10 July OS 2019 AD – Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Matthew; Holy 45 Martyrs of Nicopolis; S. Antony of the Kiev Caves; Deposition of the Robe of the Lord in Moscow
In today’s Gospel, the Lord instructs the disciples on two levels: How to understand heresies and schisms in the Church, and how to understand the warfare between good and evil in the heart.
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn. – Matthew 13: 24-30
St. Theophan the Recluse guides us into an understanding of the Lord’s words as relating to the Church and as relating to our inner life:
The good seed was sown, but the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat. The tares in the Church are heresies and schisms, while in each of us they are bad thoughts, feelings, desires, and passions. A person accepts the good seed of the word of God, decides to live in a holy way, and begins to live in this way. When such a person falls asleep, that is, when his attention toward himself weakens, then the enemy of salvation comes and places evil ideas in him which, if not rejected at the start, ripen into desires and dispositions, introducing their own spheres of activity, which mix themselves in with good works, feelings, and thoughts. In this way, both remain together until the harvest. This harvest is repentance. The Lord sends His angels – a feeling of contrition and the fear of God – and they come in like a sickle, then burn up all the tares in the fire of painful self-condemnation. Pure wheat remains in the granary of the heart, to the joy of man, the angels, and the Most Good God worshiped in Trinity. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 143-144.
In the Church, the “tares” (weeds) are heresies and schisms. Today clever people have fabricated a novel teaching that the Lord’s command not to tear up the weeds means that we are not allowed to separate from the heretics, that the orthodox who separate from bishops because they are heretics thereby become schismatics, because (according to this interpretation) the orthodox must remain together with the heretics in the Church, like the wheat among the weeds, until the Dread Judgment. Therefore (according to this idea), to remain in the Church, one must continue indefinitely in communion with heretics, commemorating unrepentant heretical bishops, obeying them and receiving what purport to be sacraments from them, perhaps until the end of time. St. John Chrysostom, however, corrects this error in his 46th Homily on Matthew, which you can read online here, http://newadvent.org/fathers/200146.htm, and which you can listen to here, https://archive.org/details/parables_jesus_christ_commentary_gospel_matthew_1511_librivox/parables_03_chrysostom_128kb.mp3
The great Chrysostom here relates not only his own teaching but also the consensus of the Fathers: The Lord in this passage is not forbidding us to separate from the heretics; He is not forbidding us even from actively opposing them with non-lethal, legal methods of coercion if necessary (and if possible – not likely nowadays!). He is simply saying, “Do not shed their blood; do not slay them.”
St. Theophan, in his commentary on this passage, however, spends only one sentence – less than one sentence, only one clause – on this ecclesiological theme, which he mentions more or less in passing. His chief topic, as usual, is the spiritual life of the Christian soul. The wheat consists of our good works, feelings, and thoughts, and the tares are our bad thoughts, feelings, desires, and passions. Just as, at the end of the world, the Lord will send His angels to gather His enemies and burn them, so now, in this life, He sends His messengers – contrition and the fear of God – to burn up our evil inclinations and gather our spiritual goods – our good thoughts and habits of mind and action, our virtues – into the barn of the heart, where they are kept safe by grace and induct us into the Heavenly Kingdom, which we begin to experience by anticipation even here on earth.
St. Isaac the Syrian also connects our salvation today, in the heart, with our eternal salvation in the Kingdom that Is To Come:
…Be a persecutor of yourself, and your enemy will be driven from your proximity. Be peaceful within yourself, and heaven and earth will be at peace with you. Be diligent to enter into the treasury that is within you, and you will see the treasury of Heaven: for these are one and the same, and with one entry you will behold them both. The ladder of the Kingdom is within you, hidden in your soul. Plunge deeply within yourself, away from sin, and there you will find steps by which you will be able to ascend. – The Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily 2
Paradise and hell, then, both begin in this life. Let us beg the Lord for His good messengers – contrition and the fear of God – to burn up our sins and passions, and to collect our scattered thoughts into one thought – the Name of Jesus – concentrated in the granary of the heart. There we will have Paradise, both in this life and in the Age to Come.