Wednesday of the Second Week of Matthew
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Today’s reading from the Holy Gospel is Matthew 7: 21 – 23.
The Lord said: Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
St. Theophan the Recluse, in commenting on these words of Christ, connects the doing of God’s will to boldness in prayer:
“Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven (Matt. 7:21).” You will not be saved through prayer alone; you must unite with prayer fulfillment of the will of God—all that lies upon each person according to his calling and way of life. And prayer should have as its subject primarily the request that God enable us not to depart in any way from His holy will. Conversely, he who is zealous to fulfill God’s will in all things has boldness in prayer before God and greater access to His throne. Moreover, prayer that is not accompanied by walking in God’s will is often not true, sober and heartfelt prayer, but only external reading, during which one’s moral dysfunction is concealed by a multitude of words like a mist, while the thoughts are actually disorderly and wandering. Both must be made orderly through piety, and then there will be fruit. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 124-125.
“And prayer should have as its subject primarily the request that God enable us not to depart in any way from His holy will.” We know that there are four types of prayer: Glorification, Thanksgiving, Repentance, and Supplication. The content of the first three types is fairly obvious: We glorify God for Who He is in Himself and for all His works, we thank Him for all that He has done for us, and we acknowledge our sins, accusing ourselves in repentance and begging Him for the forgiveness for our sins. But in our supplicatory prayers, we are often puzzled as to what we should ask for, for discernment often fails us as to what would be truly good for us and for those whom we love. We think, “Just because we want something, does that mean it is really good for us? Maybe it is not pleasing to God, and it will not turn out well for me if I get what I want.”
This honest and salutary doubt, however, should not stop us from asking God for what we think we need or what others need. Impartial and heartfelt prayer for others, especially, when we forget ourselves and our hearts go out in compassion to our brother, is pleasing to God in itself as an act of charity, even if we cannot perfectly discern His will in regard to our particular petition. When we say, “O Lord, heal my sick brother! O Lord give him a home to live in, food to eat, the means to support his family,” and so forth, we are not saying that we know that God wants this specific thing in this specific instance; we are saying, rather, that in our human weakness we are crying out to Him for help in time of need, acknowledging our absolute dependence on Him and His absolute sovereignty and all-wise providence over our lives.
Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the perfect model and exemplar for our lives, gives us the perfect model of supplicatory prayer in His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night before He died: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Our Lord’s human nature, which was that of the New Adam, was in itself free not only from the sinful passions but also from the blameless passions, including the fear of death. It was for our sake that He activated the potential of His human nature to suffer the blameless passions, in order to recapitulate in Himself all of man’s temptations and sufferings by His complete taking into Himself the consequences of all our sins, even unto death, though He was naturally immortal not only in His divinity but also in His un-fallen humanity. Therefore, when He exhibited the fear of death in the Garden, He was not play-acting: He was really and truly afraid of death, gratuitously but truly suffering the spiritual, psychological, and physical pain of that ultimate fear as no other man ever did or ever will or ever can. In this voluntary human weakness, He cries out to God His Father in the agony of His soul, “Take this cup,” that is, His passion and death, “away from Me!” But He immediately adds, “…not my will,” that is, His human will, “but Thy will be done,” perfectly uniting the faculty of the human will that He shares with us with the will of God and thereby reversing the disobedience of our first father Adam. In a garden Adam disobeyed God and brought death into the world; in a garden, Christ obeys God and through His voluntary death conquers death for Adam and for all His race. His obedience is expressed in the form of the perfect supplicatory prayer: “My human weakness wants this, and do please give it to me, but if You want something else then give me that instead. Thy will be done.”
To imitate the Lord in this regard, to acquire this complete and saving obedience in the core of our inner life, in our thoughts, our will, and our desires, and thereby attain perfect supplicatory prayer, we must practice obedience in our outer lives, obedience to God’s commandments. Today it is fashionable for people to say that they love God while they simultaneously and openly reject the necessity to obey this or that traditional commandment of God’s moral law as taught by the Church. This is, of course, impossible. They do not love God; they only imagine that they do. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself said, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love (John 15:10),” and St. John the Theologian, who reports these words of Christ in his Gospel, reiterates this saving truth in his first Epistle: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous (I John 5:2-3).”
The commandments of God are not hidden; they are well known. They are given in Holy Scripture and skillfully summarized in the catechetical literature of the Church by wise and loving Holy Fathers for our benefit. Yet how many today can even recite the Ten Commandments accurately? How many know the eight principal faults and the standard remedies for these faults taught by the Holy Fathers? How many know the Seven Corporal and Seven Spiritual Acts of Mercy, two useful lists that instruct us on how to avoid sins of omission, as the aforesaid lists instruct us on how to avoid the sins of commission? How many know the Beatitudes by heart, so as not only to understand the commands of justice but also to rise above these to the counsels of perfection, to that striving required of every Christian towards complete holiness?
Here is a suggestion: Obtain the Catechism of St. Peter Mogila, a standard and clear catechism approved by all the Eastern patriarchs at the Council of Jerusalem in 1672, thereby possessing ecumenical (in the original and true sense!) authority, and, in our own time, recommended by recent holy teachers, including St. John Maximovich. Read it carefully, and at each reading, knowing the weakness of your will and understanding, say the favorite prayer of St. Gregory Palamas, “O Lord, enlighten my darkness!” Memorize the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Beatitudes. Study the principal faults and pray for the discernment to see them in yourself, so that you can repent. Resolve to do God’s will in all things, every day and every moment.
This holy labor is pleasing to God, and He will grant you His grace, to know His pleasing, perfect, and holy will. And you will learn how and what for to pray, in union with the Incarnate Son of God’s own prayer to the Father.
O Christ our God, perfect example of prayer to Thy Heavenly Father, teach us to do Thy will, for Thou art our God! Amen.