22 August OS 2016 – Friday of the Thirteenth Week of St. Matthew; Afterfeast of the Dormition; Icon of the Theotokos Prousiotissa; Holy Martyr Agathonikos
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In the Gospel today (Mark 4:1-9), the Lord illustrates the several types of soul who fall away and the one type that endures, by means of the Parable of the Sower:
At that time, Jesus began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land. And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine, Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred. And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
St. Theophan the Recluse tells us very simply how to be the good ground that yields spiritual fruit:
…How do you make yourself into the good ground? With attention and study of the word of God, sympathy and love toward it, and readiness to immediately carry out what you learn. With such a mind-set, not a single word will lie on the surface of your soul, but all will enter within. Uniting with the elements of the spirit which are dear to it, it will take root and sprout. Then, being nourished – from above through spiritual inspirations, and from below through good desires and labors – it will grow into a tree and will flower and give fruit… – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 182.
Notice that St. Theophan says that the word of God will unite with the elements of the spirit which are dear to it. In other words, God made the soul for Himself, to hear Him, to delight in Him, to want to do what He wants. And furthermore, souls enlightened by Holy Baptism have the power to overcome the fallenness of human nature and to do all this. This is not impossible, by any means, but rather quite natural. We simply do not take advantage of the gifts we already have.
So let us begin on the basis of the assumption that our souls are designed to be the good soil, not the other way around. What steps do we take? St. Theophan says 1. Attention and study of the word of God, 2. Sympathy and love toward it, and 3. Doing what it says. These three activities correspond to the three powers of the soul: The reasoning power (ὁ λόγος – logos, mind, understanding, reason), the desiring power (ἡ επιθυμία – epithymia, desire, attraction, love), and the incensive power (ὁ θυμός – thymos, drive, anger, ambition, will to action). We simply have to turn the soul in the right direction as it performs its natural functions – to understand, to love, and to act. The soul is going to do this with or without guidance: there is no question that it will understand, love, and act. The question is whether it will understand, love, and act based upon the true or the false, the beautiful or the ugly, the good or the bad.
Let us, then, resolve each day, with God helping us, to spend time in prayer and sacred study, with the struggle for attention. Our hearts will naturally be attracted to the beauties of holiness depicted therein, if only we give it enough time and attention. Then we must listen to the promptings of conscience and do what the mind and heart are inclining towards. Thus we become the good earth that yields spiritual fruit.
Simple, is it not?