We exist to correct, convert, take those separated from God by their own sins and join them to God, for union with God is the reason for which we were all created.
Today's Apostle in the Byzantine liturgical Rite:
2 Timothy 3:16-4:4
All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work. I charge thee, before God and Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead, by his coming, and his kingdom: Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables.
Sex is the participation of the flesh in the exchange of Divine Love; the most central part of the Sacrament of Matrimony. It is the taking up of the flesh into the exchange that already exists in the soul, with this taking up existing for the sake of procreation, that the children of God might be "born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn 1:13); created as He wills, not as the parents will, for "He made us, and not we ourselves." (Ps 99:3)
Yet, the world attacks God and lies about sex by turning it in towards itself and having it exist for its own sake for the pleasure of the participants. At that point, all manner of sinful acts become permissible because the measuring stick of participation in Divine Love has been replaced by the measuring stick of pleasure and vain happiness.
Today we celebrate-together with the Holy Apostle James the Brother of the Lord and the Holy Prophet David the King-the Holy Joseph the Betrothed. He is the epitome of manliness-specifically because of his chastity. It takes a lot of strength, self-control, and discipline to be chaste. It requires selfishness, vanity, and a rejection of discipline to be lustful and sex-obsessed. It requires no strength to sire a child. However, it requires a lot of strength and discipline to raise a child and to, not merely have discipline, but pass on discipline to the child. This is precisely the work for which St. Joseph is known: not siring a child but only raising a child. Any idiot can father a child. It takes manliness and discipline to correctly raise a child to himself be a man and have the strength and discipline of his father.
This is a lesson that the modern world desperately needs-a problem known by single mothers as much as by anyone else for the man who was supposed to be the role-model and teacher of such manliness and strength is gone. Children need both a mother and a father because they need to learn both the virtues at which men naturally excel as well as the virtues at which women naturally excel. They need the example of both a proper gentleman and a proper lady to learn proper behavior and the proper dignity and value of each gender, which are the completely contrary and completely complimentary halves of humanity. This is why the One Parent Child needed a father-to have His humanity raised properly and to set a proper example for us on how to raise a family.
When sex is done for its own sake as an act of the passions, it is vain and emptied of its dignity, separated from God. It becomes chaotic with all possible acts treated as permissible. It destroys self-control and thus all morality. The act designed to join you to Divine Love, then separates you from God's Love, like Holy Communion (the intimacy between Christ and His Bride) received in a state of sin, that which was meant for a blessing becomes a curse.
When sex is done as an act of Divine Love and the body's participation in the exchange of Divine Love, then it is dignified and serves its proper purpose. It becomes ordered and submitted to God's purposes for the flesh and mankind. It creates self-control, and with it, theosis. Limiting sex to its purpose (as an exchange of Divine Love) dignifies it and makes it serve as the means for the spouses to be joined to God through the Sacrament of Matrimony, making it the part of the sacrament where the three (God, husband, and wife) are the most joined together. A physical exchange symbolizing and being a part of the exchange of Divine Love that already exists in the spouses and was already strengthened by Rite of Crowning.
I recently had the pleasure to watch "The Hunger Games" (the first movie in the series). Being a fan of gladiator-style tournaments, this movie was pretty enjoyable and fun to watch. The surprising amount of chastity in the movie made it even better. Males will be the ones most drawn to such movies, so the chaste and selfless overtones are very encouraging. St. Joseph randomly comes to mind. First, the basic idea of the series: The series of movies (and the series of novels they are based on) revolve around the "Hunger Games", a futuristic gladiator tournament that focuses on surviving in the wilderness. It is used by a powerful city to oppress its suburbs. It is contested annually by 24 youths, aged 12-18, chosen by lot, two from each of the 12 districts (one male and one female), with the last surviving competitor declared the winner. They need to deal with threats from nature as much as each other. All the carnage is on live TV for the entertainment of the Capitol, with the broadcasts in the suburbs being largely so they can watch their own children die. The propaganda of the dictatorial government plays it up as a chance for glory, when in practice it's an excuse to kill 23 children from the suburbs by lot. The winner almost always comes from one of the more well to do districts, with those districts getting preferential treatment from the dictatorship, to the point of letting them train illegally and then they volunteer to represent their district.
