The Sunday After Theophany - sermon by Fr Andrew Gliga
Just last week we celebrated the great feast of Theophany where Christ came to John to be baptized of him. When John would baptize people, he would baptize them for the forgiveness of sins. A person would come to be baptized of John so that they could could be washed away of their transgressions against God. However, Christ who was the sinless one, came to be baptized of John, who had no need of this baptism. Rather he came and filled the waters with himself and brought true forgiveness of sins to people through baptism.
This event lead us to today's Gospel reading for the Sunday after Theophany, where Christ begins his public ministry. This took place immediately after his Baptism in the Jordan river. What we hear in this reading are the first public words that Christ spoke, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand". This almost seems like it is a call to the people around him to come and change their life. This is an interesting parallel as John was also baptizing people for the forgiveness of sins, where now we have Christ telling people to come to repentance. Repentance and forgiveness of sins comes hand in hand, you cannot have one without the other.
Now this word repentance in our modern context has a very interesting connotation. A lot of people outside of the Orthodox Church view reptence as a feeling of guilt or an emotional change. This is especially true in other Christian groups where there is an emphasis about how good works do not lead to salvation, but rather faith. The Orthodox Church views both works and faith necessary for salvation. This also means that repentance has a different meaning altogether. Repentance isn't a one time transaction after saying a prayer and it isn't a feeling of guilt. Repentance is an action. In Greek, the word μετάνοια, which is the word Christ used in the original text, specifically is an acton. The definition is basically to turn around and do the opposite of what you were doing earlier. In the Gospel context it means that we turn ourselves away from the world and instead turn ourselves fully to Christ through the rejection of our sinful life. And how can we begin to do this? It is through prayer and fasting.
Now the question is, are we striving for the kingdom of heaven? Are we leading a life of repentance, trying to change our ways? For example do we fast from meat, dairy products, and alcohol on Wednesdays and Fridays as well as all the 4 fasts of the year? Or do we cheat, and think no one is watching us when we eat that piece of meat or take something we know has cheese in it? Or even worse, do we just completely neglect the fasts through various excuses? Yes, the church does give dispensations for fasting when someone is sick or infirm. But some people who should be fasting say they can't fast otherwise they can't concentrate on their work or they need the protein for their diet. When I hear that, it makes me think of the monks in monasteries who eat only once a day on fast days, and do hard manual labor for the rest of the day. If they can do so much with so little, then we too can do much more with the abundance we have.
Another question I have is do we have a strong prayer life? Are we doing all we can to the morning and evening prayers, akathists, and the psalms? Many people say, I don't have time, I have meetings at work, I have to get my kids ready. But when it comes time to watch Netflix, to watch sports, or even to read up on the latest news stories, then all of a sudden they are no longer busy and they have all the time in the world. Giving God at least 5-10 minutes a day seems so enormous to us. Instead of watching two episodes of a show, watch one and devote the other time to prayer. Or instead of reading the news which just leads us to anger and resentment, read an akathist which leads us to peace and calmness.
All of us will fail at one point or another when it comes to our spiritual life. But this is where our action of repentance comes into play. We have to constantly pull ourselves up when we fail.. A quote from Elder Thaddeus says: “The Holy Fathers and the Saints always tell us, ‘It is important to get up immediately after a fall and to keep on walking toward God’. Even if we fall a hundred times a day, it does not matter; we must get up and go on walking toward God without looking back. What has happened has happened – it is in the past. Just keep on going, all the while asking for help from God.”. Elder Thaddeus is right, never give up and always strive to pick oneself up after failing. In doing so, we will have a successful spiritual life. In turn we will gain true repentance which then leads to the kingdom of heaven.