The Man of sorrows

Monday of the 10th Week of Luke 

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Today’s Gospel reading is Luke 17: 20 – 25

And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it. And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them. For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.

St. Theophan the Recluse reminds us that we must follow Our Lord in His suffering and be rejected by our own generation, if we hope to inherit the Kingdom of God:  

Having said that the Son of Man will appear in his day like lightning, instantly illuminating everything under heaven, the Lord added: But first must He suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation. The word order here makes it apparent that this “must suffer” should precede the Lord’s appearance in glory. Thus, the whole time until that day is the time of the Lord’s suffering. He suffered in His person at one known time; after that His sufferings continue in believers—suffering as they are born, their upbringing in the spirit and protection from actions of the enemy, both inner and outer—for the Lord’s union with His own is not just mental or moral, but living. Everything that touches them is accepted by Him as well, as the head. Therefore, it is impossible not to see that the Lord indeed suffers much. The most painful sorrows are the falls of believers; even more painful for Him is when they fall away from the faith. But these are the final wounds; as continuously wounding arrows are the sorrows, temptations, and wavering faith of unbelief. Words and writings that exude unbelief are kindled arrows of the evil one. Nowadays, the evil one has led many blacksmiths to forge such arrows. The hearts of believers ache when they are struck by them and see others being struck. The Lord aches too. But the day of the Lord’s glory will appear—then all the secret darkness will be revealed, and those who have suffered will rejoice with the Lord. Until that time we must endure and pray. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 260-261

Many indeed have fallen away and will fall away before the Lord’s glory appears at the end of time.   How do we avoid falling ourselves?   We are so weak, and we have seen many others who, we thought, were stronger, smarter, and more religious than ourselves, wandering off the path of salvation gradually into delusion or leaping off the cliff suddenly into total apostasy, and we begin to think that their fate must come inevitably upon ourselves also; after all, we are not as good as they, much less better.  And, as St. Theophan says, our hearts ache when struck by the arrows of the temptation to unbelief.   They ache both with sorrow over those who have fallen, and they ache with the pain of our own loneliness and self-doubt in the midst of so much mental warfare against us, waged both visibly by the world and invisibly by the demons.   

Apologetic arguments for Orthodoxy are certainly available to us, and we should have constant recourse to study, preferably before being tempted and certainly when suffering in the midst of temptation.   But what is equally important to study, or, rather, forms an absolute pre-condition for fruitful study, is heartfelt love for Christ and loyalty to His Person, as our Creator, Redeemer, and Friend, as the Bridegroom of our souls.  He is the best Friend we have ever had or ever can have; yet we treat Him so often as an abstraction, an article of belief required of me if I am to maintain a worldview I am currently comfortable with but which is open to revision if I find something more psychologically satisfying.   He becomes a currently necessary intellectual support for my current choices instead of the Master of my life.  

So when we are struck by the arrows of wavering faith, the first step is not to open a book of apologetic theology, but to renew our loyalty to the Lord.   We need to get down on our knees, open the Prayer Book to the Akathist to Our Lord Jesus Christ, and say it aloud, slowly, with a great struggle for attention.  We need to open the Gospel and read it aloud, slowly, with a great struggle for attention, not seeking specific articulated solutions to imagined conundrums but seeking rather the conversion of our hearts to being wounded with love for the Man depicted therein.  

Only after such a softening of the heart, only after compunction has wounded our souls with the life-creating wound of joy-giving sorrow for our sins, that replaces the deadly wound of gloom and confusion caused by wavering faith – only then should we engage in intellectual study and the examination of arguments for and against this and that. Otherwise we shall wander all our lives long in the labyrinth of the fallen reason as it chews on itself, cannibalizing its inner resources until the hour death comes, and its self-chosen auto-demolition is revealed in all its horror at the gate of hell.  

O dearest Lord, Who suffered all things for us, come to us in this holy season and grant us the insatiable longing for Thy presence in our hearts!   O Lord Thou Sun of Righteousness, enlighten our darkness in the midst of this present world of confusion.  Make our minds clear, our wills firm, and our hearts warm with Thy love.  Amen.  

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