Tag Archives: Fear

Reaping the Whirlwind

Imaginative Conservative has a good article on the philosophical underpinnings of our current situation (The Stunning Triumph of Thomas Hobbes in the COVID Crisis)

Let me preface what you’re about to read by saying that I have since the pandemic began continued to serve Liturgy, hear confessions, and bring people Holy Communion. While I’ve taken basic precautions (mask, hand washing, etc.), I’ve done everything I can to make sure the sacramental life of the Church remained available to not only my own parish but neighboring parishes.

Yes, all of this entailed a certain level of risk on my part (and my wife’s part by the way). But what choice did we have?

To do otherwise, would mean leaving my flock without a shepherd and prove myself a hireling.

This isn’t to say that, especially in the case of older clergy and laity or those in high-risk groups, more rigorous precautions (including quarantine) aren’t prudent. They are. But while I was supportive of the lockdown in the first days and weeks of the pandemic because we faced a high-risk situation without good information to evaluate that risk, I think we have (as the article points out) given ourselves over to fear of death.

Again, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take precautions. We should. But it’s hard to escape the author’s basic point that fear of death has now come to control our behavior as a society (a baneful abstraction but it will have to do for now).

I like the author’s second point about our current situation: “The second problem with the Hobbesian COVID policy is that it prevents the finding of solutions to the crisis. A society bereft of risks may avoid the dangers of disaster, but it also removes any possibility of triumph. America is in chains today through such a policy.”

As one quick example, here in Madison, private schools worked all summer with county health officials to develop plans to teach in person. Some of these schools ran daycare/camps all summer without incident. Nevertheless, without warning and at the last minute, the health department ordered schools closed for in-person instruction for grades 3-12. At least as the schools tell it, they had no indication that their plans for reopening were inadequate. Indeed, throughout the summer, the corrected their plans in response to county health officials’ concerns.

We have grown fearful and we are afraid because we lack love. We are fearful and lack love because we have, as a culture, given ourselves over to self-indulgence and violence rather than self-restraint and personal responsibility to avoid the consequences of our actions.

The words of the Prophet Hosea (8:7) are applicable to our situation:

They sow the wind
and reap the whirlwind.
The stalk has no head;
it will produce no flour.
Were it to yield grain,
foreigners would swallow it up.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

 

Source:

Love Casts Out Doubt

Sunday, May 5 (O.S., April 22), 2019: Antipascha; Sunday of St. Thomas; St. Theodore the Sykeote, Bishop of Anastasiopolis (613).; Apostles Nathaniel, Luke, and Clement. Martyrs Leonidas of Alexandria (202); St. Vitalis of the monastery of Abba Serid at Gaza (609-620).

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church
Madison, WI

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

Christ is Risen!

One of the best signs of the truthfulness of the Gospels is the willingness of the sacred authors to recount the moral failures of not just the apostles but all the disciples.

Peter denies Jesus and Judas betrays Him.

When the myrrh-bearing hear from the angel that Jesus is risen and are told to “tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you” (Mark 16:7, NJKV), they instead run away in fear, saying “nothing to anyone” (v. 8).

Likewise in today’s Gospel, we see Peter and the disciples hiding behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews.” We need at this point to pause for a moment and consider more of the context–the timeline really–of what is happening.

Jesus appears to the disciples on Pascha, “on the evening of that day, the first day of the week.” Earlier that day, He had appeared “to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons” (Mark 16:9). At first, she doesn’t recognize Jesus mistaking Him for the gardener. But when He says her name–”Mary!”–she immediately recognizes Him and hurries off to tell the disciples that the Lord is risen (see John 20:15-18).

Unfortunately, and this brings us to today’s Gospel, “they did not believe” Mary (Mark 16:11), her words “seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11).

Betrayers. Doubters, Cowards, Women. In the ancient world, none of these would have been considered credible witnesses because none could be honorable men. And yet, these are the witnesses that the Church offers us. Far from undermining the credibility of the Gospel, the weakness of the disciples highlights its power.

Turning now to the reading from the Acts of the Holy Apostle, and even though “many signs and wonders were done among the people by the hands of the apostles,” even though “the people held them in high honor” they were afraid to publicly follow the disciples. Like the disciples on Pascha, the people were afraid of the Jewish authorities.

Nevertheless, “believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” The reason is because the disciples were eventually able to move beyond the crippling fear and they experienced on Pascha and so counteract the fear felt among the citizens of Jerusalem.

St John Chrysostom explains it this way (Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles, 12): “Earth was becoming like heaven,” because of how the first Christians lived. It was their “boldness of speech,” the “wonders” they performed that cause the residence of Jerusalem to look on the followers of Jesus as they were angels.”

As for the disciples themselves, “They were unconcerned about ridicule, threats, perils.” Instead, “They were compassionate and beneficent. Some of them they helped with money, and some with words, and some with healing of their bodies and of their souls; they accomplished every kind of healing.”

How did the grace of God bring about this transformation in the disciples? How did fearful doubters become bold apostles?

