December 31, 2023

Homily for the Sunday Before Theophany (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

Homily for the Sunday Before Theophany

Ascetic Orthodoxy

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

"Now John was clothed with camel's hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey." (Mark 1:6)

By presenting the person, the preaching and the work of John the Forerunner, the Baptist of Christ, as well as the effect that his teaching had on the people, today's Gospel reading prepares us for the great feast of Theophany. Also, because it is the first Sunday of the new year, we are given the opportunity to see the true character of Orthodoxy.

For today's secularized man, the projection of an ascetic, even at the beginning of the year, who lived in the desert and was dressed in camel skin and ate locusts and wild honey, is a problem. Perhaps it is also a formidable challenge. They say that Saint John the Forerunner can be presented as a model for an ascetic and even a hermit, but not for a family man, who lives in the world and faces so many problems.

Indeed. We often think, how can such a figure speak to modern man or how can Orthodoxy work efficiently in a society that has learned to live comfortably, whose emblem is well-being and good times?

Forerunner/Christ, Desert/Society

First of all, we must say that the Honorable Forerunner prepared the way for the coming of Christ. That is, there is a communion between these two persons. In the same way there is a wonderful coupling, we might say interplay, between the desert and society. The desert, with all its dynamic character, cleanses man of the passions, prepares the way for the coming of the Kingdom of Christ, so returning to natural life he obtains true communion with God and men. According to Saint Isaac, man cannot be at peace internally, when the senses are active, nor are physical passions abolished or wicked thoughts disappear "without the desert". And when he is at peace internally, then he becomes the most sociable person. In other words the desert leads to Christ and Christ is our desert.

The Orthodox Ethos is Ascetic

Then there is the objection of people today, that an ascetic cannot speak to someone who lives in society. This is not correct for two main reasons. Firstly, because in the Orthodox Patristic teaching there is no difference between a secular and a monastic way of life, nor between single and married people, but between people who have the Holy Spirit and people who do not. Secondly, because the way of life, as described in Holy Scripture and experienced by the Saints, is ascetic.

Holy Scripture is called the Gospel, which means good news. It is the testimony of new life. And this new life, the acquisition of salvation presupposes an ascetic way of life, which must be experienced by all Christians who want to receive the Holy Spirit, whether they are married or single.

The instructions "strive to enter through the narrow gate" (Lk. 13:14), "the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matt. 10:12), "put to death your members which are on the earth" (Col. 3:5) etc. have absolute and universal validity, they refer to all Christians, regardless of their place of residence and way of life. Because just as the salvation that Christ finished is offered to all those baptized "in the name of the life-giving and divine Trinity", so the path of salvation is common to all Christians.

Ascetic Lifestyle

By saying that Orthodoxy is deeply ascetic we mean the observance of Christ's commandments and we also mean man's sovereignty over material nature and independence from the slavery that created things want to impose. And this independence (the use and not the abuse of material goods) can be acquired by all Christians in their own way. Therefore, on this point, there is no difference between monastics and secular people, only that monks seek greater independence. That is, the three monastic vows of virginity, poverty and obedience are an effort of man, on paper and through Grace, to free himself from the tyranny of love of pleasure, love of money and love of elevation and thus avoid the demonization of life.

However, this, proportionally, can also be achieved by married people. The Fathers say that even the married within a marriage blessed in Christ fight against the love of pleasure, with their possession and use of the necessary material goods they fight the love for money and with obedience to the Church they avoid love for elevation. And this action and this struggle is the ascetic way of life. Christ resisting the devil in the desert in the three specific temptations, became a model for every Christian, and not only for the monks.

Source: From the book Όσοι Πιστοί. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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