by Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo)
How many and varied are the temptations that seek to rob us of prayer? How manifold are the deceits of Satan and the delusions of our own desire that would hinder us from being present for the Divine Liturgy?
If a person — especially a child — finds himself away from home and alone, a telephone call to the parents is a great consolation. Is prayer not the same? Prayer is, indeed, like a call home and a comforting conversation with our loving Father. To call home, however, reminds us that we are not home. It calls to mind that we are away, in exile as it were, from our beloved home. Neither Satan, the master of our exile, nor our own passions, want us to be aware of and contemplate this condition of exile. Since the Divine Liturgy brings us to the very border of paradise — our true home — it reminds us more profoundly of our condition of exile.
So long as we are aware of our exile, and so long as we struggle to keep in touch with our true homeland, Satan’s influence in our lives is weakened. Our adversary desires, therefore, to lead us to reject the condition of exile and accept this foreign land and its bondage as our actual and final “home.” Then we will become reconciled to the “spirit of this world,” with its delusions and vain promises.
Brothers and sisters, it is not without reason that Apostle Paul called us all exiles and declared that “here we have no abiding city.” For if any Christian accepts this present condition as his “native land,” he will accept that he does indeed have here an “abiding city.” His heart will then turn toward the corrupt materialism and vanity of the fallen nature. He will become a patriot of the “principality of this world” (Ephesians 6:12) and he will grow cold in his affection for the kingdom of heaven.
Let us not then yield to the temptations from without and the delusions from within. Rather, let us acknowledge ourselves to be in exile; let us acknowledge that prayer, the divine services and our moral struggle all bring us on our journey homeward, and out of the land of our bitter exile. Let our courage be increased by the joyous knowledge that our Father did not wait, like the father of the prodigal son, for our
repentance and return. No, the Father did not wait, but sent His Only Begotten down into our exile to seek us out and lead us home. We must but endure with patience until at last our journey ends and we pass through the gates of paradise into our true and eternal homeland.
As we celebrate the Incarnation of God, let us recall that our Redemption was wrought by the co-suffering love of God with mankind. God-the-Word, the “Jehovah” of the Old Testament, the “Ancient of Days” Himself took on flesh and endured our suffering, not to pay off a death penalty owed to God for our sins or to satisfy God’s “justice,” as the Gnostics taught, but rather to redeem us from bondage to Satan
and death through His own ineffable cosuffering love with us.
The Feast of the Nativity is the first of the feast of our redemption, for it is by means of the entire Incarnate life of God as man and His healing ministry amongst us that we are saved. As His death and resurrection redeemed us from our bondage to death, and to Satan through death, so His incarnate life, and the healing of our fallen nature by His perfect nature; the reunion of God and Man in the person of Jesus Christ: all this is in the seemless fabric of our redemption and salvation which began with the eternal will of God and was manifested in our midst by the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation of God the Word. Today, we celebrate the beginning of our deliverance from bondage into “the glorious freedom of God’s children” (Rm.8:24 ).
God is in our midst and all creation is made new. Let us glorify Him!