Orthodox Daily Devotional for December 2-8
Ephesians 6: Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the [b]wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of [c]the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— 19 and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
Spiritists of our day accept every manifestation from the spiritual world as though sent by God, and immediately they boast that God has been “revealed” to them. I knew an eighty-year-old monk whom everyone respected as a great spiritual director. To my question, “Have you ever in your life seen anything from the spiritual world?” the monk answered me, “No, never, praise be to God’s mercy.” Seeing that I was astonished at this, he said: “I have constantly prayed to God that nothing would appear to me, so that I would not have occasion to fall into deception and receive a fallen devil as an angel. Thus far, God has heard my prayers.” The following recorded example shows how humble and cautious the elders were. The devil, clothed in the light of an angel, appeared to a certain monk and said to him: “I am the Archangel Gabriel, and I am sent to you.” To this the brother responded: “Think— were you not sent to someone else? For I am not worthy to see an angel.” The devil instantly became invisible and vanished.
The graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose (Matthew 27: 52)…Oh, what a great sign! The dead bodies of holy men and women recognized Him, Who had died in torment on the Cross— but the dead souls of the Jewish elders did not recognize Him. The whole of creation trembled, but only the criminal souls of Ananias, Caiaphas and Herod did not tremble. Dead saints showed themselves more sensitive than living sinners. How could the dead saints remain indifferent toward their Creator on the Cross when even the dead stones could not remain indifferent? How could it be that during this event, which caused the earth to quake and the sun to hide its rays, that the bodies of the righteous could sleep in the graves— they who had fulfilled His Dispensation of old, who had hoped in Him for life, who had prophesied about Him and had closed their eyes in the hope of His coming? Oh, what a great sign! Oh, what a great comfort it is for us who hope in the Resurrection! For according to our weakness and little faith, we could say: “Truly, Christ is risen, but will we also be resurrected? Christ resurrected by His own power, but how shall we resurrect? Who knows if God will resurrect us by His own Power?” Here is consolation, here is proof: The graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose. This means that death was unable to annihilate even ordinary man. This means that those who are much lower than Christ are not dead like stones, but are alive like angels. This means that one day even our bodies will rise from the tombs; that we will live also. All that our Lord said is confirmed by an outpouring of countless proofs.
If humility before men is necessary for the sake of being exalted before God, and temporal effort is necessary for the sake of eternal life, what do you care if someone wags his head and laughs at your humility? John the Hesychast was a bishop in Ascalon for ten years. Seeing that the honors of men hindered him, he disguised himself as a simple monk and entered the Monastery of St. Sava the Sanctified, where he was assigned to gather wood and boil lentils for the laborers. When he was recognized, he closed himself in a cell, where he lived for forty-seven years, eating only vegetables. This is how the Fathers avoided worldly honors, for which many in our days, in reckless struggle, squander their souls for dust and ashes.
These words were spoken by the centurion, who carried out his duties conscientiously as a soldier. Under orders of his superiors, he had to guard the body of Christ on Golgotha. Outwardly he acted like a machine, but inwardly his soul was wide awake. He— a Roman soldier, a pagan and an idolater— saw all that had occurred at the time of the death of Christ the Lord, crying out: Truly this was the Son of God. Not knowing about the One God and not knowing the Law and the Prophets, he immediately comprehended that which the priests of the One God and authorities of the Law and the Prophets were unable to comprehend! On this occasion, the word of God was realized: For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind (John 9: 39). Truly, he who was blind in the spirit saw and those who thought they could see were completely blinded. Was it possible that the Jewish elders neither saw the darkened sun, nor felt the earthquake, nor noticed how the rocks were split, nor saw that the veil in the Temple was rent, nor recognized many of the saints who came out of opened graves and appeared in Jerusalem? They saw all of this, and all of them accurately witnessed everything. Nevertheless, their spirits remained blind and their hearts stony. All of these manifestations, awesome and extraordinary, they probably interpreted as the unbelieving would do today— as coincidences and illusions. The pagans of all times interpret everything as coincidence or self-deception whenever the finger of God appears to reprimand men, to direct, or to inform them.
The Roman centurion Longinus, who was that soldier, saw all that occurred [at the Cross] without prejudice, and beneath the Cross he confessed his faith in the Son of God. His exclamation was not wrested accidentally from his frightened heart; rather, it was his confession of faith, for which he later laid down his life in order to embrace a better life in the Kingdom of Christ. O brethren, how great is this Roman centurion, who upon seeing the lifeless Lord crucified between thieves on the dunghill of Golgotha, recognized Him as God and confessed Him as God. O brethren, how petty are those Christians who recognize the Lord as resurrected, as glorified, as the Victor and the Victory-bearer through thousands of His saints, but who nevertheless retain in their hearts doubt like a poisonous serpent which poisons them every day and buries their lives in eternal darkness.
St. John of the Ladder says: “He who in his heart is proud of his tears and secretly condemns those who do not weep is like a man who asks the king for a weapon against his enemy and then commits suicide with it” (Step 7). If your heart is softened— be it from repentance before God, or be it from knowing the boundless love of God toward you— do not become proud toward those whose hearts are still hard and calloused. Remember how long you had a hard and calloused heart. There were seven brothers who were ailing in a hospital. One of them was restored to health and rose to his feet. He hurried to serve his other brothers with fraternal love and concern so that they too would recover. You should be like that brother too. Consider all men your brothers— sick brothers. If you feel that God has given you health sooner than them, know that it was given to you through mercy, so that as a healthy person you may serve others who are sick. Of what do we have to be proud— as though good health comes from ourselves alone and not from God? As though a mud hole can cleanse itself and need not be cleansed by a source deeper and cleaner.