14 April OS 2018 – Third Friday of Pascha; Ss. Aristarchos, Pudens, and Trophimos of the Seventy Apostles; S. Thomais the Chaste, Martyr; S. Martin the Confessor, Pope of Rome
Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 8:40-9:19) is the famous account of one of the most far-reaching events in history, the conversion of Saul, who became St. Paul.
St. Theophan the Recluse goes to the heart of St. Paul’s motivation, which was zeal for doing the will of God:
St. Paul at first defended the Old Testament observances as zealously as he did because he was sincerely certain that it was the unalterable will of God that these observances remain unchanged. He was not zealous because it was the Faith of his fathers, but because in being zealous he was offering service to God. In this lay the spirit of his life – to devote himself to God and direct all his energy toward things pleasing to Him… – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 97-98.
If we were born into an Orthodox family, we should love Orthodoxy, among other reasons, because it is the Faith of our fathers. Filial piety demands no less. This reason, however, is not enough to motivate us to find our salvation through Orthodoxy. To love Orthodoxy only as the tradition of our ancestors, and for no higher reason, puts us on the same spiritual level with the Shintoists of Japan, with the same eternal consequences, or perhaps worse, since more is expected of us than of Shintoists. To be Christians truly, we must love Orthodoxy because every man, regardless of his birth, must be obedient to this Faith and no other if he desires to conform his will to the will of God.
This was the great driving force, one might say the only driving force, in the life of St. Paul: to do the will of God. With the great Elias, he could honestly say, “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts (III Kings 19:10).” To desire to please God, to do His will, to defend His honor, to give Him glory – this was all in all to both of them and those like them. When the Incarnate God, Jesus, revealed Himself to the zealous persecutor Saul, that was all it took for him to make a 180 degree turn and go 100 miles per hour in the other direction. “Done,” as they say.
This kind of person, “the man of divine desires,” may make mistakes, even big ones, but he does not risk hearing those terrible words of the Son of Man to the Laodiceans: “…because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth (Revelation 3:16).” As we increasingly appear to be facing apocalyptic circumstances, it is probably time to get off the Laodicean fence and be the good zealots all Orthodox should be.
The late Archbishop Averky of Jordanville wrote an essay on the virtue of zeal which should be required annual reading for everyone in our generation. You can find it at http://orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/holyzeal.aspx. Let us all read it (or re-read it), and pray for the determination to put it into practice and the prudence to know how.