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Homily for 012013 - aftertheo - The Forerunner

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  • Fr David Moser
    John 1:29-34 The Holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John – this is the great saint that we remember today. His title tells us much about the reasons that
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 20, 2013
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      John 1:29-34
      The Holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John – this is the great saint
      that we remember today. His title tells us much about the reasons that
      he is so important for us. St John was the last and greatest of the old
      testament prophets. In addition to providing guidance and direction to
      the chosen people of God, the prophets’ ultimate task was to point to
      the coming Messiah. It was St John who not only carried on that task,
      but he was also the one who was the instrument of presenting the Messiah
      to the world. This was accomplished, of course, through the Baptism of
      Christ – the feast of Theophany (the revealing of God) – that we
      celebrated only yesterday. St John is known as the “Baptist” because it
      was he who baptized Jesus Christ in the Jordan proclaiming Him to be the
      promised Messiah – a proclamation that was confirmed by the voice of the
      Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.
      All of St John’s life and preaching led up to this point – to the
      Baptism of Christ. He consistently called people to “Prepare the way of
      the Lord” and to “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. Because
      he came before the Messiah, preparing the world to receive Him, St John
      is called the “Forerunner”. His whole life was a call and an example for
      us to prepare ourselves to receive the God/man Jesus Christ.
      How then does he tell us to prepare for the coming of Christ to us?
      First we look at his life – it was a life of severe asceticism. He lived
      in the desert, ate nothing but locusts and honey and dressed in rough
      garments of camel hair. This ascetic labor is the first step for us to
      prepare for the coming of Christ. When people came out to the desert to
      listen to his preaching, he told them over and over again one thing –
      Repent! Turn your back on your sins and leave them behind! As a sign and
      symbol of this, St John would baptize those who sought to repent in the
      Jordan signifying the ritual washing and cleansing from those sins. This
      twofold preparation – the ascetic life and repentance signified by
      baptism – are echoed in the teaching of Christ who said that anyone who
      desired to come after Him must first deny himself, second take up his
      cross, and third follow Christ. The ascetic life of St John demonstrates
      for us the ultimate in self-denial. Voluntarily St John turned his back
      on every comfort and pleasure of life. He denied all of his physical
      urges and passions and lived his life instead in complete dedication and
      obedience to the will of God. Having begun with self-denial, then comes
      the second step of repentance – to take up your cross and die to your
      sinful life. In repenting of our sins, we turn our backs on them and on
      the way of life that they produce. We shed the self centered life that
      we have lived in service to our sinful passions and desires and leave it
      behind. We turn away from our former life and turn toward a new life –
      that is the life of Christ which He bestows upon us. This then is the
      third step that our Lord gives us, having left behind our sinful life,
      we must then follow Him and take on His life as our own. The first two
      steps are the necessary preparation for the third. If we would follow
      Christ, then we must first deny ourselves and take up our cross. Ascetic
      labor and repentance are the preparation to follow Christ.
      How is it then that these two things work in us. What use is asceticism
      and how does repentance actually benefit us? God does not save us for
      our works, but rather it is His grace that saves us. Why then does St
      John seem to call us to ascetic labor and to repentance?
      We have all had the experience of cleaning something that has been
      neglected and upon which the dirt and stains have become encrusted –
      whether it be a cooking utensil with baked on food or a tool that has
      rusted badly or something that had lain buried in the ground and only
      after months or years was dug up. In order to clean that item two things
      are needed. First it is necessary to scrape and scrub the surfaces to
      loosen the corruption that clings to it. Without the scrubbing, the dirt
      would continue to cling and would not be dislodged. The longer that dirt
      has had to attach itself, the more “elbow grease” it takes to dislodge
      it. But such work is necessary for without it any cleaning would be in
      vain – we would only be cleaning the dirt that stubbornly adheres to the
      surface and not the item itself.
      When considering the soul, the “scraping and scrubbing” takes the form
      of ascetic labor. When we deny ourselves by fasting, by abstaining from
      worldly pleasures, by choosing hardship over ease we begin to loosen the
      hold that our sins have on us. It is as though the soul is encrusted
      with rust and dirt and in order to get rid of it, we have to loosen it.
      All of our fleshly and sinful passions have “adhered” themselves to the
      soul and we have to break the connection, the hold that they have. We
      have to “scrape” the soul with the blade and grit of asceticism to
      loosen the bond between ourselves and our sins. This bond is not only
      the hold that the sin has on us, but it is also the hold that we have on
      our sins. We love our sinful ways, our worldly pleasures and are
      attached to them. If we do not force ourselves to let go of them, they
      will remain no matter what – even if their hold on us is broken, we have
      to make sure that we release our hold on them. All this is accomplished
      by ascetic labor, by self denial. Thus the first step, the step of self
      denial is necessary to loosen the bond of sin to the soul.
      Now once the dirt is loosened, it must be brushed or washed away. If we
      scrape off the dirt but don’t brush it away, then it will simply attach
      itself again and we will have to begin the cleaning all over again. If
      you scrape the cooked on food off of a pan, but instead of washing it
      away, put the pan back into the oven – the food scraps will just bake on
      and the pan will again require scrubbing. So it is with the soul –
      having loosed the bond with our sins, we must then get rid of them. This
      is the step of repentance and this is why baptism is such a powerful
      image for that process. In repentance we “brush off” and “wash off” our
      sins and leave them behind so that they can no longer re-attach
      themselves to us. When we repent of our sins we turn away from them, we
      turn our backs on them. Instead of living the kind of life dictated by
      fulfilling our sinful passions and temptations, we choose to live a new
      way of life. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of those who do not repent but
      who return to their sins again and again in a very vivid image, likening
      them to dogs who return to their vomit. If we repent, we leave behind
      the sin and the way of life that leads to it; we “die”, as it were, to
      that part of our life. For this reason our Lord speaks of the necessity
      to “take up your cross”. In following the path of the cross, we
      voluntarily die to our former and sinful life, clearing the way to
      follow a new path.
      These two steps, self denial or ascetic labor and taking up your cross
      or repentance, are the preparations for the third step – to follow
      Christ. St John the Forerunner shows us these first two steps in
      preparing for the coming of the Lord. But it is Christ who is needed for
      the third step, for how can we follow Him if we are not with Him. St
      John speaks of this transition to following our Lord saying, “I have
      baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”
      (John 3:11). Here is the grace that save us. Having loosened our bond
      with sin and having turned away from our sinful life, we are ready now
      to follow Christ, to receive the grace with which He fills us. It is
      this grace that takes the place of sin in our lives so that it no longer
      can control us. It is this grace that transforms us into new creatures.
      It is this grace that empowers us to follow Christ. It is this grace
      which unites us to Christ and fills us with His life.
      If we would follow Christ, we have to leave behind the weights that hold
      us to our old and sinful life. We let go of these weights and cut their
      hold on us by ascetic labor. We turn away from them and leave them
      behind by repentance and so it is with no impediments that we then
      follow Christ when He comes to us. This is the message of the Forerunner
      – to prepare ourselves for the coming of the God/man Jesus Christ, to
      prepare ourselves to leave behind our old life and follow Him, to
      prepare ourselves to follow Christ into His heavenly Kingdom and to live
      in union and communion with Him.

      --
      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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