Destroyers of Grace

Monday, March 26 (O.S., March 13), 2018: Monday of the Sixth Week of Lent; Translation of the relics of St Nicephorus the Patriarch of Constantinople (846); New Hieromartyr Priest Nicholas († 1919); New Hieromartyr Priest Gregory († 1921); New Hieromartyr Priest Michael († 1938); Martyr Sabinus (Abibus) of Egypt († 287); Martyrs Africanus, Publius and Terence at Carthage (3rd C); Martyr Alexander of Macedonia (305-311); Martyr Christina of Persia (4th C); Venerable Aninas, hieromonk of the Euphrates; Hieromartyr Puplius, Bishop of Athens.

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 48:17-49:4
Vespers: Genesis 27:1-41
Vespers: Proverbs 19:16-25

The Old Testament is unapologetic in praising the moral goodness of wealth in all its forms. As God says through the Prophet Isaiah

I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go. O that you had hearkened to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea; your offspring would have been like the sand, and your descendants like its grains; their name would never be cut off or destroyed from before me.

Wealth, peace, children and a good reputation that last through the ages. These are the tangible blessings of keeping the commandments of God and living a life of moral righteousness. Taking Isaiah as our guide, we do well by doing good.

For those who fail to keep the commandments, “for the wicked,” there “is no peace.” In every generation, God raises up prophets to condemn the unrighteous. He calls them to repentance not with a gentleness but with a word spoken from a “mouth like a sharp sword.”

This call to reform always takes the wicked by surprise. Though God calls His prophets “from the womb,” He conceals them “in the shadow” of His hand. They are like a “polished arrow in His quiver,” hidden away until the moment when they are to strike.

God does this because when the wicked hear a prophet has arisen, they respond with violence. Look at Herod. To avoid being called to account for his sins by the Christ, he orders the murder of “all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under” (see Matthew 2:16-18).

Divine condemnation doesn’t keep people from profiting from wickedness. This is one of King David’s great complaints. “I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pangs in their death, but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men nor are they plagued like other men (Psalm 73:-5, NKJV).

Through cunning and a bold lie, Jacob steals Isaac’s blessing for Esau. When the older brother discovers the younger crime he responds “with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, ‘Bless me, even me also, O my father!’” But his father has nothing for him. “Your brother came with guile, and he has taken away your blessing.”

The real sin of the wicked isn’t greed or pride. It is rather their willingness to rob others of grace. The wicked “steal” a blessing by “guile” as Jacob does from Esau.

Grace is stolen not by injuring God but by spreading mistrust, hatred, and violence. Grace is stolen by wounding the heart of the innocent and plunging the guileless into despair. This is the sin of those who Solomon calls a “man of great wrath” who repay forgiveness by once again falling into the sin from which they were only recently delivered.

God raises up prophets in every generation to save us from these individuals, from these destroyers of grace. When individuals such as are allowed free rein in civil society or the Church–or worse, are allowed to rule–they rob others of God’s blessing.

Solomon compares these people to the “sluggard” who keeps others by eating by burying “his hand in the dish” and “not even bring it back to his mouth.” The wicked neither partake of grace nor step aside to allow others to do so.

Or, as Jesus says of them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:15).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory