March 24, 2024

Homily One for the First Sunday of Great Lent, the Sunday of Orthodoxy (St. John of Kronstadt)

Homily for the Sunday of Orthodoxy

By St. John of Kronstadt

“Hereafter you will see the heavens open” (John 1:51).

I congratulate myself and many of you, beloved brothers and sisters, on the ineffable mercy of God, on the spiritual renewal received through the feat of abstinence, prayer, fasting and repentance, and especially through communion of the most pure and life-giving Mysteries of the body and blood of the Lord. In this short time we could experience for ourselves the benefits of fasting and prayer, not to mention the benefits of abstinence, confession and communion; if, of course, we sincerely took advantage of this time to our salvation and sincerely fulfilled the condition of fasting and abstinence; if you abstained from excess in food and drink, sincerely prayed, humbled yourself before God and your neighbors, showed mercy, recognized many of your sins and iniquities and deeply regretted them, having accepted the firm intention not to do them again, and, finally, sincerely confessed them and received their remission and absolution, and were honored to taste the life-giving bread.

But did we all really benefit from the past week? Have our hearts become closer to God, to the Most Pure Mother of Life, to the Church, to the Holy Guardian Angel and to the Saints of God? Have we sincerely loved righteousness and virtue, and hated all unrighteousness and lawlessness? Do we sincerely love God and our neighbors? Do we feel a greater spiritual affinity with each other, as members of the one body of Christ, as the bread of Christ, for “we, though many, are one bread” of the mystery, “and one body, for we all partake of that one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17)? Do we feel in our hearts that the streams of iniquity do not flow with such insolence and violence to our souls as they did before the Fast and Communion, and have they significantly dried up in us, and have we become purer, freer, calmer, more dispassionate, kinder, softer-hearted, more inclined to all that is good and useful? Has our greed for the pleasures of the flesh and for covetousness diminished? Have you become more patient, more lenient, more forgiving to your neighbors? Have we begun to look more often to heaven, to the true and eternal fatherland, and with less partiality do we turn our gaze to all earthly things as temporary, momentary, transitory? For see how many in our midst are caught up in death in a short time, and death is constantly taking away its victims. If so, if we have become the best and most prudent, then I again congratulate myself and you on the great mercy of God, and together I pray that the Lord will confirm this good disposition and sentiment of the heart in me and in you; but let not the evil thought deceive any of us that now, thank God, we have thrown off the burden of sins and can again live as we lived, and sin as we sinned, for who would be without sin?

It is true, brothers and sisters, that no one is without sin, but to live as one lived and to sin in the same way as before, after renewal through repentance and communion, should not, must not, is not befitting a Christian. The Holy Church, through her spiritual father, gives the following admonition to everyone who repents: "From now on thou shalt guard against all these sins, since thou hast been baptized a second baptism, according to the Christian mystery, and may thou lay a good beginning, with the help of God, and rather not sneer at the same thing, that thou shalt not make a man laugh, for this is not befitting a Christian: but live honorably, and rightly, and reverently, that God may help thee by His grace" (Rite of Confession). This is what the Church inspires in the repentant. And common sense also inspires us; for who, then, having washed himself, would want to be deliberately soiled again? Only “a pig, having washed himself, goes back to wallowing in the mud; only a dog returns to his vomit” (2 Peter 2:22). “Behold, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you” (John 5:14), says the Lord to the healed paralytic. And something very bad can also happen to us if we neglect virtue after repentance; then the grace of God will leave us for inattention and carelessness about ourselves. Repentance and communion opens heaven and the heavenly kingdom to us, for, says the Lord, “He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood, will have eternal life — and He abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:54, 56).

How can we not value the gift we have received — eternal life and Christ’s abiding in us, and our abiding in Him! Heaven has been opened to us through repentance and communion according to Scripture: “From now on you will see heaven opened” (John 1:51), what a wonderful mercy! It was closed by our sins, with the strongest gates and locks, but by repentance it was opened. Let us take advantage of this mercy of God before it is closed again for us: for God knows whether it will open again for us when we again close it with arbitrary sins. For many it was locked forever. Foolish virgins knocked on closed doors, saying: “Lord! Lord! Open to us,” and it was said to them: “Amen, I say to you: I do not know you;” and we are all told: “Watch therefore, for you do not know the hour of the day that the Son of man will come” (Matthew 25:11-13). Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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