21 September OS 2018 – Thursday of the 1st Week of St. Luke, Leavetaking of the Exaltation of the Precious Cross; Holy Apostle Codratus of the Seventy
In today’s Gospel, the Lord inaugurates His public ministry in His hometown of Nazareth, announcing that the prophecies are fulfilled, and that He, the Savior, has come.
At that time, Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. – Luke 4: 16-22
The Lord had come to inaugurate the Kingdom of Heaven promised by the prophets. But what kind of Kingdom is it? How can we on earth participate in it? St. Theophan the Recluse says the following:
The Lord not only came “to preach the acceptable year,” but He brought it as well. Where is it? In the souls of believers. The earth will never become Paradise under the current state of affairs; but it is and will be an arena of preparation for the heavenly life. The rudiments of heavenly life are placed in the soul and the possibility for this lies in God’s grace, while grace was brought by our Lord Jesus Christ – Who brought, consequently, the acceptable year for souls. He who listens to the Lord and fulfills all that is commanded by Him receives grace, and with its power enjoys the acceptable year within himself. This truly occurs in all who sincerely believe and act according to faith. You will not fill your soul with the “acceptableness” by thinking; you must act, and it will enter in on its own. There might not be any outer peace whatever, just inner peace, yet it cannot be separated from Christ. But it always happens that as soon as inner peace is established, outer disturbances are neither bitter nor heavy. Consequently, the acceptable year is there even in this respect – it only seems like a cold winter on the outside. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 210-211
St. Theophan here presents a framework for understanding our entire situation, in a few weighty words, and his message is indeed Good News. I would like to summarize his message point by point and apply it to our current situation:
- The Kingdom of heaven is not a Paradise on earth. We must resist getting involved in any utopian dreams and schemes to create heaven on earth. The messiah who promises such a thing is the false messiah, the Antichrist. The entire revolt against God we see reaching a climax today is based on the idea that this world must become perfect, a paradise, and that man’s efforts will bring this about. Christ and His Church preach the opposite: The only Paradise is in the next life, and this life will always be imperfect. It is an arena of struggle, a test, not a permanent resting place.
- In this life, the true Kingdom of God is experienced within, in the soul of the one who has Faith. This is a gift of grace and not anything man can possibly create. Faith leads to grace, and grace establishes the Kingdom in the soul. This Kingdom of the soul, if it is real, will naturally manifest itself in family life, parish life, community life, and even national life, but this is not the same as some kind of Utopia, some kind of permanent heaven on earth. Outward results come and go, until the end of this world, but faith and grace must remain within the soul always.
- We must act, i.e., lead the Orthodox Christian life of prayer, fasting, and charity. The life of grace is not an ideology, not a secret knowledge for insiders, and not a mere philosophy. It is not some “ah-hah!” moment we have while reading something on the Internet. It is not Peter Pan thinking happy thoughts. It is not sitting around and feeling pseudo-spiritual feelings. The life of grace is precisely that: life. Do what the Faith teaches, and the Kingdom of God will warm you from within.
- Outer disturbances usually increase in proportion to the inner peace growing within, but they are felt less. It is like living in a warm house and looking out at the bitter winter weather. The acceptable year of the Lord has been inaugurated in the soul, and it is a time of joy, regardless of outer circumstances.
Let us then resolve, with God enabling us – for we can do nothing of ourselves – to…
Be realistic about the times we live in, not getting caught up in the lies of the rapidly developing New Religion and New Order, while simultaneously…
Acting on our Faith, not just sitting around and wringing our hands: Daily prayer, worship at Church (you don’t know how much longer it will be available or even legal), keeping the holy fasts established by the Church (to keep us detached from earthly pleasures), confessing and preparing for Holy Communion, doing the good you can do, the good you have control over, for those for whom you are responsible, including speaking the truth in love to those around you, even if it seems uncomfortable, and …
Always being grateful to God and not feeling sorry for ourselves.
“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!”