Brothers and sisters, as we enter into this great period of prayer, fasting and alms giving, let us remember to forgive one another’s transgressions.
Let me ask for forgiveness of my misdeeds towards you, that we may be reconciled in our Lord, Christ. Forgive me if I have offended you.
Glory to God in the highest!
‘Master, Teacher of wisdom,
Bestower of virtue,
You teach the thoughtless and protect the poor:
Strengthen and enlighten my heart.
Word of the Father,
Let me not restrain my mouth from crying to you:
Have mercy on me, a transgressor,
O merciful Lord!’
Christ is in our midst!
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we begin the forty days of Lent – our yearly sojourn into the wilderness – let us remember that Christ is with us. We read in the beginning of the 4th Chapter of Matthew.
“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Following Christ let us resist temptation with confidence in His strength.
As we fast let us remember also to pray. Let us fill ourselves with prayer; the lifting of our hands with our mind and heart towards God. As we empty our stomachs let us not forget to fill them with the Word of God.
With our fasting and prayer we must not forget our fellow man. Let us empty ourselves in love for our brother. As the apostle Matthew tells us in the 25th chapter of his Gospel. “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’”
This is our personal journey through Lent: to fast to pray and give alms. But we have a corporate life as well inseparable from our personal one. We are as Israel of old traveling in the wilderness. Christ is the true manna from heaven – the Word of God. We come together to fast. We come together for our brother. We come together in the Eucharist, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. (Revelation 2:8-11)
St. Polycarp’s martyrdom is historical reality. He died for one reason – his unyielding faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ. Yet St. Polycarp’s well-recorded death is only one of many lives that were given to reveal and proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ. In light of the cruel and torturous deaths of the first and second generation Christians, all theories that Christianity is a fabricated myth, created for the personal gain of its followers, must be rejected. Even today, many will die for a belief, but none will die for a lie. God allows the deaths of His saints not because He is a helpless or indifferent Lord, but because their deaths are powerful declarations of the free gift of life that is offered to us through the Person of Jesus Christ. St. Polycarp, like many other Christians to this day, was only able to die for Christ because he lived for Christ. His life was radically transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit — the desires, worries, pains and fears of this world no longer bound him. St. Polycarp’s life and death provides an inspirational example for all Orthodox Christians. He gave his earthly life for Christ, and in the midst of his sacrifice, he gained eternal life.