In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. My beloved, we remember Saints Photios and Aniketos of Nicomedea today.
Saint Aniketos professed his faith before the tyrant Diocletian, and was beaten with rods so hard his bones showed through his wounds. His nephew Saint Photios came and comforted him and was tortured together, and both of them were in jail for 3 years. After much torture, they were thrown into a furnace, and they died in prayer. Miraculously, their bodies were unharmed by the fire.
Saint Aniketos is one of the Holy Unmercenaries, which meant that he did not receive payment for good deeds, especially doctors who went against the norms, and tended to the sick free of charge.
In 3 days, we celebrate the great feast day of the Dormition, or falling asleep, of our Most Holy Blessed Theotokos, Mother of God. Just as St Maximus Kapsokalivitis said to St Gregory the Sinaite, that when we ask our beloved Theotokos for the grace of inner prayer with great sincerity, she will ask her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and we will find this inner peace and unceasing prayer. Likewise, in difficult situations, let us remember both our Lord Jesus, and His mother our Theotokos.
Beloved Most Holy Theotokos, Saints Photios and Aniketos of Nicomedea, pray for us.
As we reflect on the many natural and man-made disasters and tragedies around the world, let us remember that even as we do not deserve it as sinners, we have been exceedingly blessed to be unharmed and in peace, with the mercy of our Lord. As we reflect on that, let us remember James 2:14-26, which tells us that faith cannot exist without works. Some people may tell you that faith is all that is necessary. But in James 2:16, we know that if we cannot even lend a helping hand in love to another person in deep suffering, we do not have love. And if we do not have love in our hearts, we cannot have faith, which is the center of what Christ said, to LOVE God, and to LOVE others as ourselves. Just as we undeservedly receive mercy and grace from God, let us extend the same to others whenever and however we can. Sometimes it is simply a kindly look, a warm handshake, gentle comforting words, or even serving a small meal.
The whole basis of Orthodox faith is about Theosis, or the partaking of the Divine Nature. However esoteric it may be, the simple truth is that, we should always remember God in our minds and in our hearts, through prayer and thanksgiving.
Mark 1:35 tells us that Christ too, went away to pray by Himself. There is always a time and season for everything, such as what we read from Ecclesiastes 3. So there is a time to worship together as a family at large, and a time to worship alone. Likewise, in Psalm 5:3-4, we see that we should greet our God in the morning with prayer. Just we would greet our loved ones every morning at home, surely our Father and God, would delight in our greetings of love. Every day, let us try to pray the Morning Daily Rule, which takes us no more than 10 minutes, a quiet time with God. And in other moments at work or at leisure, let us keep the prayer of the heart: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. God is pleased when we pray.
We read from Ezekiel 24-27, God promised that He will fill us with a new Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to regenerate and renew us. When we are tempted by the devils, the Holy Spirit will prick our conscience, to remind us of where God’s light is. When we are sad and depressed, the Holy Spirit will prompt us gently, through our surroundings or people around us, to work God’s mercy on us. God has given humans the gift of tears, so that we will always be able to return to God in our sad and difficult times. In the same verses from Ezekiel, let us never to have a heart of stone, because that makes us no different from a cold statue, or an unfeeling piece of furniture. What makes us human, and what makes us capable of redemption and salvation, is a feeling heart, and tears from our eyes.
Let us close with a thanksgiving prayer, in remembrance of our Theotokos, and ask her to intercede for us with our Lord Jesus Christ, the grace to inner 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 5:1-9 (LXX)
St Mark 1:29-35
St James 2:14-26