True greatness

19 August OS 2018 – Saturday of the 14th week of Matthew; Afterfeast of the Dormition; S. Andrew the Commander, Martyr

In today’s Gospel, the Lord instructs his disciples concerning the humility and service that are the hallmarks of a true Christian:

Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. – Matthew 23: 1-12

St. Theophan the Recluse comments, “As the Lord tells us, greatness is measured not by birth, not by power, not by the measure of abilities and resources, but by the ability to provide good for others.” Paradoxically, when we forget about ourselves and are concerned only about pleasing God and about the welfare of others, we become our true selves. This is true greatness: to become that which God intends one to be.  Usually this occurs in obscurity:  very few men become great in the eyes of the world and yet save their souls.

All of the movies that I like are decades old, from the era in which sometimes the people in charge relented and allowed someone to produce something not designed to pervert Christian souls.  Such is Man for All Seasons, the last movie innocent of creating any immediate occasion of mental sin to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (1966).  At one point early in the story, Sir Thomas More, concerned that his young admirer Richard Rich is hungry for fame and power, tries to save him from the temptations of high office by offering him a position as a teacher at a new school More has helped to found.  Rich is disappointed, knowing that More, a high-ranking royal officer, could help him rather to find a place at court:

More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.

Rich: If I was, who would know it?

More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.

“You; your pupils; your friends; God.”  In this age of instant pseudo-greatness via mass media, everyone wants to be a “star.”  Yet the reality is that most truly great people are known only to God and a few others.  The exception is the few better-known saints, a handful out of all the saints who have lived. And how many people today even know about them?

How do we attain to this kind of greatness: the greatness of authentic charity and self-forgetfulness?   Let us begin by admitting that we often are not seeking God’s will but our own corrupt will.   Let us begin each day by praying, “O Lord, today let me do Thy holy will.”   Then we must admit that we do not see ourselves as we truly are. Let us pray, “O Lord, reveal to me my sins and failings; show me how ego-centric I really am.”   Let us practice self-forgetfulness through two great activities: gratitude to God and service to others. Ingratitude, the mark of an immature and selfish soul, leads inevitably to despondency, depression, and even despair.   Let us force ourselves to thank God constantly for all that He is, for all that He has done for us, and for every single circumstance of our lives, especially the unpleasant ones.   Let us seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as to what service we must render to others and how we should render it, beginning with our obvious duties according to our state of life, and proceeding to service to the Church and to those around us, as God reveals to us in prayer and the circumstances of life, and as our father confessor blesses us.  Usually those we can serve with any integrity will be few, and we shall not have to search them out; they will find us.

The ultimate goal of every Christian is to dwell in the light of the Holy Trinity. Complete self-giving, self-emptying, is an essential characteristic of the Persons of the Holy Trinity in Their relations with each other; thus God is Charity.   If we desire to belong to God, we have to empty ourselves, too.  We have to forget ourselves.

What freedom:  to be forgotten by the world and even by one’s own self!   This is when real life begins.


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