The sign of Jonas

3 November OS 2015 – Monday of the Twenty Fifth Week after Pentecost/7th Week of St. Luke, Translation of the Relics of St. George

 The reading from the Holy Gospel today is Luke 11: 29 -33.

At that time, when the people were gathered thick together, Jesus began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.  The men of Nineveh shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light.

What is the sign of Jonas?   Christ Himself explains, in Matthew 12:40, “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” The sign of Jonas is the Resurrection of Christ. Just yesterday, Sunday, we celebrated the Resurrection once again, as we do week after week, Sunday after Sunday, and year after year, Pascha after Pascha. If only we understood more deeply what this means, if only we had a lively appreciation of the reality that the Resurrection is the foundation of our lives!

Today people are fearful, but we have nothing to fear, for Christ has conquered sin, the devil, death, and hell.

Today people worship nothingness – they are spinning out of control into suicidal darkness; they have made a pact with death. We worship Christ, the Life-giver and Light-giver. Rather than spinning out of control, we are centered and stable on Him.

Today people are in despair, because they believe they have nothing to look forward to. We live in hope, for Christ having risen once will die no more – death has no power over Him. And our life, being hid with Christ in God, is indestructible – death has no power over us, but rather will be the gateway to an eternal and imperishable life.

Being made victors, having received this life and light, having this hope – surely we would be the worst ingrates of all if we gave into fear, darkness, and despair.   We truly would be worthy of being condemned by the queen of the south and the men of Nineveh.

Why do some believe in the Resurrection and some do not? In yesterday’s Sunday Gospel, for the Fifth Sunday of St. Luke, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Father Abraham concludes with the words: “If they believe not Moses and the Prophets, they would not believe though one should rise from the dead.”   Both the Jews who believed in Jesus and His Resurrection, and those who did not, shared the same Scriptures and the same hope of the Messiah.   But those who rejected Jesus and denied the Resurrection had, as St. Paul put it, a “veil over their eyes” when they read the Old Testament Scriptures – they read but did not understand. They thought that the Scriptures were simply a resource to be mined by their rabbis in order to create a hypocritical, outwardly religious lifestyle and an idolatrous worship of their ethnic identity.   Those who turned out to be the true Jews – those who believed in the Resurrection, accepted Jesus as the Messiah, and worshipped Him as the God-Man – took the true meaning of the religion of their fathers into their hearts, and they had a heartfelt desire to answer the voice of God they heard calling from the Scriptures: the call to conversion, to prayer from the heart, to love of God and neighbor, to humility, to total submission to God’s holy will, to being cleansed from idolatry of any created thing. Their spiritual eyes were open, and when the witnesses to the Resurrection testified to Him Whom they had seen, heard, and touched after He rose from the dead, their minds and hearts accepted this testimony as true.  They were not only of the seed of Abraham: they kept the Faith of Abraham.

We are of the seed of the New Israel, descended from generations of Orthodox Christians. Do we see our Faith primarily as an ideology of some kind of national or racial cultural identity, our Church primarily as an endowed institution with the material and human resources to give us social and psychological stability and comfort? If so, we have made it an idol – we are worshipping it as a thing in itself and not worshipping the Uncreated God.   What happens to those who worship the outward comforts of their religious and ethnic institutions as a god is that their descendants end up going to the opposite extreme and hating their historical Orthodox and national identity, hating the Church. Why? Because we are not pagans or idolaters: We are the worshippers of the true God. Therefore God will not allow us to worship anything but Him, and He will especially not allow us to worship the cultural achievements and outward aspects of His True Church, because, being the highest achievements of humanity, they are the most seductive idols!   Those who go down this path, who compromise their Faith but “really get into” Byzantine chant or the latest academic blah-blah about patristic theology or their ethnic identity or church architecture or the power struggles of their patriarchate or their social connections in the local ethnic community or …whatever – they are no different spiritually from the Scribes and Pharisees who, rather than worshipping the God of the Jews “in Spirit and in Truth” preferred to worship being Jewish.  Outwardly they have the name of those who live, but they are dead.

Let us, in this age of spiritual deception par excellence, love the things of the Church without making idols of them, so that, when the day comes (and it is a distinct possibility) when we are given the choice – compromise your faith and morals and thereby remain free to enjoy all of your beautiful and comforting ethnic and religious “stuff,” or be faithful and so be left to rot in dungeons with no icons, no priests, no divine services, no chant, no beautiful churches – we will choose the latter, and we will rejoice that we are suffering for His Name. We will not only chant about the Resurrection but will also live the life of the Resurrection.

For the Lord is our God, and He alone must we adore and serve.


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