In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. My beloved, we remember the birth of Saint John the Forerunner (or St John the Baptist). In the Church, we view Saint John as the last of the Old Testament prophets, serving as a bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In our tradition, we believe Saint John descended to Hades and continues to preach the coming of Jesus the Messiah, so that he was the forerunner for Christ in death as much as in life. Accordingly, Saint John appears to those who have not heard of Christ and His Gospels, and preaches to them so that they can find the salvation of our Lord. So, our Lord love His children, believers or not, so much, that He will never forsake us, in life, and in death. Saint John the Forerunner, pray for us.

As we read in Luke 1, we see the birth of Saint John. His birth was a miracle and grace of our God. Archangel Gabriel told Saint John’s father, the priest Zacharias, that Saint John will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the beginning, and bring the spirit and power of the Prophet Elijah, to prepare people for the coming of Christ. And because the priest Zacharias did not at first believe the message of God borne by the Archangel, he was to become mute till the birth of Saint John. It is said, in the Orthodox tradition, that there are always angels around us, guardians, messengers, or otherwise. Therefore, my beloved, let us always welcome everyone as Christ Himself.

One of the great Church Fathers, Saint Basil the Great, wrote, “when people put to death the Bread of Life, a hunger for the bread came upon them.” The Bread of Life was our beloved Lord Jesus Christ, and the hunger for His Word came upon us when we betrayed and killed our Christ. In Amos 8:11-13, our Lord God talked about the famine to hear the Word of the Lord, such that people will search all over, and not find it. My beloved, let us always remember, that we are so separated from our God’s complete holiness by our depravity and sins. This is especially true today, when even seekers and believers search high and low, and the temptations and devices of the devil will delude and deviate us from the narrow gate and truth of our Lord, with false teachings and easy ways, as said in Psalm 4.

Let us always keep our sight on our Lord and God, and remind each other, not to fall sway to the lies and temptations of the devil. Let us always remind ourselves of our own egos and vanity, and see them for what they can be – weak spots to be harvested by the devil. Instead, as Psalm 4 also showed us, to hope completely in the Lord, and offer our righteousness to Him, so that we find the gladness in our hearts, and see the light of our God’s face stamped upon us.

In Romans 13:11-14, Saint Paul reminded us that truly, salvation is nearer to us now than ever. However, we have to discard the works of darkness, and not to indulge in the ways and sins of the world. Instead, let us put on the armor of light, to put on Jesus Christ, bearing His cross, and to put His Word as the center and pillar of our lives.

In Romans 14:1-4, Saint Paul reminded us to welcome anyone and everyone who is weak in faith. One of the hallmarks of true Orthodoxy is the acceptance of others, while holding steadfast to Orthodox teachings and Holy tradition. We Orthodox have the blessing to experience and partake in the visible Orthodox Church. However, God is far greater than what we can fathom, and it is never up to us to judge another person, since God can raise up any person to glory. While we are always reminded to keep the commandments and laws of God, we are always mindful of ourselves as sinners first.

Saint Macarius the Great, Coptic Desert Father said, “One must force himself to prayer when he has not spiritual prayer; and thus God, beholding him thus striving and compelling himself by force, in spite of an unwilling heart, gives him the true prayer of the Spirit.”

Let us call upon Christ beside us, as we remember the Prayer of the Heart, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.

Let us close with a 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:
Amos 8:11-13
Psalm 4 (Greek LXX)
St Luke 1:5-7, 11-20
Romans 13:11-14, 14:1-4