20140109_stephenproto_sqIn the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Dear beloved, let us remember the Holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen. St Stephen, pray for us!

Christ is Born, Glorify Him!

Through this journey we lift up the feast we know as the Nativity in the Flesh of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. We confess our faith in Him, and we glorify Him and hope in Him, seeking to become divine children of God the Father through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us.

When we embraced God’s love through holy baptism, we confessed our faith by pronouncing that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, just as we glorify Him in His Nativity. And when we receive our baptism, we discard all other beliefs or idols and trust in the True God. We are encouraged by 1 Corinthians 12:3, which says “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, the Holy Spirit dwells in us when we confess His Holy Name and trust in Him, and draws us closer to God through our humility, our repentance, our prayers. This ability to profess that Jesus Christ is our Lord, is a divine Gift of the Holy Spirit. We do not take this gift lightly.

Repentance too, is a Gift from God. When we repent, we have discarded our egos and our pride, and come before God on our knees (Isaiah 55:6-7, Psalm 130:1-5, LXX 129, and St Matthew 21:33-42).

This is the beauty of the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”, which encompasses all that we hope when we celebrate the Holy Nativity, as we glorify Him, and repent of our sins.

About half a year ago, Romanian Elder Justin Parvu, Archimandrite and abbot of the Petru Vodă Monastery, reposed. May his memory be eternal. Elder Justin’s counsels are honest and touches the heart directly. He said,

“Living as an Orthodox Christian means self-sacrifice; not for one minute, or one day; not for a week, a month, or a year, but for a lifetime; day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. Many of us are Orthodox only through our baptismal certificate, while we have forgotten to become Orthodox in the way we live and keep the right faith.”

To those who ask us, what is the role of monastics, and what use are they to the world? Father Justin said,

“The role of a monk is to be a model of prayer, a burning light in the eyes of the world, a witness who sacrifices his life for the Truth.”

Therefore, these beacons that populate many corners of the world, are our burning lights, our models, our witnesses unto God, to keep soldiering on, to keep our pace. We pray unto God that these holy elders and beacons are always lamps who sacrifice themselves for us, to light our paths closer to God.

The first Christian martyr, Archdeacon Stephen, showed us in Acts 6-7, of how a Christian would soldier on and forgive the wrongs of others, just as Christ our Lord showed us when He was on the Cross. St Stephen was stoned by his persecutors, and he cried out to God, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit! Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”

The Holy Protomartyr Stephen knew what it mean to forgive and trust in God, just as the Proverbs 24:1 line reminded us, “do not be envious of evil men.”

Serbian saint St Nikolai Velimirovich gave a discourse on discerning what is important, and what is not, so that we will not be distracted by the world, but focus our attention on seeking God.

St Nikolai asked some questions which help us put things in perspective as we live in the world, and are frequently bombarded by distractions:

“Does anyone envy the leper? No one. Why then do some envy the evil person when evil is a greater sickness than leprosy? Leprosy is a disease of the flesh but evil is a disease of the soul. A leper can be healthy within while he is unhealthy externally, but an evil man can be healthy on the outside but is sick inside, with a sick heart.”

“Does the physician envy the sick person? He does not. Neither does the righteous one envy the sinner. If you do not know whether you are righteous, examine your heart and ask if you envy the sinner. If you envy the sinner then you are not righteous. If you do not envy the sinner, then rejoice, righteous child of God.”

The Holy Protomartyr Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit as he did not envy the sinners who stoned him, and instead, prayed for their sins. St Stephen showed us the true Gift of the Holy Spirit, when we can profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and to forgive our debtors, just like when we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Remember our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in this Nativity, and throughout our lives, “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.

Fr Raphael+

Readings
Isaiah 55:6-7
Psalm 130:1-5 (LXX 129)
St Matthew 21:33-42
Acts 6:8-15; 7:1-5, 47-60