From The Blog

Mission Monthly – October 2004

“Let us then give exact heed to the words (of the Gospel), and let us not cease to unfold and search them through, for it is from continual application that we get some advantage. So shall we be able to cleanse our life, so to cut up the thorns; for such a thing is sin and worldly care, fruitless and painful. And as the thorn whatever way it is held pricks the holder, so the things of this life, on whatever side they be laid hold of, give pain to him who hugs and cherishes them. Not such are spiritual things; they resemble a pearl, which ever way thou turn it, it delights the eyes.”

St. John Chrysostom, Commentaries on the Gospel of St. John

It would seem obvious, this challenge issued by our holy father, St. John Chrysostom. Maybe he could have said it more simply, “Read your Bible!” Which ever way it is said, however, there can be no mistake about the fundamental importance of the Bible in our lives.

This present commentary is on the very last verse of the Gospel of St. John which says, “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written”(21:25). St. John Chrysostom addresses the very core of our relationship with both the living and the written Word of God, Jesus Christ. It is beautiful to contemplate the “many other things” in the life of Jesus which we do not know about; this alone should inspire us to search holy scripture regularly and, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, be guided “into all truth” (John 16) beyond even the written Word.

I do not know of any believer who does not wish to be given insight into the mysteries of God. Gifts such as these can be personal or given to the Church as a whole; they can come through prayer and contemplation, through the reading of holy scripture or other holy writings, through a certain joy or a certain struggle, through interpersonal relationships, or they may simply come as unexpected gifts. As blessed as these gifts may be, St. John is teaching us that we should (and will) simply “delight” in basic faithfulness to that which is practical (scripture reading, prayer, Liturgy, etc.). God, in own His time, will give us those things which are mystical.

Regarding the sinful tendencies of mankind, it is said that, “There is nothing new under the sun.”While I would agree that y’s violence, immorality and lack of faith really aren’t any different than any other era, I have often heard it argued (and would tend to agree) that the sins of today are founded much more deeply in an insidious self-justified humanism. I have heard self-proclaimed humanists contend that the era between the 5th century and the 14th century Renaissance, when the Church held great influence over society, was a dark period in the history of man. It was during this time, Byzantium’s “Golden Era”, that the great theologians, theological debates, hierarchy, monastics and spiritual directors gave life to the fullness of faith, confirming the incarnation of God in Christ and founding the conciliar Truth of Orthodoxy; determining for those who follow Him a way of life which is the narrow way of the Cross, structured in Truth, joy, discipline and the denial of self. It was during this time in history that humanists claim man’s potential was severely suppressed by the Church’s “irrational” notion of sin. The Renaissance that would immerge out of Italy and the Western empire would be considered a victory for humanists, an age when men began to wiggle out from underneath the weight of the Church. The 14th century set in motion man’s search for freedom from any authority other than himself, including (and maybe especially) the Church. Modern society, with the exception of a few “uncivilized” countries, is a product of this period of “enlightenment” and some might even argue that it is the ultimate conclusion. Few would ever argue that ideologies of humanism (self-determined truth & moral relativism) have not greatly affected modern society. It should also be said that unless we are careful (for no one is completely immune to the allure of humanism) the subtle influences of humanism may even creep into the Lord’s Church; some might argue that in certain circles it already has.

A short meditation such as this only skims the surface of this vast topic. My main point is to say that we must be keenly aware of the moral and theological climate of our world. We must continually open our minds and hearts to God’s Word and to the life of His Holy Church, while being especially cautious regarding the Lord’s and our own “interpretation” of “sin and worldly care”. The Church and holy scripture give us clear boundaries and a prescribed way of life while humanism, man measuring things by his own standards, is a growing and powerful influence. As Orthodox Christians in the world we must be aware of this battle waging in our hearts. Jesus told us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6.21). St. John Chrysostom tells us that hugging and cherishing the things of this life will only bring pain and fruitlessness. There is so much to learn and so much beauty to behold, but we must choose to make “continual application” of our life in Christ, of those things which are practical, if we ever hope to gain this “advantage”, to be free from the thorns of sin and self-determination, and to truly delight in the mysteries of God.