Monday, 2 January 2023 : Weekday of Christmas Time, Memorial of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are still progressing through the season and time of Christmas which will still last for another week at least. Liturgically, the season of Christmas lasts up to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord which will happen about a week from now and traditionally, Christmas is celebrated right up to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on the second day of February, making a whole forty days of the Christmas season. That is why we are still continuously being reminded of the Lord and His coming into this world, the salvation and truth that He has brought into our midst among other things. The Lord and His coming into this world has brought upon us all a new hope and renewal, as Christ assured us all that if we have faith in Him, we shall receive the guarantee of eternal life and grace.

However, as we heard in our first reading today, there were a lot of those who threatened to derail our path towards the Lord, as we heard from the Epistle of St. John to the faithful people of God and the Church, detailing how there were antichrists and false prophets, false teachers and messengers, all those who taught different messages and Gospels from what has been delivered and taught by the Apostles. St. John warned the faithful against all of those, the heresies which had risen even as early as the beginning of the Church, as those who sought to subvert and change the Church teachings and doctrines to suit their own desires and wishes, caused divisions among the faithful and confusion, which led to some of the faithful falling into heretical ways.

Among those heresies were those that denied the Divinity of Christ, or even denying the existence of Christ Himself, and those who considered the Lord Jesus as a false Messiah, and claiming to be the Messiah themselves. Those false leaders and teachers harmed the unity of the Church and led many to the wrong paths, which then caused many to fall away from the path of righteousness and truth. St. John reminded all the faithful of everything that they had received from the Lord, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the anointing which has been given to them through baptism and chrism, and the Wisdom and strength which they had received so that they might all persevere amidst all the challenges, trials and all the false leads that they had to face.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the confrontation between the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law with St. John the Baptist, who was the one sent by God to prepare the way for His Son, the true Messiah, Saviour of the whole world. Those Pharisees and teachers of the Law questioned St. John the Baptist, asking him why he was doing everything that he had done, in calling the people to repentance and to be baptised by him in the River Jordan, as they doubted his authenticity and they refused to believe in him simply because his path and ways did not agree with the way that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had set for themselves. For those people, anyone who did not share their perspective or belong to their group were not legitimate, and they even condemned others as sinners and blasphemers for that.

St. John the Baptist rebuked the Pharisees and their high-handed and proud attitude, and told them that he was truly the one that God had sent into this world to prepare the way for the Saviour, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness : Make straight the way of the Lord!’ This must have been well-known by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who knew the prophets and their teachings and prophecies well, but their pride and hardened hearts still prevented them from believing in the truth, despite having seen the proof of the fulfilment of God’s words and prophecies before their own eyes. They continued to doubt him and asked if he was the Messiah that was to come into this world.

It was there then that St. John the Baptist again told those hardened hearted Pharisees that he was merely the one who came to prepare the way for the Lord, and that he was unworthy even to untie the straps of His sandals. As we can see here, contrasted with the antichrists, the false Messiahs and all those who claimed to have the truth as St. John highlighted in our first reading today, St. John the Baptist remained firmly entrenched in the truth and did not let worldly glory, fame and other sorts of temptations to get to him. He could very well have claimed to be the Messiah given his great popularity among the people just like some others had done at that time, but St. John the Baptist did not do so. He humbly did what he was sent to do, and committed himself wholeheartedly to God. This is what we have to follow as well, as Christians.

Today, the Church celebrates the feast of two great saints whose dedication and commitment to God can and should become the source of inspiration for us to follow in how we can be better and more committed Christians in life. St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen were two great contemporaries whose life and works inspired countless people to be faithful to God, and who were also instrumental in the evangelisation of the true faith, especially against the many heresies, falsehoods and lies rampant at their time. Both of them were considered among the original Doctors of the Church, and were widely venerated for their great contributions to the Church and their service to the people of God, which we ourselves can follow as well.

St. Basil the Great was the Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia in what is today part of Turkey, who was a great theologian and leader of the Church especially against all those who upheld heretical teachings particularly the Arians. Those Arians who listened to the heretic Arius claimed that Jesus Christ is not Co-Equal and Co-Eternal with God, but was a Being created and inferior to God Himself. This false teaching gained large amount of support among the people and not few bishops also joined the cause of the Arians, causing divisions and splits within the Church in various places. St. Basil the Great together with other faithful bishops, including that of St. Gregory Nazianzen, another great theologian and bishop, struggled and resisted the power and influence of the Arians, and defended the true, orthodox Christian faith and teachings.

Both saints inspired the Church and their flock, as well as their brother bishops to take a stand against the heresies and the falsehoods, and working to heal the divisions among the faithful through their great knowledge in theology and also skills in preaching the faith. St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen did not have it easy of course, as they faced great opposition from all those who supported the Arian position and teachings, but they persevered on and kept on going, doing their best to serve the Lord, by continuing to proclaim the true faith among the people of God, as well as calling on all of them to remain steadfast and strong in the faith. These kind of actions and zeal are what should also inspire each one of us in our own faith. Can we do the same and commit ourselves to God as they had done?

May the Lord continue to guide us all to Himself, and through the good examples of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, let us all live a more devoted and holy Christian living at all times, drawing ever closer to God in all things. Let us all continue to renew our faith in the Lord and keep our focus in God as we continue to progress through this season of Christmas, as we keep reminding ourselves Who it is that we are celebrating for, that is for Christ our Lord and Saviour, and not for ourselves. May God bless us always and may He empower all of us to live ever more faithfully in His presence, now and always. Amen.

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