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Saturday of the Fourth Week of Matthew
The Gospel for today is Matthew 8: 14-23.
At that time: When Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever. And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them. When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses. Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side. And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead. And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him.
St. Theophan the Recluse makes clear what the Lord’s command to leave all and follow Him means:
…this means that he who wants to follow the Lord should not expect any comfort on earth after following Him, but only deprivations, needs, and sorrows. And it means that worldly cares, even the most legitimate, are not compatible with following Him. It is necessary to decisively renounce everything, so that nothing attaches you to the earth, and then to condemn yourself to every kind of suffering or cross. Having thus prepared yourself, follow the Lord. This is the direct will of the Lord! – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 136
The author goes on to make clear that this command is for all Christians, not only for monks.
But how do we, living in the world, follow this command? How can we join such radical discipleship to the duties imposed by Christian family life in the world? Several considerations should serve to make clear that the two are compatible:
Note that St. Theophan says that the Lord’s followers should not expect any comfort on earth if they are real disciples. This does not mean that they will never have any comfort on earth. The Lord grants us consolations, both inner and outer, as we need them. He knows our weakness and condescends to give us encouragement in our struggles. But our basic attitude must be that of the soldier in the front lines, who expects to be required to die any minute, and counts every minute of life a gift. So should we, every day on earth, expect the sorrow of the cross but rejoice when we receive the joy of the resurrection. True Christians do not have the entitlement mentality (“I deserve happiness on earth”). They expect to carry their cross as the normal mode of life, but they rejoice in God’s good gifts when and how He deigns to give them. And those who carry the biggest crosses enjoy their consolations the most. Think of an ascetic who eats only fasting food all year except for one boiled egg on Pascha. How that egg must taste! We cannot imagine. Think of the young mother who has suffered several miscarriages and finally bears a healthy child. How she treasures that child; how much keener is her delight in her child than that of those who have not suffered as she has!
Worldly cares, the author says, are not compatible with following the Lord Jesus. This does not mean that worldly duties are not compatible with following Him. Even St. Paul, for instance, says that though he would rather die and go to be with the Lord, he still wants to live longer on earth in order to take care of those whom he has converted to Christ. According to our station in life, we accept duties and perform them, but without care insofar as we truly do them for the Lord, His grace helping us. Blessed duties become sinful cares when we make an idol out of our success, desiring wealth, comfort, and glory for ourselves instead of God’s glory, or do not rely on the Lord but on ourselves. This is true even of the good that we intend to do, not only the obviously selfish goals that we may have.
In the times we live in, Orthodox Christian family life necessarily involves heavy crosses, if it is truly a God-pleasing life. Those who marry, accept as many children as God pleases to send them, and make every sacrifice to rear these children in strict purity and piety, will doubtless receive a great reward as long as they do not stray from the narrow path, accepting all sorrows, privations, and loneliness as from the hand of the Lord for their salvation. This kind of life is a life of martyrdom, of witness. Such spouses and parents will find their place among those robed in white at the Throne of the Lamb. By the same token, because of the times we live in, many pious single people who deeply desire marriage and family life cannot find a suitable spouse. If they persevere in the Faith, despite the great loneliness they endure, they will find a great reward.
Let us resolve joyfully to run the course set for us by the Lord, the Judge of the contest and the Rewarder of those who do His will!