In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Dear beloved, we remember the hieromartyr and holy unmercenary Saint Blaise, bishop of Sebaste, which is modern day Sivas in Armenia.

The saint was a healer by Divine mercy, and healed people, infants, and even animals. He was martyred by the Eastern Emperor Licinius in 316 AD. The story was that the saint saw a boy choking on a bone as he was led to his execution. Saint Blaise ran past his guards and administered emergency help to the boy and saved him. The saint then quietly went back to his guards and was executed. Saint Blaise, pray for us.

This Sunday will be the feast day of Last Judgment, in which Christ told us in St Matthew 25:31-46, that it is not enough to see the incarnate Word and simply look at ourselves as prodigal children returning to God. Rather, Christ told us that we must truly be God’s children by following the ways of Christ, and to see Christ in EVERYONE, and serve Christ through them. Let us remember all who are in need, and render help and care when we can, however we can. It is not just about donating money. It is also about praying for the deliverance of others in difficulty and need, even for those who oppose God, or who do not like us. This was what Christ challenged us to do, if we say we are God’s children.

Let me tell you a story inspired by the Desert Fathers, forerunners in Christian monasticism.

Two old elders were staying close to each other for many years and never quarreled. One of them said to the other, “Let us start a quarrel like others do.” The other elder said, “But I do not know how to quarrel.” The first elder then suggested, “Why don’t I put a rock here and say this is mine. Then you can say it is yours. Then we will start to quarrel.” The first elder put a large rock in front of them, and said, “This is my rock.” The second elder answered, “No, it is mine.” The first elder said, “If the rock is yours, keep it.” And so, they were still unable to quarrel.

If we profess to love God, who is unseen by us, we must first and at least learn how to love others, who we can see and interact with in person.

In just a few days, we march into Great Lent, which starts from March 7 to April 15, followed by the Holy Week which is from April 16 to April 23.

Great Lent prepares us for the most important feast day of the Church calendar, Pascha (Easter). Great Lent reminds us to keep the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, in perspective. While fasting and prayer become important activities of this period, it is important to remember that we are not to fast and pray as a ritual. Great Lent is for us to examine ourselves, to allow God’s mercy to strengthen us while we clothe ourselves with penance and prayer. This is also why, when we enter into Great Lent, we celebrate the Liturgy of Pre-sanctified Gifts instead, in the spirit of penance and reconciliation. During Great Lent, we pray the Prayer of St Ephraim, with full prostrations as we can.

The days are shorter as we march on in life, the time we have left is limited, and we do not know when our journeys end. Are we ready for Christ when He comes again? If He appears today and we are weighed against our sins, have we kept at least His commandments of loving God, and loving others? Have we greeted everyone with the charity, hospitality and love of a brother or a sister? And if we are not able, have we refrained from hurting others in word or deed, and kept our silence?

In greeting the coming of Great Lent, please pray the prayer of the heart often: “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:
Obadiah 15-18
Psalm 99 LXX
St Matthew 25:31-46
1 Corinthians 8:8-9:2