On January 17, on the Sunday before the Theophany, our parish gathered for a nice celebration in our temple. Rector of St. George Church, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy. After the Gospel lesson he preached the following homily:
“Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Today is Sunday before the Theophany and we are expecting the great feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Today we read the beginning of the Holy Gospel according to Mark”.
“Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark was not among the 12 Disciples of Christ but he was one of the 70 Apostles and he was a disciple of St. Peter. By the way, today we commemorate those 70 Apostles altogether; the Church honors those holy men who were in the broader number of the Disciples of Christ but not among His 12 closest Apostles”.
“The Gospel of Mark is the shortest one, and it begins with a story about the preaching of St. John the Baptist. St. John called the people to repent, and those who wished to receive the forgiveness of their sins, were coming to him to the wilderness and were baptized in the Jordan River confessing their sins (Mk. 1, 5). St. John was the Forerunner of Christ, meaning that he was the one who preached before the coming of Christ; he was preparing the people for his coming. Therefore, today’s Gospel recalls the words of the prophecy: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You” (Mal. 3, 1). St. John the Baptist was that messenger of God. He lived in the wilderness where the people were coming to him to hear the preaching about the Messiah. Thus another prophecy recalled in today’s Gospel so much fitted to him: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight’” (Mk. 1, 3; Is. 40, 3). The Holy Forerunner clearly told those who came to him that he was not the Savior but that there comes after him the One who is mightier than him (Mk. 1, 7). Later that who was Mightier came to the Jordan to be baptized”.
“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, we are now on the eve of the feat of the Lord’s Baptism and we commemorate the preaching of St. John the Baptist which was before the appearance of the Son of God to the world. For in the previous winter holy day of the Nativity we spiritually contemplated Christ as a young Child born by the Holy Virgin in the Bethlehem cave. And now we prepare ourselves to see Christ already as a mature Man coming to the Jordan to be baptized. Back then the Child had to grow for a long time and to be hidden from the world. And now a feast is coming up where we are going to celebrate His appearance, an appearance of God, the Theophany. Without the Nativity there would be no Theophany. But with the Nativity the coming of Christ could not end; it only began. Christ had a lot of events of His life ahead of Him. And one of them ion the row was His Baptism”.
“What was so important about the preaching of St. John the Baptist? It was the call for repentance. Every true spiritual life begins with repentance. Repentance is the first condition of conversion to God. Only through awareness of our sins and errors, only by asking God to forgive them, a person can start to walk on a path pleasing to God. This is why the repentance was the main call of St. John the Baptist. And the baptism he performed in the Jordan was a symbol of purification from sins. Therefore, as we are able to use the water to wash away physical dirt from the body, in the same but symbolic way the people in the Jordan washed away their spiritual defilement, their sins which they confessed”.
“In this way faithful people were preparing to encounter the Savior about Whom St. John was preaching. St. John called to “prepare the way of the Lord”, to “make His paths straight” (Mk. 1, 3). We may not totally understand those expressions. In the ancient times when some king desired to visit his lands he was sending ahead his servants to prepare the places he wished to visit. Back then it was important to improve the roads, to straighten the ways where the king was expected to travel. Therefore the Prophet Isaiah whose words Apostle Mark recalls said, “Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” (Is. 40, 4-5). Before the coming of the Messiah, before the revelation of the glory of the Lord a proper foundation has to be prepared. All the spiritual and moral defects have to be eliminated or at least, made smooth. A valley has to be exalted, meaning that a spiritual weakness should be given the new power of the spirit. The mountains and hills of the human pride have to be brought low by humility and awareness of sins. And the crooked places of spiritual searches and of the wrong moral choice have to smoothen by repentance and desire to live in righteousness. Thus the repentance was the main way to straighten the paths of the Lord, to smoothen the defects of the human souls”.
“This was the mission of St. John the Baptist, and he accomplished it. Therefore, today we hear the words of the Holy Apostle Paul spoken about himself, but they could also pertain to the Holy Forerunner: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me… and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4, 7-8). For his righteous life and special ministry to God St. John the Forerunner was called by the Lord “the greatest among men”. The Lord said about him: “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist” (Mt. 11, 11)”.
“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, we also have to fight a good fight in faith, to run the race of this life in righteousness and to prepare for the encounter with Christ. For we call ourselves those “who have loved His appearing”, as Holy Apostle says. Let us then worthily prepare for the celebration of that appearing, for the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. Let us make the paths of Christ straight, let us prepare them for the One Who desires to visit our souls in these days of the feast. Let us follow the call of the Forerunner, a call for repentance in order to receive the crown of righteousness and salvation!”
During the Litany of Fervent Supplication, the Rector had a petition beseeching the Lord to spare the faithful from the outbreak of the disease.
After the dismissal of the Liturgy the Rector made announcements regarding coming holy day of the Theophany and addressed the main ideas of his English homily speaking in Russian.
Parish Warden and Choir Director, Olga Roussanow greeted Archpriest Igor Tarasov on the occasion of his past 55th birthday and expressed good wishes to our pastor on behalf of all the parishioners. Traditional Polychronion (“Mnogaia leta!”) was proclaimed to Fr. Igor. Then the Rector thanked her and parishioners for their greetings.
After the service a delicious luncheon was served in honor of Fr. Igor’s birthday. The Rector and parishioners had a chance to enjoy tasty meals and a nice company.