Nativity Devotion, January 3: A Spiritual Inventory

Nativity Devotion, January 3: A Spiritual Inventory

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Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  Matthew 3:5-6 (Gospel from Royal Hours of Epiphany)

 

Good morning Prayer Team!

Saint John the Forerunner was known as the “Baptist,” because he was “baptizing” people in the River Jordan.  In the Jewish faith, one entered the faith through the ritual of circumcision.  Periodically, thereafter, people went to be “ritually cleansed (washed)” of their sins through “baptism”.  This ritual was done throughout one’s life—it was not a one-time thing.  Saint John had a large group of “disciples,” people who were going to him out in the desert, at the River Jordan, to have him offer this ritual of “baptism” for them.

The initiation into the Christian faith is now done through baptism, not through circumcision.  Baptism now is a one-time event that brings one into the Christian faith.  Baptism is not repeated, there is no such thing as a re-baptism.  What makes a baptism a baptism is that the name of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—is invoked over the person being baptized.  Water is usually (not always, in an emergency baptism, one can invoke the name of the Trinity over someone without water and this is considered a valid baptism) involved and the person being baptized is usually immersed in the water three times.  In some cases, water is poured over them instead.

We are baptized for three reasons—first, because we imitate the baptism of Christ by being baptized ourselves.  Second, because He told us we must be born of “water and the spirit” in order to enter into the Kingdom of God. (John 3:5)  And third, because He commissioned the Church to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them.” (Matthew 28:19)

Baptism marks our entry into the Christian life.  Baptism gives us the potential to receive salvation, but does not guarantee salvation.  Baptism doesn’t mean that we will live a life without sin.  Baptism cleanses us from sin, and our baptismal state is the way we should strive to live, and especially end, our lives.  In a fallen world, this is not possible.  So we have a sacrament called confession and this sacrament allows us to return to the state we were in at baptism.

Baptism replaces the circumcision of the Old Testament.  And confession replaces the “baptism” that John was doing.  It is a periodic “washing” of our sins through “tears” of repentance.  Confession takes us back to the state we were in at baptism, by cleansing the soul and restoring it to a state of purity.  Confession allows us to own up for our sins, to be loosened from guilt, to reaffirm our faith in God, and to receive guidance and counseling through a spiritual father, so that our confession can be a true repentance, a plan to change our lives to point away from the sins we have confessed and towards God.

The sacrament of confession is found in John 20:23, where Christ tells His Disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”   This directive is passed on to the bishops and priests of today, the gift and the responsibility to lead the faithful to repentance and restoration through the sacrament of confession.

Confession ends with a prayer “have no further anxiety about the sins you have confessed but depart in peace.”  There are many times we pray to God, even confess to Him our sins, but we still feel anxious about them and we have no peace.  Confession is given to us as a gift to take away guilt and anxiety, and restore the peace of God to each person.

The mechanics of confession involve making an appointment with a priest, making a list of the sins you wish to confess and receive guidance for, and then going with a humble and sincere heart, making your confession, getting some advice, and most importantly receiving absolution for your sins, a complete wiping out of them.  As a priest who hears confessions, one my greatest joys is imparting absolution to those who come to confession.  Just so you know, I remember virtually nothing of what I hear.  I do not think less of people.  To the contrary, confession generally brings priest and penitent closer together, not farther apart.

Everyone should go to confession at least once a year—it can be at any time.  Like going to the doctor, you go when you are acutely sick, and you go once a year for a routine checkup.  Confession should be handled in the same way—at times of acute spiritual sickness, and at least once a year for a routine spiritual checkup.

As we begin a new year, it is a good idea to take stock of where you are, to take stock of your sins and bad habits, and then consider whether this is a good time for you to go to confession, so that you can be rid of anxiety and “depart in peace.”

By the greatness of Your mercy, You, O Savior, showed Yourself to sinners and publicans.  Where else was Your light to shine, if not among those who sit in darkness.  Glory to You.  (Hymn from the Vespers of Epiphany, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

Have a Spiritually healthy day!

 

+Fr. Stavros

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0