Just Talk to God

Sunday, April 14, 2019: 5th Sunday of Great Lent; Venerable Mary of the Egyptian.

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church
Madison, WI

Epistle: Hebrews 9:11-14/Galatians 3:23-29
Gospel: Mark 10:32-45/Luke 7:36-50

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Unlike contemporary morality that tends to be guilt-based, the biblical moral vision is shame-based. While shame has a bad reputation for us today, in the Scriptures and so the fathers of the Church, shame is what I feel when, intentionally or not, I am unfaithful to the demands of my station in life.

A guilt-based moral system, on the other hand, is concerned with my own internal moral standards. In such a system, I don’t feel bad when I fail to meet the expectations of those around me–again this is the origin of shame. Instead, I feel guilty when I violate my own conscience.

While it’s tempting to pit one moral system against the other to live a morally and emotionally healthy life, I really need both.

A shame-based morality reminds us that we have a role to play in the community; we matter to those around us. Above all, we matter to God.

This, in turn, points us beyond societal norms and l toward our personal vocations. Each of us has been called by God to a unique way of life and task that only we can fulfill.

And so, I feel ashamed precisely when I fail to fulfill the obligations of my vocation (see Genesis 3:7).

Assumed here, however, is that I understand my vocation and it’s obligations. In broad strokes, this is what it means to have a rightly formed conscience. I must know what it means to be a faithful disciple of Christ, a faithful husband, a faithful priest. And I need to be able to differentiate all these from what people tell me it means to be a Christian, a husband, or a priest.

But knowing isn’t enough. A vocation is not an intellectual exercise but a way of life.

And so I need to internalize what being Christian, a husband, and a priest. I simply can’t go through the motions. Christian, husband, and priest are not simply the roles I play. They express or should express, who I am.

This is why shame needs guilt! It isn’t just that fail to meet the standards of others–even God. In failing to be faithful to God, I have failed myself as well.

Put in a more positive light, I am only mostly fully myself when I am being faithful to the life to which God has called me and when I work to fulfill the tasks He has given me.

There is great power in knowing and being personally faithful to the demands of my vocation. To see this we need to look no further than to the saint who we commemorate today: St Mary of Egypt.

St Mary was as extravagant in her repentance as she was in her sin. The difference is this. While her sinful excesses brought her no peace, her severe asceticism did.

But the peace St Mary experienced came not from the severity of her asceticism; she didn’t experience peace because her asceticism was hard but because she was faithful to what God asked of her.

Mary’s peace came from freely embracing her ascetical vocation. It was her acceptance of the life to which God called her that gave her the strength to endure the trials she underwent in the desert.

Like Mary, we find peace neither in merely conforming to God’s will nor having the right values. True peace, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” that guards our “hearts and minds” (Philippians 4:7, NKJV) comes only when we are faithful to our personal vocations.

At this point, you might ask: How do I know the life to which God has called me? How, in other words, do I know what my vocation is?

A vocation begins in the sacraments–above all baptism. It is nourished in Holy Communion. And in those moments when we fail to be faithful, we are restored in Confession.

As indispensable as are the sacraments (and the whole of the liturgical and ascetical life of the Church for that matter) in helping us discern and live our vocation, they are not in and of themselves enough.

To know what God wants from me, to know what He wants for me, I must have a life of personal prayer.

By this I mean not only attending service, reading Scripture or saying the prayers in the prayerbook. As important as these all are, there must come a moment when, like Moses, I speak to God “as one man speaks to another” (compare, Exodus 33:11). To know my vocation, I must ask God to reveal to me His will for me.

And here’s the thing. Many of us are hesitant to ask. The reason is easy to understand. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

Asking God what He wants from me, isn’t a matter of looking for some objective fact about my life. No, it means opening my heart to God. I can no more rely on simply on the formal prayer of the Church than a husband can limit his conversations with his wife to quoting Shakespeare’s sonnets!

I must, in other words, speak to Jesus Christ as my Friend; as Someone Who loves me and wants what is best for me.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! As we come to the end of the Great Fast and begin our final journey through Holy Week to Pascha, we should each of us take some time to speak directly to God.

And when we do, we should ask Him simply and directly, “God what do want from me?”

We don’t need to worry about how it sounds. Our words might be awkward and stumbling. But God hears and receives our words with delight!

And He will answer! He will honor our request and answer our question if only we will ask!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Holiness is the Goal

Thursday, March 22 (O.S., March 9), 2018: Thursday of the Great Canon of St Andrew; New Hieromartyrs Priests Michael, Alexis, Demetrius, Sergius, Sergius and Deacon Nicholas, Venerable Martyrs Ioasaph, Natalia and Alexandra († 1938); Martyr Urpasianus of Nicomedia († c.295); Venerable Cæsarius, brother of St Gregory the Theologian († c. 369); Martyr Philoromus; Righteous Tarasius of Liconium; Martyr Philoromus; Albazinian Icon of the Mother of God called “The Word Was Made Flesh” (1666).

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 42:5-16
Vespers: Genesis 18:20-33
Vespers: Proverbs 16:17-17:17

Once again Isaiah reminds me that God isn’t “good” in the way I typically think of goodness.

Isaiah begins by telling us about God redeeming His people. In words that Jesus will quote at the beginning of His ministry (Luke 4:18), we are told that God has made the Jewish people “a light to the nations.” Through them, He will “open the eyes that are blind,” He will “bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,” and liberate “those who sit in [the] darkness” of sin.

In response, creation and the whole man-made world join in sing “to the LORD a new song.” The sea roars together with “all that fills it,” roars in praise of God. Then “the coastlands and their inhabitants” join in the song together with “the desert” and the “cities.” All “lift up their voice,” all “sing for joy,” and “shout from the top of the mountains” their gratitude to God.

At this point, things quickly take what might seem to us to be a dark turn.

“For a long time,” God says, “I have held my peace.” God has “kept still and restrained” Himself in the face of human sinfulness and disobedience. Now though, God cries out “like a woman in travail.” God gasps and pants as He makes ready to destroy.

I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbage; I will turn the rivers into islands, and dry up the pools. And I will lead the blind in a way that they know not, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them.

We see something like this in God’s response to Sodom and Gomorrah.

God is intent on destroying these cities because their sin is “great and … very grave.” Abraham negotiates with God to spare the cities for the sake of ten righteous individuals. But as we discover a bit later (Genesis 19:12-29), the cities don’t have even ten good people between them and so they are destroyed.

God’s isn’t good the way I understand goodness.

God isn’t the aggregate of moral goodness. Rather, God is holy–He is sovereign and as Lord of All is over all that is. As the Creator of the universe, He is the source of moral goodness but moral goodness itself is only a shadow, a veiled revelation of God (see Hebrews 10:1, Colossians 2:17).

And so we come again to the importance of Wisdom.

Wisdom not just as practical and moral guidance–though it includes both. As we hear today, Wisdom is the “fountain of life.”

Wisdom fosters in us “a lowly spirit” (humility) and willingness to “heed” God (obedience). The wise heart is discerning and speaks in a way that is both “pleasant” and persuasive. Like Jesus, the wise speak and teach with an authority that comes not simply from moral goodness but the disinterested freedom of holiness (Matthew 7:9, Mark 1:22 and Luke 4:32).

And wisdom levels, or better transcends the often arbitrary distinctions with which we divide ourselves off one from the other as we jockey for power and control. “A slave who deals wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully, and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers.”

Christians are called not simply to be morally good but holy. We are called to share (as we can never tire of repeating) in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). In fact, everything we do as Christians has only one goal: to become like God, not just good but holy.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory