Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory forever!

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

“But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof” [that is, “to gratify its desires/passions”; “do not think how to satisfy the flesh and its lusts”].

This is the passage of Sacred Scripture that captured the eye of St. Augustine one day and converted him on the spot.  Augustine, sadly, and much to the chagrin of his saintly mother, Monica, lived for several decades a hedonistic lifestyle.  Perhaps more accurately, he had vacillated between the two extremes of obscene indulgence of his fleshly passions and desires and brutal ascetic rigorism.  It wasn’t until one day in the stillness of a garden setting and in a deeply brooding state, he reports that he overheard the voice of a child sing-songing, “’Take up and read!  Take up and read!,’” at which point he did just that, taking up the book of Romans and reading the first verse his eye fell on at that moment,

Let us walk honestly as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in lewdness and wantonness, not in strife and envying.  But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof. 

By itself, this verse is pretty bland and unadorned.  By all accounts, we wouldn’t expect it to light a fire under anyone, let alone ignite a revival.  Yet, it spoke to the miserable Augustine and changed his heart, his life, his soul.  It converted this man so that he became perhaps the West’s greatest saint.  His story bears great witness to the value of Sacred Scripture to speak deeply to the needs of our souls at the time we “take up and read” whatever our spiritual state may be if we are but attentive to the divine voice in us.

This is the passage assigned by the Church for us to hear on this Sunday that is the gateway into the nave of Great and Holy Lent.  We might wonder why.  But it seems to me that it’s because it fairly well captures what we are about to embark on shortly as we take up the ascetic challenges of the Great Fast of Holy Lent, that is to say, prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.  All of these are well-worn, time-tested, venerable spiritual exercises that have shown their worth again and again in those who seek to honestly engage them in the spirit of devotion with the intent to repent, amend their lives by converting their hearts more fully to Jesus Christ.

But, we need to make sure that we do these things – and more – with the proper understanding of the role they serve in our salvation.  They are but tools to fulfill the Apostolic decree which, quite honestly, is all about Jesus Christ.  All of these spiritual practices – and more besides – if done apart from Jesus Christ are really nothing less than demonic exercises that will drive us into the ground and heighten the very passions we seek to squelch in our hearts, minds, and lives by doing them.  One old saint reminds us to “fight the world not with the ways of the world, but with the ways of God” (Sergei Vanuves).

The Apostle lists a very brief list of sins.  The operative word there is “brief.”  Elsewhere we find additional lists that will disqualify us from the Kingdom and disinherit us from Paradise, things such as fornication (sex apart from marriage), idolatry, adultery (extra-marital sex), the practice of  homosexuality, sodomy, thievery, covetousness, drunkenness, reviling, extortion, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, dissensions, heresies, selfish ambitions, envy, murders, are all among those sinful passions that can and will ultimately exclude their practitioners from the Kingdom of God, as St. Paul tells us quite frankly (1 Cr. 6:9-10; Ga. 5:19-21). 

The key is the ongoing, continued practice of these passionate desires.   Because of our habitual practice of them, that is, our constant scratching of their itch, satisfying their desires, making provision for them, they have become so embedded in us that they define us.  They become who we are.  That’s what sin does to us.  Instead of being souls who fall into certain sins by surrendering to our passions, we have allowed our passions to control us and to form us into their image and likeness!  Eventually, we believe that’s who we are and how we were created, thus making us victims who are powerless to do anything to change or to be different.  Repentance and conversion, then, is either out of the question or it’s unnecessary because we either can’t help it or it’s just who we are.  St. Nikolas of Optina counsels us to consider this carefully.  He says, “We must consider all evil things, even the passions which war against us, to be not our own, but of our enemy the devil.  This is very important,” he says.  “You can only conquer a passion when you do not consider it as part of you,” which is to say, as I understand it, “it is not who you are.”  St. Mark the Ascetic reminds us that “a passion which we allow to grow active within us through our own choice afterwards forces itself upon us against our will.”  So, the next time we lament our unfortunate lot or cop out with the excuse, “I can’t help it.  It’s just who I am!” or “I was created this way!,” be forewarned that this is the argument of the archenemy of our souls!  He wants us to think that.  He wants us to believe that.  In fact, he needs us to so that he can pull us down and under like the merciless dragon that he is.    

