Feast of St Andrew the First-Called Apostle
THE WORD which brings about the salvation of our souls is analogous to seed. Just as farmers first cultivate the earth with the plough, then sow seed, so must we prepare ourselves beforehand to accept the heavenly seed, by which I mean the word of spiritual teaching. But we are not inanimate, unfeeling earth which is cultivated and sown by others, but living, breathing, rational ground. For that reason we must make ourselves ready by means of repentance. To give you an indication of the starting point of repentance and the cultivation of the soul, it is what those who approached John’s baptism did on their own initiative: “They went out,” it says, “and were baptized in Jordan, confessing their sins” (cf. Matt. 3:5-6, Mk. 1:5).
The confession of sins is the beginning of this cultivation, the start, that is, of repentance and preparation to accept within us the saving seed, the word of God, which is able to save our souls. Ploughing the ground was devised by farmers as a means of extracting wild roots from deep down in the earth, and rendering it capable of receiving our seeds and plants. Confession does exactly this for the reasonable field, our heart. It digs up the evil passions concealed within it and throws them out, making it ready to take in the sacred seeds and suitable to grow a fine harvest of virtues. Just as, after Adam’s transgression, the earth began to bring forth thistles, thorns, and other useless plants (Gen. 3:18), so man’s heart bears shameful and evil passions and thoughts, and the sins which they in turn produce.
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This is the reason, brethren, why it is necessary for each of you to have a spiritual father, to approach him with faith, humble himself before him and declare the evil passions of his heart. Accepting spiritual therapy, he must cast out from his soul by the roots those thorns and thistles of sin which each of you has nourished within him through a pleasure-loving life in the grip of passions, and so open his ears to the Spirit’s teaching and be persuaded by what we preach and put forward to you for the good of all, and be reconciled, through the absolution and blessing he receives from us, with Him who bowed the heavens and came down on account of the boundless ocean of His love for mankind, and cast words of life and saving seeds into the hearts of those who obeyed Him. Let none of you shun this starting-point of repentance. How can you go forward and make progress for the better from now on, if you have not even grasped the very beginning of virtues.
It is especially necessary for you to have to do this now. For this period of forty days [Nativity Fast] was given to us by the God-bearing Fathers as a means of purifying ourselves beforehand, because it leads up to the yearly celebration of the nativity of the flesh of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, when it is customary for almost all Christians to partake of His holy body and blood, to be united through them with Him, and to become one spirit and one body with Him in a divine way.
~St Gregory Palamas, Homily 56 On the Holy and Dread Mysteries of Christ delivered four days before Christmas