19 June OS 2020 – Thursday of the Fourth Week of Matthew; St. Jude the Apostle, Brother of the Lord; St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, Wonderworker
Today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 11:27-30) is our gracious Lord’s invitation to be freed of the burden of sin by taking on the light yoke of His commandments:
The Lord said to His disciples, All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
St. Theophan the Recluse explains the process by which this transformation takes place:
O Divine, O dear, O sweetest voice of Thine! Let us all follow the Lord, Who calls us! But first we must experience something difficult and burdensome for us. We must experience that we have many sins, and that these sins are grave. From this is born the need to seek relief. Faith will then show us that our only refuge is in the Lord and Savior, and our steps will direct themselves toward Him. A soul desiring to be saved from sins knows what to say to the Lord: “Take my heavy, sinful burden from me, and I will take Thine easy yoke.” And this is how it happens: the Lord forgives one’s sins, and his soul begins to walk in His commandments. The commandments are the yoke, and sins are the burden. But comparing the two, the soul finds that the yoke of the commandments is as light as a feather, while the burden of sins is as heavy as a mountain. Let us not fear readily accepting the Lord’s easy yoke and His light burden. In no other way can we find rest unto our souls. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 135
Here is how it happens, then:
Step One: We must experience that we have many sins, and that they are grave. St. Isaac the Syrian says that it is a greater miracle to see one’s sins than to raise the dead. Why? Because of the incomprehensible blindness of fallen human nature, which does not understand itself. We all have it. We must pray to see ourselves as we really are, so that we can really feel the burden of sin and the need to seek relief. We must realize with the entire consent of our being that we need a Savior.
Step Two: Faith shows us that our only refuge is our Savior and that He does forgive our sins. We are Orthodox Christians, and we accept the teachings of the Church, but often we do not feel them, do not have strong Faith welling up from the depths of our being with absolute conviction. This is not mere emotion, but a set of the soul, an experiential knowledge in the center of our being that God is, that God is indeed the Holy Trinity of Orthodoxy, and that Christ our Savior has indeed saved us. To acquire this set of soul, one near-infallible method is the frequent practice of slow, forcefully concentrated prayer. Open the prayer book, or take the Psalter, or take your prayer rope, and, in a quiet place, kneeling before the holy icons, force yourself to say the words a bit more slowly than usual, and forcefully struggle for attention, ruthlessly casting out every distracting thought. Set a timer for, say, ten or fifteen minutes, and do not let up until the alarm rings. If you feel the desire to continue, continue for as long as you like. Go on praying in this way until the light dawns in your heart. Do this frequently…daily. You shall see. The Lord promised to give us good things, and by praying in this way you are asking for the best things, including profound faith with the constant, abiding presence of God in the heart. He is faithful to His word, and He will give according to His promise.
Step Three: We must promise the Lord that we will live according to His holy commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous (I John 5:3).” Yet we must be honest with ourselves and realize what the standard for loving God really is: “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin (Hebrews 12:4).” This struggle unto blood, which ensues upon our promising to keep the commandments, feels perfectly natural, however, to those who have gone through Steps One and Two, and who keep repeating them when faith grows weak. And not only does it begin to come naturally, but it also engenders ineffable relief and inner happiness, often in inverse proportion to the difficulties of our outward life.
Let us, then, struggle earnestly in prayer, that the Lord may energize the potential of the baptismal grace already within us, and then being transformed strive zealously for God’s commandments, for His glory and for our salvation. May we by grace know through experience that the yoke of Christ is easy and His burden light.