Orthodox Daily Devotional for January 13-19
Ephesians 4: But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended” – what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;
**Readings from St Nikolai’s Prologue
The father steps up to the gallows and his sons are crying around him. Instead of the sons comforting him, he comforts his sons. Something similar to this happened between the Lord and His disciples. Walking toward His bitter death, the Lord sorrows more for His disciples’ grief than for the suffering He must endure. He comforts them with consolation and encourages them with the prophecy of a new and imminent vision: But I will see you again. This is a prophecy of the Resurrection. Many times our Lord prophesied His death, but whenever He did so He also prophesied His Resurrection. Nothing unforeseen ever happened to Him. He did not prophesy about Himself only, but also about the disciples. They would be in great sorrow— like a woman when she gives birth and endures pain. As a woman forgets her pain after she gives birth and rejoices that a man is born into the world (John 16: 22), so would it be with them. In their consciousness, Christ the Lord was still not completely in the form of the God-man. As long as they had known Him as a sufferer and mortal man, they only knew Him partially; until then the birth-pangs continued in their souls. But when they see Him again— resurrected and alive, working miracles and almighty, Lord over all things in heaven and on earth— the pain and sorrow will cease and joy will appear in their hearts. For Christ will be completely formed in their awareness as the God-man, and then they will know Him in His fullness and in His totality. Only then will He be fully born for them. So it is with us, brethren: as long as we know Him only from His birth to His death on Golgotha, we only know the Lord Jesus partially. We will know Him completely only when we know Him as the Resurrected One, the Victor over death.
Why is it that much is said and written about the sufferings of holy men and holy women? Because the saints alone are considered victors. Can anyone be a victor without conflict, pain and suffering? In ordinary earthly combat, no one can be considered victorious or heroic who has not been in combat, endured much or suffered greatly. The more so in spiritual combat, where the truth is known, and where self-boasting not only does not help at all but, indeed, hinders it. He who does not engage in combat for the sake of Christ, either with the world, with the devil or with one’s self, how can he be counted among the soldiers of Christ? How then is it with Christ’s fellow victors? St. Mary [of Egypt] spoke about her savage spiritual combat to Elder Zosimas: “For the first seventeen years in this wilderness, I struggled with my deranged lusts as though with fierce beasts. I desired to eat meat and fish, which I had in abundance in Egypt. I also desired to drink wine, and here I did not have even water to drink. I desired to hear lustful songs. I cried and beat my breast. I prayed to the All-pure Mother of God to banish such thoughts from me. When I had sufficiently wept and beat my breast, it was then that I saw a light encompassing me on all sides, and a certain miraculous peace filled me.”
Through many centuries of time, the discerning Prophet Isaiah foresaw the awesome sacrifice on Golgotha. From afar he saw the Lord Jesus Christ led to the slaughter as a lamb is led. A lamb permits itself to be led to the slaughter as it is led to the pasture: defenseless, without fear, and without malice. Thus, our Lord Christ was led to the slaughter without defense, without fear, and without malice. He does not say, “Men, do not do this!” nor does He ask, “Why are you doing this to Me?” nor does He condemn anyone. Nor does He protest. Nor does He become angry. Nor does He think evilly of His judges. When, from the crown of thorns, His blood flowed, He was silent. When His face was soiled from being spat upon, He was silent. When His Cross became heavy along the way, He endured. When His pain became unbearable on the Cross, He complained not to men but to the Father. When He breathed His last, He directed His gaze and sighs toward heaven and not toward earth. For the source of His strength is heaven and not earth. The source of His consolation is in God and not in men. His true homeland is the Heavenly Kingdom and not the earthly kingdom. Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world! (John 1: 29). This was the first exclamation of St. John the Baptist when he saw the Lord. And, behold, now on Golgotha that prophecy was fulfilled. Behold, under the weight of the sins of the entire world, the Lamb of God lay slaughtered and lifeless. O brethren, this costly sacrifice was made for our sins as well. The blood of this sinless and meek Lamb was destined for all times and all generations, from the first to the last person on earth. Christ also felt the pains on the Cross for our sins, even those of the present day. He also wept in the Garden of Gethsemane for our wickedness, our weakness and our sinfulness. He also destined His blood for us.
“It is better to be a simpleton and approach God with love than to be a learned man and at the same time an enemy of God.” These are the words of the hieromartyr St. Irenaeus of Lyons. The truth of these words has been confirmed in all times and is also confirmed in our time. One thing must be added to this: namely, that the lovers of God are not simpletons, because they know God well enough to be able to love Him. Of all human knowledge, this knowledge is the most important and the greatest. To this it must be added that the enemies of God cannot be highly learned— even though they consider themselves as such— because their knowledge is unavoidably chaotic, without a source and without order. The source and order of all knowledge is God. Some of the saints, such as Paul the Simple, did not know how to read or write, yet with the strength of their spirit and divine love they surpassed the entire world. Whosoever approaches God with love is not capable of crime. Knowledge without love toward God is motivated by the spirit of criminality and war. St. Euthymius the Great taught: “Have love; for what salt is to food, love is to every virtue.” Every virtue is tasteless and cold if it is not seasoned and warmed by divine love.
Whose are we while we live? We are the Lord’s. Whose are we after we die? We are the Lord’s. Whose are the righteous? They are the Lord’s. Whose are the sinners? They are the Lord’s. The Lord embraces all, both the living and the dead, those of the past, those of the present and those of the future. No one is so all-embracing as is the Lord Jesus. Who of the so-called benefactors of mankind— teachers, leaders or enlighteners— ever attempted to perform any good for the dead? This can be decisively answered: No one! Even the thought alone would be ridiculous in the eyes of the world— to do something good for the dead! This is amusing to all those who think that death is mightier than God, and that that which death swallows up is destroyed forever. To be concerned for the dead, to do good for the dead, has ceased to be amusing since the revelation of the Lord Jesus, Who revealed that He is God— the God of the living— and Who showed it by His actions, by descending into hades to redeem and save the souls of the righteous, from the time of Adam to the time of His death on the Cross. Our Lord is all-embracing and all-glorious, first of all by His discerning thoughts (for He thinks about everyone and sees everyone born of women, both those who are above the graves and those who are in the graves); then by His love (for He embraces all the souls of the righteous, regardless of the time or place in which they are concealed); and finally by His labors (for He labors for everyone) to redeem them, to save them, to lead them into the Kingdom, and to glorify them before the face of His Heavenly Father, the Life-giving Spirit and the myriads of holy angels.
“I await a thousand deaths for myself,” wrote St. Athanasius the Great to his flock in Egypt at the time of the terrible Arian heresy. Every spiritual man, who has looked in spirit and seen the net which contains every human soul in this world, can say this about himself. The more spiritual a man is, the denser the net looks. Such is the will of God: that the most spiritual are saved by the most narrow path. The Psalmist David also says: Many are the afflictions of the righteous (Psalm 34: 19). However, in the end, victory and glory belong to the righteous. They need only to arm themselves with faith and forbearance. Whoever believes also understands their sufferings. He who clothes himself with patience will see victory and glory. To him who loves the Lord, even the narrowest path is sufficiently wide, the greatest pain an easy yoke, and the most violent death a joyful wedding feast.