GOSPEL MESSAGE & RECORDING
St. Silouan the Athonite, a contemporary saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church, writes that there are two thoughts that can destroy a Christian:
Thought 1: when a person thinks that he or she is not a sinner, or that the person becomes prideful about his or her spiritual life or spiritual accomplishments
Thought 2: when a person thinks that God will NOT accept him or her due to sin or that God will not forgive them.
St. Silouan’s words are insightful in that it provides for the Orthodox Christian a view of two spiritual perspectives. The first is someone who relies on his or her own efforts as a means to salvation. The second is someone who ends up in a state of hopelessness. The latter is what I want to focus on for today’s message.
In the Gospel reading today Christ says, “All that the Father gives Me, will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” (John 6: 37) Here, Christ is saying that God the Father has given Him everything because all that is in the Father is in the Son. Therefore, we the believers of the Kingdom of God, are giving over to Christ. We become the brother and sister of Christ, and Christ, in turn, becomes our “elder brother.” This relationship that we have with Christ originated from our baptism and is maintained in a continued effort to live for Him. But often, we lose that attachment that we have for Christ, due to sin, either by word, deed, knowledge or ignorance. The “weight” of sin is too much for us to handle; the “guilt” of sin has taken over and rather than moving toward repentance and the love and forgiveness of God, we fall into despair, hopelessness, and darkness. Once at this point, it doesn’t seem that God will forgive us or would want us back into His presence. This is far from the truth! Christ says, “I will by no means cast them out.” What we have to understand is that despair, hopelessness, and darkness are not from God. There are moments of guilt that settles into our hearts but it should immediately lead us to repentance and restoration into the love and mercy of God. When we think that God will not forgive us, or restore us, or care for us—that is the beginning of what St. Silouan mentions—thought #2. How can we prevent ourselves from getting to thought #2?
Confession: Confession is the Sacrament where we receive the “full” forgiveness of God. And where God’s mercy and grace are given to us fresh and new. Going to confession once a year is a good move but to prevent ourselves from going into any type of despair, hopelessness or darkness, we should be vigilant to confess to the Priest as often as needed. A good Orthodox Christian will confess at least four times a year in order to maintain a healthy spiritual life.
Consultation: It is good to inform the Priest of your spiritual struggles every now and then. When the believer does this he or she will receive spiritual guidance on how to handle guilt; and further be given a positive, uplifting, restorative “word of knowledge” from the Priest.
Prayer: Ask for prayer after Qurbana. This does wonders. Praying at the church in front of the Holy Sanctuary provides us with the divine experience that can uplift and restore us from our guilty feelings.
Self-Responsibility: As a Mission Parish, we often talk about the Mission as an external factor; that is, something that we have to do for someone else, for example, charity work, or evangelism. Have we ever thought about the idea that we as individuals are the “mission?” We, as a Mission, have been in existence for over two years. During this time, has the “mission” become a personal pursuit to grow closer to Christ and really work on our sinful habits? The reason why I ask this question is not to judge anyone but for us to take our participation here at St. Luke with seriousness. The reason why I am attempting to bring this point across to you is so that we understand that if personal responsibility is taken seriously in our lives, especially since we belong to a mission, then we can prevent ourselves from slipping into despair.