Love.

Of all those first entrusted with the proclamation of the Gospel, only one responded with obedience. It was only Mary Magdalene who did as she was told to do.

The reason, as St Mark highlights for us, is because of all the disciples of Jesus, only she knew evil and the power of the devil not simply as an external threat but an inner struggle. It was out of her that Jesus “had cast seven demons.” As Jesus tells us in another place, those “love much” who have been “forgiven much.” As for the one “to whom little is forgiven,” that is who repents only of minor sins leaving unmourned the more serious ones, “the same loves little.” (see Luke 7:47).

It was in her great love for Jesus that Mary found the courage to proclaim boldly the Gospel. This is important because, contrary to what we sometimes imagine, doubt is not a sin of the intellect but the will.

I doubt because I don’t love and I don’t love because I am afraid. I don’t trust God because I have not united myself to Him; I resist His will for my life, preferring my will to His. In its most extreme form, I prefer to fail of my terms to succeed on His.

But “perfect love drives out fear” and the “one who fears is not made perfect in love” (see 1 John 4:18). The apostles doubt, I doubt, because their love, my love, remains imperfect.

St John tells us that anyone who hates his neighbor is “a murder” (1 John 3:15) and that anyone who says he loves God but who hates his neighbor “is a liar: (1 John 4:20) and lives “in darkness” (1 John 2:11).

Jesus tells us what it means to love God perfectly when He says we are to love God with all that is in us and that we are to love our neighbor as our very self (see Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-34).

The love of God is not an idea; much less is it a feeling. Rather, to love God is to unite our will to His. If I love God I will keep His commandments (see John 14:15). Love, in other words, is a matter of obedience.

And just as to love God is to be obedient to God, to love my neighbor means to want what God wants for him. I love you with a perfect love if I want for you all that God would give you.

To be sure, the will of God for me and for you is wider, deeper and broader than what we know. Nevertheless, we know what God doesn’t want. The Ten Commandments offer us a negative expression of God’s will for humanity.

And we know from the Scriptures and the fathers that God’s will for us is–in a positive sense–rooted in our participation in his very nature (2 Peter 1:4).

We come to share in the divine life through our participation in the sacraments of the Church. To share in God’s life means we must be baptized, confess our sins, receive Holy Communion. To these, we add daily prayer and the reading of Scripture and the keeping of the fasts as we are able.

Is there more to perfect love? Yes! But if we do at least these things, God will slowly reveal the fullness of His will for us.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! The fearful, doubting disciples of Pascha we meet today will soon become bold witnesses for Christ through love! In these next few weeks, as we make the journey from Pascha to Pentecost, we are preparing ourselves for a new outpouring of divine love into our hearts. We have this period of rest, in anticipation of the renewal of our witness to the world.

So get ready! There is more to come!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Neither With Fear Nor Contempt

Tuesday, March 27 (O.S., March 14), 2018: Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Lent; Venerable Benedict of Nursia († 543); New Hieromartyr Priest Basil († 1943); Holy Hierarch Theognostus, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia († 1353); Right-believing Great Prince Rostislav-Michael of Kiev († 1167); St. Euschemon the Confessor and Bishop of Lampsacus (9th C); Theodore – Kostroma Icon of the Mother of God (1613).

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 49:6-10
Vespers: Genesis 31:3-16
Vespers: Proverbs 21:3-21

We have throughout our reflections on the Lenten readings seen that the Old Testament values wealth and power as morally good. This makes some Christians uncomfortable. They see the acquisition of wealth as tantamount to avarice and the pursuit of power as exploiting the weak.

These and other temptations are real and should be guarded against. At the same time, we can’t be indifferent to the harm by those who don’t understand the uses and limitations of wealth and power and so think Christians should have nothing to do with either.

Isaiah reminds us the blessings God has given the Jewish people are so that they can fulfill their vocation to be “a light to the nations.” God’s material blessings as much as His spiritual blessings are bestowed on Israel so that “salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

We can’t pursue wealth and power for their own sake. When we do, they become idols. The Old Testament is clear on this point. When we situate the Old Testament’s teaching on wealth and power within this context, we see that the right use of wealth and power preparations for the Gospel.

We can’t simply dismiss wealth and power as if they had no positive role to play in salvation. How much harm has been done, how much good has been left undone, by well-meaning Christians who simply didn’t understand how to use money or to exercise authority?

Look at the example of Jacob. God teaches him how to deal with his dishonest father-in-law.

Laban is frankly a cheat. He is willing to harm Jacob and so his own daughters in pursuit of wealth. Rather than having Jacob deliver a sermon, or stand passively and be cheated, God engages in a little sharp dealing.

Every time Laban changes which goats Jacob will receive as his wages, God changes the outcome. When Laban tells Jacob, “’The spotted shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped. Thus God has taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.”

God impoverishes Laban as punishment for trying to cheat Jacob.

Solomon is clear. The wise man knows how to use wealth and exercise authority not simply for his own sake but for the sake of others. “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin. … He who closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself cry out and not be heard. … He who pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor” both in the eyes of God and neighbor.

