In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. We commemorate Father among the saints, St John Chrysostom, may the holy saint pray for us. Let us also prepare for the Nativity Fast as we labor towards the glorious Nativity. Amen.
One of the 3 great hierarchs, ecumenical teachers, St John Chrysostom, along with St Basil the Great and St Gregory the Theologian, was renowned as a defender of Orthodoxy, a great preacher, as well as one of the fathers who wrote extensively on monasticism. In the holy father’s life was one of preaching the Gospel to many, ministering to the weak, and defending the Faith at all costs, till he was exiled and reposed along a tortuous journey in 407, where his last words were “Glory be to God for all things.”
As we step into the fast leading up to the glorious Nativity of our Lord, we must remember who we are, what we are to stand for, and what we are up against.
Faith can mean many things to different people.
To some, faith may become a fancy word, a dangling decoration, hung on the neck like a show piece, but without the core, substance, and mettle of a relentless leaning on God. It is sad to observe that in some quarters, increasingly, faith becomes less and less meaningful, pandering to the whims, passions and fancies of everybody, rather than to be the shining True North that guides everyone to God.
This is not faith, but a mere pretender, and not what we as Orthodox Christians pursue.
To our father among the saints, St John Chrysostom, there was no compromise to what our Lord’s teachings were, and the saint spared no effort and sacrificed his whole life to preaching the same unadulterated Truth, at the expense of his own life and comfort, persecuted by the heretics and the lost. And the saint demonstrated his true faith in God till the last, “Glory be to God for all things.”
It is difficult to be a Christian, and even more so, an Orthodox one, today.
The world, beguiled by the lures of the evil one, tempts and deludes us from every corner, in every minute. We do not merely fight with physical and visible enemies, but invisible ones (Ephesians 6:12, “12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”)
The trouble with our spiritual journeys is that often, because of our lack of true humility, we place too much “faith” on ourselves, rather than truly rely and lean on God. That is how the evil one can twist and delude us and even lure us into “prelest”, which is a serious form of delusion where we believe we are spiritually attained, when we are truly and utterly in perpetual insanity and delusion.
Therefore, St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, in the adapted work “Unseen warfare”, together with St Theophan the Recluse, taught us just how dangerous we can be to ourselves, and how the evil one can make use of our own pride and minds to steer us away from God, even unto the end (Proverbs 11:1-5).
What then, are some of the basics we must remember as pilgrims fighting with unseen enemies, in this epic spiritual battle for our eternity?
First, we must never rely on ourselves on anything. Next, be completely trusting only in God (Hebrews 7:26-8:2). Third, struggle and strive without giving up. And lastly, pray unceasingly.
The more intellectual and curious we are, the more we may fall prey to our own delusions in perpetuity. St Nicodemus taught 4 more ways through God’s Mercy, to acquire a “disbelief in ourselves.”
A. Keep a constant reminder that we are nothing worthy and through our own actions will not be worthy of His Kingdom. St John Chrysostom said, “he alone knows himself in the best way possible who thinks of himself as being nothing.”
B. Pray humble and heartfelt prayers to God for His Mercy, for genuine and penitent prayers are God’s Gift to us.
C. Remember that we are incapable of defending ourselves through our own strengths, to the countless spiritual enemies, seen and unseen, because some may even fool us with angelic disguises. As we reflect on St John 10:9-16, let us remember that we face false teachers in human form, and there are unseen enemies around us, all the time. The closer we attempt to go towards God, the fiercer the battles we will fight with these dark forces.
D. And should we fall into transgression, recognize quickly this weakness. St Nicodemus encouraged us, saying, “For God allows you to fall for the very purpose of making you more aware of your weakness, so that you may thus not only learn to despise yourself, but because of your great weakness may wish to be despised also by others. Know that without such desire it is impossible for this beneficial self-disbelief to be born and take root in you. This is the foundation and beginning of true humility, since it is based on realization, by experience, of your impotence and unreliability.” (Micah 6:6-8)
Lest we fall into yet another form of pride, we must also not allow ourselves to indulge in excessive grief, or “beating up ourselves”. St Nicodemus also taught that such excessive grief is not a virtue, but it is also a form of pride and relying too much of one self. When we fall, we are not to be astounded, because we should recognize that we are not as good as we imagine we are. And then, quickly center on our trust in God again.
In all things, remember that the Church is a hospital, providing us with the spiritual healing we need to go on our personal epic battles with seen and unseen enemies. The Church is not a social club. The Church is our hospital, where clergy and laity alike, gather together in unison, to repent, to pray, to receive the sacraments, and to heal after every wound and battle.
St John of Kronstadt, whom we commemorate in our Liturgy, said, “When you are in the temple, remember that you are in the living presence of the Lord God, that you stand before His face, before His eyes, in the living presence of the Mother of God, of the holy angels, and of the first-born of the Church— that is, our forefathers, the prophets, Apostles, hierarchs, martyrs, reverend Fathers, the righteous, and all the saints. Always have the remembrance and consciousness of this when you are in the temple, and stand with devotion, taking part willingly and with all your heart in the Divine service.”
Let us pray, “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 John 10:9-16