Monday, March 5 (O.S., February 20) 2018: Monday of the Third Week of Lent; Venerable Leo, Bishop of Catania in Sicily († c. 780); 34 Venerable Martyrs of Valaam, who suffered at the hands of the Swedes († 1578): Titus, Tychon, Gelasius, Sergius, Barlaam, Sabbas, Conon, Silvester, Cyprian, Pœmen, John, Samonas, Jonah, David, Cornelius, Nephon, Athanasius, Serapion, Barlaam, Athanasius, Anthony, Luke, Leontius, Thomas, Dionysius, Philip, Ignatius, Basil, Pakhomius, Basil, Theophilus, John, Theodore, and John; New Hieromartyr Priest Nicholas († 1938); Hieromartyr Sadoc, Bishop of Persia, and the 128 Martyrs with him († 342-344); Venerable Agatho, Pope of Rome († 682); Venerable Martyr Cornelius, Abbot of the Pskov Caves and his disciple, Venerable Bassian of Murom († 1570); Venerable Agatho, Wonderworker of the Kiev Caves (13th-14th C); Holy Right-believing Great Prince Yaroslav.
If I’m careful in my choice of companions, I can almost forget that ours is a fallen world.
When I limit my circle of acquaintances, I limit as well the different habits and ideas to which I’m exposed. I work hard to exclude anything that challenge my preconceived notions about the world of persons, events and things.
Ultimately if I narrow down the people I know, and the places I go my self-image will be fixed and secure. And also, false.
Ours is a fallen world. Especially during Great Lent the Church in her wisdom reminds us of this in the readings given for our consideration. Again and again in the readings from the Old and New Testaments, I am reminded that not only do I live in a sinful world, I am myself a sinner.
Isaiah reminds me that to the sinner God is both “a sanctuary and a stone of offense, and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” Which He is for me is wholly within my power to decide. If I am repentant, or even if as St Isaac of Nineveh says I at least want to repent, God is for me a sanctuary, a place of safety and retreat in which I can work out my salvation “in fear and trembling” (see Philippians 2:12).
While wrestling with God to understand His will is life-giving, wrestling to overcome His will is death-dealing. My lack of repentance doesn’t harden God’s heart against me but my heart against Him. This is death.
Isaiah lists the different ways in which I harm myself by resisting the will of God. I fall into superstitions. I give ourselves over to rage. I have contempt for those I see as a threat to my agenda and plans.
It is from this that God would save us and keep us safe through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the “great light” that shines on us in the darkness of sin. But we, I, must be willing to see the darkness in me–and around me–that the Light illumines.
During the time of Noah, we refused to see our sinfulness. Though the evidence was all around us that society was “filled with violence,” we turned away, we refused to see.
Solomon puts it this way:
O simple ones, learn prudence; O foolish men, pay attention. Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right; for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them. They are all straight to him who understands and right to those who find knowledge.
So I must ask myself this question: Am I willing to hear God? Am I willing to allow myself to be challenged? Am I willing to see the darkness around me and in me?
Or will I instead strive to control and manipulate life to keep the realization of my sinfulness at bay?
Is God, in other words, for me a sanctuary or a stumbling block (Leviticus 19:14, Psalms 140:9 (LXX), Matthew 13:41)?