In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. My beloved, today is the feast day of conception of Saint John the Forerunner, and to some, the Afterfeast of the nativity of our Theotokos.

As we have read from the Gospel of Saint Luke, Saint John was blessed and gifted by God, to the priest Zacharias, even though his wife Elizabeth was barren. The Archangel Gabriel announced to Zacharias that he should call this son “John”. And because Zacharias was doubtful, the Archangel sealed the voice of Zacharias and made him speechless, until the fulfillment of the birth of Saint John. The Forerunner was to show the world of the coming of Christ, and to fulfill the mystery of Christ’s presence with us, especially in the baptism. Saint John the Forerunner, and our beloved Theotokos, mother of God, pray for us sinners.

Saint Paul, in his teachings in Ephesians 6:10-20, we see that we are not facing the wrath of ordinary humans in our fight against sin and suffering. He warned us, in this dark ages, we are fighting against supernatural forces of evil. The dark forces will have power over this world until Christ comes again in glory. While we have been blessed in the armor of our baptism and chrismation, our journey is not complete. Life is a constant struggle and we constantly fight against our own inner demons that draws us to sin and away from God. And yet, without such struggles, we cannot strive towards God. Saint Paul told us, to pray unceasingly, to hold on to the Word of God, and to trust in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

The LXX Psalm 63 also showed us, that there will be evildoers out there who will rejoice at the destruction of the faithful, but God does not ignore the cries of righteous people.

Likewise, as our God as said Himself, in Isaiah 56:1-8, we must hold on to the laws of God, and to draw near to the holy mountain, which is the Church itself. It is so gratifying, that God Himself said that regardless of our race or condition, as long as we love God and follow His ways, He will draw us to His holy mountain, and give us solace and joy in prayer. God has no bias towards ALL His creation. Let us remember our baptismal joy, and continue to draw near to God.

Let me tell of a story I have read. A very poor woman called a radio station and asked for aid. An evil man heard the radio program and decided to disturb the poor woman. He found out her address, and got his secretary to send some food to this poor woman, with the instruction that if the poor woman asked, say that the food is from the devil. When they arrived at the poor woman’s home with the food, the poor woman joyfully took the food into her home. The secretary of the evil man asked the poor woman, “Don’t you want to know who sent you the food?” The poor woman replied, “No, it doesn’t matter because when God orders, even the devil obeys.”

While we contest and wrestle with our own inner demons, let us also, with a sinner’s humility, understand that every one of us also carry within us, the image of God. A great Orthodox saint, Saint John of Kronstadt, said this so well, “Never confuse the person, formed in the image of God, with the evil that is in him, because evil is but a chance misfortune, illness, a devilish reverie. But the very essence of the person is the image of God, and this remains in him despite every disfigurement.”

These are troubling times, as have been revealed by the Book of Revelation. But the end of days are not yet, and none of us will know exactly when. The story in the Gospel of St Matthew 25:1-13, reminded us to be ready for the second coming of Christ. Do we lapse into endless and meaningless enjoyment and material pursuits, or do we keep our attention on our salvation and our afterlife? Let us again remember Saint Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 6:18, to pray unceasingly. Let us in all times of our life, in moments of busyness, in times of difficulty and danger, remember and pray, the Prayer of the Heart, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Let us pray 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.

Blessings
Fr Raphael+

Readings today:
Isaiah 56:1-8
Psalm 63 (LXX)
St Matthew 25:1-13
Ephesians 6:10-20