Christians can’t be either afraid or contemptuous of wealth and power. We must rather learn to acquire and use them in ways that are pleasing to God and to advance the Gospel.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Like Paul! Living in Joy, Without Fear!

Sunday, February 7, 2016: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost & Sixteenth Sunday of Matthew

After-feast of the Presentation (Meeting) of Christ; Parthenios, bishop of Lampsakos; Venerable Luke of Hellas; New-martyr George of Crete

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10

Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30

Reflecting on his own ministry, the Apostle Paul says that he “put no obstacle” in the way of anyone who—having sensed that “now is the day of salvation”—wished to become like him a “servants of God.” Paul then goes on to enumerate the cost he’s paid for fidelity to the evangelical work of the Church. He has had to bear “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger.” All this and more he endured so that others could come to experience in their lives “the power of God.”

Not only does Paul suffer at the hands of the Gentiles, he is persecuted by the Jews. Nevertheless, he has freely and enthusiastically preaches the Gospel, “the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute” at the hands of unbelievers.

But at the ends of his recollections, his focus shifts; he hints that he suffers at the hands of those who have accepted the Gospel. Paul even suffers at the hands of other Christians. It is his fellow apostles and evangelists, not the Gentile and Jewish authorities, that treat Paul as an imposter, as someone unknown to Christ.

And yet, in spite of all this, he remains faithful to Christ and committed to “making many rich” even though he himself is “poor.” Because of his heroic fidelity to Christ and the work to which he is called, Paul who has “nothing” in the eyes of men, “possess[es] everything” in Christ.

Turning from the epistle to the Gospel, we see the example unfaithful servant who is the anti-type or moral opposite of Paul. This man allowed fear of his master to overwhelm him. Ironically, this results in his fears being realized. He is punished by his master, cast “into the outer darkness” there to weep and gnash his teeth.

On closer examination, though, we see that the unworthy servant was motivated not simply by fear of “a hard man.” No, the servant was gripped by despair; he had no confidence, no trust, no hope in the future. And all this because he simply had no confidence in his master and the gift his master gave him. He also he had no trust in himself because he had no faith in his master.

Yes, the master was “a hard man” who reaped where he didn’t sew and who gathered where he didn’t winnow. But this hard man had confidence in his servants. To be sure varying degrees of confidence signified by the greater or lesser amount of money entrusted to them. Nevertheless, the master was confident in his servants and their abilities to be profitable for him. The servant’s self-doubt and despair are the bitter fruit of his lack of faith in his own master.

On this difference hinges the difference between my being like Paul or being like the wicked and slothful servant. We usually think of sloth as laziness. While there is some overlap between them, sloth is less a matter of not doing what’s right and more of not taking joy in doing it. The slothful person is indifferent or even opposed to the joy that comes from being faithful and obedient to God.

At its foundation sloth is a refusal to accept with gratitude and joy my life as it has come to me from the hands of a loving God. Small and few though they seem to me, the gifts God has given me are able to bear fruit if only I am faithful to God. Joy, to say nothing of progress in the spiritual life, are the fruit of fidelity to our personal vocations.

This is why St Paul takes pains to say again and again that he puts “no obstacle” in the way anyone coming to Christ. Having experienced the joy of discipleship in his own life, he can’t but desire that for others. Having experienced the love of God for him, Paul wants others to come to know God’s love for them. This is why even though he was persecuted by the civil and religious of his time, even though he was criticized and rejected by some in the Church, Paul preached Christ and Him crucified (see 1 Corinthians 2:2), in season and out (see 2 Timothy 4:2). His life was rooted in faithful, hopeful ad loving obedience to Jesus Christ and not the passing approval of men.

When I look at my own spiritual life, do I see a life characterized by gratitude and joy? Reflecting on this morning’s epistle and Gospel makes me ask why do I lack the confidence of St Paul? Might I be more like the unfaithful steward and fear of my master, the Lord Jesus Christ?

Paul’s life reflects the healthy and wholesome self-confidence that is the fruit of fidelity to God. Such fidelity can’t be abstract or merely theoretical; it isn’t a matter of words, ideas or feelings. Fidelity to Christ is the fruit of the careful discernment of our own, personal vocation and our subsequent obedience to the contours and content of the life and work to which we have been called.

How do I know if I am faithful? How do I know if my self-confidence is healthy and wholesome?

We find our answer again in the person of the Apostle Paul. The sign of vocational fidelity and Christ-like self-confidence is joy. Specifically, our ability, like Paul, to rejoice in gifts God has given others and to work to foster their fidelity to what God asks of them. We do this because we know that “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (2 Corinthians 12:26. NKJV). Joy in the honor God bestows on others is the sign of our own fidelity to the will of God. To live otherwise is to fall into the divisions that plagued the Church in Corinth. Such joy is balm for a world battered and broken by sin and death and is certain and trustworthy evidence “for the hope that lies within” us (see 1 Peter 3:15).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory