Gospel-centered Family – The Preservation of the Nation

A sermon by His Grace Bishop Partenij of Antania, Abbot of the Holy Bigorski Monastery, delivered during the all-night vigil of Theophany, January 18th, 2023, in the year of our Savior

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!

Glory, honor, and praise be to the great God and our Savior, Lord Jesus Christ, Who has graciously allowed us to gather this year for this traditional vigil on the eve of His great feast of Theophany, also known as Enlightenment. “Holy is the festival that has passed,” proclaims the sacred hymnographer about Christmas, “but even more glorious is the day that approaches.” This is because, on this feast, the mystery of the Triune God was fully revealed to humanity. For the first time in history, God clearly revealed Himself to people, showing that He is One Essence in Three Persons. As we well know from the Holy Gospel, when our Savior Christ was baptized in the River Jordan by Saint John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove, and the Heavenly Father with His Divine voice testified that the Baptized is His beloved Son and that the world should listen to Him and follow Him.

The Gospel reading we just heard began with the preaching of Saint John the Forerunner and Baptist at the River Jordan. With that same preaching, the Son of God began His salvific work on Earth, and we can confidently say that this preaching is the essence, or the main message, of the Church. The preaching is encapsulated in the words: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” With this heavenly call for repentance, Saint John prepared humanity for the coming of the Word of God, the Messiah of the world. Repentance is, in fact, the foundation of life in God. For, when a person truly repents, they enter into the Divine mysteries. Simply put, without repentance and humility, it is impossible for a person to draw near to God. Whoever does not engage in repentance lives in pride and disobedience, and where there is pride, as the wise Solomon says, shame will inevitably follow.

Having repentance as an essential transformative power, Christianity shapes humanity as spiritually, mentally, and emotionally healthy. The first thing it establishes, as a sanctuary in this world, as a piece of Heaven on Earth, is the family. The family is nothing other than a small church, a warm domestic corner, a community for lovingly building and ennobling the human personality. This, my dear ones, is essentially a workshop for healthy individuals. The Fathers of the Church say that the family is what produces holiness, like a kind of workshop for cultivating virtues and sanctity. Like a place where one learns about endeavor, sacrifice, and self-forgetfulness for others. Similar to a communal monastery, where people strive towards holiness. The Christian family perfectly matches the purpose for which man was created and is in accordance with his authentic vocation from God: to acquire divine energies, to become deified. The Creator at the beginning made man in His image and likeness, for him to unite with Him and to partake in His ineffable Divine graces. With the fall into disobedience, man lost this privilege, the primacy of being the most beloved creation of God, and it was no longer possible for him to fully commune with his God. But through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, man once again gained this blessed opportunity to return to his original calling and to step onto the gracious path of deification.

This beautiful tradition of binding the crosses, which has survived to this day, shows precisely that our ancestors, our grandmothers and grandfathers, our families were true workshops of sanctification. People in the past knew how to live a holy life, strongly believed in God, and firmly held to the Cross of the Lord, and through it, to the high evangelical values. Today, however, things have radically changed. We live in an unrecognizable world, undoubtedly suffering from severe spiritual crises. We see how for the modern person, transformed into a narcissistic individualist, nothing is sacred anymore; he desecrates and relativizes everything, trampling all under his feet, just to satisfy his ego, or perhaps, to hide and suppress his unhappiness. These days, in a neighboring Orthodox country, a member of the European Union, a law is being prepared that allows same-sex couples to adopt children. And don’t think that such an outcome is far from us. Once that law is passed there, it will inevitably come a time when it will be imposed on us as well. See how far humanity has reached? Phenomena that completely de-personify human nature and degrade human dignity are being legalized. Motherhood, in particular, suffers and is being eroded. Yes, indeed, we cannot forcibly prevent certain adults from living in a same-sex sexual community, by their own choice. Man is given freedom and the right to choose. This is confirmed by Apostle Paul when he says: “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Thus, no one is forbidden to do what they want with themselves. But in this case, this “law” directly affects the freedom and rights of children and is a classic abuse of them. These children will not be asked where they want to end up, in whose hands, where and how they will be raised. And the right of children to grow up in a natural family community, with a father and a mother, is their basic right guaranteed by the international Convention on the Rights of the Child! How can now suddenly some dare to change something that centuries of experience have shaped and valued as natural and healthy?! Think, however, how shameful and sad for the woman is what will result from such a law. Let’s assume that two men living in a homosexual relationship want to adopt a child. For them, according to nature and biology, it is impossible to give birth to a child themselves. Therefore, they will have to “buy” or take a child away from some mother. That’s why, parallel to the adoption law, such lobby groups insist on passing a law on surrogacy. And what does all this mean? That, unfortunately, in the future, the woman will be reduced to just a machine for producing children, so that if a homosexual couple needs a child, they will be able to pay for and receive it. Such abnormality cannot even be imagined among animals. For them, it is so natural to cling motherly and care for their young. We have countless examples in nature of this. Even we have seen in many animal species that if the female’s young are endangered, she will do everything, even go against the innate instinct for life, to protect them, even if she faces something much stronger than her. Simply, she will sacrifice her life to save her offspring. Now feel free to compare: as hard as it is to believe, it still imposes the conclusion that man has reached such a desperate state, to be even lower than the animals!

