Lent VI Tuesday

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Lent VI Tuesday – Proverbs 21: 3 – 21

3 To do justly and to speak truth, are more pleasing to God than the blood of sacrifices. 4 A high-minded man is stout-hearted in his pride; and the lamp of the wicked is sin. 5 6 He that gathers treasures with a lying tongue pursues vanity on to the snares of death. 7 Destruction shall lodge with the ungodly; for they refuse to do justly. 8 To the perverse God sends crooked paths; for his works are pure and right. 9 It is better to dwell in a corner on the house-top, than in plastered rooms with unrighteousness, and in an open house. 10 The soul of the ungodly shall not be pitied by any man. 11 When an intemperate man is punished the simple becomes wiser: and a wise man understanding will receive knowledge. 12 A righteous man understands the hearts of the ungodly: and despises the ungodly for their wickedness. 13 He that stops his ears from hearing the poor, himself also shall cry, and there shall be none to hear him. 14 A secret gift calms anger: but he that forbears to give stirs up strong wrath. 15 It is the joy of the righteous to do judgement: but a holy man is abominable with evil-doers. 16 A man that wanders out of the way of righteousness, shall rest in the congregation of giants. 17 A poor man loves mirth, loving wine and oil in abundance; 18 and a transgressor is the abomination of a righteous man. 19 It is better to dwell in a wilderness than with a quarrelsome and talkative and passionate woman. 20 A desirable treasure will rest on the mouth of the wise; but foolish men will swallow it up. 21 The way of righteousness and mercy will find life and glory. 

In verse eight, we read, “To the perverse God sends crooked paths.”    St. John Chrysostom quotes this verse of Proverbs in his commentary on chapter five of the Gospel according to St. John, to warn his listeners that, if they persist in misusing their will to do evil, they will also destroy their mind’s ability to know the truth.  The context is Our Lord’s dispute with the unbelieving Jews who refused to accept Him; they could not understand Who he was, because their deeds were evil and therefore their minds and hearts were darkened.   Here is what St. Chrysostom says:  

Wherefore we must cast out all wickedness from our souls, and never more contrive any deceit; for, says one, “To the perverse God sends crooked paths” (Proverbs 21:8); and, “The holy spirit of discipline will flee deceit, and remove from thoughts that are without understanding.” Wisdom 1: 5For nothing makes men so foolish as wickedness since when a man is treacherous, unfair, ungrateful, (these are different forms of wickedness) when without having been wronged he grieves another, when he weaves deceits, how shall he not exhibit an example of excessive folly? Again, nothing makes men so wise as virtue; it renders them thankful and fair-minded, merciful, mild, gentle, and candid; it is wont to be the mother of all other blessings. And what is more understanding than one so disposed? For virtue is the very spring and root of prudence,  just as all wickedness has its beginning in folly. For, the insolent man and the angry become the prey of their respective passions from lack of wisdom; on which account the prophet said, “There is no soundness in my flesh: my wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness” (Psalm 38: 3-4): showing that all sin has its beginning in folly: and so the virtuous man who has the fear of God is more understanding than any; wherefore a wise man has said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 1: 7) If then to fear God is to have wisdom, and the wicked man has not that fear,  he is deprived of that which is wisdom indeed — and deprived of that which is wisdom indeed, he is more foolish than any. And yet many admire the wicked as being able to do injustice and harm, not knowing that they ought to deem them wretched above all men, who thinking to injure others thrust the sword against themselves — an act of extremest folly, that a man should strike himself and not even know that he does so, but should think that he is injuring another while he is killing himself. – St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on John, Homily 41 

Even the pagan philosophers understood that the passions cloud a man’s understanding and finally destroy his reason, and that, conversely, a man who is pure in his life will be pure in his thoughts – since his passions do not make his mind and heart dirty, then being clean they are like a clean mirror that accurately reflects reality.  How much more should we Orthodox Christians, who have been given the most complete understanding of man’s composition by the Scriptures and the Fathers, understand this truth and act on it.   

In the Lives of the Saints, we encounter two types of saints whose paths to salvation are distinct from each other.   One type is the repentant sinner, like St. Mary of Egypt, whom we commemorated this past Sunday.  Though they have committed many and terrible sins, like St. Mary who in her youth was a fornicator, or St. Moses the Ethiopian, who before his conversion had been a robber chief, they come to their senses, deeply repent, and thereafter lead lives of extreme asceticism and outstanding virtue.   The other type is the pure soul chosen by God from the mother’s womb, like St. Nicholas or St. Sergius of Radonezh, who exhibit great virtue and complete purity from early childhood onwards, who always seem to have been angels in the flesh.  Of course, they are not absolutely perfect, not amomos – immaculate – as we say of the Mother of God.  But they do not commit any serious sins; they never become subject to gross passions, and therefore they exhibit not only goodness but also keen understanding from childhood, and they are able to become guides and teachers for others at an early age.   

Study, prayer, and reflection must, of course, accompany moral purity and striving in virtue.  The latter cleanses the mind; the former fills it with good things.   The pure mind is keen and full of wonder and thirst for learning – it readily drinks in truth like a river; it is never sated and always desires to learn more true, good, and beautiful things about God, man, and creation.   The impure mind is dull, bored, and boring, interested only in the superficial, the passing, and the trivial – all the meaningless and disconnected epiphenomena of a corrupt society created by demons and their slaves. 

St. Basil the Great famously says that everything that is true belongs to the Church.   I recently read something true said by Confucius, and, encouraged by St. Basil, I shall quote it, since it really belongs to the Church:   

By three methods, we may learn wisdom:   first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is bitterest. 

The pure in heart can go directly to wisdom without being street smart, without undergoing the bitterness of the school of hard knocks.  If we keep our children pure from earliest age, and engage their minds with prayer and sacred study, accompanied by serious and wholesome secular studies and hard, wholesome work, they can mature early in wisdom and lead sunny and productive lives untroubled by discouraging struggles with gross passions and the dark memory of gross sins.   They need not stray from the path of salvation, and why should they?   There is no point to it.  By noble reflection – that is, by prayer and study – and by imitating the lives of the noblest examples of mankind – the saints – they can ascend on the wings of divine love.   This is what we should want for them. 

Let us all, however, both the innocent and the guilty,  force our minds to noble reflection on divine truths through prayer and sacred study, to reading the Lives of the Saints so that we may imitate them, and, if we have had to gain wisdom through bitter experience, to humble ourselves and accept our troubles from the good right hand of the good God, who desires that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.   

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