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Sunday of the Holy Forefathers

On this Sunday the Church commemorates the Holy Forefathers, i.e. the earthly ancestors of our Lord Jesus Christ, beginning with the first man, Adam, and on through Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, King David, and others. These ancient people, separated from us by millennia, nevertheless have a direct and close bearing upon us, contemporary Orthodox Christians.

What connection is there between them and us? In general, the Church brings them to our attention now, right before Christmas, largely because of their faith their belief in the promise given by God to Adam during his expulsion from the garden of Eden, that in the end a Saviour will come into the world and will redeem mankind from original sin. All the forefathers who lived on earth long before the birth of Christ lived and burned with this faith, never allowing it to be extinguished. They are a shining example to us, who are living on earth after the incarnation of our Lord. Just like those ancient people we, too, have never actually seen Christ: they only knew that He would come into the world, while we know that He did come into the world. But they firmly believed in His coming and their faith was justified.

We are expected to have even greater faith. We must believe that the Lord was, and is, and will be; that He lived on earth as a man; that through His Church He remains with us constantly; and that He will again return to earth to judge mankind. But for such a faith the Lord Himself promises us eternal bliss. When Jesus Christ appeared before the doubting Apostle Thomas, who could not believe in the Lords resurrection unless he actually touched Christs wounds, and upon touching them cried out: My Lord and my God!, then the Lord said to the apostle: Because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed; but blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

Forefather Assir
Forefather Assir
16th century icon

But apart from faith there is something else that binds us closely with the ancient forefathers and that is their faithfulness to the awaited Messiah. They lived surrounded by a pagan world a world which did not yet know Christ, but which had already rejected God. We too, dear brethren, live in a similar and even worse situation. For nineteen centuries after the birth of Christ the world lived with Christ and the Christian culture, but in the 20th century an abrupt change took place. We now live in a post-Christian era, in a world that has once again become totally immersed in paganism.

We often hear mention of the arrival of a new age. However, there is nothing new in this new age except for its more modern form. It is the same old rejection of God and even negation of God, and moreover a complete rejection of Christ and profanation of Christ. Most Christians do not even see how they are perverting their Christian faith in trying to modernize it, and how they are betraying Christ in attempting to unite with the religions of His persecutors and abusers.

And so, dear brethren, against the background of this horrifying world, let us remember not only the faith of the Holy Forefathers, but also their faithfulness to Christ the Saviour; and as we prepare very soon to celebrate His Nativity, let us turn away from the paganism that surrounds us, and let us witness our total devotion and loyalty to the One Who said: Lo, I am with you until the end of time. Amen.

Father Rostislav Sheniloff
Forefather Judah
Forefather Judah
16th century, Rublev school

At this time of the year we see our neighbors celebrating the western Christmas, and many of us may have had this thought: why cannot we celebrate the Holy Nativity of Christ on the same day? This Sunday gives us the answer

The Holy Orthodox Church, as if anticipating the above question, begins preparing us for the great day of the Nativity of Christ by means of the Nativity fast. As we approach this day, the Church commemorates the last two Sundays before Nativity in a special manner and points out their significance by naming them differently from ordinary Sundays. On the Sunday two weeks before Nativity we commemorate the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers. The Sunday directly preceding Nativity is called the Sunday of the Holy Fathers.

What is so special about the Holy Forefathers and who were they? The word forefathers means just that: very distant ancestors of ours. Our most distant ancestors were Adam and Eve, followed by the biblical patriarchs Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others who are mentioned in the Holy Bible. What was so special about them? Adam and Eve were the first human beings who committed a sin, but they were also the first people to repent. They repented of their transgressions all of their life.

The common denominator for all the Forefathers was their faith in the true God, the Creator of this world and of all things visible and invisible, just like we sing in our Creed at every Divine Liturgy.

The Holy Forefathers very strictly and faithfully followed all the commandments which God sent them: they never compromised their faith because of surrounding circumstances. They firmly believed that what was right was right and what was wrong was wrong, regardless of what the majority of people were doing and thinking. In other words, the holy Forefathers did not subscribe to the man-made theory of political correctness! It was not always easy for them, but they never compromised their faith.

Christianity is a struggle: it always was and always will be. Moral and spiritual values never change. Right is always right and wrong is always wrong. People very frequently forget or ignore the fact that God is outside the concept of time. Time exists only for mortal beings and will someday come to an end, while Gods laws are outside time and, therefore, have an eternal value.

In the holy Gospel the Lord Jesus Christ says: I came not to send peace, but a sword (Matt. 10:34). The sword is a symbol of combat primarily spiritual combat. We have to fight throughout our entire life, and the most difficult battle is within ourselves. But before engaging in combat we have to know whether we are on the right path. Therefore, we should not blindly follow the actions of the majority in our society. In ancient times the great Greek philosopher Socrates said: The majority is never right. All revolutions have been based upon the principle of how to control and lead the majority.

And so the Holy Forefathers have shown us many bright examples of how to act and how to think: first of all, that God should be very real for us and not something abstract, and secondly, that we should examine our surrounding environment against this background. Thus we will be able to see how much Western Christianity has lost its focus on God and a godly life. Western Christians have, unfortunately, lost a true understanding of God. The image of God in Western Christianity has gone from bad to worse and is far removed from reality. Just think: what has eternal value in our environment nowadays? We are surrounded by spiritual emptiness or a horrible distortion of all things divine.

In the days of the Forefathers mankinds view of life was not much different from our times, but the Forefathers themselves held on to their faith very firmly and did not compromise the truth of their faith just because the majority thought otherwise. They held on to their faith, and for this Gods grace made them strong.

Let us think about this, dear brethren, and let us try to follow the example of the Holy Forefathers, since we currently find ourselves in a similar situation. We can respect the beliefs of our neighbors, but we should not compromise our own faith. Our Orthodox faith has much better examples and deeper roots in our Forefathers, whose memory we gloriously celebrate today. Amen.

Protopriest Igor Hrebinka
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