In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Dear beloved, Christ is Risen! We remember the second bishop of Jerusalem, Apostle St Symeon the Kinsman of our Lord, after Holy Apostle St James the first bishop was martyred. Holy Apostle of the Seventy, St Symeon, father among the saints, pray for us!
The holy St Symeon was the son of Cleopas, the younger brother of St Joseph the Betrothed. When St Symeon was a teenager, he witnessed the miracles of Jesus Christ our Lord, and believed. Eventually he became one of the 70 Holy Disciples. When the first bishop of Jerusalem the Holy Apostle St James was martyred, the faithful elected St Symeon as the bishop. We read of St Symeon from Holy Scripture, “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Symeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul” (Acts 13:1). When the saint was 100 years old, he was seized by pagans, tortured over a long period of time, and crucified.
One of the hallmarks of Christianity is the love of God, and God’s commandment for us to love one another. Love is profound, because the love of God transcends all things, and permeates to all His creation. Although God loves all His creation, He has also gifted us with free will to reject His Grace and Mercy, or to embrace and accept His Grace, Mercy and Love, abandoning and shedding all our pretensions and shackles.
How then, can we love God? The first thing we need to remember is that to embrace God is to reconcile with Him, which is something we do every day, on our knees, praying with tears. To reconcile with God is especially through the mystery of reconciliation, or confession, and thereafter, receiving the mystery of communion or the Eucharist, partaking in joyous prayers and labor in the Divine Liturgy (Hosea 14:1-2, Proverbs 1:5-7).
Before Christ came to gift us with the greatest gift we ever knew, that of everlasting life, there was the Holy St John the Forerunner, who taught those he came across, to repent before the Lord and be baptized with water.
A yet more powerful one that reminds us of our repentance and reconciliation with God, is the wise thief who said to Jesus Christ our Lord on the Cross, “Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy Kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Amen, I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” (St Luke 23:42-43).
To some, the ugliness of one’s passions impede against their going forward to confession before a priest. Some might even imagine that all that is necessary is to confess directly to God. The holy mystery of reconciliation is for us to allow us to confess to God in the presence of a priest, who is God’s witness and instrument here with us. The challenge of confessing one’s passions and failings before a priest can be akin to believing that one can heal one’s own sins, and in turn, distance us ever further from God due to pride.
A holy Greek Orthodox elder, of blessed memory since 1980, Archimandrite Philotheos Zervakos, Abbot of Longovarda, has laboriously and lovingly preached to many and heard confessions for 68 years. He built 12 churches, 2 monasteries, 3 cemeteries, and 2 schools. When he received any money from the faithful, he gave away all of it to the impoverished, the widows and the orphans. In his Paternal Counsels, he said, “As a spiritual father I advise you, whenever you sin, to be careful not to despair but to run to the spiritual doctor to confess and seek a cure: the mercy of God. The Lord came into the world to save not the righteous, those who are healthy in soul, but the sinners, those who are ill. He will receive these with great love and mercy as He received the prodigal son, the prostitute, the thief, the publican, and millions of sinners who were saved by repentance and confession. I leave you this paternal counsel: never, never despair whenever you sin, but have confidence and hope in the immeasurable mercy of God. Repent and confess, and you will be saved. The grace, peace, mercy and bless of God, the protection and aid of the Virgin Mary and of all the saints, and my blessing be with you.”
Therefore, beloved, do not be afraid. In your darkest hours, facing the most wrenching of passions, do not be afraid. The priest is a mere servant of God, serving His people and doing His work, in the Church, the hospital. The priest is one who would rejoice with tears when a faithful one comes forward with tears of repentance, just as holy angels of God would rejoice as well, of a returning son or daughter from suffering. The priest will only be too joyous with you, to bless you and pray for you, as an intercessor for you before God, a witness to the lightening of your burdens.
We are called to be courageous, because we believe, and hope in the Lord our God. Whenever we face calamities and our own demons, call on His Holy Name, “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.
St Matthew 13:54-58
1 Corinthians 4:9-16