Sermon by the Rev. Fr. Philip Begley

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God, Amen.

Last week we celebrated the feast of Theophany (the baptism of our Lord in the River Jordan)
and of course, the manifestation of God in Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

Today, in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, we focus on what happened after Jesus’ baptism
and his subsequent time in the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan. Today, we’re
focusing on the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Today’s Gospel account is his very first
sermon. And what is his message?

“REPENT for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

If this sounds familiar, it should. Those words first came from John the Baptist. But they had a
slightly different meaning when he said them. For St. John, he was calling others to repentance
to prepare the way for the coming of Christ and his kingdom. When Jesus says it, he is
announcing that the Kingdom has now arrived. Because where Christ is, there is the kingdom.
So, the Kingdom is literally at hand.

But, what does it mean when Jesus calls us to repent?

As I’m sure most of us know, repentance means a “change of mind” a “change of heart.” Moving
away from our sinful ways—the ways that take us away from God– and adjusting our course to
go back to God. To get back on track, back on Target. Afterall, sin literally means “missing the
mark” being “off target.”

So, how do we go about repenting?

We talk about repentance all the time in the Orthodox Church (and rightfully so). When our Lord
calls us to “repent” he is essentially encapsulating the entire message of the Gospels. All of the
things that he does, all that he teaches is for the purpose of bringing people to repentance. To
draw everyone back to him. All of the people that have gone astray.

As he says in the Gospels of Sts. Mark and Luke:

“I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

He’s trying to do the same for us here today. He’s trying to encourage us to come back to Him.
We who are like the prodigal son (continually following one passion after another, and who get
off track) He’s trying to get us back.

So how do we get back on track? How do we actually change our minds and our hearts?

We might answer by saying: “I need to pray more.”

That’s probably true for most of us. Maybe the problem is that we don’t pray enough for other
people, that we focus to much on ourselves and the things we want. Or, perhaps, we just don’t
have much of a prayer rule at all. Maybe it was strong at one time, but now we struggle to simply say morning prayers before we start our day and go off to work. So, yes, increased prayer
would be beneficial in helping us draw closer to God.

Maybe another thing we need to change is our attitude towards fasting.

Realizing that it’s not just about our diet. That we need to not only cut out the meat and the
dairy, but any excesses in our lives (whether it be the amount of time we spend watching tv, or
on our smart phones), simplifying our lives so that we can spend more time focusing on our
relationship with God.

Another way we might think that we need to change is by greater participation in the
Sacramental life of the Church, which means not missing services (especially not Liturgies and
opportunities when sacraments will be given) because when we receive the Sacraments, we
receive the Grace of God, which can be transformative.

We could also study the scriptures more, or give alms (if we haven’t done so)…etc.

Repenting, changing all of these things can help us draw closer to Christ, to become more like
That’s the ultimate goal of Christian life isn’t it? To achieve theosis? That fancy theological term,
which simply means to “be like God.”

But what is God?

“God” Says St. John the Theologion: “is LOVE.”

And so, we can do all of these things: Pray more, fast more, come to more liturgies, etc. But we
have to ultimately ask ourselves the question:

What is our motivation for doing these “pious” things?

Are we doing them out of fear? Simply because we want to save ourselves from Hell?

Or are we doing them out of Love?

If we aren’t doing things out of love, brothers and sisters in Christ, there is a problem.
As Mother Maria of Paris says:

“Piety, Piety, but where is the love that moves mountains?”

So, when I talk today about repentance, I want to emphasize the point that REAL, AUTHENTIC
REPENTANCE, must lead us back to the two great commandments.

If repentance is all about coming back to God, and trying to BE like God, and following His
example, that means we ultimately need to be more loving. If we want to repent, then what we
need to ask ourselves are these questions:

What can I do to love my neighbor more?

What can I do to love my enemy?

What can I do to show my love for God Himself?

How can I be more loving in general?

Those are the questions that lead to change. This is the path to true repentance.

Sometimes we get to caught up in details: all the fasting rules, checking the boxes, learning all
the complex theology (and there’s nothing wrong with that—in fact, all of that is important), but
those things are tools to aid our repentance, NOT to be seen as ends in and of themselves. Real
repentance, brothers and sisters in Christ, comes from asking ourselves:

Where does our love figure into all of those things?

Repentance is about love. Christianity is about love. We will be judged by whether or not we
loved. Whether or not we clothed the naked, fed the hungry, visited the sick and imprisoned
and cared for orphans and widows.

Have we done those things? Even if we have, will we continue to do those things and do them
out of love?

We are all lacking love to a certain extent. That’s why we have to continually repent. We all do
things to damage our relationships with each other, whether it be in our family, in the
congregation here, at work, at school, and so on.

All of it boils down to this: Are we repenting of the things that separate us form God and each

The things that are the opposite of God, the opposite of love: Hate, gossip, lies, judgment.

All of those things that tear our relationships apart. The Church Fathers’, the scriptures, (and
CHRIST HIMSELF, for that matter) teach us that hatred and condemning others, shuts the gate to
the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of love. So, the first condition of TRUE REPENTANCE is
reconciliation. That’s where the work needs to be done. That’s why we start off Great Lent with
Forgiveness Vespers!

Now, I know we’re two months away from Great Lent (and I know that seems like a while) but,
believe me, it will go by very quickly. That’s why we are given this Gospel now. Because we
NEED to focus on repentance. Sometimes I think we get really focused on it in Lent, but when
Pascha arrives, we go out, celebrate and forget all the hard work we just did over the last 40
plus days and don’t go back to work until the next Lent.

We need to always be repenting so that we are ready to meet Christ at any moment. Dear
Brothers and Sisters, the Kingdom truly is at hand. Let us repent, let us love, so that we may
partake of that kingdom.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God, Amen.