To be rather than to seem

12 November OS 2015 – Wednesday of the Twenty Sixth Week after Pentecost/8th Week of St. Luke, St. John the Merciful, Archbishop of Alexandria

The reading from the Holy Gospel today is Luke 12: 48-59

The Lord said, For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I if it be already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And he said also to the people, When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it is. And when ye see the south wind blow, ye say, There will be heat; and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time? Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right? When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison. I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite.

Most of us have experienced precisely what the Lord describes above: we endure uneasy, strained, or even broken relationships with family and friends because we have chosen to follow our conscience in regards to the Orthodox Faith regardless of the earthly consequences. When this happens not once but several times, perhaps many times, we can certainly start to feel worn out, alone, and discouraged, and may be tempted to think, “What’s the use? It’s time to throw in the towel.”

It helps greatly, however, as Christ Himself says, to “…discern this time.”   It does not require that one be a clairvoyant elder or a theologian or even a pious Orthodox Christian to see that the times we live in are times of extreme spiritual deception coupled with social disintegration of unprecedented scale and rapidity.   When everyone around us is bending to the demonic winds that are blowing, and we do not, they are bound to think us uncongenial.   Their discomfort in our presence does not amount to an argument for the validity of their choices.

In order to deal with the constant, kaleidoscopically shifting changes going on around us, you should start with the question: “Do I still believe as I have always believed?”   If the answer is “Yes,” proceed to the next question, “Am I acting according to my conscience, to the best of my ability, God helping me?”   If the answer is “Yes,” then be at peace. As the saying goes, “Either they’re crazy or I’m crazy, and I know that I am not crazy.”

When we are tempted to sentimental or humanistic solutions to theological and philosophical disagreements over what is real and what is not, we need to crucify emotions, imagination, and curiosity, fall down before the holy icons in our prayer corner, and abandon ourselves entirely to God’s Providence, placing everyone we love in His hands.   There really are no halfway solutions, and we cannot make a separate peace in order to escape the inescapable: the conflict between truth and falsehood, between good and evil, between the real and that which is pretending to be real.

There is an old Latin expression: Esse quam videri, “To be rather than to seem to be.” In regard to where the path to salvation lies, let us desire steadfastly the reality over the appearance, as the gap between the two widens daily.

Here is a suggestion: When asking God for discernment in regards to your situation in life, read the Seventeenth Kathisma (Ps. 118 in the Church’s numbering, beginning “Blessed are the blameless in the way…”), and struggle for attention while reading. May the Lord, through this holy practice, grant all of us clarity of mind and peace of heart!

King David Playing Harp

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