From The Blog

Monthly Meditation – June/July 2011

“A devout woman once wrote thus, ‘In my own family I try to be as little in the way as possible, satisfied with everything, and never to believe for a moment that any one means unkindly toward me… It all tends to my one aim, forgetfulness of self, in order to please God.’”

From the work GOLD DUST translated by C. M. Younge

Recently, when I read the above quote, I was reminded of a sad story. Long ago a priest once told me about a family in his parish where relationships had almost completely broken down.  Two elderly brothers were fighting over something that had happened years earlier, when one of the brothers became very ill.  Even in the midst of serious illness it was terribly difficult to overcome the ill-will in this relationship.  To get around the dispute the son of the healthy brother called the priest to check up on his uncle.  I asked Father why the nephew didn’t just call his uncle or his uncle’s family himself, and he replied, “They go through me because they are still fighting.”

Unfortunately, it takes so much time to undo years, generations of bad feelings.  This situation leads me to further contemplate the virtue of humility and what is possible when men believe, trust and desire its fruit.  In this case, the dispute between these two brothers involved only the first generation of their children.  How sad it is to think that this dispute, unresolved, might affect future generations, possibly leading family relations to where no one even remembers what caused the dispute in the first place.

It would be easy to say that these brothers should have known better.  It would be easy to say that these elderly men should have been mature enough to rise above even their significant hurt and “forget themselves” for the sake of unity and the greater good of all.  It would be easy to say!  I suspect, however, that each of us at one time or another in our lives (maybe even as we read these words) have struggled with the temptations that come from being or feeling we have been wronged.  How careful we must be to never reduce anyone’s sin, even our own, with the simple (and prideful) thought, “I/they should have known better.”  How many of us really know the depth of our own sin or what we might be capable of when faced with a difficult circumstance?  Truly it is never simply a matter of “I/they should have known better.”  If we search our own hearts most likely we will find much bigger and more significant struggles behind our hasty and self-justifying reactions when we fail either in the temptation to sin or the temptation to judge.

What, then, are we to do?  I guess if I could sum it up in one word I would simply say, “Prepare.”  What else can we do other than try to be ready for the unknown circumstances that lay waiting for each of us in all the next moments of our lives?  Time is a precious gift given to us to prepare through self-examination to know our own sins and to be vigilant in the fight against them.  Today, tomorrow, next week, next month or next year, none of us knows exactly what we are preparing for; and truth be told we couldn't handle it if we did know.  This unknown is God’s protection from the distractions that could lead us away from fighting today the “good fight” of faith and salvation.

While we are on the subject of distractions, I was asked on May 21, 2011, how the Orthodox Church felt about the well-publicized prediction that this was the day the world was to end (obviously it didn’t).  For us, seeking/claiming to know the future is a serious sin.  It is a form of idolatry.  It puts faith in another god and focus on the self.  The 13th chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel explains, as clear as can be, the end of time.  In verse 32 Jesus says plainly, “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  Do the people who made/believe this prediction claim “biblically” to know what only the Father and Creator of the universe knows?  Predictions like this anxiously enslave men and hinder their ability to completely entrust their lives to God – and they are distractions from the real work of salvation.  At the end of the chapter Jesus simply said this, “Watch” (v. 37).

Man was created free not to be distracted by passions or worried about that which we do not know or cannot control; rather it is freedom to entrust our lives to God so that we can do the holy work of repentance, forgiveness and to tend to the duties of each day.  As Orthodox Christians we are blessed with many specific instructions as to where we should invest our spiritual, physical, emotional and mental energies.  If our main objective is the desire to please God, then it makes complete sense that we invest our energies, like the devout woman above, away from the concerns of self; especially those concerns which lead to suspicion of others, judgment, the inability to forgive or to be forgiven, and to spiritual paralysis and fear.  Whether we are preparing for the next temptation or the end of time, no one knows what or when that will be; so really the only thing for us to do, whatever the current condition of our lives, is this: prepare for today’s temptations and live life faithfully and joyfully through the life of God’s Church.