As this is my first correspondence with you in this new school year, I greet you with the beginning of our seventeenth year of study and pray that God bless you and your families to have a successful and joyous year of study. I look forward to working with you during this year in support of the spiritual mission of the school.
Tomorrow is our first important church holiday when we remember the martyr's death of the greatest saint of all time, St. John the Baptist. Our Savior Himself gave him this distinction when He exclaimed: "Verily I say unto you, Among them born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist". While this holiday is not one of the twelve major church holidays, it is such a significant one that the Church has established this day as a strict fast day. We deny ourselves all meat and dairy products but are permitted oil and wine since this year the holiday falls on a Saturday. The Gospel reading that describes how the saint was martyred in found in St. Matthew's Gospel, chapter 14, verses 1-12.
From among the numerous spiritual lessons that we can learn from the events of this holiday, I would like to discuss with you two of them. They are martyrdom and oaths. Often as a priest, I am asked by people why, if they are such good Christians, does God allow them to suffer. We often think that because Jesus Christ is our Savior, we should have a peaceful and prosperous life. We completely forget that the purpose of our life on earth is to achieve salvation. When our life is too happy or prosperous, we tend to forget about God and become completely attached to our earthly life. Since God desires that we be saved, He often sends us suffering as a way of "dis-attaching" us from our attachment to this world and redirecting us back to our spiritual pursuits. If we accept this suffering with patience and even joy, we are credited by God with enduring acts of martyrdom as a way of demonstrating our love for our Savior. These are small expressions of martyrdom that we are able to do as a way of working for our salvation. The ultimate act of martyrdom is to voluntarily die for our faith but that kind of martyrdom is reserved for great saints such as St. John the Baptist.
St. John's beheading also teaches us why Jesus Christ forbids us to use oaths in our ordinary relationships when He said: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt not swear falsely, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths. But I say unto you, Swear not at all.... But let your speech be Yea, yea; Nay,nay". As Orthodox Christians we should have no need to give oaths. We should be so honest that if we say something, no one will will need to question what we said because of our unblemished honesty. Oaths are given only when one person does not have faith in the integrity of the other person. Oaths demand that we live up to them. But if we should give an oath to do something sinful, we need to repent and in no way do what we swore to do. The foolishness and evil of what oaths can become can be seen by the tragic oath given by King Herod which resulted in his murdering St. John the Baptist.
In closing, I greet you with the holiday and look forward to sharing with you the services of this important church event. The vigil will begin today at 6:00 PM with the liturgy on Saturday morning at 8:00AM.
With Love in Christ,
Archpriest Serge Kotar, Chaplain