A Sermon for the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers of Christ (2019)
Even as we are falling into sin, cutting ourselves off from God, slaying ourselves with spiritual death; even amidst this, God speaks hope into our heart, reassuring us that there is a Savior for those who repent. This is proved to us by our Fore-Parents, Adam and Eve. For, after they sinned, they heard the Lord’s words of condemnation of the serpent-devil, but mixed with this there was the first prophecy of the coming Messiah, Christ, the Savior of the world.
For the Lord speaks of the Seed of the Woman Who will crush the head of the serpent. Women do not produce seed, but men do; nor did the Jews trace the lineage of a person through the mother. But, He Who was begotten of the Father virginally before the ages was born of the Virgin-Mother without the seed of man, and therefore He is the Seed of the Woman, the Second Eve, the Virgin Mary, the Ever-Virgin Theotokos.
It is on her account that we celebrate today the Holy Forefathers of Christ. And it is for His sake that we honor her as the pinnacle of creation, the summation of the Old Testament, and the living Book inscribed with the very Word of God Himself, the opener of the New Testament.
Amidst this fair choir of forefathers, fathers, patriarchs and prophets stands the holy Enoch who was translated to where only God knows because of his faithful clinging to God all his earthly life.
Here also we find Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jacob prophesied of the coming Christ also, giving the Jews and all the world the exact time of His arrival, leaving absolutely no doubt. For he says that a ruler shall not fail out of Judah until He Who is to come, comes, the Expectation, the Hope of the Nations. When King Herod—a Gentile—ascended the throne of ruler of the Jews, and was called the King of the Jews, though he was not of the tribe of Judah, then this prophecy came to pass.
Therefore, those who knew the Scriptures also knew that the Messiah would come during Herod’s reign. The Pharisees had no excuse! And there is even testimony from Jewish tradition that they bewailed the fact that a ruler from Judah failed, and yet Christ had not come. They knew the time was come for the Christ, and they saw the Christ in the flesh, but they denied Him and His coming. This is only because they were blinded by passion, envy, hatred, pride, hypocrisy, and thus slew their Salvation and Life.
David was the first holy King of the Jews, who sprung from the tribe of Judah. Twice he had his enemy and pursuer, the maddened and murderous King Saul, in his hands. Twice he could have killed Saul, but twice he did not. He fulfilled the commandment to love one’s enemies 1000 years before Christ came in the flesh, taught this commandment, and manifested its reality on the Cross. Therefore, this King David was truly a worthy fore-type of Christ the King of all Who pardoned His murderers while hanging on the Cross.
He was also graced with prophecy. Because of his love for his enemies, he was endowed with clear-sight and penetrated divine mysteries. He revealed the coming of Christ even more abundantly and vividly than Moses. Furthermore, he even revealed Christ’s divine nature and origin. For, he speaks in the person of the Father, saying: From the womb before the morning star have I begotten Thee; that is: I the Father, before all creation and time have begotten Thee My Son.
David also revealed that the Messiah was God by nature, God from God as we confess in the Creed, when he said: Wherefore, God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness more than Thy fellows; that is: Wherefore, O God the Son, Thy God, the Father, hath chrismated Thee, the Christ, with the grace of God the All-Holy Spirit, Whom He hath poured out upon Thee without measure, upon Thy human nature, for Thou art also God; even the Holy Spirit Who hath ever been with Thee because of Thy divine nature.
Again, King David’s love granted him the grace to utter such high things, revealing in a shadow the Holy Trinity even before the mouth of Christ, One of the Holy Trinity, revealed the Trinity perfectly.
Yet this man fell—into adultery and murder. But his repentance was even greater than his sins. And he has become the mouth-piece of our salvation, uttering many divine hymns and psalms which have nourished the Church since Old Testament times, speaking the prayers and cries of our hearts, and expressing the hidden experiences and needs of our souls more than we ever could articulate. And this is because He was guided by the Holy Spirit because of his love and repentance. When love fails—through selfish lust and destructive anger—repentance restores us to love, it restores us to God, God Who is Love.
Solomon his son was a very wise man, the wisest, although he fell into fornication and idolatry. Yet, he has left us many books of wisdom, and is numbered as a Saint of the Church, praised by us today on account of being a Holy Forefather of Christ. This can only mean that he repented in his heart, and the Lord found him worthy despite his many falls into sin. Maybe it was on account of the fact that he was a man of peace. It was told by God to David that, although he desired to build a temple for the Lord, he would not, but his son would; because, the Lord explained, thou, David art a man of war, but thy son will be a man of peace. It may have been this peace of King Solomon which was remembered by God, interceded for him, and was reckoned in God’s great mercy as more than enough to tip the scales of all his sins.
And this is encouragement for us, and a warning. It is encouragement, because such a licentious man still found grace enough before God to become an instrument of our salvation, a forefather of Salvation Himself, our Savior Christ. It is also a warning to us Orthodox Christians, for although we have all things necessary for our salvation, have been united to the Body of Christ God Himself, are nourished upon His Most Holy Body and Most Precious Blood countless times; although we have all these things, we must never grow proud, self-reliant, pharisaical, self-complacent or comfortable with our supposed piety, or Orthodoxy, or righteousness.
