April 12, 2023

Fifth Sunday of Great Lent: Homily on Repentance (Bishop Elias Meniates) - Part 3 of 5

...continued from part two.

Habit with necessity is a dynastic tyrant who, once in power, holds it forever. One day, one hour, one time, did you think, O Christian, that sin should reign over you? But when it received from your free will permission and authority, one day became your whole life!

Once you looked up and saw that face, but count how far you've come! Up until now you have been completely possessed by carnal appetite. You hunger for flesh and any flesh. In order to enjoy it, you spare no expense, you spare no effort, you leave no stone unturned. In time your very soul became flesh. You walk and your thoughts are constantly in the arms of your harlot. You stand and your desire wanders to find new food. You converse and your speech revolves around recounting your carnal achievements. You fall asleep and this is your last thought before closing your eyes to fall asleep. You are sleeping and this is what your imagination is dreaming. You wake up and this is your purpose. This today, this tomorrow, this forever, which at one time began as doing something just once!

Once you stretched out your hands to grab, but how many have you grabbed so far? Until now you have extended your estates beyond those of your neighbors. Your houses are filled with foreign things, enriched with the blood of the poor. Interest upon interest, injustice upon injustice, they made a chain so long, that your conscience is tightly bound.

You are not touched by the tears of orphans, the sighs of the poor, the shame of people, the fear of God! You don't take your soul for account, you don't remember death, you don't contemplate the Judgment, you don't fear hell. You thirst for the blood of the poor, and the more you drink, the more the flame of your avarice burns. This today, this tomorrow, this forever, since it first began!

Come now if you want to repent, but your will is fastened to evil. You are hindered by habit, which reigns. You want to, but with wavering and unstable thoughts. You want to, but with a purpose not to leave your former sin. You want to confess, but you don't want to be corrected. A thing that is one and the same: you want and you don't want. A sign that the ropes that hold you are loosening a bit, but not breaking!

Now that you hear this teaching, your heart softens for a while, maybe you break down in tears that fall from your eyes, but as soon as you leave the Church, your heart is once again frozen in evil! You who before Holy Pascha repent because you sinned, but after Holy Pascha you yourself repent for having repented! You, with Divine Communion still in your mouth, return to your previous mud... What's driving you? The habit. And the will obeys the habit. So when will you decide to change your mind? Never! Listen to what the Holy Spirit says through the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or a leopard his spots? If so, you might be able to do what is good, you who are instructed in evil."

Ah! Once someone has learned evil, how long does it take to unlearn it? If for once Semiramis takes power from her husband, as if for once habit dominates the will, the temporary becomes eternal. One day becomes a lifetime! Once, is followed by forever! So one wheel doesn't move, one wing doesn't fly. But what does the other wheel, the other wing, namely the grace of God, do? That grace of God that made Paul from a persecutor of the Church, a teacher of the Church? Made Matthew from a tax collector, to an Evangelist? Made the Thief hanging on the cross, into a theologian? The grace that made so many sinners in a moment saints?

All these examples are a special grace, which is not always given to every person. Do not look for such grace, which God gives a few times to a few "who are pitiful".

Consider rather that divine grace which God grants you and which reaches you to be saved, which always keeps you so that you do not perish, which wants to lead you to repentance, which you despise, that is why it leaves you.

I, says God through the mouth of Isaiah the prophet, planted you, O man, like a vine, not in a desolate, uninhabited and dry land. Not in a dry and stony place, without hope of bearing fruit. I did not make you to be born either in a synagogue of Jews, nor in a mosque of the Hagarenes. "I planted you in a fertile place," in a thick, grassy place. Because I made you to be born in the arms of a true Church, to be nurtured by pious parents with the milk of a holy Faith. To protect you from external enemies, from the creeping delusion of worldly pleasures. I surrounded you with a barrier, with all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which you received in the font so that you would not be afraid of the raids of robbers, the temptations of demons. I have rebuilt a tower among you, a mighty tower, My divine grace. And to make you bear fruit for the heavenly storehouse, I cultivated you often with the teaching of My Gospel. To water you, I shed My Blood once on the Cross and daily in My Mysteries. "What shall I do any more to My vineyard, that I have not done to it?"

But the effort was wasted, the diligence was in vain! I waited for this year and the next for My vine to produce grapes, fruits of virtue; to see this Christian of Mine repent, to be corrected, but it never happened. He was fruitless, grew wild, filled My vine with thorns. He became hardened to evil, he was completely involved in sins. "Whereas I expected it to bring forth grapes, but it has brought forth thorns."

Tell me now you teachers, theologians, spiritual fathers, judge between Me and my vineyard, judge My long-suffering and his ingratitude after so much love, so much patience, decide, what should I do?

"I will take away its hedge, and it shall be for a spoil; and I will pull down its walls, and it shall be left to be trodden down. And I will forsake my vineyard; and it shall not be pruned, nor dug, and thorns shall come up upon it as on barren land; and I will command the clouds to rain no rain upon it" (5:1-7).

Aren't these terrible words, with which God clearly tells you that at last He is tired of you and leaves you, that His long-suffering turns to indignation? His patience to wrath?

With how much kindness He calls you and waits for you and you despise Him, says the blessed apostle Paul! So, finally, what do you think? "Do you despise the wealth of His goodness and tolerance and long-suffering, unaware that God's goodness leads you to repentance?"

This is the rope I spoke to you about another time, with which God pulls you to repentance. But if you resist strongly, the rope is cut and you fall to your final loss. And God offers you all the treasures of divine grace, but you prefer the treasures of wrath: "And you," continues the same Apostle, "according to your cruelty and unrepentant heart, you treasure up wrath for yourself."

So it is only fair that you should suffer for what you have done. Have you forgotten God? May you be forgotten by God. As when He invited you and you didn't want Him, so may you beg and Him not want you! Saint Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, says about this: "The divine judgment, following with impartial and just verdict the results of our purpose, confers on each person whatever he has personally provided as his own" (Oration 5, On the Beatitudes).


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