21 September OS 2016 – Tuesday of the First Week of Luke; Leavetaking of the Exaltation of the Cross; Holy Apostle Codratus
Today we take leave of the Great Feast of the Exaltation of the Precious Cross. St. Theophan the Recluse offers this meditation on this solemn feast of September, an autumn echo of Great Lent and Holy Week:
The honorable Cross is brought out for veneration in the middle of Great Lent in order to inspire those who toil in fasting to patiently bear to the end the yoke they have taken. Why is this also done in September? Is it accidental? But there are no accidents for the Providential Wisdom that arranges all things. This is why: The harvest is taken from the field in September…And so, in order that some Christians might not feel too satisfied and say, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry! (Luke 12:19), and so that others might not become fainthearted because of scarcity, the elevated Cross is brought before all. It reminds the former that the support of well-being is not in possessions, but in their bearing of the cross in a Christian way, if God’s goodness should bring external plenitude; and it inspires the latter to possess their souls in patience, through the certainty that they will go from the cross directly to heaven. Therefore, may some endure, knowing that they are traveling a smooth path to the Heavenly Kingdom; and may the others enjoy outward comforts with fear, not sealing the entrance to heaven against themselves. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 209
Harvest time, for our ancestors who lived on the land, was a time of good news or bad news: In some years, they could look forward confidently to the rigors of winter with plenty of food stored up, enough to survive, and in some years even an excess, perhaps, with which to enjoy the Christmas season and the time of merrymaking before Great Lent. In other years, the harvest was poor, and they had to tighten their belts and place all their trust in God that they would live till Pascha. In either case, the Feast of the Cross during harvest time was a reminder: In case of poverty, to cling willingly to the cross of involuntary hunger, and in the case of plenty, to partake of God’s good gifts with humble gratitude, moderation of enjoyment, and saving fear. The Lord alone knew what was truly good for them, and He arranged all things wisely, both the good and the bad, for their salvation.
So in our lives today, there are seasons of plenty and seasons of want, times when things go well for us in the outer world, and times when everything seems to come crashing down on us. Usually preachers and spiritual writers have a great deal to say about patience in suffering, but what about times when things really are going well? Very few of us suffer lives of unrelieved sorrow; for most, life does offer days and seasons of earthly happiness that counterbalance the times when nothing seems to go well. Whether we are rich or poor, however, healthy or ill, loved or rejected, we must see that God arranges all things wisely for our salvation, and we must respond appropriately to the situation in which we find ourselves. What is the saving response to prosperity and success?
When life is going well outwardly, consider undertaking these spiritual labors, asking the Lord for the grace to perform them:
- Continuous gratitude with humility: Remind yourself hour by hour that you do not deserve happiness but rather every temporal and eternal punishment, and that God has given His good gifts not to puff you up but to console and strengthen you, to show His great love for you, and to enable you to help others. Glorify Him and thank Him at every moment, and ask Him to preserve you in humility and give you wisdom to use your earthly prosperity unto salvation.
- Cheerfulness: To force oneself to be cheerful constantly is, except for that tiny minority with an invincibly sunny disposition, a serious ascetical feat. Cheerfulness is linked intimately with gratitude and follows from gratitude, and it also is linked intimately with being other-centered and not self-centered. When things really are going well for you, there is even less reason than usual to be gloomy or sad. Take advantage of times of ease to root out every impulse for self-pity, and consciously think, “How is my disposition and outward bearing affecting others? How can I cheer other people up?” If we practice cheerfulness in times of happiness, we are more likely to carry the habit into times of sorrow.
- Almsgiving: If our earthly success is material, we must share. Ask the Lord for discretion, to know how and how much to share your earthly goods. If our earthly success is simply that of health and a sense of wellbeing, we must share our energy and labors, for the good of others. Again, ask the Lord for discretion to know whom and how much to help. We must put ourselves out, inconvenience ourselves voluntarily, in the good times when the Lord has given us energy, health, and happiness.
- Watchfulness: It is almost impossible for a man to resist complacency and self-congratulation when things are going well, to resist forgetting God in the heart and replacing Him with the idol of self-sufficiency. In times of good fortune, it is more imperative than ever to recall death, God’s judgment, heaven and hell; to practice rigorous examination of conscience and frequent confession; and to ask the Lord to show one the extent of one’s pride and how hateful it is in His sight. This will give peace of soul and the calm joy that comes from hope in God, far more satisfying than the chimerical and feverish vision of perpetual earthly happiness that temporary success engenders in the untrained soul.
May the Lord of the harvest, the Giver of every good gift, give us discretion and strength to make wise use of happiness and sorrow, both the good times and the bad.
Glory to Thy Precious Cross, O Lord! Glory be to Thee!