The main character is Katniss Everdeen, a girl from District 12, the most impoverished of all the districts. In the opening minutes of the movie, the filmmakers have a golden opportunity for a completely needless nude scene as Katniss takes a bath in a cheap metal tub much too small for a girl her age, but the filmmakers go blatantly out of their way to avoid showing even the slightest nudity during the scene, which is most commendable and rare in Hollywood these days. You see hardly anything beyond a foot and a shoulder. At the same time, there was a constant temptation to show a competitor relieving himself or washing during the long time they were in the wilderness and those possibilities were avoided as well.
The selflessness of Katniss is a major theme as her younger sister, much too weak to survive the Games, is chosen as the female "tribute" (competitor) from District 12 and Katniss immediately volunteers to take her sister's place, doubtlessly saving her life. This selfless attitude is continued later in the Games with the female tribute from District 11 (the second poorest district), herself too small for the Games, mutually helping Katniss survive, and Katniss accepts this girl as a younger sister, partly because she is so similar to her real sister.
The male tribute from the slums of District 12 is Peeta Mellark, who has a crush on Katniss, but she isn't interested in him at the outset. Romance does develop between them and is a main plotline, but the chastity of the relationship is what is so remarkable in this movie. The romance is not fast-developing and based on passion like sinful relationships, but rather slow-developing, with Katniss initially disinterested and hating Peeta. The content and purpose of the relationship is not to enjoy life and pursue physical or emotional pleasure like sinful relationships, but rather to support each other and keep each other alive, even to the point of each wanting to give up needed medicine to treat the wounds of the other (they end up each getting their way and treating each other's wounds). There is no intimacy between them beyond kisses (despite being secluded in the woods together for long periods of time), with those kisses being few and far between, only on the face, and only one per session. It is amazing and very laudable how chaste and virtuous their relationship is: they don't care about having a good time or being happy, they are in it to help each other and keep each other alive; their relationship develops slowly, not fast like passion based relationships; and they share very little intimacy, if it can even be called "intimacy". Combine this with the selflessness of Katniss towards her sister and her adopted sister, no perverted sexuality or erotic content or vulgar language in the movie, and the subtle fact that competitors are chosen in pairs, one male and one female, and you have an excellent movie. The fact that the weak shame the strong (in the social struggle between the districts and the Capitol) isn't bad either.
When Christ came to lift us out of sin, which we delusionally ran after, and join us to the Divine Love-for which we were created in the first place-he didn't come as a great intimidating warrior. Divine Love doesn't force itself on anyone. God doesn't need us. He already existed before us regardless of whether we accept Him or not. The fact that we were all created for Divine Love yet, living a lie, ran off into sin is a testament to the fact that Divine Love forces Himself on no one, since God gave us the freedom to do that in the first place. When Christ (literally the "One anointed" with Divine Love, the Holy Ghost) came to bring us into His Love, He came as a harmless child, a form so benign that only the most hard-hearted would despise such a sight.
Yet, King Herod was so full of his own pride, that even though He is in the most benign and harmless form, he still commanded Christ's death, only to fail, and he was more than willing to kill thousands of equally harmless children just to get his way. Those loyal to sin continue this same behavior, so hating virtue and goodness that even though Christ came in the most benign and harmless form, they still hate Him. They in their almighty arrogance declare that God is wrong and that God must accept whatever it is that they want. Or if they don't do that, they make up their own "God" and lie about God saying that He supports their vices merely as a rhetorical tool to force people to accept their behavior. All this when the real God forces Himself on no one, thereby revealing their deceit and betraying their malice.
But should it really surprise us that King Herod would honestly kill a defenseless and harmless infant just to defend his own lifestyle? People today kill not merely other people's children, but have a professional kill their very own children just so they can continue their existing lifestyle (make no mistake abortion is about lust, not murder and until the pro-life movement realizes that it won't get anywhere) and pretend that sex is about pleasure and being happy when in fact its single purpose is procreation. They do this through abortion to the tune of 4,000 executed children per day in the United States alone. You kill a harmless and defenseless child, because you are more important and attack everyone who opposes you with every manner of rhetoric and insult when God forces Himself on no one and is the one attacked by your anti-life politics and ideology.
