The path to Paradise

6 October OS 2020 – Monday of the 3rd Week of St. Luke, Holy Apostle Thomas

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In today’s Gospel, the Lord turns worldly reasoning upside down, and He commands His followers to do that which is above nature:

The Lord said to the Jews which came to Him: woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets. But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. – Luke 6: 24-30

St. Theophan the Recluse, in his commentary on these verses, points out that Our Lord is painting a picture of the entire Christian life as a time of exile and pilgrimage, not security and rest:

Woe to those who are rich, who are full, who laugh, and who are praised. But good shall come to those who endure every wrongful accusation, beating, robbery, or imposed hardship. This is completely opposite to what people usually think and feel! The thoughts of God are as far from human thoughts as heaven is from the earth. How else could it be? We are in exile, and it is not remarkable for those in exile to be offended and insulted. We are under a penance, and the penance consists of deprivations and labors. We are sick, and bitter medicines are most useful for the sick. The Savior Himself did not have a place to lay His head for His whole life, and He finished His life on the Cross. Why should His followers have a better lot? The spirit of Christ is the spirit of preparedness to suffer and good-naturedly bear all that is sorrowful. Comfort, conceit, splendor, and ease are all foreign to its strivings and tastes. Its path lies in the fruitless, cheerless desert. Its model is the forty-year wandering of the Israelites in the desert. Who follows this path? Anyone who sees Canaan beyond the desert, overflowing with milk and honey. During his wandering he too receives manna – however, not from the earth, but from heaven; not bodily, but spiritually. All glory is within.   – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 219-220

We all agree with the truth of all this of course, but if we are honest, we admit that we do not feel the truth of it.   Think about it: When is the last time you were filled with unspeakable joy because someone robbed you or insulted you? See what I mean? Today I propose to address how not to be hypocrites (or at least not complete hypocrites) when we claim to believe this Gospel.

Before going on to the “how” of doing this, however, I would like to clear up one important thing: In today’s brainwashed mindset, “forgiving your enemies” has been twisted to mean being cowards who identify love with tolerating unspeakable evils, hollow men who refuse to fight for God and for what is right. This is totally false. If the people preaching (and legislating and imposing) evil and falsehood are not really enemies, then the word “enemy” has no meaning – there are no enemies. And if there are no enemies, the Lord’s command to forgive them has no meaning, which is obviously not possible. The Church in this world is the Church Militant, and that includes all of her members with all their faults, not just calm, loving elders sitting in a cave somewhere. We cannot wait until we are passionless holy saints with only pure, righteous anger, to call out the liars, perverts, and creeps who now dominate our government, media, financial system, corporate structures, and educational establishment. We have to fight them with all our strength, even at the cost of losing our temper, showing our weaknesses, and being called “haters” because we show justifiable anger at their demonic lies and their soul-destroying system of sexual perversion, worship of money, and mindless distraction masquerading as human existence.

So we have to fight these monsters, these undead zombie post-humans who are coming after us to suck the souls out of our bodies, with all our strength, and yet not hate them.   It is easy to curse the people you fight, or do the opposite and throw in the towel in order to have that warm fuzzy feeling of getting along with everybody, even while they destroy your faith, your morals, and your children’s souls. It is easy to be an angry jihadist on the one hand or to love Big Brother on the other hand – all the tension goes away and we feel good again. What is hard is to be a Christian. It is not only hard, but also embarrassing, because we never live up to our Faith. It is the only Faith designed on purpose so that one cannot live up to it, which only goes to prove that this Faith alone is of divine origin.

So how do we do this – rejoice in hardship, love our enemies, and so forth? How do we follow the divine charter for Christian living as found in the Sermon on the Mount in St. Matthew, or today’s Gospel, which is taken from the Sermon on the Plain in St. Luke? Here is a short to-do list:

Admit that we cannot live the Gospel. Admit that to the end of our lives we will fail. As St. Ignatius Brianchaninov says in The Arena, even the greatest saints fall short of the Gospel. It is beyond the power of human nature; it is “above nature,” as the Fathers say. When people call us hypocrites, say, “Yes, you are right, I am a worthless hypocrite. But my Faith is still true, whether I live up to it or not.”

Pray daily with all our hearts that God forgive us for not living the Gospel, that He give us the grace to live it better, and that He give us the grace daily to admit our failure and to ask for more grace.

Force ourselves to thank God when bad things happen.

Pray for those who harm us, both the great – like the mainstream media – and the small – like the coworker at the office who stabs us in the back.

Remember, as St. Theophan points out, that we are exiles and pilgrims in this life. We are on a pilgrimage going to our true home. One expects discomfort while on a journey. The warm fire, fuzzy slippers, and comfy armchair are at the end of the journey, not on the road.   All of our problems arise from delusions, and all of our delusions start with the idea that we are little gods creating a nice little world here in this life.   But our true home is in the heavens; our life is hid with Christ in God. This life is an arena, a contest, a struggle, and a trial.   Our Judge awaits us, with the crown of life in His hand for those who do not give up.

It is always later than we think. Death is always at the door.

Whether that last thought is consoling or depressing is up to us.

pilgrims walking up a hill to a church in Serbia
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