This month we remember the beheading of St. John The Baptist. St. John is my patron saint and is, as you might expect, quite special too me. St. John was a cousin of our Lord Jesus Christ. St. John had a very important role and message for the Jews of his day, partially to prepare them for the Birth of Jesus and His ministry, but mostly it was a message of repentance. St. John would cry out into the desert to any ear that would hear him, “Repent, Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand!”
St. John’s message of repentance is vitally important to the life of a Christian. If we want to make any spiritual progress, repentance is something we must practice. Repentance isn’t easy, it requires humbling of one’s self before man (your Father-Confessor) and ultimately before God.
Repentance is just as necessary as Holy Communion for the health of our souls. In fact, the Church teaches us that we are to search our hearts and if we have any anger towards our brothers or have temptations that we have fallen too, or sinful thoughts or desires that we have acted upon or dwelt on, we need to examine ourselves and really do some serious house cleaning of our souls. Some people, even Orthodox people say, “I don’t need to confess to a priest; I confess directly to God, because men are sinful and unworthy to forgive me of my sins.” Imagine for a moment you are very sick and could die from your illness. Do you go to a Doctor? Or do you say, “God will heal me, I don’t need a doctor!” Of course, we go to a doctor who is trained and is certified to give us the treatment, whether it’s a medicine or a diet (ex. diabetics) or both, we listen to the doctor after we tell him about every thing that is making us sick, what are symptoms are etc. and he will tell us what we need to do to regain our health. The idea that we don’t need to go to a priest and confess our sins is really pride, which is the mother and the beginning of all sins, I will deal with pride later on.
This is just as true for your soul as it is for your body, why would you treat your body better than your soul, which is eternal. Our souls usually, have a lot of built up black goopy junk (sins and passions) covering them. In the case of this nasty stuff, we need to go to our trained spiritual doctors, our Priests and Bishops, and we need to look deep into our souls and tell the “doctor” what is ailing us and he can give us the prescription to heal our souls and to put us back into good spiritual health.
Pride; What is pride? Pride, like I mentioned before, is the beginning or mother of all sins. Pride is what caused the devil to fall from paradise. Pride is when we say to ourselves, “I know better than the priest” or “I know better than the Church” or “Our priest is a bigger sinner than I am, why do I need to confess?” Pride is dangerous to the health of our souls. Pride keeps us from seeking out God’s Holy balm (medicine) of forgiveness. We may even develop a false humility, saying to ourselves “I’m too big of a sinner to receive Holy Communion.” When we judge someone else for their sins, this is pride. All sin is equal in the sight of God, and someone who has even a small sin that they keep secret is the same in the sight of God as someone who has committed a BIG sin. So when we fall prey to pride, we begin to judge others for their own sin, without looking deep inside ourselves and asking what are my sins or how have I failed God and my brothers and sisters? Humility is the opposite of pride, humility is realizing our failings and our sins and confessing them. Jesus showed His humility when He was on the Cross with the two thieves. Jesus, being perfect and sinless, could have said “I am sinless and I am condemned to suffer like these two criminals, this is not right, I deserve better than these two sinners,” but He was humble and instead of even judging His tormentors and those who wanted Him murdered said, “Father, forgive them.” This is the attitude we must have, we must forgive those who treat us badly and not judge the sins of others, instead we must do something very hard for us, we must not only forgive them and not judge them, we must love them, even treat them better than they treat us, like Jesus did.
On another note, St. John The Baptist is kind of, a father of monks. St. John lived a very monastic life, even though the “official” beginning of Christian monasticism was in the late 3rd Century with St. Anthony; St. Anthony certainly copied the life of St. John the Baptist in the way he lived. St. John lived very simply, eating only what God provided for him and dressed in the poorest of clothing, and owned nothing. Monastic life is a life of repentance, it’s not something that is familiar to many people especially in America, but even within our own Church, many people don’t know why the Bishops wear the Eskimo that covers their heads, it’s because Bishops are monks. Being called to the Monastic life to be a monk is really a gift from God. We should treat our Bishops as we would treat Christ, because they are His representatives. Being a monk means that you are called to devote yourself 100% to Christ and His Church, a monk devotes himself or herself by living a chaste life, meaning they never get married or have sexual relations, but even keeping watch over their thoughts to “intercept” any thoughts which are not chaste. A monk also lives in humility, because he/she gives up their will for the will of their Spiritual father. There is a tremendous freedom in giving up self-will and living according to the will of their spiritual father which is ultimately, God’s will. Monks like St. John The Baptist also are called to live in poverty. This does not mean necessarily that they must live in the desert or in a cave, it simply means that everything in a Monastery is shared by all of the monks and there are no completely personal possessions. A monk may have a number of things in his cell which he uses, but these things do not belong to the monk and when the monk dies, his things are distributed amongst his brother monks.
Monks, like all Christians are expected to fast. Fasting is a big part of repentance and humility, by denying the body it’s desires and being modest in what we eat without stuffing our bellies with even Lenten food, we begin to realize our dependence on God. We realize that what we have is only a gift from Him and we can begin to humble ourselves and repent and heal our souls, and by doing this we are on our way to truly loving God and this will lead to Salvation. The monk’s life is really a concentrated version of what is expected of all Christians.
But these things are not just for monks or alone. We, as Christians are expected to live chastely, especially before marriage. We are expected to share our things, gifts, talents, and time with others. We should also be mindful of our thoughts and be humble. This means watching our thoughts and noticing when we judge others or when we have an unchaste thought, or have by our action or inaction hurt our brothers and sisters in Christ. In conclusion, Repentance and confession is a gift from God, and we must take advantage of this gift and truly humble ourselves and search our souls, not judging. Then we can all fully enjoy God’s love.