Freely You Have Received, Freely Give

December 21, 2017

A Reflection on the Apostles Fast

 

Our Lord commands us all to carry the light of Christ, not only in the depths of our hearts, but so that others may see it and also desire it for themselves. We have a golden opportunity now in Australia, to be fruitful workers in Christ's vineyard - to be doers of the Word and not hearers only - to be spiritual givers and not just consumers. Even though people say it is difficult times, Christians are known historically to be more creative and actually flourish spiritually when it is difficult.

Why is it soon after Pentecost we Orthodox Christians are again fasting, and sometimes for many weeks, up until the Feast day of the Apostles Peter and Paul? Our Lord Jesus Christ, having conquered death by His Resurrection, having ascended into Heaven and having given us the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, gave one final command when He said:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you..." (Matthew 28: 19 - 20).

In other words, all Orthodox Christians are expected to be fruit-bearers before our Lord. We have been given the power to overcome death, we have been given the means to make our souls Christ-like and in gratitude for all this, Christ expects us to share this joy with the rest of the world. We pray and fast, during the Apostles Fast, to strengthen ourselves for the work ahead, just as anyone setting out on an important endeavor, must first prepare and strengthen themselves for the task ahead. By prayer and fasting, we can go out and confess Christ before the world, in order to fulfill this final commandment that He gave us. The Apostles Fast, was actually the very first fast that Christians took upon themselves. Right from the Old Testament, every good work was preceded by prayer and fasting. And now, during this Apostles Fast period, we too are strengthening ourselves physically and spiritually, to go and work for Christ in His vineyard.

The reason so many are depressed today, even amongst Orthodox Christians, is that this final Commandment is not being observed. They do not actively participate in the life of the Church or her services, but are passive consumers of that which the Church offers. Orthodox Christians are expected to work in Christ's vineyard to round-off, or complete their life in Christ - that is a sure way of regaining joy and peace in one's heart.

How do we bring forth fruit for Christ today? Here are some ways:

* Tell someone about the saint of the day. Do it electronically if you like.

* Say your morning and evening prayers with your family or friends.

* Donate Orthodox books to libraries, schools, colleges, hospitals, prisons.

* Ask your priest how you can help in the parish. He needs your help more than you think.

* Translate inspiring Orthodox material from other languages, to share and publish for the edification of others.

* Give Orthodox books, magazines and subscriptions as gifts, or Orthodox music.

* Tell others about your trip to a monastery or an Orthodox book you just read.

* Send "Letters to the Editor" giving the Orthodox perspective on current issues.

* Put an ad in the local newspaper with a quote from the Holy Fathers.

* Make a habit of saying, "God bless you," to people you contact during the day, in person or on the phone, and say "Peace be to this house," whenever you enter someone's place. Make sure you really mean this.

* Have some paper icons at your work area.

* Revive with your friends the ancient phenomena of Orthodox Brotherhoods, in order to do some worthwhile cause, e.g., visiting the sick, the imprisoned, the lonely, the youth, doing a building project, producing a publication, etc.

* Be an active participant in Church services.

* Learn how to do the cycle of services especially Vespers, Matins and the Hours, so that you can read them during the week, at home or with friends, when a priest is not available. Learn to read the Typica when you are unable to go to Liturgy.

* Be prepared to give a good account about your faith to anyone who might ask. For this you will need to study Orthodox lives of saints, spiritual life and theology.

If you are prepared to serve in God's vineyard, the Lord will send His blessings, but prayer and fasting must form a decisive part in your life - you MUST be prepared. Do not rely on your priest and parish to do all this - they are already overburdened with their own Godly work.

At the end of your life, Christ will ask you what fruit can you show, being an Orthodox Christian and having enjoyed the fullness of the Faith with all its blessings that you received for free. What will you answer?

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