Metropolitan Moses Homily On The Third Sunday of Luke
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
At that time, Jesus went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a great multitude. Now when He came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only begotten son of his mother, and she was a widow: and a large multitude from the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And He came and touched the bier: (and they that bare him stood still.) And He said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And He gave him to his mother. And fear seized upon all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great Prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited His people. (Luke 7:11-16)
In today's Gospel reading we are told that when our Lord encountered the widow woman of Nain accompanying the funeral procession of her only son, He was moved with compassion. He was moved with compassion and He raised the young man up. Our Uncreated-God "Whom neither thought can comprehend, nor word hath power to express," was moved with compassion and put on our created nature. The central message of the Christian Gospel is that out of compassionate love for man, the God-man, Jesus Christ, tasted of death so that we might be set free from sin and death.
We have recorded in the holy Gospels three instances of our Savior conquering death — once when He raised the daughter of Jarius, another time when He raised the son of the widow of Nain, and again when He raised Lazarus after four days. The Holy Fathers have taught us the symbolism of these three resurrections as they apply to our own personal lives in our efforts in repentance and struggle against sin.
In the "Praises" of Matins we hear the verse, "The saints shall boast in glory, and they shall rejoice upon their beds." (Psalm 149) In this verse, the words "rejoice upon their beds," signify the rejoicing in the resting place of the heart.
Jairus' daughter had died in her own room and upon her bed. Thus, if one is originally in a state of peace and begins to sin in thought or feeling and catches oneself and calls to the Lord in repentance, our Savior reaches out for us saying, "soul arise," as He did for Jarius' daughter, and grace and peace once again enters the heart.
In the case of the son of the widow of Nain, the dead young man was being carried outside of the gate of the city. This is symbolic of the times when we are inattentive and we don't catch the beginning of the workings of sin and it enters more deeply into our heart and we experience turmoil and are carried outside of our dwelling; that is, we are carried outside of our resting place of peace in God and spiritual perception. In this case, if we are near to our Mother, the Holy Church of Christ, who cries to the Lord for her children, and we hear those cries and the call of our Savior, just as He called out to the son of the widow of Nain, "Soul I say to thee arise!" — we can turn and repent, and by grace we are healed and are delivered from the death of sin.
We are near to our Mother, the Holy Church, if we make a daily effort to pray and read the Holy Scriptures and the writing of the Holy Fathers. If one is attentive in this way, it is easier to remember God and the struggle is limited to the mind and the heart.
Yet, there are times when a person forgets God and is led astray and sinful thoughts lead to sinful actions. In some cases the days go by and the passions begin to exude their stench and the tombstone of sin covers their soul. What can that person do?
The Holy Church offers its children the sacrament of Confession which Christ established after His resurrection saying to His disciples, "receive ye the Holy Spirit: Whosesoever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven" (Jn. 20:22-23).
The mystery of Confession is symbolized in the resurrection of Lazarus. Lazarus on his own could not go forth from the tomb because he was completely bound hand and foot by the winding sheet and a stone sealed the door. It was necessary for Christ to command His disciples to removed the stone from the tomb and loose him. In like manner our Savior commands those who have received the grace of the priesthood, the gift of the Holy Spirit, to loose our sins through the mystery of Confession and repentance.
In the case of Lazarus, he could only passively participate in being risen from the dead. In the mystery of Confession, a Christian must exert their mind and heart and will and become coworkers with God and the clergy for their own salvation.
In order to benefit from the saving therapy of Confession and repentance we have to understand what the stone and the winding sheet symbolize.
The stone symbolizes stony insensitivity and self-justification. One can go to confession and go through the motions, but not allow the teachings of our Savior or the words of the priest to penetrate into one's heart and prevent the grace of confession from effectually removing stony insensitivity. This happens when one says to oneself, "All have sinned, why should anyone make a big fuss over my sins?" Such thoughts are demonic delusion. We are called upon to justify our neighbor and to judge ourselves. To justify ourselves is utter spiritual darkness and the opposite of what we are called to do as Christians. If one does not understand this concept, one cannot even make a beginning in the spiritual life. This type of false reasoning sets a seal on the tomb of sin, causing the person who harbors these thoughts to be bound hand and foot by the passions.
The first step in repentance is to imitate the publican and with our face to the ground simply say, "God be gracious to me, a sinner." There is no self-justification in these words. The Holy Fathers teach us to take ownership for our sins and say to ourselves, "no man or demon is responsible for this, I alone have sinned." If one does not take this first step of taking ownership for one's sins, that person prevents grace from acting to help them and set them free from that sin. Without this first step one is only making a pretense of repentance. It is only after this step of truly taking ownership for one's sins that a person can remove the stone of insensitivity from their heart and turn away from the sin and authentically turn towards our Savior.
The word for repentance in Greek is metanoia, and this word signifies a turning away and doing the opposite. Once a person takes ownership for their sins, with the help of their priest, that person can begin to unwind the winding bands that have them bound hand and foot; that is, they can "unwind" their sins by doing the opposite deeds from their sins. An example of authentic repentance is the chief publican Zaccheaus who was avaricious and unjustly took money. When he repented he chose the saving therapy that was suitable for him and he restored those he defrauded fourfold and gave half his money to the poor.
It is easy to mouth the words that one is sorry and claim that one experiences regret, but if one limits their actions to this, it is not genuine repentance. Such behavior can be a self-delusional act. It was only after Zaccheaus believed and repented and demonstrated his repentance by his works that our Savior blessed him. Faith without works is dead and likewise, repentance without works in opposition to the sin committed is dead.
Our Savior said, "Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin. And the slave abideth not in the house forever: but the Son abideth forever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." (Jn. 8:34-36) If we desire to be free and abide in the house of God forever, there is no other way, but to embrace the saving therapy of repentance.
May you all be renewed in the spirit of your mind and embrace authentic repentance so that, as coworkers with God for your own salvation, you may be set free from sin and death.
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