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Homily for 3/17/13 - cheesefare - return from exile

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  • Fr David Moser
    A couple of weeks ago, we heard the parable of the prodigal son and were reminded that like the prodigal, we are exiles from our Father’s house. We also
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 17, 2013
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      A couple of weeks ago, we heard the parable of the prodigal son and were
      reminded that like the prodigal, we are exiles from our Father’s house.
      We also began to sing at matins the psalm, “By the waters of Babylon”
      mourning and lamenting our exile from the heavenly Jerusalem which we
      have continued until today. Today we remember the cause of our exile,
      the fall of our first parents and their casting out from paradise as a
      result of their sin. All this is set before us today because this is the
      last day before Great Lent, and today we are symbolically on the verge
      of our journey back from exile – leaving behind all that which separates
      us from God and coming into His Kingdom through the working out of our
      salvation. Today we stand with the prodigal son who finally came to
      himself and resolved to return to his father’s house.
      The sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, that separated them and us
      from God was rooted in self will. They were created to live in harmony
      with the will of God. But God did not want this harmony to forced, He
      wants this harmony to be the perfect result of love, and so gave to
      mankind the gift of free will, so that we might freely choose to love
      Him and to live in harmony with Him. Rather than live in this harmony
      with God, our first parents chose instead to act according to their own
      will, the result of which was not to become gods (as the evil tempter
      promised them) but rather to separate them from God and to be cast out
      of the paradise of the Garden of Eden where they walked with God. For
      this simple thing, doing their own will contrary to the will of God, for
      self will and pride, our first parents were sent into exile from the
      paradise of living in the presence of God.
      This act of self will seems to us to be a small thing. Adam and Eve did
      nothing more than to pick and eat the fruit of the only tree in all of
      the Garden of Paradise which was forbidden to them – and yet this small
      act had huge consequences. By breaking the fast, Adam and Eve incurred
      their exile and separation from God and therefore the path to return to
      communion and union with God goes through the fast. Today then, we
      embark upon this journey to return from exile and to enter again into
      the presence of God.
      In order to embark upon such a journey with some hope for success, we
      need a guide – someone to show us the way and to help us as we follow
      this path of return. That guide can only be the God/man our Lord Jesus
      Christ who descended from heaven, becoming incarnate of the Most Holy
      Virgin Mary, in order to reclaim us from our exile and lead us back to
      our proper place at His side. Jesus Himself has set the conditions by
      which He will guide us saying, “if any man would come after me, let him
      deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” The first step on the
      path of salvation that our Lord sets out for us is to “deny ourselves”.
      Before we can ascend the cross with Christ, before we can follow Him in
      living the life that He lived, we must first deny ourselves. And so here
      we stand on the threshold of Great Lent, preparing to take this first
      step – to deny ourselves.
      The first sin, the first act of self will (which is the opposite of self
      denial) was the sin of our first parents – it was the breaking of the
      fast. Therefore it is only right and proper that the first act of our
      self denial is the keeping of the fast. To fast – to deny ourselves in
      the arena of the passions of the belly – is the very first task set
      before us by Christ. And many of us are tempted right from the beginning
      to exert our self will even in the keeping of the fast. Rather than
      receive the fasting rule as it is given to us, we seek to modify the
      fast according to our own ideas and understanding. There are those who
      think, “It’s no great matter if I eat meat or dairy products during the
      fast – after all its just food” But indeed it was just this dismissive
      manner and exertion of our own will that resulted in this exile in the
      first place. Often people, however, will not be quite so blatant about
      their self will, and so rather than just ignore the fast, they will seek
      through rationalization, to change the fast so that it is more in line
      with their own will. Sometimes we try to modify to the fast thinking
      that the purpose is to punish ourselves and so rather than abstain from
      meat and dairy as the Church prescribes, they think to pick and choose
      pleasurable things from which they will abstain instead. In this case,
      the faulty understanding of the fast – as a punishment rather than a
      voluntary act of ascetic self denial – becomes the rationale for
      changing the fast according to what we want to do. In others it is not
      the faulty understanding of the fast, but rather an appeal to “modern
      science” and “healthy living” thinking that we now know much more than
      the ancients about how our bodies work and so we have to modify the fast
      in order to maintain proper health and nutrition. Again self will takes
      the place of self denial and we seek to exert our own will on the shape
      of the fast.
      This last reasoning can also show us another, more subtle, exertion of
      self will. Sometimes, for health reasons (age, illness or other bodily
      condition), it is necessary to relax or modify the fast. However, we do
      not undertake such a modification on our own initiative – on our own
      will. Instead such a modification is undertaken only with the blessing
      of our spiritual father and so we act, not according to our own will,
      but we submit to the will of another person, a person who is set in a
      place of authority over us by God. There are those who reject this idea
      and who will endanger themselves and those around them by refusing to
      depart from the letter of the law and who force a strict adherence to
      that letter despite the negative consequences of such an action, even in
      the face of the instructions of their spiritual father. Thus they exert
      their own will, refusing to submit to those in authority over them, and
      in so doing paradoxically insert self will into the strict keeping of
      the fast.
      Remember that the purpose of the fast, the first step in our return from
      exile is self denial. The moment we begin to exert our own will, that is
      the same moment that we stray from the path of our return. Because of
      this, it is not only the dietary restrictions of the fast that are the
      means of our self denial, but during the fast we also deny ourselves in
      other ways. We deny ourselves by setting aside any worldly pleasure that
      serves to distract us from pursuing the goal of union and communion with
      God. So do not just restrict the foods that you eat, but also restrict
      what you see and hear; restrict that which you allow yourself to
      experience. This is a time of repentance and sorrow, not a time of
      entertainment and pleasure. The time for feasting and joy will come soon
      enough – but now is the time for fasting and weeping for our sins.
      Therefore set aside not only the pleasures of the palate and belly, but
      also set aside the other distracting amusements of life – worldly music,
      television, radio and other mass media (if it tempts you then turn it
      off!), the internet, parties and celebrations. Set aside vanity and
      over-concern with appearance; be content with clothing that is modest
      and sufficient for the weather.
      This time of self denial is also the time that we begin to replace the
      distractions of the world and our sinful habits with the behavior that
      leads to righteousness. During the fast work to firmly establish the
      habit of daily prayer and reading of scripture. Remember more often to
      give alms and to act with compassion toward the poor. Be quick to
      forgive others (for in forgiving others we ourselves are forgiven) and
      replace judgment and condemnation with mercy. All these things require
      that we take thought to change our behavior and to insert these virtues
      in the place of our self absorbed sinful habits. By taking advantage of
      the support of Great Lent, we can more easily alter the whole course and
      quality of our daily lives, bringing in new habits that draw us nearer
      to God rather than separate us from Him.
      We live in exile, in separation from God, and yet we were created live
      in harmony and in union and communion with Him. Today, with the
      prodigal, we awaken from our sloth and the darkness of our despair and
      proclaim, “I will return to my Father’s house”. But we do not set off
      alone, rather we have as our guide and helper our Lord Jesus Christ Who
      sets before us the first step – to deny ourselves which then leads to
      the further steps to take up your cross and to follow Him. Great Lent is
      the first step, the step of self denial, and today we take that step so
      that we might ascend the cross with Christ during Holy Week and on
      Pascha follow Him, rising with Him from the tomb into Life eternal.


      --
      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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