St Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church
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/ Weekly Message / Weekly Message 02-26-12: First Day Of The Great Fast
02-26-12: First Day Of The Great Fast

First Day of the Great Fast

Therefore reform your lives! Turn to God that your sins maybe wiped way. Thus may a season of refreshment be granted you by the Lord when he sends you Jesus, already designated as your Messiah
Acts of the Apostles 3: 19, 20.


"Reform your lives." A small text, but a large subject, one of most vital importance, a subject round which cluster the issues of eternity.

For believers not only is it a subject of general interest, it is a subject of the most intense personal concern; it is a subject in which each one that hears it mentioned in earnest, is rightly much more deeply concerned than in the matter of making a living, getting on in the world, having a reputation in the community, or being well informed on the socalled questions of the day. All these things taken together are of no weight at all when compared with the question, "How about my conversion? Am I really in a converted state? Am I totally loyal and devoted to Christ who says, I assure you, unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God Matthew 18: 3.

As we begin anew this season of the Great Fast, we recognize and realize the question of our eternal destiny depends on the question of our change, our conversion into an actual devoted disciple of the Lord, one who lives daily for God's glory. We need not stop therefore to argue that each one ought to have clear ideas on this vital subject. And yet, there are few subjects on which many well-meaning people are still in the dark. Worse still, often those who talk most about it and are loudest in urging its necessity, know least about it. Why this often occurs, we cannot explain; it is certainly not because the Word of God is so misty that no one can know what it expects of us. It obviously is because so many are unwilling to search the Scriptures with a view to bow to their authority and take their own reason captive. Too many would rather take their feelings and impulses for guides and standards, than the teaching of the Church.


When our Lord insists we are to reform ourselves, He means we are to be converted to his salutary truth; the message of his gospel which is the good news. The word also means to turn, to change our direction. If we examine language we discover both in Latin and Greek which are the root of our English language, both convey the same meaning: to turn around, to abandon what we have been doing and start anew.

It is as if a traveler discovers he is on the wrong road, he turns, faces about, and gets on the right track, so the unconverted but serious soul, when he realizes he travels the broad road that leads to destruction, turns, or is turned around and gets on the narrow way that leads to eternal life.

The first part of this turning comprises two distinct steps or parts. The first is penitence or contrition. The sinner realizes what he is, where he is and where it will lead him. He realizes his lost and ruined and guilty state. Seeing as he never saw before the deep depravity of his own heart, the heinousness and guilt of his sin, the justness of God's judgment and wrath to which it exposes him, he loathes his sin, he mourns over it, he desires to flee from it and longs for deliverance. This penitence or heart-felt sorrow for sin and earnest desire to be free from it is the first step in our on-going conversion which ought to be a concentrated priority during this sacred season.


The second step is renewal of our faith in Christ, to receive, depend on, and rely upon Christ for life and salvation. The penitent heart longs for deliverance, cries out for forgiveness, recognizes Jesus as Saviour from sin. The penitent soul realizes that Christ by his life and death and subsequent resurrection achieved our salvation. Penitence fully persuades us to expect and hope, to put all our confidence in Christ. He saved us because we cannot save ourselves. The Saviour has become our substitute, has borne our sin, has actually become sin for us and overcame our missing the mark. Our penitent soul reaches out and lays hold and casts itself on his love for mankind and cries out, Lord if you will, make me clean Matthew 8: 2; and then, Lord, I believe, help my unbelief, John 9: 38; and finally, then, My Lord amd my God John 20: 28.


This is the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. First we see and realize we are on the wrong road, on the road to destruction, earnestly desire to get off that road and begin to turn our back on it. We recognize the narrow way that leads to eternal life and confidently set our foot on it. We concentrate on Christ. We are now slowly but inevitably being led away from our dark selves, ...turned from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God Acts of the Apostles 26: 18.

Being sorry for our sins, for our offenses is not something that goes before our total devotion or conversion in fact. Genuine faith is something that follows after and being converted to Christ in reality itself is a mysterious grace sandwiched between; but repentance and faith are the two component parts that make up genuine devotion to the Saviour. When we are truly sorry for our offensive behavior, genuine faith is sure to


Who needs this change? The self-evident answer is, all who are sinners. We must be brought once again to salvation after we sin because sin separates us from God and delivers us into the hands of the devil. Daily we must strive after forgiveness, for a serious attempt to attain purity before our God. We are lacking when we remain in separation from our Saviour, the Source of life. So we must always seek after penitence and true faith because where the element of sin remains, there you have an unconverted sinner.

