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The Mystery of Yom Kippur

By Rev. Simeon Stefanidakis


A horn blast reverberates through the dark reaches of the universe. The angelic hosts, drawn up in array before the throne of God, shudder at the sound. It is the Day of Atonement.


Recently, those of the Jewish faith celebrated their most holy and sacred time of year: Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, followed by ten sacred days, all culminating in Yom Kippur, their most holy Day of Atonement.


The First Spiritual Temple believes that every faith offers something of value to all people; thus, the essence of these sacred days is as significant to all people as Lent should be to all non-Christians.


It marks a most sacred and most holy time of year. It marks a period of honest reassessment, of deep prayer, of focused meditation; of promise, of hope, of light, and of covenant with our God.


Every religious season should mark the reliving of an ancient covenant between God and His children, as conceived through Abraham, as carried forth into written law by Moses, as nurtured and protected by Buddha and the Prophets, as fulfilled by Jesus Christ, and as rekindled by the prophet Mohammed.


Where have we succeeded; where have we failed? Where have we shown compassion; where have we been thoughtless? Where have we demonstrated humility; where have we been arrogant? Where has love, as so profoundly and beautifully manifested by Jesus, guided our thoughts and our deeds; where have resentment and anger poisoned that love?


The scrolls of life eternally stand open before us. Our lives eternally stand before us -- in their resplendent light, as well as in their shadowy darkness. And it is time to repent. It is time for us to seek forgiveness. It is time for us to forgive. It is time for us to rebuild the shattered temples of our lives.


Consider for a few moments, as you sit with God and with your Spirit loved ones: Grace and forgiveness are ours. They are within our destinies, if we but seek to repent, if we but seek to forgive, if we but seek to make earnest atonement with God.


"Father, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." These are words which Christ used when he taught people how to pray. Will God forgive us our trespasses? Of course, He will! But forgiveness begins with forgiving.


"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." These are the words which Jesus Christ uttered upon the cross at Golgo≠tha. Will God forgive our trespasses, even in our ignorance? Of course, He will! But forgiveness begins with faith in God's grace.


"And it came about on the next day that Moses said to the people, 'You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now, I am going up to the LORD. Perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.' " And Moses did just that. He went up Mt. Sinai and spent forty days praying and atoning for the sons and daughters of Israel, and God forgave them their grievous sin. Will God forgive us our grievous sins? Of course, He will! But forgiveness begins with atonement.


The Talmud states: "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; therefore, REJOICE; forgive, and forgive≠ness is thine!"


Every Scripture inspired by God and Godís Holy Spirit preaches the necessity and the wondrous power of forgiveness. Every day that we awake from sweet slumber represents a new beginning; a new year, so to speak. Every day that we awake, God, in His gracious mercy, gives us the blessed opportunity to see and to contemplate our errors and our sins; to repent for these errors; to pray for forgiveness; to forgive ourselves and those who may have hurt us; and to make atonement. Thus, we can begin each day with the healing power of love and forgiveness.


Forgiveness begins with forgiving; and forgiving begins with the realization that life is basically good and that we must cherish it, despite all that seems evil, despite the immense pain and hurt suffered by so many, despite the injuries inflicted upon us and inflicted upon others by us. Despite all that seems unjust, God created life; therefore, life is good!


"And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good." It was not just good; it was very good. In the Twenty‑Seventh Psalm, one of my favorites, it says: "I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD, in the land of the living."


Life is good! Let us never forget this.


Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Ramadan, the whole of the Lenten Season, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday, Passover; these are all times of great transformation for the Human Family, where we can become transfigured, as did Christ, from the shadows of crucifixion to the luminescence of resurrection. But you know, Rosh Hashanah doesn't do it; Yom Kippur doesn't do it; Palm Sunday doesn't do it; Easter Sunday doesn't do it; the spilling of the blood of Jesus Christ didn't do it.


What makes it all work are prayer and atonement. We must atone. We cannot merely accept God's goodness and mercy; we must atone and become at‑one with them. And that requires work. That requires transformation. That requires us to live a life of harmlessness and humble kindness.


The Book of Life opens for all of us, and we are presented with a choice. Is life good, or is life bad? Are we inscribed in the Book of Life, or in the Book of Death? I believe that no matter what life may present to us, Life is good! Therefore, we should treasure it, not despise it. Life is good! Therefore, we should affirm it, not deny it. Life is good! Therefore, we should have faith in it, not despair its possibilities. Life is good! Therefore, we should live it to the fullest, in all its joy and suffering, not cast it aside. Life is good! Therefore, let your life, let my life, let the life of our beloved Mother Earth and our Human Family become a testimony to life's goodness.


In Deuteronomy 30:15‑16, it is written: "See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil, in that I com≠manded thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances . . . therefore choose life, that thou mayest live."


Through repentance and atonement -- through prayer and forgiveness -- our faith remains alive, not dead; and we are borne upon the wings of grace and salvation out of death, and we are reborn with new hope and a new life.


We can, then, remember, turn our faces from the shadows of death, and return to that from which we were all born. Turning and returning -- Teshuvah in Hebrew -- are essential to mystical and magical transformation and healing.


Remembering is the first step; turning around follows; and REturning is what makes it happen. But, what is it to which we should be returning?


First: we should endeavor to do the will of God; obey His commands and live, not just recite, the Law of the Prophets.


Next: we should endeavor to reveal God's glory: to bring out from within ourselves, from within each other, and from within our society the divine essence which God so lovingly infused within His creation -- so that we may look upon our lives and marvel, as did Jacob: Surely the Lord is in this place!


Next: we should endeavor to hallow God's name: Everything -- and I mean EVERYTHING -- our lives, our homes, our families, our jobs, our planet, our places of worship and study -- everything about the Lord deserves honor, dignity, grace, respect, and awe. If we gossip, if we engage in hateful slander, if we resent that which others have, then we dishonor ourselves and our God.


Finally: we should endeavor to imitate God: to accentuate and to manifest our origin in and our kinship to God, by bearing witness to Godly traits through our lives. An ancient sage expressed this so well by saying: "Let us make ourselves like Him. As He is merciful and gracious, so let us strive to be." Does this mean we must be perfect? NO. But it does mean that we should set high standards -- for ourselves, for our lives, for our society, and for our planet. God deserves the very best that we can offer.


"Awake, awake, Oh sleepers, from your sleep; Oh slumberers, arouse ye from your slumbers; and examine your deeds, return in repentance, and remember your Creator." Thus, were the words of Maimonides.


"The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." Thus, were the words of Paul to the Corinthians. Do you hear the trumpet? It's calling us. It's calling us all right now. Listen! Listen carefully. It is calling us all. Listen and be raised! Are you inscribed in the Book of Life, or the Book of Death?


On the Holy Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), Jews throughout the planet listen to these words:


"A horn blast reverberates through the dark reaches of the universe. The angelic hosts, drawn up in array before the throne of God, shudder at the sound. It is the Day of Atonement . . . Lord of the World, I stand before You and before my neighbors -- pardoning, forgiving, struggling to be open to all who have hurt and angered me. Be this hurt of body or soul, of honor or property; whether they were forced to hurt me or did so willingly; whether by accident or intent; whether by word or deed -- I forgive them because we are all human. May no one feel guilty on my account. I am ready to take upon myself the holy commandment, 'love your neighbor as yourself.' "


If we could all live by these words, what a difference it would make in our Nation, our Society, our families, and our joint Humanity. Spirit once told us that every morning to which we awaken should be a Rosh Hashanah; every evening, as we close the day, should be a Yom Kippur. How true!


Thank you and God Bless.



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