This is why it’s absolutely critical we put on Jesus Christ, again and again and again, as the Apostle exhorts us.  Just as we put Him on in Holy Baptism, so we continue to do so through repentance, confession, and amendment of life fortified with prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.  Jesus Christ is our armor of Light, Paul says, the Light no darkness of the devil can comprehend or ever overcome (Jn. 1:5).  He Who is “Light of Light, true God of true God” is indeed the Light of the world in Whom there is no darkness at all (Nicene Creed; Jn. 8:12; 12:35-36; 1 Jn. 1:5).  “In [His] Light we see Light” (Ps. 35 [36]:9).  The Truth in Jesus Christ is the light of our souls, and the lamp unto our path (Ps. 118 [119]:105; Jn. 3:19-21; 14:6).  “Christ is our Light and our salvation, whom shall we fear” (Ps. 26 [27]:1)? 

This putting on of Jesus Christ, beloved, is not magical nor is it really ever an instantaneous healing of our ailment, though there are accounts of such miraculous healings.  It is, however, the way of the saints who have gone on ahead of us and who await us in the Kingdom of Heaven (Hb. 12:1).  It must be done over and over again in our sustained battle with the enemy of our salvation.  To counter Satan we must continually put on Jesus Christ Who has trampled down death by Death and has overthrown the devil (Hb. 2:14; 1 Jn. 3:8)!  By putting on the Lord, we receive His power to identify and overthrow our passions early on before they can take hold in us and assume control over us.  When we put Him on with prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, we are enabled by Him in the power of His Holy Spirit to cut them off at the pass if we detect them early enough rising up in us and to short circuit them before they become unwelcome squatters in our dilapidated souls.  The slightest “innocent” flirtation with the passions, according to the Elder Ephraim of Arizona, “opens a little wound in our soul, which blisters, rots, and stinks.” Remember the teaching of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ – His Truth is our light and our salvation – demons that are cast out roam about looking for others like themselves who are more powerful and together they will return to the cleansed soul.  And if they find that soul cleansed but unoccupied with Jesus Christ, they will re-enter and that soul will be worse than before (Mt. 12:43-45; Lk. 11:24-26).  “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” 

Remember, beloved, and be forearmed, how sin works, how it worms its way in under the guise of innocence and becomes full blown death to us.  St. James tells us how sin starts as temptation that arises from within us – from our own desires that entice us.  Those desires give consent to the temptation, which is to say, those desires give the temptation authority over us by us toying with its idea, playing with it in our minds and entertaining it in our thoughts.  Finally, sin itself is given birth, that is, the actual participation in it by us: we actually do what the temptation enticed us to and we consented to in our thoughts.  And this sin, “when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (Jm. 1:13-16).  Anywhere along the path we could’ve interrupted the process before it became full blown, death-dealing sin, and turned back.  Anywhere in the process we could’ve short-circuited the temptation and desire by confessing it and repenting of it, by making the sign of the Cross and commanding the evil one in the Name of our crucified and risen Lord to leave us and be gone.  Anywhere in the process it is never too late until we find ourselves going over the Niagara Falls.  And, then, beloved, we are not without hope because our good God Who loves mankind does not desire the death of sinners, but that all might come to repentance and be saved (Ek. 18:23; 33:11; 1 Tm. 2:3-4).  We are never without hope or the help of God, unless we will it because we have bought into the devil’s lie. 

Beloved, let us make these upcoming holy days of Lent be profitable to our souls by indulging ourselves, not in feeding our passions, but rather in putting on the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer, almsgiving, and fasting; in attending the services of God that keep Him front and center before us and in us; by taking up the Sacred Scriptures and reading them because they are the Divine Word; by being vigilant and quickly catching ourselves when we see ourselves being led down the primrose path to sin and death; by confessing our sin without hesitation, repenting, and receiving God’s absolution from the priest, if necessary, often; by asking all for forgiveness; by heeding the wisdom of St. Joseph the Hesychast to deal with one passion at a time as they come to us (and, be assured, they will); and be patient with yourself as God is merciful towards us sinners who humble ourselves before Him.  Understand, beloved, that it will take time, much time (Paisius the Athonite), to heal all that has become habitualized and entrenched within us by our unchecked, willing cooperation with our fleshly appetites and desires.  St. Sergei of Vanuves urges us to “struggle against your passions from the moment they appear in your mind.  Take the bull by the horns and fight against them with all your strength,” he exhorts, “because if you don’t, then they will become habits and get entrenched in you.  Eventually they will seem to be completely normal to you and not passions at all, and then your struggle will be extremely difficult.”         

“But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.”  Beloved, let us feed all that is good in us because Jesus Christ our Life and Resurrection dwells within, as He promises.  Let us feast (as we fast) on His virtues which are many: tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, and, “above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Co. 3:12-14).  And, thereby, we will starve our passionate desires by focusing on Jesus and loving Him.  For where light enters a room, darkness invariably must retreat (Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia).

Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.  Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory forever!


Rm. 13:11-14:4

Mt. 6:14-21