From our earliest recollection, we have hated and sorrowed over sin. From tenderest childhood we trust in and love our dear Saviour. We cannot think of a time when we did not love the Lord of Life. Because we are children of the covenant, we have been consecrated and given to the Saviour in our baptismal Mystery. Our believing parents carried us to the baptismal font, where, with ...the washing of regeneration, Titus 3: 5; ...the washimg of water by the word, Ephesians 5: 26; we were born of water and of the Spirit John 3: 5; in that ...baptism which now saved us 1 Peter 3: 21; and thus, ...baptized in Christ Galatians 3: 27. This, then, our spiritual birth was the beginning of a new and full life.

The basis of new life planted by Christ's own ordinance were fostered in the life of the Church and nurtured by the grace of succeeding sacramental Mysteries enabled by prayer life. Parents teach and share their faith in Christ with their children Parents realize that the promise made by Christ is ...mot omly to them, but also to their children Acts of the Apostles 2: 39. So we are all children of the covenant and we belong to Christ. We are all in the natural line of Moses and Samuel, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and Timothy. Our mothers are in the spiritual succession of Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth and the ever-Virgin.

But not all who are baptized remain faithful to their covenant. We in our fragile humanity succumb to temptation and abandon our Saviour, even in small sins. But no sin is small because its separates us from God's love and protection. It is a choice we freely make, so all need conversion, all need to turn about and walk right.

There is absolutely no salvation, no heaven for those who remain in and die in an unconverted state. For such souls, theirs is a state of great peril. Most of us without an apology to our God for our reckless behavior are in great peril. We must change and we recognize by ourselves we cannot bring about change; no human strength can bring it about, nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord; Zechariah 4: 6; mo man can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.. 1 Corinthians 12: 3.

Returning to Christ, being reconciled to him, reuniting ourselves to his grace is a divine work. The Spirit of God brings it about. Did not the Lord assure us, It is the spirit who gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life John 6: 63. You are clean already thamks to the words I have spoken to you John 15: 3.

The teaching of the Lord in the Word of God describes itself as a ministration of the Spirit 2 Corinthians 3: 8; ...the power of God to salvation Romans 1: 16; It claims to be quick, or living and powerful Hebrews 4: 12; and ...sharper tham amy two-edged sword Hebrews 4: 12; to save the soul James 1: 21. The efficiency of Christ in saving us is expressed in various ways. He and his massage have the force of ... a hammer Isaac 41: 7; the fervency of ... afire Matthew 4: 11; the life of a seed Matthew 13: 37; the refreshing power of ...the raim amd dew Matthew 5: 45. Scripture says of him and his message ... it is perfect, convertimg the soul Psalms 19:8.

We find further that the same divine operations of ...calling Luke 1: 32; ...emlightening Ephesians 1: 18; ...regenerating John 5: 25; ...sanctifying John 10: 36, are indiscriminately ascribed sometimes to the Holy Spirit and again at other times to Christ himself, evidently because both together desire the salvation of man.


Thus we have this schoolmaster to lead us to salvation; We have the Son of God come among us in the flesh and his inspired Word in Scripture to lead us to glory. We have this sacred season to arouse in us repentance, sorrow for our transgressions and an eagerness to apologize to our Creator whom we oftentimes so easily offend.


It is the work of the Holy Spirit in us that convicts us of sin. Let us follow up on that holy work initiated in us by cooperating with its grace, arousing repentance within our souls and seeking sincerely after God's forgiving words of absolution.

Cheese Fare Sunday

Change and its necessary value is what the Body of Christ reminds us of today as w* are about to embark on the greatest season of change in the liturgical year. We art about to embrace another season of the Great Fast for the sake of our salvation and the elevation of our soul from its constantly embracing values of the world to look in another direction: to its awesome eternal destiny. Why another season of preparation and fasting? Does it bring out truths unknown before? Does it occupy ground unused before? Does it treat of subjects not handled in the past? Doe it unearth values and grace we have until now not heard of? NO! NO! NO! NO!


The Great Fast sets forth once again truths as old as Revelation. It tills in fields that have been broken and dragged and rolled by all sorts of ploughmen, teams and implements and behemoth machinery. It treats of the trite and worn and every other common subject connected with it.


