In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ today is Serbian Children’s day. Today the third Sunday before Nativity we start our Serbian Christmas celebrations. On this day we practice two traditions; tying and remembrance. In the home the children are bound or tied by their parents. In order to regain their freedom the children give presents to their parents.
Tying and remembrance are common to all three pre-festal Christmas celebrations in the Serbian home; Children’s day, Mother’s day and Father’s day. That which is to be remembered today is all the holy children of God. We remember their innocence. It is this type of innocence that that is needed to enter the kingdom of heaven. Our Lord reminds us of this in the Gospel of Saint Matthew “Truly I say unto you, except you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) And again “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come to me: for such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14)
The tying or binding aspect reminds us of the bonds of family. The binding of the children reminds the parents and the children how they are bound together as a family. It also reminds the family members that they are united with the present and the past. Generations are united by the tying aspect of this tradition. This is done by uniting the present generations with the past generations that kept these traditions. The bond also reminds us of the mutual bonds of love and respect that should exist within the family.
The loosing or untying is done with the exchange of gifts which is the final symbol of love and devotion between the family members. All gifts are given on these three Sundays. No gifts are exchanged on Bozic or Nativity because on that day we receive the greatest gift of all our Lord God and Savior Jesus who came into to the world to free us from the bondage of sin.
In today’s Gospel we are given an example of a child of God; a women who has been bent over for eighteen years. In her we see a different type of binding than we saw in our Christmas traditions. She has been bound by her affliction. Our Lord releases her through His love for mankind.
Jesus sees this woman who is bent over. She cannot lift herself up. She cannot see the faces of those around her or look up to the heavens. Afflictions, such as her’s, are a result of the consequence of our ancestral sin; the sin of Adam and Eve. The consequences of this ancestral sin are those that man brought upon himself; all sickness, physical death and man’s inclination to sin.
Jesus moved by compassion goes over to her. In her state she cannot present herself to Him to be healed. Her state is such that she doesn’t even know that He is in her presence. This is important for us to realize because sometimes we can be in a place in our lives where we cannot see God acting in our lives but, He is still there. We need to realize that in this state God will act giving us an opportunity to get out of this state of being too clearly see Him. All we need to do is embrace that opportunity. Sometimes that opportunity may be difficult to see as it was for this woman to see when she was about to be healed her affliction.
Our Lord calls out to her “Woman.” He does not use any other term to call her. He does this to acknowledge her humanity; to acknowledge her as she was created to be in the image and likeness of God. This is what she is underneath this affliction that binds her humanity. This is what our Lord is about to restore her to; her intended image in the likeness of God.
When we sin we bind ourselves and inflict damage on our souls. Our souls become sick. Our souls are bound to the evil one and the world. When bound by sin our souls cannot raise themselves up to gaze upon our Lord let alone ascend to be with Him much like the women in the Gospel.
Our Lord wants to unbind us from the affliction of sin in the same manner as he unbound the woman of her affliction. This is why He instituted the Holy Mystery of Confession for us when he said in the Gospel of St. Matthew to His Apostles “Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18) Our God loves us so much He gave us this Holy Mystery to free us like He freed this woman and how we untie our children in our Christmas tradition out of love.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ as we prepare for the Nativity of Christ through our Serbian custom of tying and loosing or binding and unbinding let us recall that it is our own sin that binds us and it is God who frees us. Let us remember that through coming to church and receiving the Holy Mystery of Confession we are freed from all of those sins that bind us up and block us from God. It is through Confession that we are restored to our intended created humanity and freed just as this woman was restored and freed of her affliction.
Delivered on the 27th Sunday after Pentecost 2011 by Fr. Milan Medakovic at St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church, Steelton, PA