Christ comes in the most benign and harmless way-a child-because He forces Himself on no one, and yet people still deny that they were created to live in Divine Love and lie to themselves, pursuing lives separated from God. Christ alone survives death-the death that is the sacrifice to cleanse us of our sins-and only by joining ourselves to Him can we survive our own deaths. He, being pre-existing God, doesn't need us, but we need Him. That is the lone reason why He came: is to remove us from our sins and unite ourselves to Him, a union that can only be complete in Heaven. He came in the most benign form to accomplish this goal and yet people still reject Him, for their lifestyles are more important than God who existed before them and the "now" is more important than their own deaths.
Let us not deceive ourselves, let us confess who we are, a people created to be with God, and let us join ourselves to Him who appears today in the most harmless and benign of forms to survive our own deaths, for He comes solely to survive His own death, that we might survive ours.
The Nativity of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ according to the Flesh
In the sun hath He set His tabernacle; and He, like a bridegroom coming forth from his chamber, will rejoice like a giant to run his course. From the outermost border of heaven is His going forth, and His goal is unto the outermost part of heaven, and there shall no man hide himself from His heat.-Ps 18
Troparion, Tone 4
Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, Has shone to the world the Light of wisdom! For by it, those who worshipped the stars, Were taught by a Star to adore Thee, The Sun of Righteousness, And to know Thee, the Orient from on High. O Lord, glory to Thee!
Kontakion, Tone 3
Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One! Angels with shepherds glorify Him! The wise men journey with a star! Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!
Today we celebrate the Holy Fathers-All Saints of the Old Testament, the patriarchs, judges, prophets and all holy men and women of the Old Testament who in their righteousness waited for their salvation on the cross to be accomplished in time so they could enter heaven. They in the past received grace from the future like the Theotokos at her All-Pure Conception in the womb of St. Anne. Christ comes to die for all through all time to make salvation available to them. But since God forces Himself on no one, sinners must reach out for that salvation and will to leave their sins, or else Christ's death-in their case-was for nothing. Pray that those who have willingly exiled themselves from Divine Love, that their will be softened that Christ's mercy be able to enter them and return them to their virginal purity. Pray to the Theotokos that they may share in her purity.
One of the stichera at Lord, I have cried at Vespers for this Sunday:
The Never-setting Sun is coming from the Virginal womb
to enlighten everyone under the sun.
Let us meet Him with pure hearts and with good works.
Let us prepare ourselves now through the Holy Spirit
to greet Him who is coming to His own people
as He Himself had willed.
He is being born in Bethlehem
so that through His compassion
He might bring back all of those
who were exiled from life in Paradise.
The Sacred Synod of the Church of Greece issued an encyclical in response to the so-called "Free Cohabitation Agreement" of the Greek government regarding the dignity of Marriage, its sacramental nature and salvific purpose, and attacks and offenses against that dignity. An excerpt:
"In the case of free cohabitation, we experience most deeply the theological and social alteration of the family institution. The family is no longer considered a "little church", but simply a symbiosis with one another.
The Marriage ceremony gives the impression of a very serious commitment and seems like an anachronistic event, like a meaningless act, if it ends up being simply like a folk ceremony.
It does not express anything existential nor poses eschatological or other metaphysical expectations.
The actual problem of marriage today is not so much a disruption of
relations, disagreements or the cruelty of one spouse to the other, but
the idolization and empowerment of the family, and the lack of progress,
testimony and orientation of Marriage towards the Kingdom of God.
In this case, the family has ceased to exist for the glory of God and be the sacramental entrance into His presence.
What dissolves contemporary families so easily and makes divorce
basically its natural shadow, is not a lack of respect for the family
institution, but its idolization and a refusal to accept the Cross
within the Marriage."
Marriage is not an institution; it's a sacrament. It's not for procreation. An institution is something natural. Procreation is something natural. Marriage is something supernatural. Marriage is a sacrament. That means that it has as its purpose union with God. Sex has as its purpose union with each other in Divine Love: a perfect giving simultaneous to a perfect receiving in the flesh, the body's participation in the exchange of Divine Love that already takes place in the soul between the two spouses, as an icon of the same exchange between Christ and the Church, as an icon of the same exchange between God the Father and God the Son. The Holy Ghost is Divine Love and unites the Trinity as One, Christ and the Church as One, and spouses as one.
