Orthodox Daily Devotional for August 26- September 1
Matthew 21: 33 “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. 34 Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. 35 And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. 37 Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.
40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”
41 They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will [g]render to him the fruits in their seasons.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
‘The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the Lord’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?
Commentary from St Augustine…
Mark does not give this as their answer, but relates that the Lord after His question put to them, made this answer to Himself. But it may be easily explained, that their words are subjoined in such a way as to shew that they spoke them, without putting in ‘And they answered.’ Or this answer is attributed to the Lord, because, what they said being true, might well be said to have been spoken by Him who is truth.
**more from St. Nikolai’s ‘Prologue’
Moses did not want to remain in the palace of Pharaoh nor to be called his adopted son. Desiring more, he chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (Hebrews 11: 25). How different was Moses from his descendants, who for reasons similar to Pharaoh’s condemned the King of Glory to death! All of them would have rather lived one more year in the decaying court of Pharaoh than to travel with God for forty years in the wilderness. Moses left all honors, riches and vanities, which only the wealth of Egypt could provide. At the command of God, Moses started out through the foodless and waterless wilderness with faith that beyond it lay the Promised Land. All of this also means to hold Christ’s humiliation above all the wealth of Egypt. Christ’s humiliation is what worldly men, who exude a powerful stench of the earth, are ashamed of in Christ. That is Christ’s poverty on earth: His fasting, His vigil, His prayer, His wandering without a roof over His head, His condemnation, His humiliation, and His shameful death. Christ’s humiliation was valued by the apostles, and after them by countless saints, who thought this to be greater wealth than all the riches in the entire world. Following these indignities, the Lord resurrected, opened the gates of heaven and revealed the Promised Land of Paradise, into which He led mankind along the path of His humiliation and through the wilderness of His suffering. O Lord, glorified and resurrected, help us that we may hold unwaveringly every drop of Thy sweat and Thy blood as a treasure greater than all worldly riches.
Why are we here on earth? To show our love for God. To learn to love God more than sin. That by our inconsequential love, we may respond to the greater love of God. Only God’s love is a great love, and our love is always inconsequential. God abundantly showed and shows His love for man both in Paradise and on earth. We are given this brief earthly life as a school and as an examination, to be examined as to whether we will respond with love to the great love of God. “Every day and every hour, proof of our love for God is required of us,” says St. Isaac the Syrian. God shows His love for us every day and every hour. Every day and every moment we stand positioned between God and sin. We have either to give our love to God and elevate ourselves among the angels or to choose sin and fall into the gloom of hades. Alexis the Man of God loved God more than he loved his parents, his wife and riches. He spent seventeen years as a beggar far away from the home of his parents, and another seventeen years as an unknown one, scorned in the house of his parents. He did this all for the sake of the love of God. And the merciful God answered love with love: for these thirty-four years of suffering He gave Alexis eternal life and joy among His angels in heaven, and glory on earth.
The Second Coming of our Lord Jesus will be an appearance in glory. Our Lord repeated this many times. Here He tells us in more detail what His appearance will resemble. He says it will be like lightning. Through this He reveals the five characteristics of His glorious advent. First: His Second Coming will be unexpected, like lightning. That is why He reminded us: Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour (Matthew 25: 13). Second: His Second Coming will be as bright as lightning. The sun and the stars will be darkened. The entire universe will lose its radiance when He shines forth. The sinner’s light and brightness are darkened; how much darker will the sinner be under this heavenly flame! That is why He reminded us to keep the lamps of our souls filled with oil and trimmed. O my brethren, let us not find ourselves in darkness in that terrible hour! Third: His coming will be as powerful as lightning. For He Himself says elsewhere that He will come with great power and glory (Mark 13: 26). Fourth: His coming will be all-encompassing and known to everyone from east to west. That is, He will not appear as He did the first time— to be seen only by His disciples, or one people, or one nation, or one country, or one state— but He will appear like lightning, which all the nations and all the peoples on earth will see at once. Fifth: Just as lightning precedes rain and hail, so shall His Second Coming precede the Dread Judgment, which will be, for the righteous and faithful, like the desired rain— and, for the unrighteous and unfaithful, like hail. Let us make preparation, my brethren, for the clouds are gathering and the divine lightning may descend from them at any time. O Lord, great and awesome, give oil to the lamps of our souls so that we may not find ourselves in eternal darkness when Thine eternal light appears.
