Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Theophany and the Imitation of Christ

Dear Parish Faithful,

I wanted to briefly comment on yesterday's Liturgy and the Great Blessing of Water to follow. First of all, I cannot recall the church being that full since last Pascha. The communicants were many and the line for venerating the Cross at the end seemed "endless." It was, after all, a Sunday, but I would also venture to say that the Feast of Theophany had something to do with the large numbers present for the Services. In addition to most of the parish being present, we had our share of guests, some of whom I believe are residents of Cincinnati. Hopefully, they left with the impression of a lively and, more importantly, faithful and traditional Orthodox Christian community that they will consider as a future spiritual home. That is why openness and friendliness to an unfamiliar face is so important, and that is a "built in" ministry for every parishoner. Many Romanian Orthodox Christians who are relatively new to the area are finding their way to our parish and we rejoice in their presence. We sincerely hope that their numbers among us continues to grow in the future. I ask any of our parishoners aware of such new residents to encourage them to visit our parish.

It was wonderful to have all of the children gathered around the table set aside for the Great Blessing of Water eagerly, yet patiently, waiting with their empty water containers in hand. The "holy materiality" of the Church is something that our children are instinctively attracted to. The concreteness and tangibility of the entire Liturgy, which embraces all of our senses - touch, taste, hearing, smell and sight - bring our children into the sacred atmosphere of the Liturgy even though they do not as of yet "understand" the profound theological character of the prayers. There is no doubt that it can be "long" and challenging to their attention spans - as yesterday must have been! - but they manage to do quite well, and the children remained orderly and well-behaved yesterday during the lengthy Blessing of Water. With so many children, there is no doubt that our parish is alive and well!

For us "adults," a major Feast of the Church, such as Theophany, always offers us the opportunity to place our own lives within the infinitely wider context of the Life of Christ. The Baptism of Christ, the source of our own baptism and Christ's solidarity with sinful humanity (though He is without sin), reminds us of what that baptism has committed us to: being disciples of Christ, which means putting His incomparable teaching into practice in addition to "believing" in Him. Following His Baptism, the Lord "was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." (MATT. 4:1) Besides learning that we need to fast in order to overcome temptation, because the Lord Himself fasted; we also learn that direct temptation can be resisted, rejected and rebuked by turning to the Scriptures. When Christ was tempted/tested by Satan three times in the wilderness, He drove Satan away by quoting from the Scriptures. (see MATT. 4:1-11) I wonder how often or how readily we turn to the Scriptures to fight against temptation when it comes our way. If a Bible is at hand - at home or at work - we could open it when tempted and begin reading a psalm or passage from the Gospel in order to dispel the tempting thought by the power of the Word of God. When Christ was tempted to break His fast in the wilderness, not only by eating, but by changing the stones into bread, He rebuked Satan by quoting from the Book of Deuteronomy: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." (DEUT. 8:3)

These are instances in which we can do as Christ did. The "imitation of Christ" is essential to our "life in Christ."

Fr. Steven

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