Orthodox Daily Devotional for November 4-10
Ephesians 2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
St Jerome on Ephesians…
Above he said that God raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand…. Some may ask how God who has saved us and raised us with him has also made us sit with Christ. A simple response would be indeed that, in the light of God’s foreknowledge, Paul is speaking of what is to come as though it had already been done. … One who understands the resurrection and the kingdom of Christ spiritually does not scruple to say that the saints already sit and reign with Christ! Just as a person may become truly holy even in the flesh, when he lives in the flesh and has his conversation in heaven, when he walks on earth and, ceasing to be flesh, is wholly converted into spirit, so he also is seated in heaven with Christ. For indeed “the kingdom of God is within us.
**From St Nikolai’s ‘Prologue’
Unbelievers and those who are perishing in spirit will say: “Nearly two thousand years ago He promised that He would come, and He has not come yet!” This is how they laugh— those who will lament in eternal torment. But we who are prepared for happiness in His Kingdom know that He will come in power and glory just as He promised. We know that He has already come countless times and showed Himself to His faithful ones. Did He not come to John the Divine, to whom He spoke these words: Behold, I come quickly (Revelation 3: 11)? John saw Him in power and glory, felt His hand on him when he was frightened, and fell before His feet as dead: And He laid his right hand upon me (Revelation 1: 17). Did He not come to Saul, when he breathed hatred against the Christians and when on the road to Damascus he fell on the ground, seeing the Lord and hearing His voice saying: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me (Acts 9: 4)? And again, did He not enter into the heart of the Apostle Paul when he recognized that nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me (Galatians 2: 20)? Did He not come to the countless martyrs, both male and female, who suffered for His name, to encourage them, to heal them, and to have mercy on them? Did He not come to Anthony the Great, Theodore Stratelates, St. Charalampus, St. Marina, St. Sylvester and many, many more? But what are we saying? Did He not return from the kingdom of death on the third day and appear before the apostles? Did He not come to the aid of the Church many, many times? And did He not resurrect her as from the dead whenever her enemies rejoiced, thinking that they had given His Church over to death forever? Did He not manifest His power in the Church in the time of Nero as well as in the time of Constantine; in the time of Julian, as well as in the time of Justinian; in the time of Arab tyranny, as well as in the time of the Turkish and Mongolian oppression of Christians? O my faithful brethren, do not submit to deception. He came countless times and comes even today. He comes to every soul that is accessible, regardless of impurity. However, we are all waiting for Him to come for the last time in power and glory. We know that His coming is certain. O Lord Most-gracious, before Thou comest, make us worthy to recognize Thy face and to be ashamed of our own faces, darkened by sin.
“There is no cleanness in him who thinks evil,” says St. Simeon the New Theologian; and he further adds: “How can there be a pure heart in one who soils it with impure thoughts as a mirror is darkened by dust?” Do you see, then, the inaccessible height at which Christianity stands above all other faiths and worldly sophistries? He who but thinks of evil, even though he does not commit any evil, is at fault before God and his own soul. For he offends God and loses his soul. To be a Christian, in the proper sense, means to invest an enormous effort on cleansing evil thoughts from one’s heart and mind. What kind of effort? There exists a vast amount of teaching about this— which in our days has become almost completely locked away, even from Christians— and an enormous wealth of actual experience on the part of holy men and women who justified that teaching. To cleanse oneself from wicked and impure thoughts, the root of all evil, was the goal of all the great ascetics, hermits and hesychasts.
