Tag Archives: detachment

Detachment

August 26 (O.S., August 13), 2018: Afterfeast of the Transfiguration; Martyrs Anicetus and Photius (Photinus) of Nicomedia (305); Hieromartyr Alexander, bishop of Comana (3rd c.); Martyrs Pamphilus and Capito.

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 16:13-24
Gospel: Matthew 21: 33-42

Ss Cyril & Methodius Ukranian Orthodox Mission, Madison, WI

Notice in the parable that Jesus doesn’t accuse the tenants of being unfruitful. These are not individuals who neglect the work they’ve been given to do. The conflict arises precisely because they are productive workers who anticipate a bountiful harvest.

Surrounded by beauty and wealth, the tenants became envious. They didn’t forget they were tenants. Rather, their unhappiness with their status cause them but envied the owner.

Or rather, their envy causes them to feel unsatisfied with the work they’ve done.

Whenever in the Gospels we hear about a rich harvest, we are meant to think about the evangelical mission of the Church. And this is what the parable is about.

On one level, Jesus is inditing the Jewish authorities not only of His time but all those in Israel who persecuted the prophets. As the heirs of those who for generation after generation rejected those God set over them, it isn’t a surprise that the authorities of His time will reject Jesus and turn Him over to the Romans for execution.

On another level though, the parable is directed to the Church; to us.

There is an unfortunate tendency for Christians to forget that we aren’t the owners of divine grace. Much less are we the source of the divine life that God pours out on His people by the power of the Holy Spirit through the sacraments.

No, we are stewards of grace.

It is our task, our calling, and great honor, to discern the presence and the shape of that grace in our own lives and the lives of those we meet.

Again, we are the stewards of grace.

Sometimes though I am tempted to forget this. When I do, there is a subtle (or maybe not so subtle) shift in my attitude.

I allow envy to take hold of my heart. As it does, my relationship to the things of God and to the People of God becomes corrupt. Over time, envy gives way to a proprietary attitude. Like the tenants in the parable, I come to think I own the Church.

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis points out that one of the devil’s tricks is to get us to ignore the vast difference between “my boots” and “my God.” Many of us forget, for example, that “my parish” is more like “my God” than “my boots.”

This temptation is all the stronger when, as the parable highlights, the evangelical mission of the Church is bearing fruit. How easy it is for the priest or the lay evangelist to confuse his efforts with the grace of God. It is this that Jesus condemns in the Gospel.

And He condemns not only the attitude but those who hold to it. We must not, our Lord tells us today, allow a proprietary attitude to take hold in our hearts. To guard against this I need to foster a sense of detachment.

Detachment doesn’t mean indifference but an awareness that everything and everyone in my life comes to me as God’s gift to me for His glory, my salvation and the salvation of the world.

Detachment means always struggling against the temptation to confuse “my God,” “my spouse,” “my child,” “my vocation,” and yes, “my church,” with “my boots.”

Detachment, in the final analysis, means remembering that I am not the owner or source of grace but its steward.

Important here, as well, is that I remember that I am only one steward of grace among many. Detachment means that I am aware that God has entrusted me with only one part of His Kingdom.

Whether large or small, great or humble, our responsibilities are limited.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! We are all of us always tempted to envy in the spiritual life. We are all of us always tempted to think that we own the things of God.

We need to be on guard against this attitude, we need to remain detached. To accomplish this we must, as St Paul tells the Corinthians, “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.”

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Distraction, Detachment, and Discipleship

Sunday, April 23, 2017: New Sunday or Anti-Pascha Sunday of Thomas the Apostle, Called “The Twin” Great-martyr George the Trophy-bearer.

Epistle: Acts 5:12-20
Gospel: John 20:19-31

Christ is Risen!

To follow the Person of Jesus Christ, to shape our lives around His teaching and the example of the saints and martyrs who have gone before us in faith (Hebrews 12:1), this is the essence of our life in Christ. While our particular vocations are different, as Orthodox Christians we share a common call to be His disciples and to preach the Gospel to all the world (Mark 15:16). Each of us follows a unique path in life but we have a common goal.

Because we have the same destination–the Kingdom of God–our personal vocations also share common features. Chief among these is the need to cultivate the virtues of faith, hope, and love. These are the fruit of divine grace poured out in the sacraments of the Church, the life of prayer and ascetical struggle. Apart from these, whatever else might be the value of what we do, what we do isn’t Christian.

Just as there are common sources for our unique vocations, there are common dangers. In the Gospel this morning we hear about the Apostle Thomas and his unwillingness–at Vespers last night we hear it referred to “the delicacy of the beautiful unbelief of Thomas”–to believe that Christ is Risen. In a word, Thomas doubt.

Doubt is an interesting thing.

We tend to think that the solution to doubt is more information or a better, clearer explanation. If however you have ever struggled with doubt, or indeed any distraction in the spiritual life, you know that this solution is no solution.

The cause of doubt is not a poverty of information but of attention. Doubt, like fear, anxiety, despair and any number of other temptations in the spiritual life, is the fruit of distraction. Doubt arise when I shift my attention from Jesus to my own thoughts.

At the beginning of this morning’s Gospel, it isn’t so much that Thomas doesn’t believe that Jesus is Risen from the dead as it is he attached to his own thoughts. He is willing to believe in the Resurrection, if and only if, it is revealed to him on his own terms. “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in His side, I will not believe.”

In effect, Thomas will accept the Resurrection if it comes to him, not the free gift of God but as the fruit of his own effort. Thomas can’t believe because he is attached to his own thoughts.

This then is the heart of doubt and all the other distractions of the spiritual life: My attachment to my own will.

While this attachment might, at first, seem sweet, very quickly my thoughts come to torment me. My thoughts enslave me. I make myself a slave to myself. I am as bound by my own thoughts, as Peter was by his chains before the angel of the Lord freed him from prison.

I cannot live as a disciple of Christ if I am attached to my own will, my own thoughts about the spiritual life. It is my plans, my vision, that obscure Christ and so become the source of doubt and the other distractions.

What I need to learn to do–and this takes not only divine grace and real effort on my part but time–is to become detached from my own thoughts. Notice please, I didn’t say I need to NOT have my own thoughts, plans, or feelings. It is “proper and right” to have these. Where I go wrong is in my attachment to them, to caring more about my own thoughts and feelings than I do Christ.

Like I said, finding the balance between prayerful and obedient attention to Christ and respecting the integrity of not only my own thoughts and feelings but those of other people, is the work of a lifetime.

Too often Christians neglect this work and instead give themselves over to one form or another of fundamentalism. Or, to look at the other deformation, they neglect faith altogether and given themselves over to a life of self-aggrandizement.

The irony here is that whichever deformation they choose, in the end, what is chosen is the person’s own will. Both paths elevate the preferences of the individual above the love of God or neighbor.

So, to follow Christ, the be His disciple, I must like Thomas, take my eyes off myself and instead look to Jesus Christ as “My Lord and my God!”

I won’t lie to you. There will be times when doing this is hard, harder than anything you have ever done.

But there will also be times when shifting your focus to Jesus, will not only come easily but joyfully. Over time, what was once hard becomes, if not exactly easier, than to be a moment of liberation.

And with that renewed inner freedom comes not only a more mature, sober way of life in Christ but also an ability to, like Peter, “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory