15 December OS 2018 – Nativity Fast; Friday of the Thirteenth Week of St. Luke; S. Eleutherios, Hieromartyr
Today’s Gospel reading for the daily cycle is Mark 9:33-41 –
At that time, Jesus came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me. And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.
The commentary of St. Theophan the Recluse on this teaching of the Lord, that we should be humble and childlike, provides such good advice for our current situation, that I thought I would reproduce it in full:
The Savior sets forth a child as a model of faith and life. Simplicity of faith gives birth to simplicity of life. From both of these comes an exemplary moral system. If you let philosophizing in, it will produce disorder within, and under the appearance of a better arrangement of things, it will throw one’s entire life into disorder. Philosophizing alway cries, ‘This is not right; that’s not right. Let me arrange everything in a new way; the old is worthless, boring.’ But it has never yet, in any place, arranged anything good; it only throws things into confusion. The mind should obey what is commanded by the Lord. True, the mind is called ‘the king in the head’; however, this king is not given legislative power, only executive power. As soon as it starts making laws, it piles up who-knows-what. Moral, religious, worldly, and political orders are thrown into confusion, and everything turns upside down. It is a great misfortune for society when its mind is given freedom to soar, with no restraint by divine Truth! This is God’s wrath [i.e., it brings upon us God’s wrath]. About this it is said, ‘Hide thyself for a little season, until the anger of the Lord hath passed away (Esaias 26:20).’ During this apex of intellectual willfulness it is best to seek shelter in simplicity of faith. Just as during a storm it is better to sit at home and not step out in arrogance to fight with it, so during a time of stormy trust in one’s own thoughts it is better not to enter into battle with it, or to seize the weapons of philosophizing in order to resist it. Simplicity of faith is stronger than philosophizing; clothe yourself in it, as in armor, and you will keep your balance. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 281-282
Here the saint addresses two arenas of conflict, society and the believer’s inner life. They mirror each other. Just as, when society leaves off trusting in God’s Law and makes new theories, it throws itself into chaos, so also, when the Orthodox believer leaves the narrow path of the Scriptures and the Fathers, and tries to “figure everything out” with his “brain,” he becomes confused and throws his mind, and therefore his life, into chaos. Most of us learned a long time ago that Holy Tradition does not violate our reason, that Orthodoxy provides the most satisfying answers to the questions about the things we really need to know, and that there are things we simply do not need to know. That should be enough to satisfy us, and the temptation to keep analyzing the Faith is just that, a temptation. Nowadays we just need to live and not keep re-inventing the wheel.
“Mainstream life” is an insane asylum, and today most Orthodox people mostly act like most everyone else, and because this entails bad habits of mind, will, and desires, they are exhausted like everyone else, leading fragmented and distracted lives that do not make sense. It is no wonder that a brutal, crude, and irrational ideology like Islam, along with myriad strange cults – belief in “aliens,” Scientology, Wicca, “enlightenment” through drugs, whatever – now spread like cancer in formerly Christian societies, for, having rejected the Truth, people are desperate for someone to tell them what to do, desperate for answers – no matter how erroneous – to hold onto. In the name of “freedom,” they have renounced obedience to the lovely simplicity of the Gospel that elevates the mind and frees the will for the good, that governs everything in our inner and outer lives with harmonious order and happiness. So now, terrified by the chaos they have created, they run to enslave themselves to disgusting and demonic revelations that crush the mind and paralyze the will. Orthodox young people are not immune.
The simple answer that St. Theophan offers is to “hide a little while,” as the Prophet Esaias cries to us daily in the Fifth Ode of Matins. Let us enclose our minds, with a firm act of will, in the words of Holy Scripture, daily prayer, and the Offices of the Church. First, the emotions are calmed. Then the mind becomes clear. Finally, the mind and heart unite in a whole vision of reality that makes complete sense, though during this temporal life there are some things we simply cannot know, and with this we are content. This forms a firm basis for daily life.