There are many vindictive people who think that time has brought glorification to Christ, and that, in the early centuries of Christianity, the Lord was not as esteemed as He was in later times. Nothing is easier than to squelch this falsehood. This is how St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes about the Lord Christ: “This is He Who is and He Who was, consubstantial with the Father, the Only-Begotten, equally enthroned, equal in power, Almighty, without beginning, Uncreated, Unchangeable, Indescribable, Invisible, Inexpressible, Incomprehensible, Immeasurable, Unfathomable, Uncircumscribed. He is “the brightness of the Father’s glory” (cf. Hebrews 1: 3). He is the Creator of the substance of all things created. He is the Light of Light, shining from the bosom of the Father. He is the God of gods (Psalm 48: 15), and God of God, Who gives us knowledge of Himself. He is the Fountain of Life (Psalm 36: 9), flowing from the Father’s Fountain of life. He is the River of God (Psalm 46: 4, 65: 9), Who comes forth from the infinity of God but is not separated from Him. He is the Treasury of the Father’s good gifts and endless blessings. He is the Living Water (John 4: 14) that gives life to the world. He is the Uncreated Light that is begotten but not separated from the First Sun. He is God the Word (John 1: 1), Who with one word brought forth all things from non-existence into being… This is He Who created us in the image of God and has now made Himself man in our image; man, but at the same time God.” Even today, after sixteen centuries since this Confession of Faith was written, the Orthodox Church adheres to this same Faith, word for word and letter for letter.
Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26: 53). Thus spoke the Lord to the disciple who drew a sword to defend his Teacher in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is obvious from these words that the Lord could have defended Himself if He had wanted to, not only from Judas and his company of guards but also from Pilate and the leaders of the Jews. The might of one angel is greater than the greatest army of men; how much more so is the might of twelve legions of angels! The Lord did not want to seek this help from the Father. In His prayer in Gethsemane, He said to His Father: Thy will be done (Matthew 26: 42). And He immediately knew the will of the Father: that it was necessary that He be given over to suffering. He was in agreement with the will of His Father and set out on the path of suffering. It was necessary to depict the background darkly, that the image of the Resurrection would appear clearer. It was necessary to allow evil to compete as much as it could, so that afterward it would explode and disintegrate into nothing. It was necessary to allow evil to cry aloud, so that soon afterward it would become speechless before the miraculous Resurrection. It was necessary that all the wicked deeds of men against God should be manifested, so that all would be able to see the love and mercy of God toward mankind. The angels of God were not sent to defend Christ from the Jews; rather, the angels of God were sent, after three days, to announce the Holy Resurrection of Christ.
“The mercy (of God) that raises us up after we have sinned is even greater than the mercy by which He gave us being, when we did not yet exist. Glory, O Lord, to Thine immeasurable mercy!” Thus speaks St. Isaac the Syrian. He means that greater is the mercy that God showed toward us when, through Christ, He saved us from the corruption of sin and death, than when He created us from nothing. Truly, it is so. Even earthly parents show greater mercy to a perverted and fallen son when they embrace him again, forgive him all, make him civilized, cleanse him, heal him, and again make him their heir, than when they gave him birth. When the young Pancharius, surrounded by royal honors, denied Christ, his mother wrote him a letter full of pain and sorrow. “Do not be afraid of men,” wrote his mother, “but it is essential to fear God’s judgment. You should have confessed your faith in Christ before emperors and lords and not have denied Him. Remember His words: Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven (Matthew 10: 33).” Being ashamed of himself, the son accepted the advice of his mother, confessed his faith in Christ before the emperor, and died a martyr’s death for Christ in order to live with Him eternally. And so the blessed mother of Pancharius brought about a new birth for her son, a spiritual birth more important than the first, physical birth.