23 November OS 2018 – The Nativity Fast; Afterfeast of the Entry of the Theotokos; Thursday of the 10th Week of St. Luke; St. Amphilochios, Bishop of Iconium; St. Gregory, Bishop of Agrigentum
Today’s daily Gospel reading is Luke 18: 31-34
At that time, Jesus took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.
Here is something we see at various times in the Gospel: Our Lord’s most intimate followers often did not understand about the most important things, the central mysteries of the Gospel teaching. Only after His Resurrection and Ascension, and after they had received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, were their eyes opened to receive the light of the great mysteries of the Lord’s economy for man’s salvation. St. Theophan the Recluse relates this experience of the apostles to our own spiritual life:
The Lord told the disciples about His suffering, but they did not comprehend anything He said: “This saying was hid from them.” Later, the faithful “…determined not to know anything except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (I Corinthians 2:2).” Before the time came, they did not understand any of this mystery; but when the time came, they understood, and taught everyone, and explained it to everyone. This happens to everyone, not only with regard to this mystery, but to all the other mysteries as well. What is not understood in the beginning becomes understood with time; it is as if a ray of light enters the consciousness and brightens what was formerly dark. Who is it that elucidates it? The Lord Himself, the grace that lives in the faithful, or one’s guardian angel – but in no way is it the person himself. He is the recipient, not the cause. On the other hand, something else might remain incomprehensible for one’s whole life – not only for individuals, but for all of humanity. Man is surrounded by things he does not understand. Some are cleared up over the course of his life, while other are left until the next life – they will be seen then. This applies even to minds enlightened by God. Why are things not revealed here? Because some things are incomprehensible, so there is no point in talking about them. Others are not proclaimed out of considerations for health – that is, it would be harmful to know about them prematurely. Much will become clear in the next life, but other subjects and other mysteries will also be discovered then. A created mind will never escape inscrutable mysteries. The mind rebels against these bonds, but whether you rebel or not, you cannot sever the bonds of mystery. Humble yourself, proud mind, beneath the might hand of God – and believe!
– from Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 263-264
These thoughts are related to the need to receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, according to Our Lord’s words. God gave us a mind, and we naturally want to figure things out – this is understandable. But we have to remember that our minds are both limited, because we are finite creatures, and, moreover, damaged, for, even after Holy Baptism, we still struggle with the effects of the Ancestral Sin upon our nature, though it does not have final power over us. Thus we cannot understand even created things, much less God, without God’s illumination, which comes, as St. Theophan explains, either directly from His Holy Spirit or through the inspiration of our Guardian Angel. We have to ask for this illumination constantly, both in order to receive this help, and also in order to come into a right relationship between God and ourselves as rational but limited creatures. Nothing is worse than a proud mind; nothing prevents us so effectively as this from being saved. This is especially true when the mind is proud about religious matters, when somebody thinks he “knows it all” and refuses to be taught – this is the worst! An un-teachable person, no matter how outwardly pious, is incapable of effectual repentance: the harder he tries to perform the deeds of religion, the worse he gets!
The thought of all this should humble us and sober us up. Every day we should ask Our Lord to enlighten us a little more, to reveal to us a little more what we need to know for our salvation, and especially to give us a little more self-understanding, which is the hardest thing of all. St. Isaac the Syrian says somewhere that it is a greater miracle to see your own sins than to raise the dead. Never was a truer word spoken! We want to understand all kinds of mysterious things – how God could have created all things in six days, how Jesus could have risen from the dead, how some people are saved and others are not, when will be the end of the world, etc. – but we cannot understand even our own most elementary faults, and our own hearts are to us a closed book!
When I am in need of enlightenment, I like to recall the Spiritual Testament of the Elder Gabriel of the Kazan-Seven Lakes and the Pskov-Eleazar Monasteries, who reposed in 1915. This testament was his final word to his spiritual children, composed shortly before his repose:
Soon, perhaps, I will die. I leave you an inheritance of great and inexhaustible riches. There is enough for everyone, only they must make profitable use of it and not doubt. Whosoever will be wise enough to make use of this inheritance will live without want.
First: when someone feels himself to be a sinner and can find no way out, let him shut himself alone in his cell and read the Canon and Akathist to Sweetest Jesus Christ, and his tears will be a comforting remedy for him.
Second: when someone finds himself amid misfortunes of any kind whatsoever, let him read the Supplicatory Canon to the Mother of God, “Distressed by Many Temptations,” and all his misfortunes will pass unnoticed from him to the shame of those who assailed him.
Third: when someone needs inner illumination of soul, let him read the 17th Kathisma [Psalm 118] with attention, and his inner eyes will be opened. The realization of what is written in it will follow. The need to cleanse the conscience more frequently in Confession and to communicate of the Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ will arise. The virtue of compassion for others will be manifest, so that we will not scorn them but rather suffer and pray for them. Then, inward fear of God will appear, in which will be revealed to the inner eye of the soul the accomplishments of the Savior – how He suffered for us and loved us. Grace-filled love for Him will appear with the power of the Holy Spirit, Who instructs us in every ascetic labor and teaches us how to accomplish His will for us and to endure. In our patience, we will perceive and sense in ourselves the coming of the Kingdom of God in His power, and we will reign together with the Lord and become holy.
This world will not appear to us then the same as it appears to us now; however, we will not stand in judgment, but Jesus Christ will judge. We will see the falsity and sin in the world, but only through the Savior’s eyes, and we will partake of truth in Him alone.
Falsehood! We see it and yet we do not. This world with all its deceptions will pass away never to return, for it is a lie. Christ’s truth shall endure unto the ages of ages. Amen.
– from One of the Ancients, by Holy New Hieromartyr Simeon Kholmogorov (St. Herman Press, 1988), pp. 169-170