Without Silence, All Things Are Corrupted

Sunday, July 19 (OS July 6): 6th Sunday after Pentecost; Ven. Sisoes the Great of Egypt (429); Martyrs Marinus and Martha, their children Audifax and Abbacum (Habakkuk), and those with them at Rome: Cyrinus, Valentine the Presbyter, and Asterius (269); Ven. Sisoes of the Kyiv Caves (13th c.); Uncovering of the relics of Holy Princess Juliana Vilshanska (1540).

Epistle: Romans 12:6-14
Gospel: Matthew 9:1-8

Glory to Jesus Christ!

The mid-century Southern author Flanner O’Connor wrote to a friend that, “In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long cut off

from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced-labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.”

But it isn’t just tenderness or charity that is corrupted when it is cut off from faith in Jesus Christ.

The pursuit of justice without faith is what causes a police officer to brutalize citizens they are sworn to protect. At the same time, just without faith, causes protesters to become rioters who harm the very community they would defend.

Likewise divorced from faith, concern for public health quickly becomes antagonistic to civil and economic liberty. At the same time, apart from faith, the defense of liberty is deformed and becomes indifferent and even hostile to the common good and the needs of the most vulnerable among us.

Apart from faith in Jesus Christ my vision of the world of persons, events, and things is cramped and deformed.

Turning for a moment to the Gospel, we realize that virtue detached from faith is not simply a contemporary problem. It is part of our fallen condition. Apart from faith in Jesus Christ my vision of the world of persons, events, and things is cramped and deformed.

This is the case for with the scribes who object when Jesus tells the paralyzed man his sins are forgiven. They go so far as to accuse Jesus of blasphemy. But what is more central to the revelation of God than His mercy, His readiness to forgive? As God says through the Prophet Isaiah (43:25): “I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake. And I will not remember your sins.”

We should pause here and ask ourselves what do we mean by faith?

In the tradition of the Church, faith is more than a personal or ecclesiastical relationship with Jesus Christ. Likewise, faith is more than simply an affirmation of the teaching of the Church and adherence to the Church’s moral, sacramental, and ascetical practice. While it includes all of this, faith is more than either any one of these or even all of them taken as a whole.

To have faith in Jesus Christ, to have the kind of faith that preserves tenderness, charity, justice and the other virtues from the corrupting effect of sin, is to lay aside the cramped deformed and deforming vision of sin and see persons, events, and things as God sees them.

It is this, expansive, catholic vision of reality that inspires us not only to be charitable but to work for justice and the common good. St Paul in his epistle that each of us has received “gifts … according to the grace that is given to us” and we are to “us use them” according to “the needs of the saints” and for the building up of the Body of Christ which is the Church (see Ephesians 4:12).

Put slightly differently, the grace given us in baptism is not an abstract power. It takes the form of concrete gifts (charismata). It is these gifts that tell us the work to which we have been personally and uniquely called. The spiritual gifts we have received are the means by which we draw others to Christ.

It is through introducing them to Christ that we help keep our neighbor’s concerns for charity, for justice or for the common from being corrupted by sin. In addition to this, it is through their faith in Jesus Christ that these and the other good things in their lives are elevated and made perfect in Jesus Christ (see Matthew 5:48).

So how do we have this faith that preserves and perfects? How do we come to see things not in the divine light? How do we come to see this light itself?

When as Orthodox Christians we talk about spiritual gifts or grace or even the divine light, we aren’t talking about theological abstractions or mere psychological experiences. If we were then we would be no different from those whose tenderness is divorced from Christ and the Gospel.

What we mean by grace, by spiritual gifts, by the divine light is the unmediated, revelation of God Himself in the human heart and the life of the Church.

We come to know Jesus Christ and experience His presence in our lives first of all through the sacraments. Above all baptism, chrismation, the Eucharist and confession. To this we must add the reading of Scripture, the Church’s worship and moral, ascetical and dogmatic teaching and practice.

But this is just the beginning.

To all this, I must add my own, personal life of prayer. Again, we need to pause for a moment and be clear about what this means.

For many Orthodox Christians, the life of personal prayer is often reduced to keep a rule of prayer. We stand, make the sign of the Cross, and read prayers from a book. And usually, we read these prayers as quickly as possible.

While prayers from books have their place, what we are striving for is a sense of inner quiet (hesychia).

I can only come to see creation in the divine light if I first quiet myself. As important as the other elements of the Christian faith are, they are perfected in silence. First outer silence and then slowly over time inner silence.

Looking around not only in Madison but also Wisconsin, not just in the United States but the whole world, it is hard for me to escape the conclusion that God has imposed a certain kind of external silence on humanity. He has done this through Covid-19.

And this is why I believe we see the surge of dissension and violence around us. The Enemy of souls hates even external silence. Why? Because it is in silence that we met God and are liberated from his grasp.

