28 August OS 2019: Tuesday of the 13th Week of Matthew; St. Moses the Ethiopian
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In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, Our Lord’s own friends and relatives say something rather shocking: they believe He is possessed.
At that time, Jesus goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils: And Simon he surnamed Peter; And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder: And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite, And Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him: and they went into an house. And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself. – Mark 3: 13-21
This reference to His “friends” in contradistinction to the Holy Apostles reveals that during His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus Christ had friends who were not His disciples. They were simply His friends, the relatives and neighbors among whom He had lived during the time before His three-year mission for the salvation of the human race. Perhaps these friends were among the people who, in another place, the Gospel records as saying, “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” or, in other words, “Is this not just another ordinary fellow like ourselves?” Their saying that “he is beside himself” means, according to St. Theophylact of Ochrid, that they believed He was possessed with a demon. Being His friends, though uncomprehending ones, they say this out of concern for His welfare. They think Him a victim of evil. Being His enemies, the scribes from Jerusalem, in the passage we shall read tomorrow, will say the same thing out of malice. They call Him a servant of evil.
Does not the same thing occur to us Orthodox Christians? We have friends and relatives, both non-Orthodox and nominal Orthodox (or even those who claim to be pious!), who try to dissuade us from a Gospel mindset, an otherworldly life, because they believe that it is bad for us, something evil. It interferes with having a “good life,” and being our friends they want us to have a “good life.” They think that we are victims of evil. We also have enemies, those who hate the Faith and claim that we are not mere victims but active servants of evil. Which kind of person, one wonders, does us greater harm? Often, perhaps, it is the former kind, because we are more inclined to listen to them.
Here is a rule of thumb you can count on: Most human beings – the overwhelming majority (99%?), including the overwhelming majority of baptized Orthodox – are, to a greater or lesser extent, in delusion (plani in Greek, prelest in Slavonic). Most are not seeing strange visions or doing obviously crazy things. Most have garden-variety prelest; that is, they are fundamentally mistaken most of the time about what is really going on outside of them and inside of them. This includes us. The difference between them and us, if there is a difference, is that we know we are mistaken but are working on it. We are crying out day and night, “O Lord, deliver me from delusion!”
If we, who are Orthodox and moreover trying to do something about it (however feebly), are frequently in delusion, what about all the other people out there? In other words, why should we listen to them? I do not mean that they cannot teach us how to grow vegetables or drive a car or do algebra. I mean that they cannot give us our life orientation. They cannot advise us as to “what it is all about.” Let us not be swayed when they claim that we are out of our minds. Of course we are, but we know the way back into our minds, and we are trying to go there. They too are out of their minds, but they do not know the way, and they cannot show it to us.
O Lord, only Truth and only Way, deliver us from delusion, heal our fragmented minds and divided wills, and keep us on the straight path to Thee our Life! Amen.