29th Sunday after Pentecost – Orthodox Homily for Sunday before Theophany

Today is both a day of preparation as it is a day of decision.  In earthly terms, a new year has dawned on us.  We’ve entered into a new time, filled with new decisions, new joys, new trials, and new opportunities.  We’re also on the threshold of the Great Feast of Christ’s baptism and our own baptism intoChrist and the manifestation of the Holy Trinity, Theophany, at Christ’s baptism in the waters of the Jordan.  In heavenly terms, this Theophany and the entrance of Christ into these elemental waters, represents to us a new beginning of the most vital spiritual magnitude for us and all the world.  

Because this is the New Year, many people make New Year resolutions: I’ll go on a diet, get more exercise, quit smoking, etc.—all good things from a temporal standpoint, but what about our spiritual resolutions?  Where do you want God to take you this year spiritually?  What goals have you set for yourself, your family, our church?  What virtues and practices do we need to grow more in for our communion with Christ to grow?

For those who’ve tried to make resolutions in the past and not been able to keep them, it can be tempting to buy into the thinking that this year will be the same as all others; that since many of your past resolutions have failed, why try a new one?  “I’m this way or that way, I have these passions or those; I’ll never change.” All such thinking though is, in reality, a form of pride, self-reliance, rather than hope and trust in God, God-reliance, and His power in us; all such thinking denies the reality of the witness of changed lives we see in countless sinners turned Saints around us and the reality of what Christ’s baptism, which we’ll celebrate this evening, means for us and all creation.  To deny the possibility of growth and healing from passions and sin-sickness, is to deny the reality of Christ Himself—the reality of the Incarnation and the Theophany manifested to us beginning tonight.  

This year will bring much change with it—changes in each one of our lives.  Life is precious. Life on this earth is also uncertain.  Life with Christ, however, is as certain as it is eternal for those who are being saved and actively cooperating with the Holy Spirit in their lives.  So, how are we preparing ourselves in Christ to make the most of this season that God’s granted us?  What are you asking God for that you need to more effectively live out your baptism into Christ?

St. Paul’s words to us today are sobering.  He says, “But you, be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of the evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”  Do you see yourself as a missionary, as one who is truly “born anew by water and the spirit,” baptism and Chrismation, the sealing of the Holy Spirit?  It’s time we stop giving ourselves excuses from more faithfully devoting our whole selves to Christ and His work in the world around us.  How many times do we give ourselves excuses for why we aren’t striving to live a life more reflective of the Kingdom of God, of one who’s walking this life with Christ?  

So, if so, one can resolve to stop giving excuses and remember what we’re fighting for: our life with Christ, the only Life there is, fulfillment and enlightenment in Him, that is, eternal life.  

St. Paul admonishes us by example, saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  Do you see the Kingdom of God and the possibility of life with Him, of deification, as the major spiritual ‘contest’ of your life: a ‘contest’ that you’re willing to strive for as an Olympic athlete trains and disciplines himself physically?  Are we willing to put all our efforts into attaining the prize of the “imperishable crown”? If we’re not always striving to grow in Christ, we are, in fact, losing ground.  

In Matt. 7:19, we’re reminded of those who trusted in their status as sons of Abraham.  But Christ warns, “Every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” So the people asked Him, saying, ‘What shall we do then?”  St. Paul gives us an answer: “Be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”  

We have all been given by virtue of our baptism into Christ a holy calling, a ministry: Christ calls us “the light of the world,” the “salt of the earth.” As Christ is baptized into the waters of the Jordan, all is made new, the waters are sanctified just as those who follow Christ into baptism, ‘put Him on’ (in the language of St. Paul and the Church in Gal. 3:27).  We are made new, as Christ proclaims to us in truth.  By virtue of this fundamental change in our nature, St. Paul likens us to Christ’s “ambassadors.”  The word is clear: if we are in Christ, we are to live as those in Christ and impact the world around us with His truth and life in us. We no longer represent our own interests but those of Christ.  We live for Him.  We are Hisambassadors.  

Resolve that this year will be different, that it will be lived more for Christ than ever before.  Resolve that this year, you’ll run the race of faith to win the imperishable crown, that you’ll take several steps forward in faith, leaving behind the things that trip you up, practices and the ‘same old tired excuses, whatever holds you back from pressing forward in your growth in Christ in His Kingdom.  Avail yourself more fully of the Church and its resources (the divine services, the Sacraments, the Holy Scriptures, Lives of the Saints, the books of the Church), commit yourself to growth, give of yourself as a witness of the truth of Christ in an age and a culture of disbelief and you will truly, as St. Paul says, “fulfill your ministry.”  Through your humble, honest struggle and discipline, Christ will shine His light, love, and truth in you and through you.  

Know this: That those who don’t believe, will see the difference in us when we live our lives witnessing to Christ’s truth and love.  Some will see an alternative to the ego-centrism and secularism of the culture and find hope in Christ.  Some may react more vehemently, because by your witness, you are—either way—challenging their status quo and that’s uncomfortable. Take heart!  Christ says, “these things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace; in the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  

With this new year, with this coming Theophany, we have the opportunity to prayerfully commit each day, each moment to Christ—and that is a victory—evidence of Christ and His Kingdom at work in us—every time we repent, every time we pray, every time we witness to His truth.  I pray for you a most blessed new year, filled with Christ God’s grace, light, and life, that you may bear the fruit of the Kingdom in your life and, that through your life, others too may come to be born anew “of water and the spirit.” 

Fr. Robert Miclean

Holy Archangels Orthodox Church

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Sunday before Theophany

Epistle:            II Timothy 4:5-8, 

Gospel:            Mark 1:1-8