Monday, March 5, 2012

Met. Ephrem's Sermon for Soul Saturday 2012

This sermon was originally given to a meeting of priests of the Archdiocese of Tripoli on February 25, 2012. The original can be found here.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

Beloved, today in the Church we celebrate the commemoration of the righteous saints, which falls on the Sunday before Cheesefare or Forgiveness Sunday. The Church established this commemoration in order to present to us those whom, after Christ, we are able to emulate in the fast and in our life.

Who is righteous? In short, in the New Testament he is someone who has acquired two distinguishing virtues: humility and love. If one is able during this fast, through prayer and through working mercy to acquire humility and to acquire love, then he has reached the goal of the fast.

Especially for us Eastern Christians, the fast in our tradition expresses what we call asceticism,  that is the rejection of the thing that is great vice of man, selfishness-- stripping ourselves, as much as possible, by God's power, of our selfishness, of our self-love, in order to think of the other. This is why you heard this passage from the Gospel that first of all talks about alms and says: "Give alms," that is, mercy and good works, in secret! He also talks about prayer and says, "no not pray like the hypocrites."

A hypocrite, in popular language, is a liar, or, in foreign languages, someone who pretends to be something but had something different in his conscience. Who is a hypocrite? The text of the Gospel says that it is somone who seeks praise from other people.

In our prayers and in our doing good to others, we should not seek glory for ourselves and we should not look for other people to praise us. We seek God's glory, meaning that we seek reward from God and not from people. This is our reward if we help others when we "practice asceticism," that is when we deny ourselves food and life's conveniences, which today are many, in order to give to others. The purpose of the fast and of Church attendence is the other. It is not an issue of mortification, it is an issue of thinking of others, especially others in need.

Later on in this Gospel passage, he says, "If you want to pray, pray in this way: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name, etc..." This is the the Lord's prayer, in which we do not ask for glory for ourselves, but we ask for the Kingdom of Heaven and we forgive others. It is the best prayer, which we can repeat and thus obtain God's grace, we can obtain these two virtues, humility before man and love for God and for all people, amen.

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