Sunday, July 26 (OS July 13), 2020: 7th Sunday after Pentecost; Commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the First Six Councils; Synaxis of the Holy Archangel Gabriel; St. Stephen of St. Sabbas’ Monastery (794); St. Julian, bishop of Cenomanis (1st c.); Martyr Serapion, under Severus (193); Martyr Marcian of Iconium (258).
Epistle: Romans 15:1-7/Hebrews 13:7-16
Gospel: Matthew 9:27-35/John 17:1-13
Glory to Jesus Christ!
St Paul tells us that we “who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.”
The standard here is demanding.
I’m not simply to tolerate those with whom I disagree but, as he says in other places (Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:2) bear within them “in love.” His use of the word “scruples” reminds me that I am to work for the salvation (“his good” and “edification”) of those who I will likely find annoying consumed as they are by irrational concerns and fears.
All this I am to do for you because God in Jesus Christ has done this for me.
Today the Church commemorates the fathers of the first six ecumenical councils. Taken together, these concerned articulating and defending the mysteries of both the Incarnation and the Holy Trinty.
And this was done not out of an abstract concern for the truth but to proclaim the Good News that not only did God takes on our life in Jesus Christ. He also in Jesus Christ lifts us up and make us “partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
It isn’t, in other words, that God shares our life as one of us. It is also that by grace we have come to share in His life. Jesus has drawn us into the life He shares with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.
We see this not only in the faith the council proclaims but how they do this.
Unlike what we see around us, the Church gathered together both sides of the disagreements that threatened to tear the Church apart. Arius sits down with Athanasius not only to discuss and debate but to stand together in prayer and seek the Face of God.
To bear with one another means to exhaust every possibility of reconciliation. Again we see this in the Councils. The great tragedy of the councils is that the heretics’ last act as members of the Church is to remove themselves from communion with the Body of Christ. They excommunicate themselves.
We see something similar to this in this morning’s first Gospel.
Seeing the power Jesus has over demons, the Pharisees refuse to believe or even consider, that what He does, He does by the power of God. Instead, they condemn themselves by condemning Jesus and say “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”
To avoid the fate of the Pharisees and the heretics of the first centuries we must, as St Paul tells us, glorify God. The other feast we celebrate today, the Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel, gives us a hint as to how we do this,
Like all the angels, the Archangel Gabriel continually praises God. Gabriel does this not to flatter God or to win some advantage from Him over the other angels. This is something that happens in the world where praise is calculating and in the service of acquiring authority over others (see Matthew 20:24-26).
For the angels, to praise God means to contemplate continually not just the beauty or power of God but God Himself. This what St Gregory Palamas means when he tells us what we experience are not qualities or characteristics of God but God Himself.
Like the angels, we are called not to contemplate abstracts about God but to encounter God Himself. It is in only this encounter that I can come to bear with others in their weakness; I can only do for you, what Jesus has done for me by becoming myself another Christ (alter Christus).
This requires that I be transformed, transfigured, and made new by grace.
Building on the grace of the sacraments, that is to say, God’s actions in my life, I must first cultivate silence. Not only physical, external silence but inner silence. I also need to still my incessant, inner monologue that deafens me to the voice of God in the depth of my heart.
It is only in this way that I can know what it means, concretely and in the moment, to bear with my neighbor in his weakness.
It is only in this way that I can know what it means, concretely and in the moment, that I can know what it means to love my enemy and change him into my neighbor.
It is only in this way that I can know what it means, concretely and in the moment, that I can experience the joy that Jesus promises us.
My brothers and sisters in Christ! We are surrounded by many who are fearful and even angry. The temptation we face is to turn our backs on them, to withdraw from society, to close our hearts to others in their weakness.
But this isn’t the life to which Jesus has called us. We are to bear with others in their weakness as Jesus bears with us in our own.
And we do this because Jesus has called us to work for not only our salvation but the salvation of others whether they are friends or enemies; neighbors or antagonists.
None of this, however, can be done unless we draw near to Christ in prayer and inner silence.