Renewal Thursday: Through the narrow gate

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. My beloved, we celebrate the Renewal Week, right after the Pascha or Great Feast, for the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Tomorrow we Orthodox celebrate the Theotokos of the Life-giving Spring, where a miracle of giving sight to a blind man by the waters from a church outside Constantinople, built by Leo the Great.

The coming Sunday is also significant as Thomas Sunday. We Orthodox do not consider Saint Thomas as “doubting,” but rather, we see him as the first to profess the 2 natures of Christ – human and divine, when he uttered, “My Lord and my God!” in St John 20:24-29.

Therefore, the profession of faith is an expression of something much deeper, something that says we are searching for the heart of God. And one of the hallmarks is our baptism, a holy sacrament, and a mystery of our God, as told by Christ to Nicodemus of the importance of being born of water and the Spirit, in John 3:1-15.

Beyond that of being born of water and the Spirit, the same verses also tells us that it is difficult for many people to believe even truthful earthly things, so things of our Father in heaven, will be much more esoteric for many indeed. Our Lord has forewarned us that there will be many who will not find reconciliation with our Father, even amongst the learned. It is therefore important to count our blessings of those of us, who can believe with our hearts and souls.

In Acts 2:38-43, we also see an important attribute of true discipleship – being steadfast. Whether in prayer, fellowship, following the apostolic doctrine, or partaking in the Eucharist, let us remember to walk gingerly and steadily, keeping our gaze on the unending and unmoving love of our God.

But all of us do know, that life is never a straight and wide path. It is often a path full of paradoxes, a mingling of sadness and joy, a process of finding clarity and faith in the madness.

Let us remember the calling of Psalm 39:2-4, which tells us that even if we are stuck in the pit of human suffering, our Lord our God does not desert us. He will set us on a solid ground and grant us the consolation of His grace. The same Psalm was also prophetic in announcing that our Lord would put a new song in our mouths, symbolic of Christ coming in our midst, and become the salvation of our souls, the redeemer to reconcile us back to our Father in heaven.

Let me recount the story of a young man called Karol, who experienced first hand, the painful occupation of the Nazis during World War 2 in his homeland. In his darkest moments, he stumbled into the home of a tailor, who handed Karol a book which would change his life forever. Rather than becoming despondent and angry, Karol would go on to a seminary, and become one of the most transformative priests of our time, Pope John Paul the Second, of blessed memory. That transformative book, is the “Dark night of the soul” by 16th century Christian mystic, St John of the Cross.

St John of the Cross himself faced the darkest moments in life, and instead of becoming frustrated and debased, he would contemplate and make pristine his soul, and defined for us what a godly soul would be.

The world today is no longer a simple world. It is fast, aggressive, and brutal. It is also a timely reminder that we can all treasure our time here, and be glad of our blessings despite what we experience sometimes as disappointments. It is also a timely reminder of our Christ who came to us once, and will come again, as foretold in Daniel 7:13-14.

Let us say 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.

Fr Raphael+

Readings today:
Daniel 7:13-14
Psalm 39:2-4 (Greek LXX)
St John 3:1-15
Acts 2:38-43