We will be like the ungrateful Jews who had all things, the promises, the warnings, the holy fathers, the Scriptures, the prophecies, and the very Son of God Himself being birthed into this world in Jewish blood. Though they had all this, many forsook Christ. But let us never forget that there were other Jews, truly righteous Jews, humble Jews—who had the same promises, the same Scriptures, the same Christ come in the flesh: the Holy Apostles and all those who believed on Christ and united with Him for all eternity.
And there were also those who stood at the foot of the Cross, and although they cried out with madness and hatred: Crucify, crucify Him; though they hated Him with a deep and evil hatred and slew Him in cold blood; many even of these, when they saw the earthquake, the dead risen and gone into the city, and heard their words; those who also saw the veil of the temple being torn asunder; many of those who at one moment murdered God on the Cross, turned in whole-hearted repentance and believed on Him. Some may even have become martyrs. Their stories are untold and their lives are hidden and known to God alone.
Now we, we have Christ, the Church, the fullness of His teaching, the Gospel, the Holy Fathers, and before us today the example of all those who loved and longed for Christ in hope before His appearing on earth, before His incarnation, before they could reach out and touch Him and handle Him, clasp His feet, before they saw and experienced their Salvation and Life, God Himself in substance, in human flesh.
We have the fullness, therefore we will be held more accountable; yes, more accountable than the High Priests Annas and Caiaphas who slaughtered Christ. We will be held more accountable than the blind Pharisees. We will be held more accountable than all those who lived with the Forefathers in the Old Testament. We must take these things to heart, never become proud in our Orthodoxy, and never sever ourselves from Christ through self-admiration, self-preoccupation, self-aggrandizement, self-adulation, self-worship, the idol of self.
We must constantly seek to enter into the mystery of Christ, to experience Him. And now, that we are coming close again to celebrate His ever-memorable Incarnation and Nativity, now we must seek more than ever to be reborn in Christ, to give birth mystically in our souls and bodies to the grace of the Spirit, the Spirit of salvation. We must beg God to create in us a clean and pure heart.
We must ruminate on the love of God at all times, for His love is an abyss. We must fill our minds and hearts and mouths with His divine Scriptures, ruminating on the holy thoughts therein. We must fill our souls with salvific and illuminating psalmody. We must call out the sweet name of Christ amidst all our perils, all our afflictions, all our strife, all our warfare, all our passions. We must beg Him to help us, to do again what the prophets cried out long ago: O Lord, bow down the heavens and come down, become incarnate again, take on substance and life, but now, within me, within the Church, within all the world which Thou dost care to unite to Thyself and to nourish eternally with Thy Most Holy Body and Blood.
We must constantly lay ourselves bear before Christ, confessing and revealing our weakness, our passions, our sickness, our disease, our incurable wounds. If we do this, He will truly come down to us. The Holy Fathers teach us that His Incarnation must be made active in us personally and individually, as we struggle in the community of the Church.
The Holy Fathers also teach us not to think that the Lord’s descent into hades is something long past, happening long ago, somewhere, some place far outside of us, detached from our personal life. No, they say that our heart is hades, and Christ desires to descend into it in order to make it the Kingdom of heaven.
Ours is the wretchedness, the darkness, the imprisonment. His is the restoration, the illumination, the unbinding and loosing and freeing. Ours is the despair and passion. His is the hope, the uplifting, the instilling within us of the knowledge of His all-conquering and all-powerful and all-healing mercy, which purifies us, makes us natural, fills us with light and unites us to what is above-natural, He Himself, the Life of all, the Beginning of all, the Power of life for all, the End and Summit and Culmination and Everlasting Life of all.
Let us seek Him with fervent hearts. Or at least offer the two mites of our wretched and distracted and darkened minds and our cold indifferent hearts. If we do not have a kingdom of gold worth of virtue, then let us offer Him the filthy rags of whatever small little desire and feeble efforts that we have. Even if they are soiled by vainglory, or selfish ambition, or motivated by some other thing other than pure love for God, still, if we offer them, conscious of their worthlessness, He will receive them as the Loving Father, Who cherishes our intention and the laying forth of all that we have to give.
Impress upon our souls the knowledge of Thy mercy and love. Fill our hearts with, with what? Fill it with Thy Spirit, make Thy Son to become incarnate within us. What other prayer can we have? For a prayer is a wish, a moving towards God, and a seeking of unity with His will. But what other than our purification, illumination, transformation, deification and vibrant ever-growing eternal life in Him; what other than this is His will, His kingdom? What else shall we beg for? He has given us His Only-Begotten. He has already given us the All. What else can we ask for, other than the bringing to life, the full reality and the activation and realization of His Son’s Incarnation with us?
Let us bow down before Christ now, let us worship Him, Who is coming from heaven again to restore and reinvigorate and overfill our barrenness, our darkness, our imprisonment. Let us beg Him to come again, to bow down the heavens, to take up and renew His abode within us, and to bless and perfect us now, at this minute, for the rest of the day, for all our life, and for all eternity unto the ages of ages, unto the glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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