In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, we have been basking in the light of the Feast of Lights, the Holy Theophany, God made manifest. And we learned from the Scriptures and the writings of the Holy Fathers and the hymns of the Church that our Savior came, not to be anointed, for He is the Beginningless Word, Begotten of the Father before all ages. He is the Christ, the Anointed One by nature and He came unto the Jordan to “sanctify the waters,” as the hymns of the Church teach us.
At Theophany the “worship of the Trinity was made manifest” as we chant in the Apolytikion for the feast. Yet, I ask you to focus on one other aspect of this feast. Our Savior came unto Saint John to be baptized and, as it says in the Gospel, “John hindered Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?” (Matt 3:14) And our Savior constrained him to do this “to fulfill all righteousness,” and when He was baptized He opened a new way for us into heaven.
In the very next chapter of the Gospel of Saint Matthew, which is read on the Saturday after the Feast of Theophany, it is written that our Savior continued in His labor to “fulfill all righteousness,” and was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness. (Matt 4:1)
The God-Man, Jesus Christ, withdrew, not because He needed to withdraw, but so as to be a model for us all. He withdrew from the things of the world and used this time to wrestle with the devil. This type of wrestling is a part of every Christian’s life. By His Divine Nature, our Savior could not sin, just as fire by nature cannot be cold, yet He withdrew to wrestle with the evil one and triumph over his deceptions and the irrational passions.
We all know of many examples from the lives of the monastic saints who followed this pattern and withdrew from the things of the world to purify themselves. I would like you to consider that there is a way for a layperson to withdraw from the things of the world to be purified on a regular basis. When you leave your workplace or home and you, with knowledge and attentiveness, attend you local parish and you prepare yourself and withdraw your mind from the things of the world on your way to Church and you give your mind and heart to our Savior, you will be strengthened to overcome the wiles of the devil and the passions.
Saint Isaac the Syrian once explained that the most effective way to separate oneself from the things of the world is to practices compunction, that gladdening sorrow of heart that is filled with regret for sins, along with hope and grateful love towards our Savior. There is a short prayer attributed to Saint Makarios the Great, that can be very helpful in attaining to compunction at the start of one’s prayers in Church. Begin by withdrawing mentally from everything else in the world and say with your whole heart:
O God, cleanse me a sinner, for I have done nothing good before Thee. Deliver me from the evil one, and may Thy will be in me, that I might open my unworthy lips without condemnation, and praise Thy holy name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
I ask you all to think about these things and strive to make a good beginning to your prayer when you arrive at Church and, unless there is a necessity, save your socializing for when we gather for fellowship after the service.
May God bless you and your families and may you all learn to wrestle with the evil one and acquire spiritual discretion and make progress in the things of God. Amen.
Metropolitan Moses, of Toronto