The Beginning of Wisdom
The Lenten Readings from Proverbs
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In recent decades, translators have rendered into English a great deal of the Fathers’ profound literature on the interior activity of a Christian leading a carefully supervised ascetic life at a rather advanced level. Though one cannot help being grateful for this great service to the Church, the ready availability of such writings may ensnare the unwary beginner in imagining that he can really make use of them to his profit, which entails a dubious proposition and possibly a dangerous undertaking. This is probably the first time in Church history that terms like hesychasm and theosis are bandied about in the daily conversation of eager neophytes. This should give us pause.
The Holy Fathers’ preaching for beginners – ordinary believers like you and me – addresses different and more realistic concerns. They knew that we cannot attain the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love without first striving for the Cardinal Virtues of Temperance, Prudence, Justice, and Fortitude. That greatest of preachers, St. John Chrysostom, fills entire bookshelves with his exhortations to fundamental moral living based on God’s revelation in Holy Scripture, and not the New Testament only, but the Old Testament as well.
Our Holy Mother the Orthodox Church, in Her divine wisdom, chooses the Old Testament as our staple reading for Great Lent. At the Sixth Hour, Esaias calls us to cast away our sins and return to the Lord, and he prophesies the coming of the Savior and His sufferings for our salvation. At the first reading for Vespers, Genesis reveals to us the origin of the world, the creation and true vocation of our race, our fall into sin, the promise of the Redeemer, God’s providential plan working its way through history in the struggles of His chosen holy patriarchs, and many prophetic types of the saving dispensation of the Incarnate Word Who was to come. At the second reading for Vespers, the wise Solomon, by way of teaching his son, at the same time instructs us also on how to get wisdom and virtue, in the Book of Proverbs.
In the short daily essays that follow, the author hopes to offer his fellow beginners useful advice on putting Proverbs into practice. The idea is to examine one or two verses from the daily reading and to say something true and useful about them, with help from the Holy Fathers, especially the great Chrysostom, the existence of whose commentary surviving solely in a single manuscript on the isle of Patmos was unknown to the Christian world for centuries, until being brought to our attention by a French scholar, Marcel Richard, only in 1959! There are no accidents in God’s plan for us. He made known His great preacher’s words on Proverbs in our time for our benefit. Let us show our thanks by heeding these words and putting them into practice.
When asked by a parishioner, “What should I do for Lent” the contemporary pastor is tempted to say, “Something, anything.” The distractions and delusions of our present existence are so great that it seems a miracle to remember that Great Lent is actually going on. The author invites the reader to this effort to benefit from Proverbs as one option for that “something, anything” the beleaguered soul may choose as his little special effort for this holy season. If this helps to spur the reader to make that good change which sets us once again on the path of salvation, the author begs his prayers in recompense.
Priest Steven Allen
22 February/7 March 2022 A.D.
The finding of the precious Relics of the Martyrs at Eugenius