Our heavenly Father was speaking of its value in the very beginning when He laid upon the first citizens of earth the challenging mandate which would contribute to their advancement and growth in his sight if they but made it their own: You are free to ear from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die Genesis 2: 16, 17. Our Creator God instituted fasting from the very beginning of our presence on the face of the earth. Its purpose was to strengthen our resolved character and elevate us to the dignity of created in God's image because He made us in hi: likeness.


Because we did not recognize God's purpose, now in passing time, He has to introduce repentance and contrition which are the essence of conversion. All of this we see Go( treating of and aiming at when He calls out longingly in Eden: Adam, where are you Genesis 3: 9? From the very beginning, God's Book is full of it.


We are being given an new opportunity, a new adventure to pursue in saving our souls We are entirely too valuable in the sight of our Maker to lightly once in a lifetime approach the matte of redemption and salvation. And of course, not all has been written about salvation, conversion to Christ in language that is understanding, appealing and inspiring to Orthodox believers in our day or we would behold a totally different community of believers that give so little evidence of being serious in their relationship with the Lord God who made them and calls them to salvation.

Most of what we see around us, particularly in our depraved culture, if it can be even called that, is a most dangerous caricature of truth; few subjects have been more abused, misrepresented and misunderstood. A veritable flood of ruinous error has emanated from pen and pulpit on the subject. A sad wreckage of doubt, gloom, skepticism, despair, insanity and self-destruction is the result. Much of the current twaddle is the shallowest sentimentalism or the wildest fanaticism with all the various baseless gradations in between. This all tends to confuse the mind, to harden the heart, to quench the eager spirit; to ruin the soul.


On one hand in our culture, even in our Church we have the cold, humanitarian moralists, apostles of culture and progress. They would evolve a dignified and proud manliness out of the natural man, not edify and strengthen the power of his soul. Man is too great, to them, too grand and good, to need a re-creation, a new heart and new life. Conversion with them is nothing but a laying aside of bad habits and outward reformation.


On the other hand, there is a whole host of would-be-evangelizers; who seem to consider it a special mission and commission to convert sinners. They often become quite proficient in their avocation. They think they can bring about hundreds of conversions in an evening. They spirit up a revival and assert how they draw whole communities into the Christian orbit and how they will capture such and such a town "for Jesus."


With them conversion is a rousing of the feelings, a spontaneous elevating wave of the emotions, a burst of excitement. For them worship is satisfying the needs of their sentiments, elevating their feelings to fever pitch; the higher the better, the higher, the more proof they then have of the presence of the Holy Ghost among them!

While many times they speak in thunder tones of the necessity of conversion and of the damnation of the unconverted, they rarely attempt to explain the nature of conversion. For us, the Son of God has become the Son of man to raise our nature by grace to what

He is by his very nature, grant us birth from above through the grace of the Holy Spirit and leading us straightway into the kingdom of heaven, or rather, granting us the kingdom of heaven within us. Our Lord himself says He accepts such mercy in the persons of the needy who surround us.


We must be the very person of Christ in the world. We must assume responsibility to seriously and piously fulfill his vocation in our time and place. To neglect or ignore the subject of conversion is certainly a very grievous and dangerous mistake. It offers a false security to the unconverted and may result in the loss of souls, an answering for which will be required at the hands of the pastor whose neglect brings this about.

In these godless and worldly times, we must earnestly preach diligently the necessity for ongoing conversion, particularly among our own people, in our own lives. We must insist on its necessity which is why the Church provides the opportunity each season of the Great Fast. We must reason, exhort, convince, beseech, plead, witness the truth of Turn, turn for why will you die Ezekiel 18: 31?


We must explain from God's revelation to us what this change consists in. We must labor to have the plainest listener or hearer understand this vital subject and his personal relationship to it. We must show how God our heavenly Father, who alone has the power to impart new life, yet has thrown all the responsibility on man, by putting within his reach the life-bearing means of grace. We must teach from experience and faith-filled purpose how God's revelation to us in the life of the Body of Christ meets every difficulty, clears away all doubt, harmonizes seeming contradictions between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, giving all glory to God, and laying al responsibility on man. It is only in the life of the Body and Bride of Christ that confused souls, eager souls, zealous for salvation souls, groping souls can come into the light where dangerous error can be counteracted, where the beauty, simplicity and satisfying nature of the teaching of Christ is made plainly manifest during this sacred season. Mad our prayers be answered; may your aspirations for salvation be achieved; may we be instrumental in providing an example that compellingly leads to true conversion o body and soul for all who seek the peace of Jesus Christ.

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