The purpose of sex is procreation. The environment for procreation is sex. The environment for sex is marriage. The environment for marriage is Divine Love. The purpose of marriage is union with God-the union of yourself with God via your spouse and the union of your spouse with God via yourself; the perfect giving simultaneous to a perfect receiving that constitutes Divine Love.
From the Canon at Matins during the Pre-feast of the Nativity:
"You, the Word without beginning and one in nature with the Father, were laid in a manger of irrational beasts and freed from unreason us who celebrate devoutly the Forefeast of your Nativity."
God became man to make man God. He came to us in the Flesh in Bethlehem to join us in the Flesh to Him in the Eucharist. He came not to reassure us, or support us in what we were doing of our own accord, but to convert us from where we were. Seeing us living lives of sin and hating sin, He came to convert us and liberate us from the tyranny of sin, for were created for the sole purpose of being with Him and He came to show us this, our true origins and purpose, and to bring us to Himself, out of the falsehood and deception of sin.
The other day I saw this documentary on a Men's Monastery in Abkhazia (which might or might not be a part of Georgia depending on who you ask). It is an excellent depiction of the mind-clearing peace and serenity of a Christian Monastery. Simple work designed to empty the mind so that one is more free to focus on God. A beauty that does not need words:
Feast of the Maternity of St. Anne
(While this feast is traditionally celebrated on December 8th in the Latin Church, it is traditionally celebrated on December 9th in the Byzantine Churches.)
Today we feast the holy patrons of marriage, that most holy marriage and most pure union that produced the Theotokos. How pure must they be and how supreme as role models must they be if they produced and raised the Most Pure Theotokos, whose All-Pure Conception we hymn today? Why O Cosmos do you seek the flesh on it's own in your foolishness and ignorance? Seek first the soul and the exchange of Divine Love within and the flesh will be taken up into that exchange of Divine Love for the procreation of children. Seek not first the flesh with its pleasures and its emotions for therein is found only delusion. Christ God created the flesh to serve Him and outside of His Divine Love one's view of the flesh is distorted and He comes in short order with great mercy for He is the lover of mankind.
Our Father among the Saints, Nicholas, Archbishop, Wonderworker of Myra in Lycia
A wonderworker who saved lives and raised the dead. A puncher of heretics who was loyal to God above anyone on earth. A man who by giving his inheritance to the poor teaches us to worry about spiritual needs instead of material needs. Patron Saint of the Byzantine Churches.
Troparion, Tone 4
The truth of things revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, a model of meekness, and a teacher of temperance. Therefore thou hast won the heights by humility, riches by poverty. Holy Father Nicholas, intercede with Christ our God that our souls may be saved.
Kontakion, Tone 3
You revealed yourself, O saint, in Myra as a priest, For you fulfilled the Gospel of Christ By giving up your soul for your people, And saving the innocent from death. Therefore you are blessed as one become wise in the grace of God.
Today's Gospel for the Twentieth-ninth Tuesday after Pentecost:
"At that time, the Lord said, But before all these things, they will lay their hands upon you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and into prisons, dragging you before kings and governors, for my name' s sake. And it shall happen unto you for a testimony. Lay it up therefore into your hearts, not to meditate before how you shall answer: For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to resist and gainsay. And you shall be betrayed by your parents and brethren, and kinsmen and friends; and some of you they will put to death. And you shall be hated by all men for my name' s sake. But a hair of your head shall not perish."
Christ never said, "Following Me will make you comfortable and I will make it so that you are happy and that you and the people around you will never be uncomfortable or offended." No...He said the exact opposite: "Take up your cross and follow Me...they will lay their hands upon you, and persecute you...Blessed are they that suffer persecution...Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake" There's your "feel-good" Beatitudes. Christ only promised us suffering, penance, and being persecuted for the Faith. Sanctity is found in suffering for the faith. Suffering is what joins us to God because it was on the cross through suffering that Christ revealed Himself and His Love to us. It is suffering that joins us to Christ because is it suffering that Christ uses to reveal His Love. If you love someone, you will suffer for them. If you don't, you won't. It's as simple as that. Christ never revealed Himself or His Love by making people comfortable and making sure they were never offended. Love isn't found in comfort (that would be lust); it is found in suffering.