By Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol
The period leading up to Christmas is especially blessed by God, because it leads usliturgically and festively to the main day, where the Orthodox Church celebrates the eventof Christ's birth. Like all the feasts of our Church, Christmas does not only have acommemorative character, but the main purpose is for man to share in this grace, whichGod gives through the feasts of our Church.
It has been observed through the experience of the Saints and Fathers of our Church thatthese days are distinguished for the overflowing grace that is diffused by God and theHoly Spirit to the faithful and are stations in our lives from which we can draw this graceand the communion of the Holy Spirit.
Of course, every day we celebrate the mystery of the birth of the Word of God and weparticipate in the whole life of the Lord by celebrating the Eucharist.
Our Church has handed us some things which, by observing them, help us to progressspiritually. First she prepares us with a period of fasting. Fasting helps man detach hismind from earthly things, helps his nous in prayer, pushes the heart to seek Divine Grace,moves the heart to prayer and union with the nous, cleanses the body of the impulsestowards the passions and sin. In general, as a means, which Christ Himself delivered tous, it is considered by the Fathers that it is one of the first and basic weapons in the spiritual struggle. Of course, fasting is not only about food. It is the fasting from all ourdesires, expenses, types of clothes, events, and basically in what we hear and in what wesee.
The person of the Holy Apostle Thomas is challenging for many to comprehend. Or, perhaps not his person—indeed, amongst the whole host of the Apostles he is perhaps the most “relatable”, given that we know more of some of his weaknesses than we do of others—but rather, the comprehension of his place in the sacred memory of the Church. Every year it strikes many as peculiar that immediately after the week of the Passion, then Pascha and the joy and radiance of Bright Week, during which we confess the heart of our faith, the glorious Resurrection of the Savior of the world, that the first Sunday of that new season of resurrection is dedicated to St. Thomas’s doubt and unbelief. How different it seems from the sure and certain confession that resounds in Christian ears over the days that precede it, and indeed continues even in the midst of such a commemoration: “Christ is risen! Truly, He is risen!” And yet, a mere week after the greatest of all Feasts, it is doubt, unbelief, that we hear about over and again—in the Scriptural account, and especially hymns of that day. And when we come again to keep his memory in October (St. Thomas’ personal feast day is October 6/19), it is again his “disbelief” that is called to mind, both in the troparion dedicated to him, and in the Scripture: St. Thomas doubted, we are reminded, when told of the Lord’s rising from the tomb. He went so far as to say, in words that shake the hearts of believers, Except I shall put my finger into the print of the nails … I will not believe (John 20:25).
Christ stands us before a mirror today so that can see our weakness and monitor our condition. ‘As you wish people to do to you, do so to them’. In other words, do as you would be done by. Such an attitude is essentially the first decisive step we need to take if we’re to progress in the Christian life. This stance isn’t merely a rule of external good behavior and formal comportment; it isn’t simply a framework to ensure that our interpersonal relationships are built on reciprocity and justice. The reciprocity of the golden rule (‘Do unto others as you would have them do to you’) clearly implies justice, but is not restricted to it. This gives rise to the question here: how, in these words of Christ, does the command of love, which extends to the point of loving your enemies, co-exist with justice?
The interaction between love and justice doesn’t remove the tension between them. Without justice, human relationships become harsh and callous; without love, they become stifling and brutal. Love doesn’t abolish justice, nor is it a substitute for it. But it does keep it on the right path and shows the direction for it to follow. It’s the abiding power which has its root in God. So when we ask for goodness, understanding and love from others, this means that we see them in the depth of their existence. This is precisely where it’s evident that each of us is a living image of God, and that, no matter how tarnished and sullied we are, we’re still of supreme worth. In this way, we’re brought naturally and gently to love.
Love for your enemies.
For us the faithful, love is the fulfilment of the law, the quintessence of the Christian faith and life, the core of the Christian revelation. Love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, it’s the treasury and treasure of our faith. It’s love which is directed towards and embraces every other person without exception. When we love only those who love us; when we do good only to those who do good to us; when we assist only those who assist us, then our love is counterfeit, fraudulent and selfish. It’s subject to the everyday game of give and take- I scratch your back, you scratch mine- and the relationships which are forged within this context are based on a network of mutual favors. But such behavior is reprehensible in terms of Christ’s words because it’s motivated by self-interested calculation. This means that the measure with which we weigh everything around us and according to which we act is our self, and then we sink into isolation and loneliness.