19 December OS 2017 – Monday of the Fourteenth Week of St. Luke; Holy Martyr Boniface
Today’s Gospel reading in the daily cycle is Mark 9:42-10:1
The Lord said: Whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another. And he arose from thence, and cometh into the coasts of Judaea by the farther side of Jordan: and the people resort unto him again; and, as he was wont, he taught them again.
St. Theophan the Recluse comments on the Lord’s words, “For everyone shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.”
“Every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt (Mark 9:49.” Before this the Lord said that one must be prepared for all sorts of sacrifices and deeds of self-denial, so as to stand only on the good path. Though these sacrifices are precious to us, like our own eye, or indispensable, like our right hand, we must offer them without a moment’s hesitation For if you begrudge offering such a sacrifice, and are led away because of this from the right path to the wrong, you will be forced to suffer eternally in the future life. So, offer painful and sorrowful sacrifice here to escape torments there. Without purification by fire here, one cannot be saved from the eternal fire. Everyone desiring to be saved must be salted with fire, and pass through purification by fire. All of us, according to the law of creation, must offer ourselves in sacrifice to God; but every one of us is impure. This means we must purify ourselves, so that a sacrifice pleasing to God can be made from us. But if you start to purify yourself, to tear passions from your soul, it will be painful, like being burned with fire. This operation of inner self-purification is like the operation of fire purifying metal. Metal is without feeling. If you were to give it feeling, it would feel the purifying and the burning simultaneously. The same thing occurs in a person who purifies himself. Undergoing this operation, he is as if totally burned through by fire. The purifying fire passes through all his members the way salt penetrates a body which is being preserved. And only he who subjects himself to this operation is a truly God-pleasing sacrifice. That is why it is necessary for everyone to be salted with fire, as in the Old Testament, where every sacrifice was salted before being offered as a whole-burnt offering. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 284-285
This Gospel reading, for the 14th Monday of St. Luke, falls this year (2017) on 19 December Old Style, which is 1 January 2018 New Style, the civil New Year’s Day. Let this be a sign to make 2018 a year in which we offer ourselves to God in sacrifice.
Note that St. Theophan says that we all must offer ourselves in sacrifice to God “according to the law of creation.” Simply because God created us, we owe Him our entire selves. When we add to this the debt incurred by the Infinite Sacrifice He made upon the Cross, how can we hesitate to sacrifice ourselves in return?
Acknowledgement of this double infinite debt incurs the most profound gratitude and humility on man’s part. It brings about the fear of God, which is the beginning of all wisdom. All secularists, whether honest unbelievers or dishonest modernist “Christians,” hate the idea of this debt, and they do everything to disparage thinking, much less speaking, in such terms. Modernist “Orthodox” prattle about “theosis” and the highest reaches of spiritual life, as if they actually understood something about it, while minimizing their utter worthlessness and guilt before God, their absolutely desperate need for a Redeemer. They imagine themselves already as little gods getting “better and better every day in every way.” A surprise awaits them coming to the Judgment, when “they shall look on Him Whom they pierced.”
The Martyrs and Fathers, who were wise in God, grew daily deeper in the profound conviction of their nothingness before Him. They thirsted with unslakable thirst to give themselves entirely in sacrifice to their Creator and Redeemer. They drank sufferings like cool water and rejoiced in tribulations as the finest food for the soul. They safely preserved their spiritual savor with the salt of suffering and thus became sweet holocausts ascending fragrantly to the nostrils of the Lord. When we accept any and all sufferings incurred by the double duty we owe God, of orthodoxy (unshakable witness to the Truth) and orthopraxy (unshakable perseverance on the un-deluded path of repentance), we make the same sacrifice they made, though it be in our own little way. We walk the same path they walked, though it be a thousand thousand steps behind.
By our own power, this is impossible, but think also about this: Every time the priest offers the Divine Liturgy, he offers, once more, the One Sacrifice of the God-Man to the All-Holy Trinity, for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of the world. Once more, Golgotha is made mystically present, and we enter the timeless moment when the only true Sacrifice pronounced “It is finished” and became for us the One Victim Forever Slain, which sanctifies His communicants. He knows we have not the power to offer ourselves, and so He voluntarily becomes one with us in Holy Communion. Unworthy as we are, we become that which we receive. Thereby He makes us, by union with Him, the only Sacrifice pleasing to the Father. Once again, and again and again, He does for us that which we wish to do but cannot: to render just recompense to Him for that which He has already done for us. Ultimately, we realize, He is everything, and we are nothing. All is Gift.
How can we not love such a Lord with all our hearts? May 2018 be the year so to do.