27 April OS 2018: Thursday of the Week of the Samaritan Woman; S. Symeon, Bishop of Jerusalem and Kinsman of the Lord
Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles is Acts 14: 20-27.
In those days: As the disciples stood round about Paul [after he had been stoned and left for dead], he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. And after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia: And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.
In the passage immediately previous to this (Acts 14: 6-19), Paul has just been in the city of Lystra, where in short order he…
- renders ambulatory a man unable to walk since birth, simply by a word of command, like Christ Himself;
- gets worshipped as Hermes by the local pagans;
- gets stoned near to death by some angry Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who, not content with running him out of town, have pursued him in order to kill him, so determined are they to shut up this fellow Jew who keeps telling everyone that the crucified Nazarene is the Messiah Who rose from the dead; and (at the beginning of today’s passage),
- gets up and goes about his business as if nothing special had happened.
How is that for contrast? Never a dull moment! Having left the comfort of the Sanhedrin for the poverty of the Fishermen, Saul become Paul is having an adventure like no other.
When, today, we hear Paul’s words, “…that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God,” we know we are dealing with a man who knows whereof he speaks. He is both continuously enduring much tribulation and continuously living in the power of the kingdom to come, even in this life. He is walking proof of the Resurrection.
Amid our present trials, it is tempting to look back on this or that previous “normal” period of Church life, imagine that it was a Golden Age of unchanging tranquility, and conclude that if our lives are not tranquil we must be doing something wrong. When we study the Scriptures and Church history carefully, however, we realize that those whom God is saving are always hanging on to their faith and their sanity by their fingernails, and that simultaneously God is saving them by His sovereign will and power in the kind of circumstances He always decrees for the saints: impossible circumstances. It is always a near thing, it often appears that all is lost, and one never knows the outcome until the end. Salvation is always an adventure.
When, therefore, we suffer the fragility, loneliness, and limitation of real Orthodox life in the 21st century, created by the straitened circumstances and limited resources that fall to the lot of those who do not join the lemming rush into betrayal, theological indifference, and worldly accommodation, this is not a sign that God has left us, but rather that He is with us.
Better to be with the Fishermen than with the Sanhedrin!