St Melania the Younger: Agape of the faithful
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Dear beloved, we remember the apodosis of the Nativity of Christ our Lord and Redeemer, and on January 19, we also celebrate the Holy Theophany of our Lord Jesus Christ, or His baptism by Saint John the Forerunner. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us. Our Most Holy Theotokos, and Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Today we celebrate also the feast day of one of the Desert Mothers, the venerable Saint Melania the Younger. She came from a rich and powerful family. She was married, and had 2 children who died very young. When her parents died, she left Rome and became an ascetic, who cared for the poor and sick, and visited the imprisoned. She gave away her wealth to churches, monasteries, and the poor, over a span of several years. She led the blessed life of an ascetic, and had only meals on Saturdays and Sundays. And she was gifted as a calligrapher. She reposed eventually after some time as a mother superior to many young nuns, with the words of Job at her last breath, “As the Lord wishes, so let it be.” Venerable Saint Melania the Younger, pray for us all.
We are, gratefully, reminded by Saint Melania the Younger, the need to express “agape”, that of charity and love. Charity is a profound expression of true love, that is not deeds done out of prideful pity, but one of embracing the needs of others, and lovingly carrying out such deeds to fulfill those needs, and also, to spur spiritual growth in others with love. Saint Paul taught us that love is greater than all spiritual gifts of healing, wonderworking, prophesy, and so on (1 Corinthians 12:27-31). In the same Epistles, we read that if we are seriously and truthfully seeking the heart of Christ, we would express kindness to others, with an even temper, and never judging the sins of others (1 Corinthians 13:4-6). The reality is that we can never nurture true charity and love out of our own weak wills. It must be a spiritual gift of God’s mercy to us, that allow us to express this “agape” towards others, as part of our spiritual journey towards Theosis.
On January 19, we remember the Holy Theophany, or Baptism, of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Saint John the Forerunner. While Saint John baptized in water only, in the Jewish baptism of bodily cleansing, Christ imparted to us through His holy apostles, the baptism of water and the Holy Spirit, which not only cleanses us in the bodily sense, but also unites us to Christ Himself (John 3:3-5). We share in our own baptism, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Our sins are to die, as Christ died on the Cross for us. Our sins are to be buried, as we walk in pilgrimage towards God. We find a spiritual resurrection, where we are made new again. Baptism is one of the most important ecclesial events for a Christian, because it is the first step a person chooses to walk towards God, out of his own free will, under the mercy of God. We leave behind a deadness, and a new path of life, towards God.
Saint John Chrysostom, father among the saints, said of baptism, “God forgives our sins and does not force us to parade them in front of others. He seeks one thing only: that he who benefits by the forgiveness may learn the greatness of this gift.”
Baptism is only the first step for a Christian journey of life. Church fathers would refer to the mystery of Reconciliation, or Confession, as a renewal to the mystery of baptism. Through regular reconciliation, we can partake in the mystery of communion, receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. It is often an exhilarating process to relieve the heavy burden of our sins through reconciliation, and a joyous one, to have a light heart to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
Let us remember this prayer of the heart as we reflect on the Theophany of Christ our Lord, and the reconciliation we make towards our God. “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.
Psalm 50:2-6 LXX
St John 3:3-5
1 Corinthians 12:27-31, 13:4-6