And what is the salvation from this? Only the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The applied Gospel, as our Church preaches it to us, as our ancestors handed it down to us. These traditions, like the godfatherhood of the cross, are not at all random. They served to convey the evangelical message to future generations. Today, unfortunately, most of these traditions are preserved only formally, customarily. But it should not be so. Because if we do not return to the essence of these beautiful traditions, drawing lessons for life and examples of true moral values, even these formal customs will fade away. And then we will have nothing. During communism, for example, we had grandmothers and grandfathers who, as children, attended religious education at school in royal Yugoslavia. Then when the godless society emerged, they told us at home, in families, about the Gospel, about faith, about the lives of the Saints… Although at school we learned about something else, about so-called historical materialism, the authority of our grandmothers and grandfathers at home was much stronger, so they managed to pass on the faith and keep the family healthy. The Holy Gospel strengthens homes and preserves family values. Now, let’s ask ourselves, do we have healthy families today and how much can they resist modern decadent trends, which are directed precisely against the family? And we know well: if the family falls, everything falls. Look what is happening to all of Europe: nowhere is there a working force, no young people. It is declared an old population, with negative native birth rates. This is precisely the consequence of violating moral values. And where will we end up? In an unprecedented abyss. Who knows what it will be like, imagine, in thirty years, when children raised in such unhealthy communities, burdened with serious psychological and emotional complexes and frustrations, will move among us, and perhaps even lead us.

Therefore, my dear ones, prayer and repentance are necessary, we need to hear the voice of Saint John the Baptist, to repent, to return to the faith. I am glad to see many young people from Ohrid tonight, who, wanting to prepare appropriately to enter the sanctified waters of the lake, devotedly and patiently stood in prayer this night. Know that God will greatly bless you for this, He will protect you and your families. However, I ask you to not let this standing before God be just once a year, but strive to regularly go to church on Sundays and holidays, to confess, to partake in communion. Only then can we save ourselves from the temptation, which, believe me, will not bypass us. Since in such an Orthodox country as Greece, which until yesterday so strongly held the Orthodox tradition, allowed same-sex communities, and now even adoption of children, it means that this wave will come to us too. We are faced with a strong challenge, a terrible and great threat to the Orthodox family, to the holiest thing, the core essence of society. The family is actually a small church, and as Elder Paisios of Mount Athos says, when the family is no more, then everything will be no more. Then there will be no monasticism, no church community, no spiritual life, etc. Therefore, we must work hard to keep the family as the apple of our eye. The mother must remain a mother. Motherhood is something most holy. The modern woman must not allow herself to be treated just as a machine that will bear a child for someone and leave it behind. That is so cruel and unnatural. After all, that child took flesh and blood from its mother, lay under her heart. How can she not be attached to it and leave it?! Therefore, listen to the voice of Saint John, be strong in faith. May this feast enlighten us all, so that we may continue to be zealous in faith and repentance, so that we too may be saved, and also pass it on to others who want to follow Christ.