The Lord Jesus wants to make all men like unto Himself. As the Son of God, He wants all men to become the adopted sons of God. As a King, He wants them to rule with Him. As a Priest, He desires that all should be fellow priests with Him; as Almighty, that all should share in His strength; as Eternal, that all should share in His immortality; as Holy, that all should share in His holiness; and as the Resurrected One, that all should be the children of the Resurrection. This the Lord desired, and that is why He descended to earth: to separate us from the animals, to elevate us above the life of the animals, and to give us dignity over His visible creation, a dignity which Adam had in Paradise before the Fall. Because of this, His love for mankind and His plan for salvation for all people, the Lord was crucified on the Cross by the Jewish elders. And He reaps the thorns of ingratitude and misunderstanding countless times, even from us Christians today. We show ourselves to be ungrateful and unreasonable whenever we undermine and trample His commandments. By his sins, every sinner plaits a new wreath of thorns and places it on His sacred head. When did He ever offend us, that we should do this to Him? When did He ever think evil about any one of us, that we should return Him evil? He lowered Himself into our foetid pit, where we have become accustomed to live with snakes and scorpions, and pulled us up to the heights, to light and purity in the Kingdom. He wants to make us kings and priests, but we drive away His saving hand and return to the pit with the snakes and scorpions.
Taxiotis was a soldier from Carthage. He spent his whole life in grievous sins but finally repented, left the military service and lived a God-pleasing life. While with his wife on his estate near the city, he committed adultery with the wife of his farm worker. Immediately afterward, he was bitten by a snake and died. Taxiotis was dead for six hours, after which he arose. On the fourth day, he finally spoke and related how he had passed through all of the toll-houses until he came to the toll-house for adultery. There he fell into the dark abode of demons, but was led out by an angel who vouched for him. He was then sent back to his body to repent for his latest sin. He repented for forty days, going from church to church, beating his head against the doors and thresholds, crying and telling of the terrible sufferings which sinners undergo in the other world. He implored men to cease from sin and to repent for those sins already committed. On the fortieth day, with rejoicing, Taxiotis took up his habitation in the Kingdom of the Merciful God.
In speaking about a handsome twenty-year-old youth named George— who, despite his beauty, youth and life among the conceited of the world, recognized the path of salvation and was enlightened by spiritual wisdom— St. Simeon the New Theologian concludes with these words: “Do you understand how youth does not hinder nor does old age help a man, if he does not have reason and the fear of God?” What prevented the young Apostle John from believing in Christ the Lord? What were the benefits of age to the Jewish elders when they were blinded in mind and in their blindness sentenced the Son of God to death? Youth in absolutely no way prevents the young, even in our time, from giving their faith and love to Christ, who created them out of love. Age does not benefit the aged in our time if their souls are poisoned with maliciousness toward Christ. Young and old bodies are nothing more than new and old garments of the soul. Either of these garments can conceal a healthy or a sick soul. Our goal is a healthy and clean soul.
Oh, what a terrible reproach against mankind! Even dead nature recognized Him Whom men were unable to recognize. All mute things trembled and began to protest, each in its own way and in its own language. The mute earth quakes— that is its language. The stones are split apart— that is their language. The sun withholds its light— that is its language. All of creation protests in its own way. All of creation is submissive to Him as it was to Adam at one time in Paradise, because all of creation recognizes Him as it did Adam in Paradise. How it is that irrational creation knew Him and was obedient to Him, we do not know. It is some kind of inner instinct of irrational creation, which came to it from the Word of God, by Whom it was created. That instinct of irrational creation is more valuable than the mind of man when the latter is darkened by sin. Of all the things that are in existence, nothing is more blind than the mind of man when darkened by sin. Not only does man fail to see that which was created to be seen, but also he sees that which is contrary to being, contrary to God, and contrary to the truth. These are the degrees of blindness beyond blindness; these are numbers below zero. This is man lower than creation. For when the priests of God in Jerusalem did not recognize their God, the storms and winds recognized Him; plants and animals recognized Him; the seas, the rivers, the earth, the stones, the stars, the sun and even the demons recognized Him. Oh, what shame this is for mankind! The earth quaked, the rocks split and the sun hid its rays, as much in anger as in sorrow. All creation grieved over the pain of the Son of God, over Whose pain the priests in Jerusalem rejoiced. Protest, sorrow— and fear! The whole of creation was frightened at the death of Him Who had cried to it: “Arise from nothing and rejoice in your existence,” as though it wanted to say: “With whom do we remain, and who will now uphold us, now that the Almighty has given up the spirit?”