first the righteousness of God and His Kingdom, and seeking communion with Him; and second, expecting only today’s bread out of our rightful labors, and not coveting tomorrow’s bread or even more than bread. After all, we are to pray for what we need from God with thankfulness, rather than what we desire (Philippians 4:6).
Do we store up for ourselves, at the expense of others? Do we bless others rather than indulge in ourselves? We read from Proverbs 11:24-30, that we are to seek life in God, not drown in things.
As we reflect on Romans 8:3-9, we are to relieve ourselves of the burdens of living in the flesh, that is, according to our passions which afflict us. Rather, we are to put on the spiritual armor and curative medicine of repentance and prayer, and live according to the Spirit instead.
Holy father among the saints, Russian father St Seraphim of Sarov once said,
“In spite of our sinfulness, in spite of the darkness surrounding our souls, the Grace of the Holy Spirit, conferred by baptism in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, still shines in our hearts with the inextinguishable light of Christ … and when the sinner turns to the way of repentance the light smooths away every trace of the sins committed, clothing the former sinner in the garments of incorruption, spun of the Grace of the Holy Spirit. It is this acquisition of the Holy Spirit about which I have been speaking.”
And it is such as what the father St Seraphim of Sarov said, that the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, that defines us, and that defined the exemplary holy deacons such as Apostle Nicanor and many others, in complete unison with the bishops and priests, in service to the faithful, out of nothing but love of God and all the people created in His image (St John 13:35, 1 John 3:11).
We reflect on Leviticus 25:35-43, which we are reminded first to submit to God, and care for those who are lesser than us in means, and never to impose upon them with might, but with love – for they too are loving creations and servants of God. Likewise, in Deuteronomy 15:7-8, let us always remind ourselves, God has always intended us to be grateful for His blessings upon us, and to bless others with the love that God has given us.
And living in the light of the Holy Spirit, is not something restricted to holy monks in monasteries. St Seraphim of Sarov said to a layman, that whether one is a monk or a layman, is of no importance, but that both live in the light of the Holy Spirit.
Father among the saints, St Symeon the New Theologian, taught us what is the first, and daily step, towards the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, in The Philokalia (Volume 4),
“Through repentance the filth of our foul actions is washed away. Then, we participate in the Holy Spirit, not automatically, but according to the faith, humility and inner disposition of the repentance in which our soul is engaged. For this reason it is good to repent each day as the act of repentance is unending.”
This new year, perhaps it is important for us to always allow ourselves breathing space and time, to be able to step back and examine our lives and our pace. Rather than focus on the pursuits of wealth and might, let us remember that first and foremost, we are soldiers of Christ, pushing on to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. Let us constantly remind ourselves, that whenever a figment of thought arises with even a sprinkling of pride, submit ourselves to repentance and prayers, for every corner and turn where we succumb to our pride, is a step away from God.
Let us then, keep the Holy Name close to us, as we acknowledge our failings before our God and Christ, everyday, “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.
St Luke 10:19-21