Class is in Session: The First Words of Our Lord's Ministry

We just read in the Gospel this beautiful verse from the Prophet Isaiah, which should describe our mood here on the last day of Theophany:  “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region of shadow and death, Light has dawned.”

The Christian World has been jumping for joy these past few weeks!   It started on those beautiful days of the Nativity, when God humbled Himself down to our lowly existence to illuminate the dark caves of our life.  It continued last week, when after 30 years of living in relative obscurity, Christ came to the rivers of the Jordan in order to be baptized by St. John the Forerunner, and the people marveled, as the heavens literally opened up and proclaimed that this man was indeed the eternal Word of God, who has come to save the world from itself.  

After years of living in the grip of death, mankind was granted the one thing that it so desperately needed, the same thing that we all so desperately need in our own lives as we begin the march to Great Lent:  A spiritual “reset”.  No matter where our lives as Christians were in 2018, regardless of the spiritual heights and lows that we had reached, we are called this morning to sit at the feet of God and become like children in the classroom, listening to what the almighty has to say about how we are to live as sons and daughters of God

Brothers and Sisters in Christ…class is in session.  The first lesson that our Savior gives us, the very first words of His ministry to the world, is the single most important lesson that He came here to teach us: 

 “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  

 Imagine the enormity of that statement!  God comes to us in the flesh, the Trinity is made manifest, and then Christ comes out and tells us that the only appropriate response to all of these incredible things, is to change the orientation of our lives…and repent.  

 We hear about repentance all of the time in the Church services, and if you are new to Orthodoxy and are having trouble finding the themes of repentance now, just wait until you experience Great and Holy Lent!  Every other word that is said in those services, has something to do with repentance and humility!  It needs to be a major part of our lives!

The Saints knew this reality all to well.  There is a story of a dessert father, Abba Sisioes, who from an outside perspective, lived his life in a perfect Christ-like way.  He was one of those people that when you came into his presence, you could see his face shine with that same light as Christ shined with on Mt. Tabor…so full of the Holy Spirit.

Near the end of his life, as Abba Sisioes was laying in his cell, some of the monks tell the story about how he began to argue with someone next to his bed that they could not see. They said to themselves, “Perhaps an angel.” 

Throughout the entire conversation with the angel, Abba Sisioes spoke about how he didn’t want to leave the world yet.  The monks were bewildered at hearing these words come out of their beloved teacher’s mouth.   They asked him:  ”Father, why do you persist to be here with us.  Why are you hesitating?  Go and be with God!”  

After hearing these words, Abba Sisioes, who had spent his entire life living in complete devotion to the almighty, and preparing for this exact day when he was going to meet his Savior replied: “Brothers, pray for me…as I have not even begun to repent.”  

What an incredible example for all of us, dear ones!  I think sometimes, living in a secular world, we forget just how difficult it is to live this kind of life. It is hard to go through an entire day, and walk away from wickedness.  It isn’t easy to bless those who yell and curse at you, to not be consumed with anger, gluttony, or lust.  

Our spiritual lives sometimes feel like that fish who is trying to swim upstream in the River Jordan. For those of you who love geography, the River Jordan flows from two fresh water sources in the north, before depositing into the Dead Sea, which is so full of salt, that nothing can survive. So if you are a poor fish living in that river, you have two options.  You can spend your life fighting against the current, or you can be swept up in the flow, and carried to your own death!  

What an amazing picture of our own struggle as Christians!  We too have the same two options.  We can choose to get swept up in our passions, our wants, and our desires, which lead to darkness and death; or we can continue to fight against the current of our lives, every single day, and slowly swim towards the source of all life. 

I will close my words to you this morning, by reminding all of you about the miracle that takes place for those Jordan River fish, each and every Theophany.  Later on this week (Old Calendar Theophany), the Patriarch will travel with thousands of pilgrims to the very place where Christ was Baptized, and while standing at the banks, he will bless the waters, and throw a cross into the south flowing river.  Every year, after the cross hits the waters of the Jordan, the flow of the river reverses it’s course to the Dead Sea, and begins to flow back towards where it came from!

By Virtue of the cross, Our Lord so graciously pours out his mercy, not only on those fish…but to all mankind.  He opens for us the doors of repentance, making it easier for us by His Grace to enter into His everlasting Joy!  This is the Good News that he shares with us, each and every time we enter into prayer and communion with him!

So as we begin this journey together this year, let us all resolve to continue to live a life that is full of change and repentance.  Let us allow 2019 to be the year where we reorient ourselves towards the Father, whose love for mankind goes beyond imagination!!