Who among us can say that he is righteous or that he has justified himself even a little before God? Who among us can say that he has lived even one day without sin before God, despite the fact that Saint Sophrony entreats us to say the prayer: “Vouchsafe, O Lord, that we may be kept this day without sin…”. We ask this from God every day: to live without sin. But who succeeds? That is why God receives us before Him not as ones who are righteous, but as ones who know and recognize that we depend on Him, on His goodness, on His love, on His forgiveness.
The Nativity Fast is dedicated to man’s reconciliation with God and to the manifestation of God’s love. Because God so loved the world that He gave His Only-Begotten Son, the Uniquely-Begotten, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16), He sent Him into the world that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly (John 10:10). This is the period of preparation so that we can approach Him and come to know His love. And this is especially where the majesty of mankind is revealed, for God Himself, the Creator, condescended to earth for man’s sake. No one stoops down for someone who does not deserve this. If we, the human race, deserved for God to condescend to live among us, this means that our value is eternal, that for God we are worth much more than we think, much more than the world reckons, that God wants us to live eternally together with Him. This is the majesty that the Nativity Fast has in store for mankind, and the calling that God gives us in the Church: to recognize not only our ailments, but also our dependence on Him. To recognize that God does not demand us to be free of our sins, because He knows this is impossible for us, but rather He desires our efforts to repel them. Our efforts are our job, how we struggle and exert ourselves. The fruits are the work of God. Hence, we hear in the epistle to the Galatians: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). We are the ones called to work, to struggle, but by ourselves we cannot expect any fruits. The Holy Spirit gives the fruits. What could the thief achieve on the cross? Yet he struggled, he had compunction of heart and he recognized that he had no chance of salvation from his own works. He recognized that God can create even from nothing, that He can receive even that compunction of heart, his last breath, and forgive his entire life for that single sigh, that short moment of great faith, when he said: Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom. The thief had faith that the Crucified One is God and that He can overlook all the iniquities of his life. Because He is good and loving. Because God did not thump His chest to boast that He is God, and He did not start punishing people for their sins, but rather He Himself ascended the Cross. Therefore, the Lord’s Nativity is inseparable from the Cross.
God calls us to discern the dignity we share among ourselves and before Him, He calls us to condescend to the sick, the distressed, and the abandoned. Many people are despised, disparaged, forlorn, or lonely. When we hear of such people, God calls us not to ignore them, not to pass them by, because we know neither what life they led, nor how others behave toward them. If everyone else wanted to throw stones at them, why should we take a stone as well?
We often invoke the righteousness of God or His anger, so that He may condemn the sinful one, yet God does not do this. When a woman was caught in the act of adultery and the Hebrews were preparing to stone her to death, according to their law, Christ told them that the one without sin should be the first to cast a stone. No one dared to do so. Look what God did: if people did not accuse her, then neither did God. This is how we can help the one who has fallen, or who is suffering a tribulation, or who is unable to lift himself up above his or her sins: by not accusing him. And given this refusal of ours to accuse, we hope that God will also refuse to accuse. God, seeing our love and mercy, will overlook that person’s sins. The most difficult state is to think that no one loves or cares for you. The beginning of our spiritual healing is when we begin to feel like we are the neighbor of the person next to us, when we can no longer despise, offend, or slander anyone. This is the only way for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to come. We often complain that we are sad, lacking joy, or depressed. But have we done anything to acquire joy, the fruit of the Holy Spirit?
The reacquisition of our human dignity, of our inner freedom to live together with God, begins with restoring our relationships with our neighbor, and with the good thought that we cultivate towards everyone. To be the neighbor of those in our proximity means to be open to his or her needs, and this leads to unity and love among people. Saint Paul says to the Corinthians: enlarge your hearts also (2 Corinthians 6:13). To be open to one another means to enlarge our heart so that the other can fit in it as well. To care about the other: whether we can help him materially, or through prayer, or through our patience or word of advice, or simply through the fact that we listen to him – we’ve opened our heart to him. We received him in our heart and we bear witness that we are on the path of spiritual healing, after which bodily healing also follows if this is propitious to our salvation.
Protos. Gherasim Soca