This is why God has given us silence. And this is why unless we embrace it, the disagreements, the divisions, and yes even the violence, will only increase. This might not happen around us but it certainly will within us; violence finds its home in a noisy heart.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! St Paul asks “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” We are those called to preach!

We have each of us been given spiritual gifts that make this possible. Having now been given the necessary grace, let us accept it by embracing silence and in silence not only see all things as they illumined by the divine light but see that light itself!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Remember

Sunday, July 28 (OS July 14), 2019: 6th Sunday after Pentecost; Commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the First Six Councils; Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Great Prince Volodymyr, enlightener of the Kyiv Rus (1015); Martyrs Cyricus and his mother Julitta (305); Martyr Abudimus (4th c.).

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church
Madison, WI

Epistle: Hebrew 13:7-16/ Galatians 1:1-11
Gospel: Jn. 17:1-13/ Jn. 10:1-9

Glory to Jesus Christ!

We cannot hear enough what we heard this morning; “remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.”

On one level St Paul is telling us to reflect not simply on his teaching but his life and the lives of all the apostles. If the teaching of the apostles–contained above all in the Scriptures–is the touchstone of the Christian faith, it is the integrity of the apostles’ lives that demonstrates the truth of the Gospel.

The first thing I learn from the saints is that to grow in Christ, I must return again and again to the text of Sacred Scripture. To borrow from St Jerome, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”

We fulfill St Paul command to “remember,” through our faithful, daily, reading of Scripture. But while we begin and end in the Scriptures, we don’t limit ourselves to the text; to so limit ourselves is to betray the Scriptures themselves.

For the Scriptures, creation itself is a type of revelation. Since “the creation of the world, Paul says, God’s “invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Romans 1:20, NKJV). This is why St Paul chastizes the Gentiles for their lack of faith. Even though they didn’t have access to Scripture, they could have known God through reason. God is there to be seen in Creation.

King Solomon tells us God has “arranged all things by measure and number and weight” (Wisdom 11:20, NRSV). Reflecting on the empirical character of creation, St Augustine confesses he doesn’t know “why mice and frogs were created.” Nevertheless, he does know “that all things are beautiful in their kind, even if, because of our sins, they seem otherwise to us.”

He then goes on to say

When you see in all these beings their measure, their proportion and their order, look for the Creator in them, since you will find none other than the One in whom is supreme measure, supreme proportion and supreme order, that is, God, … In this way, in the smallness of an ant you may find more reason to praise God than in crossing a river astride a tall beast of burden (On Genesis: Against the Manichaens, 1.16.26).

Scripture reminds us that God draws us to Himself not only on words printed on a page but through the diversity and beauty of the material world. And to the fount of faith, we must add Creation itself. And not only as a whole but in all its pieces.

We must not, however, confuse how we come to know God with Who teach us about Him. In both Scripture and Creation, we are instructed, as Paul says of himself, not by “man” but by Jesus Christ through the power and operation of the Holy Spirit.

It is Christ Who speaks in Scripture, the holiness of the saints and Creation. Though different in form, they are in harmony with each other. This is because the have the same Source.

And because they also share One Source there is a harmony, a synergy between what revelation reveals and what reason grasps.

This harmony is found not in the human mind, it is not something we impose on the world around us. No, the order of the material world, the partnership of reason and revelation, of Scripture and Creation, and the witness of holiness down through the ages is found in God Himself.

What Jesus says about how “the Scriptures are fulfilled” by His death and resurrection apply as well to Creation. For St Ireneaus, far from being motivated by the Fall, the Incarnation of the Son and the subsequent establishment of the Church are the very reasons for Creation.

God creates, the saint says, so that His Son can be Incarnate and the Son becomes man so that humanity can come to share in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) as members of His Body the Church (see Romans 12:5;1 Corinthians 12:12–27; Ephesians 3:6; 5:23; Colossians 1:18; 24).

All this means that far from being limited to an artificial sphere of human life called “religion” or “spirituality,” the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the key to how we understand not only salvation but all of human life and creation itself.

This may seem an extravagant claim. And in a sense it is. Jesus Christ is a challenge to the fantasy that I can live a neatly ordered life merely according to my own desires.

In my confusion, I cling to my own projects as if these were the source of my worth rather than God’s love for me.

And how easily I fall into thinking that my salvation, my happiness, my peace, and joy depend on the success of my plans rather than God’s great love and mercy for me.

In the face of these, to human willfulness and much as our best good intentions, the Scriptures tell us “remember.”

Remember the martyrs and saints, who found glory in their obedience to Christ.

Remember our teachers and friends who introduced us to Christ and the Gospel.

Remember all that God has done for us day in and day out.

Above all, remember God Who has come to dwell in our hearts in baptism and Who makes us His tabernacles through Holy Communion.

Remember all these things. Remember Jesus.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory