Daily Devotional for December 31 – January 6
Matthew 2:13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”
14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”[b]
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more.”[c]
19 Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” 21 Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
The Law and mercy are referred to in this text. In the souls of the Pharisees and sectarians, the Law and mercy do not stand together; that is, they are unable both to fulfill the regulations of the Law and to show mercy— but they argue about which is more important of these two: one they omit and to the other they adhere. The Pharisees observed the letter of the Law literally, but they completely abandoned mercy and love for men. Likewise, sectarians flatter themselves that they adhere to God’s justice, but they totally reject the prescriptions of the Church laws. Orthodoxy represents the fullness of the Faith. The Church commands that we do this, and not omit that. The Church is careful about external prescriptions of the Faith, as a man walking among clay vessels is careful not to break them. The Church is even more careful about the justice and mercy of God, as a man who, walking among the clay vessels, values them and protects them— not because of the earth from which the vessels are made, but because of the priceless contents within them. Empty vessels that are never filled with any drink are as worthless as the empty legal formalisms of the Pharisees. On the other hand, a drink, when poured into the wind, is spilled and wasted, because it is not poured into the vessels designated for it. And so, in Orthodoxy there is no one-sidedness, as there is none in the Lord Jesus. The Lord says to John the Baptist, who breathes with the justice and mercy of God, that it is necessary to fulfill the Law; but to the Pharisees— empty legalists without the justice and mercy of God— He says: For it is mercy that I desire, not sacrifice!
You see, brethren, what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God. Without the Spirit of God, man is filled with worries: Where will he go and how will he act? But with the Spirit of God, man is without those worries, for then the Spirit instructs man where he will walk and how he will act. Then man becomes sinless in his movements and actions, because the Holy Spirit, Who leads and guides him, is sinless. Man can neither walk justly nor act righteously if the Omnipotent and Omniscient Spirit of God does not inform him. Whoever is not led by the Holy Spirit of God is led either by his own individual spirit or by the evil spirit of the demon. As a result of this he becomes helpless, bitter, remorseful, angry and despondent. We cannot endure the Spirit of God in His fullness as did Christ the Lord, but we can receive the Spirit of God sufficiently in order to know “whither, what and how.” According to the purity of a man’s heart, the Holy Spirit settles in his heart and from the heart directs him. That is why the Church often repeats this prayer to the Holy Spirit: “O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth … come and abide in us.”
Today is salvation come to thy house, said the Lord upon entering the house of Zacchaeus the sinner. Christ was the salvation that came, and Zacchaeus was the house that He entered. Brethren, each one of us is a house in which sin dwells as long as Christ is distant, and to which salvation comes when Christ approaches. Nevertheless, will Christ approach my house and your house? That depends on us. Behold, He did not arbitrarily enter the house of the sinner Zacchaeus, rather He entered as a most desired guest. Zacchaeus of little stature climbed into a tree in order to see the Lord Jesus with his own eyes. Zacchaeus therefore sought Him; Zacchaeus desired Him. We must also seek Him in order to find Him, and desire Him in order that He would draw nearer to us. Then, with our spirit, we must climb high in order to encounter His glance. Then He will visit our house as He visited the house of Zacchaeus, and with Him salvation will come.
When the Lord cried out, “Lazarus!” the man awoke and lived. The Lord knows the name of each of us. If Adam knew the names of every creature of God, why would not the Lord know each one of us by name? Not only does He know, but He also calls us by name. Oh, the sweet and life-creating voice of the only Lover of mankind! This voice can create sons of God from stones. Why, then, can He not rouse us out of our sinful sleep? It is told that a certain man raised a stone to kill his brother, but at that moment it seemed to him that he heard the voice of his mother calling him by name. He merely heard the voice of his mother, and his hand began to quiver. He dropped the stone and was ashamed of his evil intention. The voice of his mother woke him from committing a deadly sin. If the voice of a mother saves and awakens from death, how much more does the voice of the Creator and Life-giver! Whenever the Lord cried out to someone who was physically dead, the person awoke and arose. But not everyone among those who were spiritually dead awoke and arose when the Lord cried out to them. For this awakening, for this resurrection, the agreement of the will of the deceased is necessary. Judas, betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss? (Luke 22: 48). That is how the life-creating voice cried out, but the dead man [Judas] remained dead, and the sinner did not awaken. Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? (Acts 9: 4). The same life-creating voice cried out and he who was asleep in sin awoke, and the dead man came to life. In truth, deeper is the sleep of sin than the sleep of death, and the one who is asleep in sin does not easily awaken.
St. Barsanuphius, who for fifty years lived secluded in a cell and did not allow himself to be seen by any living person, attained exceptional purity and perceptiveness through divine contemplation and prayer. Here are a few thoughts from his Book of Answers: “Every thought which is not preceded by the silence of humility does not proceed from God. All that is from the devil occurs with confusion and disturbance.” “When you pray and God delays fulfilling your request, He does this for your benefit, in order to teach you forbearance.” “Visible thieves are servants of invisible, noetic thieves.” “The Lord Jesus Christ endured all things and finally ascended the Cross, which signifies the deadening of the body and the passions and a holy and perfect rest.” “Our Lord wants you to honor every man more than yourself.” When they asked the elder whether they should hire an advocate regarding a dispute between the monastery and certain men, the elder replied: “If you purchase the defense of men, then God will not defend you.”
St. Isidore of Pelusium interprets certain passages of Holy Scripture in the following manner: Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left (Matthew 24: 41). This means that many dedicate themselves to the spiritual life, but with different intentions— some sincerely and steadfastly, and others negligently and vainly. The first will be taken into the Kingdom of God, and the others will be left behind. What does the prayer about the cup mean? And why did the Lord pray that this cup of suffering might pass from Him (Matthew 26: 42)? This means that no one should seek out adversity, but when adversity does come, a Christian should accept it and courageously endure it. Concerning the five foolish virgins (cf. Matthew, Chapter 25), St. Isidore says: “Indeed, all of them had retained their virginity, but they did not possess the other virtues, especially charity. Virginity alone is not sufficient to enter the Kingdom of God. Virginity does not help at all, if the virgin is proud and selfish.”