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April 7, 2023

Fifth Sunday of Great Lent: Homily on Repentance (Bishop Elias Meniates) - Part 2 of 5

First Section

There was an issue between the Orthodox and heretics in the past as well as now. What is it that justifies and saves man? Is it the grace of God alone or the grace of God and the will of man together?

If we say that in order for man to be justified and saved, his will is sufficient, without the need for the grace of God, then we fall into the heresy of the Pelagians. That the grace of God alone saves man, even without his will, this is the heresy of the Luthero-Calvinists. The former said that if there is a will, grace is not necessary. The others, the latter ones, claim that if there is grace, the will is not necessary.

But the true opinion belongs to the Orthodox. Not only the will of man, nor only the grace of God, but together both the will and grace justify and save man. This is what our holy Church teaches in accordance with the Holy Scriptures, the sacred teachers and the divinely-inspired theologians. That is to say, the freedom of the human will and the help of divine grace are the two wheels that run together to lead us to heaven. These are the two wings with which we can fly to Paradise!

Christ tells us: "Whoever wants to follow Me, let him deny himself". Here is the free will of man. Again He Himself says: "Without Me you can do nothing." Behold how necessary is the grace of God.

The famous sacred Augustine says that God who created man without man, that is, without man's will, is impossible to save man without man, that is, without man's will. In order to be saved, both we and God must want it. Saint Gregory the Theologian preaches, "Behold, it is for us, and it is from God that we are saved." Sacred Chrysostom teaches us the same. Grace, even though it is grace, saves those who want to be saved: "Grace, even willing grace, saves."

Therefore, for the work of our salvation, the will of man and the grace of God come together. The grace of God comes first, but the will of man must also follow. The grace of God invites and the will of man must listen. This means that God calls every person to repentance because he wants all people to be saved: "He wants everyone to be saved."

But man must want to repent and be saved, otherwise listen to what very bad things can happen. If man remains for a long time in sin without repenting, those two wheels, those two wings, that is, the will and grace, with time weaken and do not do anything. The will weakens due to long habit. Grace fades from forebearance. Man does not want to repent of sin, because he can no longer break the habit. God does not want to forgive sin, because it can no longer be endured. Whence is born impenitence on the part of man, abandonment on the part of God. And so when a man can, he does not want to repent.

Maybe the time will come when he wants to and can't. And this for two reasons: because he lacks the will and because he lacks grace.

Let's start from the former. According to natural reason, the will of man inclines to evil more than to good. He barely ascends towards good, but he easily falls towards evil. And if he falls once, he almost stays there, as if motionless.

When Pentapolis was burned by that fire that God sent down from heaven to consume that one sin, he wanted to redeem righteous Lot and his family from this great evil. He said to him: Do you see that mountain, Zoar? Run there to save yourself. Walk as fast as you can, and be careful not to look back at all. Do not turn back because there is danger, if you see it with your eyes you will be captured by an evil and destroyed. "Save your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed." Escape as fast as possible, don't waste time and above all don't turn to look back.

Lot's wife did not follow God's command. She stood, turned back to see, to say goodbye with a glance to her burning homeland. As she turned so he remained. She froze, became a pillar of salt! "But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt." She turned, she saw, she froze!

This has a deep meaning, my beloved! Even Christ Himself orders us in the holy Gospel to remember this example; "Remember the wife of Lot."

The allegory is as follows: The whole earth is lit up and burning because of sin. Flames surround her from all sides. They are burning the world from the outside, but they also entered the Church of Christ! At every age and class. In laymen and priests, in men, in women, in elders, youths and children, evil dominates. The whole world became a Pentapolis. The fire grew and became a conflagration! The loss has reached its maximum.

God wants to save you, Christian, from such evil and it seems as if He is saying to you: get up, run away to be saved on the mountain, don't turn to look back, lest you also be included, hurry to be saved! Flee as quickly as possible from the corruption of the world. If it is possible for you, fly high, above earthly passions. Run for salvation to the mountain of Christian virtue and evangelical perfection. Keep your eyes and heart in front of the road! Don't look back to see the earthly vanity, where like an illusory viscosity it catches people's eyes. Do not turn because you are blocked from the way of your salvation! Are you caught by evil? You are at a loss. "Save your life, escape, and make haste to be saved." Beware, but also hurry to keep yourself from harm, don't waste time, don't turn "backwards".

So says the grace of God. But the will of man does not listen, it does not walk on the straight path of the divine commands. He abides in idleness, he turns to evil, and as he turns, he is caught by evil and remains there!

He turns to see that person, seized by carnal appetite. He turns to see that profit, caught by avarice. He turns to see that vain glory, seized with pride. He turned to evil, he saw evil, he congealed in evil. He became like Lot's wife, a pillar of salt, solid in evil and immovable.

The will turns into a habit, which for the secular laws is a second law, and for ethics it becomes second nature. Both nature and law in the will. Nature because it becomes a necessity and drags with irresistible force the lvows of nature itself. How many times do we do out of habit what we would never do naturally? It becomes a law in the will, which is ultimately a tyrannical law and extorts the laws of free will. How many times do we act not because we want to, but because we are used to it? Semiramis, the wife of the Assyrian king Ninus, thought to test how beautiful power is. So she begs her husband to let her be alone for just one day to do as she pleases with the kingdom. A heavy demand. Power is not easily handed over. We easier surrender our lives to other hands, rather than authority. At first Ninus refuses to do her the favor. He tells her that what she is asking for is inappropriate, that whatever else she wants, he will gladly give it to her, but to put all the power in her hands, and indeed in the hands of a woman...

"Well," replies Semiramis, "is it a great thing for a single day?" And what can't the cunning of women do! A woman's pleas and tears are two irresistible weapons. She begged him so much, Semiramis cried so much, until she won over her husband, the king. She received it eagerly. That is, received all the power, to do whatever she wills and wants, but only for one day. Immediately, as soon as this proud woman had placed the crown on her head, took the scepter in her hand, sat on the royal throne, received the seals of kingship, and diagnosed the obedience of the people to her commands, hear what she did! The first order she gave was to handcuff her husband, Ninus, the king, her benefactor, and immediately cut off his head, and it happened!

Thoughtless king! You should never have believed the words of a deluded woman! You should never have left the scepter of power in the hands of a proud woman! Thus you lost both the kingdom and your life! So Semiramis remained sovereign queen and reigned for her entire life, she who asked to reign for one day only.

And now to our case. In this narrow realm of the microcosm, the will with self-determination looks like a free monarch, who, since he is a king, has authority over human actions.


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