Sermon on the Apostolic Reading for the Sunday of forgiveness (Romans 13:11-14:4)

10 March 2019

In the days that idolatry prevailed, there were annual public festivals in the beginning of March.  These festivals were full of revelry, with wild dances and rich foods.   Such idolatrous feasts seemed to linger into the Christian era, continuing until the 7th Century.

Sadly, many who were baptized Christians also continued to participate in these enduring spectacles.   That is why the 6th Ecumenical Council, which met in Constantinople in 681, addressed this problem directly.  From the Council came the 62nd Canon, which banned Christians from participating in these obscene festivals, which have no place in a holy life.

In order to protect the faithful from such things, the Church has set today’s passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans to be read.   In it, he urges: “Let us walk properlynot in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust“(verse 13).  In addition, this Epistle is read because tomorrow is the beginning of Great Lent.   The most intense period of the year for contemplation, repentance, prayer, conquering the passions, and other spiritual pursuits that help us acquire virtue.   This is what our Church is preparing us for today.  The struggle of Great Lent has been likened to an occasion for combat: The arena of the virtues has been opened. Let all who wish to struggle for the prize now enter, girding themselves for the noble contest of the Fast; for those that strive lawfully are justly crowned.

Taking up the armor of the Cross, let us make war against the enemy. Let us have as our invisible rampart the Faith, prayer as our breastplate, and as our helmet almsgiving; and as our sword let us use fasting that cuts away all evil from our heart.

If we do this, we shall receive the true crown from Christ the King of all at the Day of Judgment. (Matins Stichera).

So today, we are exhorted by Paul, the great fighter in the spiritual contest, to wake up! “It’s time to wake up from sleep … The night is far spent, the day is at hand.  Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armor of light” (verse 11- 12). These inspired words are relevant for us today.   Many people who have been touched by the inner joy and peace that Christ gives to people who seek Him, are now looking for this joy elsewhere.   They look to frivolous entertainment and ways of living that are immoral.   The result is, that instead of the blessed happiness they yearn for, they find themselves in a worse state.  They sink into bitterness, sadness and the darkness of despair. However, the Christian knows how to avoid the traps of the wicked and their ways.  They see that no peace can be found there, and accept the guidance of God’s word.

We also heard today from Saint Paul these words:  “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (verse 14).  The Apostle Paul has spoken of this elsewhere, in the case of Christian Baptism: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). What does it mean, to “put on Christ”?  It means that just as our clothes are fitted perfectly to our body, so it is with our baptism, where we are united and become one with Christ.   Christ illuminates and guides our thoughts and feelings.   He fills us with His light and His grace.  When the believer is in this close relationship with Christ, then sinful passions are unable to enter the soul.   That’s why the Apostle Paul returns to this idea.  To remain united with Christ, as our clothes conform to our bodies.

My brothers and sisters, as time passes we draw closer to the day when we will deliver our spirit to God, and our final salvation will follow, as the Apostle Paul declared today (see verse 11).  Let’s not fool ourselves and say: “That’s great!  We have a long time to save our souls.”  The Apostle Paul will answer: “Now is the accepted time of grace, now is the day of salvation” (2nd Corinthians 6:2).  Our futures are not certain, so we should go about the business of our eternal salvation without delay.

I wish you a good victory for the fight during this Holy and Great Lent.