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Homily for 4/21/13 - L5 - the result of repentance

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  • Fr David Moser
    This is the last Sunday of Great Lent. Next weekend we begin Holy Week with the raising of Lazarus and Palm Sunday. Today, we are given the life of St Mary of
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 21, 2013
      This is the last Sunday of Great Lent. Next weekend we begin Holy Week
      with the raising of Lazarus and Palm Sunday. Today, we are given the
      life of St Mary of Egypt to remember and in a way we end up back where
      we started. In the first week of preparation for Great Lent we heard the
      parable of the publican and Pharisee. There were two sinners; one of
      whom, the Pharisee, was proud and thus was not forgiven. The other, the
      publican, was keenly aware of his sin and humbled himself in repentance,
      asking for mercy. Indeed it was the publican who received forgiveness
      from God. This initial parable sets the tone for the whole of the Fast –
      repentance for our sins. Everything else that we hear and experience
      during Great Lent comes back to the one necessity – to repent for our
      sins and turn away from them.

      Today, we see another sinner who repented, St Mary of Egypt. Just as the
      publican of the parable had just begun his repentance, in St Mary we see
      the result of lifelong repentance. St Mary lived not only a sinful life,
      but she lived a sin-loving life. She was, as it were, addicted to her
      sins. She didn’t care for anything but the satiation of her passions.
      When, through the power of the Holy Cross and the intervention of the
      Mother of God, she was brought to repentance and learned to love God
      more than her sin, she immediately undertook a life of repentance with
      the same singleminded focus that she had once sought out her sins. We
      now meet St Mary at the end of her life of repentance. For decades – the
      majority of her life by this time – she had lived alone in the desert,
      battling with the passions which tormented her and the memory of her
      sins which pulled at her to return to her former way of life. We see in
      St Mary the results of this struggle for in her we see humility,
      complete dependence upon God, compassion, and the gifts of the Holy
      Spirit which were manifest in her knowledge of St Zossima’s identity and
      of the practice of the monastery, in her knowledge of the scripture, in
      her prophetic words concerning St Zossima and the monastery in which he
      lived. We also see the working of miracles in her walking upon the water
      of the Jordan and her harmony with nature in the service of the lion at
      her burial. In her life, we see how it is that one who is filled with
      sin can empty that sin from the soul and be filled instead with the
      grace of the Holy Spirit.

      Even at the end of her life, in her “advanced” spiritual state, St Mary
      did not for a moment relax her struggle of repentance. She was reluctant
      to tell of her life to St Zossima, not out of shame, but because simply
      recounting her many sinful acts would renew the temptation and present
      yet another instance to fall back into sin. She did not relax her fast,
      she did not interrupt her prayers, she did not lower her guard, she did
      not stop short of the completion of her earthly struggle but persevered
      to the end.

      In St Mary we see the fruits of a lifetime of repentance. How is it that
      repentance accomplishes these great results? When we sin we cause harm
      to the soul – it is as if one were to take a knife and cut himself every
      time he sins. Just as the knife cuts the body and damages it, so sin
      cuts the soul and damages it. If you have a wound and continually reopen
      it and do not allow it to heal, it will be a constant source of pain and
      will eventually fester and become worse than before, threating not only
      the site of the original injury but the life and health of the whole
      body. When we sin the soul is likewise wounded and if we do not repent,
      that wound is never healed. In fact as we continue in our sin, we return
      again and again to that same wound and reopen it, and aggravate it. The
      wound of sin becomes infected and festers and begins to affect the life
      of the whole person. Without repentance, the wound of even a small sin
      will eventually overwhelm the health of the whole soul.

      But repentance is like washing the wound, cleaning out the impurities,
      repairing the damage, putting on soothing and healing balms and covering
      it over so that it might heal. Repentance is the turning away from a
      particular sin and so by repentance we no longer pick at the wound of
      sin, reopening it and aggravating it. By our repentance we attract the
      good grace of God which is the healing balm and ointment that is applied
      to the wound of sin to speed its healing and which causes the pain to
      subside. The effect of repentance is that we allow the wounds of sin to
      be treated and to heal and by fleeing from sin we do not reinjure
      ourselves and aggravate our old wounds. The grace of God that is
      bestowed upon us in our repentance fills the soul and transforms it,
      healing it not only from the sins which fester on the surface but also
      healing the underlying sinfulness of our fallen nature. By this grace we
      are transformed into the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

      Repentance is not something that we do only during Great Lent or only
      when we make our confession. Repentance is a lifelong struggle,
      something that we practice every moment of every day of our lives. St
      Mary did not rest even for a moment from her repentance and was alert
      and on guard against the recurrence of her sin up to the very end of her
      life. Having nearly finished 40 days of fasting, it is sometimes
      tempting to relax our struggles in this last week, to look back with
      satisfaction on the previous weeks of the fast and take our comfort in
      what we seem to have accomplished. But we are not finished, the fast is
      not over. The end of the fast is just as important as the beginning. If
      we do not make a good beginning, then the whole fast is crippled by the
      lack of a foundation. If we do not make a good end, then all of our
      labors are stripped of their crown and lie useless and incomplete. This
      is not the time to relax the fast, but rather let us continue to the end
      with the same fervor that we began. Having begun the race, let us not
      drop out in sight of the finish line and so forfeit the crowns that we
      have won by our labors.

      It is also important to note that the season of Great Lent is but a
      symbol for our whole life. Our labors of repentance and resisting
      temptation are not limited only to the Lenten period, but are with us
      during every day of our lives. Just because Lent is over, just because
      we have finished this one fast does not mean that we abandon repentance.
      Rather the repentance that we have begun in the fast we now take with us
      as a part of the whole remainder of our lives. The labors of Great Lent
      are the foundation for the labors of the whole life; let us not then
      abandon our hard won crowns as though it were a child’s toy that remains
      neglected after the party.

      The repentance of the publican set the tone for our Lenten struggle. Now
      St Mary shows us the results of a lifetime of repentance. This is our
      encouragement not only to complete the fast, but also to continue to
      flee from sin and struggle against temptation throughout the whole of
      our lives that in the end we too may win the crown of salvation as did
      our Holy Mother Mary of Egypt and enter into the Kingdom of God.

      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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