Source: Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos Monastery
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Glory to Jesus Christ!
“Lord, it is good for us to be here.” The words of the holy Apostle Peter at the Transfiguration of our Lord come to mind as we celebrate another great feast of Light on this Sunday after Theophany. As St. Matthew tells us today, Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus withdrew into Galilee of the Gentiles, leaving Nazareth and going to Capernaum. The people who walked in darkness who sat in the region of darkness and the shadow of death have seen a great light as the public ministry of our Lord dawned with the proclamation “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
It is good for us to be here in this holy monastery this morning because, like all monasteries, it is an incarnation of the proclamation of the gospel so succinctly and powerfully heard today to repent for the Kingdom is at hand. This proclamation, along with the instruction we will hear next Sunday to sell all, distribute the wealth to the poor and then follow the Lord Jesus are the inspirational texts of monasticism, drawing countless numbers of men and women throughout the world, throughout Christian history to follow the example of our Lord and withdraw, anchoreo. Jesus did not simply move from Nazareth to Capernaum, He withdrew from proximity to evil in the person and power of Herod to the fringes of Galilee of the Gentiles, to the people in darkness and the shadow of death. But unlike those who would follow Him in the ensuing centuries by withdrawing into the deserts of Egypt or Syria or the dense forests of Germany and Russia or the isolated and barren islands off the coasts of Ireland and Scotland, He went into the streets of Capernaum crying out the message of repentance proclaimed by the now stilled voice of the Forerunner and declaring it fulfilled in His coming.
And so today in Weaverville, South Canaan, Wagner, Ellwood City, Cambridge, Platina and every other center of Orthodox monasticism, men and women have withdrawn from the places where the kingdom of this world exercises its greatest influence and by their very presence in these communities, in prayer and work, continue to proclaim the gospel message of repentance and the coming of the Kingdom as they respond to it with their whole lives.
In a unique way, the monastic experiences the truth so simply stated by St. Isaac of Syria that this life has been given to us for repentance and should not be squandered. So the monastic dedicates himself to such a life, together with other who have heard this same call and seek to respond to it in the same manner. For after Jesus began to preach, he also began to gather disciples to Himself, demonstrating the truth that it is not good for man to be alone, even as he pursues the Kingdom in repentance. From the outside, we witness in the monastic life the presence of the Kingdom, the presence of Christ Himself, for just as in every Divine Liturgy He is the Offerer and the Offered, the Receiver and the Received, so too is He always the Kingdom and the King.
|Photo by Archbishop Maximilian of Vologda and Veliky Ustyug|
Does this mean, then, that those of us who are not monastics should leave behind all that we are and become monks? No. To do so would demonstrate that we were still in darkness, that we do not understand the meaning of repentance, to confuse the means with eh end. Historically, monasticism is the fruit of repentance, repentance is not necessarily the fruit of monasticism. Like anything touched by the hand of man, the monastic life can be transformed into something other, an idol even, as can one’s spouse, children or priesthood, if not known, lived and loved in and through God.
This is repentance, to turn form self to God, to change one’s mind from its focus on the here and now, the things of this world, its wisdom and pursuits to God above all and before all else. The greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and our neighbor as ourself. Or as the Lord also put it, love one another as I have loved you. The fulfillment of this commandment is repentance.
How do we do it? Love our enemies, bless those who persecute us, forgive everyone who offends and harms us, bear one another’s burdens, be humble, pray unceasingly, believe, not in abstract propositions but in the Living Word revealed in Holy Tradition, to have the mind of Christ, and to acquire it through prayer and study not only of Scripture but also the lives and writings of the saints. There is also the ascetic struggle summarized by the term fasting, the spiritual battle with the passions, especially those of anger, lust, and greed, but also the other passions, each of which exercises its sinful power over us, some or one of them more than the others. To repent is to overcome these passions, to reassert control over them, to purify them, rather than allowing them to corrupt us. To repent is to do all this so that Christ may come and dwell in us, that we may enter into and remain in communion with the Most Holy Trinity, that in the words of the Forerunner seen in the icon behind me, “He must increase and I must decrease.” To repent is to respond to the presence of Christ, to our encounter with Him who is Risen from the dead, who has trampled down death by death and upon those in the graves bestowing life, whether those are graves of stone or clay or graves of minds darkened by sin, or lives spent in idolatrous worship of self, money, power or success. Repentance brings us into the Kingdom because repentance allows the Kingdom to come into our souls. Jesus tells us the Kingdom of God is within us, in the presence of the Holy Spirit who is poured out upon us in Baptism and Chrismation and is renewed in us in every Holy Communion and Confession. And the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and of such is the Kingdom of God, not eating or drinking or any material thing or place. Thus, we are admonished not to be “conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our mind so that we may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” And to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.
This we should do as disciples of Christ, members of His Body, whether monastics or married, clergy or laity. Whatever our vocation, wherever we live, narrow is the way and difficult is the path and the depth of our holiness depends on how well we respond to the call to repent. The Twelve He called to come and follow Him, leaving all behind. However, the Gerasene demoniac, after his exorcism, wanted to do likewise, but Jesus sent him home to live among his neighbors as a powerful witness to the saving power of God in Christ. And so it is with us. Like the Twelve, monastics leave all to follow our Lord, and like the demoniac, others of us who have been brought from the dark prison of sin into the Light and Life of the Kingdom are sent back home to witness by our lives to the saving power of Christ.
Lord, it is good for us to be here
Because this community and all the others like it are a living call to repent and manifest among us the Kingdom of God, living a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and righteousness.
It is good for us to be here
For we are called to renew our repentance, to purse the life in the Kingdom as does this monastic community through our participation in the prayers and Liturgies offered here either by our physical presence or spiritual communion in the love of Christ.
It is good for us to be here
To encourage this monastic community in its pursuit of repentance and manifestation of the Kingdom and to seek their spiritual encouragement for our ascetic struggle.
It is good for us to be here this morning
So that the repentance to which we are called can be renewed in us, by seeing and tasting that the Lord is good, a foretaste of the eternal Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is among us!