Always Faithful

December 1, 2015: Nahum the Prophet, Philaret the Merciful of Amnia, Ananias the Persian,
Holy Father Theocletus the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Lacedaemonia

Russian Orthodox icon of the Prophet Nahum, 18th century (Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi Monastery, Karelia, Russia).

Russian Orthodox icon of the Prophet Nahum, 18th century (Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi Monastery, Karelia, Russia).

Epistle: 1 Timothy 5:11-21

Gospel: Luke 19:45-48

The motto of the U.S. Marine Corps, Semper fidelis, is Latin for “Always faithful.” Fidelity to God is the hallmark of the saint. This fidelity is not, however, faithfulness to abstract external standards of conduct. It is rather faithfulness to our vocation, to what God has called us today.

It is His, absolute vocational fidelity that allows Jesus to speak with power and authority in the face of opposition. Even in the face of His own impending death Jesus remains faithful to the Father’s will. “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42, NKJV). Just as Adam rebelled against the will of God and so “followed the will of the enemy” St Ephrem the Syrian says, Jesus “resists the will of the flesh to uphold the will of the Creator of flesh.” Jesus does this because He knows “that all happiness depends of the will of His Father” (“Commentary on Tatian’s Diatessaron, 20:9 in vol 3 of ACCS NT: Luke, p. 343).

Vocational fidelity is not only the source of all human happiness, it is central to the Gospel. Grace heals and restores and what sin deforms and disfigures our likeness—our similarity—to God. Restoration to this personal likeness is, however, not the end of the Christian life but its beginning. This is why the Apostle Paul is so insistent that the Church “refuse to enroll younger widows” (1 Timothy 5:11) and instead encourage these women to remarry.

When we see monastic life or marriage or the priesthood as desirable because we’ve grasped the beauty in them. While desire is part of how we discern our vocation, fidelity requires more than desire.

The confusion the Apostle wishes to correct is common in the spiritual life. I see the beauty and nobility in a particular vocation and then wrongly assume that this is the way of life to which God has called me. When, like the young women in today’s epistle, I set out on a path only because it is beautiful I become like the seeds sown among rocks. While I will start out in “joy” after “a while” I will fall away in the face of the inevitable struggles that come my way (see Luke 8:4-15, NKJV).

Happiness, peace and joy even in the midst of trials and temptation are found not in mere, mechanical obedience. Rather they are the fruit, to return to St Ephrem, of fidelity to God’s will for our lives.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory