24 October OS 2020 – Friday of the 5th Week of St. Luke, Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos “Joy of All Who Sorrow,” Holy Martyr Arethas
The reading from the Holy Gospel today is Luke 10: 1-15.
After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come. Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest. Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way. And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again. And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house. And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you: And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you. But into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say, Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you. But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city. Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell.
St. Theophan the Recluse comments on the ultimate fate of those who reject the apostolic preaching:
In the next world, will there be such condescension toward those who do not accept the Lord as He showed toward those living on the earth? No, there will not be. Sending the Seventy to preach, the Lord commanded them that when they were not received, they should say in the streets: “Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding, be ye sure of this, that the Kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.” That is, we do not need anything of yours. It is not with self-interest that we walk and preach, but to proclaim peace and the Kingdom of God unto you. If you do not want to receive this blessing, then let it be as you wish – we will go on. Thus it was commanded for the present time; but how will it be in the future? “It will be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city.” Therefore, unbelievers have nothing to give them hope of the Lord’s lenience. While on the earth they take their liberties, but as soon as death comes, the entire storm of God’s wrath will come down upon them. It would be a great misfortune to be as the unbelievers! They do not even have joy on the earth, because without God and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer, even here everything is dismal and dreary. As to what will happen there, it is impossible to describe it in words or to imagine it. It would be more tolerable to be destroyed, but even that will not be given to them. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 234
Thoughts like these are very difficult for us. It is terrible, unthinkable, that people we love – relatives, friends, even spouses and children – would be condemned for their lack of faith in Christ. On the other hand, the alternative is even more unthinkable – that the words of Christ are not true. For if these hard words of His about the necessity of Faith and the reality of His Judgment are not true, why should any of His words be true? And if He is not the Truth, nothing and no one is, and there is no truth. And if there is no truth, life is not worth living.
The only way out of the painful state of mind caused by juxtaposing these two alternatives is complete humility and surrender to the will of God. We have to “commit ourselves, one another, and all our life to Christ our God.” The knowledge of Who He is, the conviction that we have a Creator and a Redeemer, is by itself the source of limitless joy, a never-failing fountain of happiness for every moment of the day, if only we thought about it. Clinging to Him, walking the narrow path with Him and to Him (for He is our constant companion on the very road to Himself) should occupy all of our mental energy for spiritual matters – why waste energy and risk getting lost by wandering off the path to indulge in theological speculation about the fate of the faithless? They have a Creator and Redeemer, Who knows them better than we do and Who loves them better, as well. Let Him take care of it.
In regards to those among the living whom we deeply desire to convert to the Orthodox Faith, pray for them every day – make a list, read their names, and say, “O Lord have mercy on them!” You can also say the Trisagion Prayers and Ps. 50 for them. When you are actively engaged in helping someone find his salvation, all these speculations about the justice of God in condemning those outside the Church, etc, fall away. We have to do our job, and that is helping others not be condemned. This should occupy our attention sufficiently until we draw our own last breath. And we should never give up: as the great American philosopher Yogi Berra reminds us, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
In regards to those who have died outside the Church, we can also make a list of their names, read it every day, and say, “O Lord, have mercy on them!” We can also say the Trisagion Prayers and Psalm 50 for them, as well.
Let us cast away all of our logismoi – our dark, troubled, and confused thoughts – and let us cast ourselves into the abyss of God’s inscrutable wisdom and absolute love for mankind. His peace, which the world cannot give, shall envelope us, calm our troubled minds, and give us the courage to confess our Faith, share it with others if they want it, and persevere to the end.