Tag Archives: Sacrifice

Not Good Enough But Really Good

Sunday, December 15 (O.S., December 2), 2019: 26th Sunday after Pentecost. Prophet Habakkuk (VI c. B.C.). Martyr Myrope of Chios (251). Sts. John, Heraclemon, Andrew, and Theophilus of Egypt (IV). St. Jesse, Bishop of Tsilkani in Georgia (VI). St. Athanasius, “the Resurrected”, of the Near Kyivan Caves (1176). Ven. Athanasius, recluse, of the Far Kyivan Caves (XIII). St. Stephen-Urosh IV, king (1371).

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church

Madison, WI

Epistle: Ephesians 5:9-19

Gospel: Luke 18:18-27

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Though he doesn’t use the word, in the opening verses of today’s Epistle the Apostle Paul calls us to be discerning. We are, he says, to seek out “the fruit of the Spirit,” Specifically, “goodness, righteousness, and truth” not only because these are good in themselves but because they help us know and so do what “is acceptable to the Lord.”

Doing the will of God requires first that we hold ourselves apart from sin, from “the unfruitful works of darkness.” If we do, we will become in St John Chrysostom’s phrase “a lamp” that naturally “exposes what takes place in darkness.”

We need, I think, to pause here and consider carefully the larger context within which the Apostle is making his argument.

Paul’s primary concern is to encourage us to engage in the evangelical work of the Church. Like the Apostle Andrew, whose feast was Friday, we are called to call others to Christ. Contrary to what we frequently see both outside the Church and (what is worse) within the Church, this can’t be done in a mechanical fashion.

What I mean is I can’t simply memorize a script or a series of bullet points to be repeated when the opportunity presents itself. When I do this, the other person becomes merely an excuse for me to exercise my own ego.

What then should we do instead?

St Jerome tells us “No one is prepared to admonish sinners except one who does not deserve to be called a hypocrite.” In saying this, he is simply repeating what Paul has just told us. To succeed in calling others to Christ, I must first cultivate in my own life the fruits of the Spirit by repenting from sin.

But here’s the thing about the evangelical work of the Church. Whatever the response of the other person, calling others to Christ will naturally bring to light my own shortcomings, my own sinfulness.

This is why after admonishing the Ephesians to be the light that exposes the darkness of sin, St Paul says to them

“Awake, you who sleep,

Arise from the dead,

And Christ will give you light.”

He says this not to those outside the Church but to those within. The hardest part of fulfilling the evangelical work of the Church, is this: Whatever else may or may not happen, telling others about Jesus Christ will always expose my sinfulness.

Very quickly the evangelist learns that he is the one who must awaken from the sleep of sin.

This is why the work can’t be mechanical. I can’t hide behind the Gospel. If I do, my witness will ring hollow. Or, and this much is worse, the other person will imitate my hypocrisy, my own lack of repentance, confusing this with life in Christ.

This is why, turning to the Gospel, Jesus tells the ruler to sell all he has, give the proceeds to the poor, and come follow Him. This is not a condemnation of wealth or the wealthy. It is instead a warning to all of us.

We all have our idols. We all have things in our life that stand in the place of God.

For the rich man, it was obedience to the commandments. Knowing himself to be a good man, he gave himself permission to not be a better man. He didn’t want to be really good but only good enough. There was nothing sacrificial in his good deeds. His wealth afforded him the luxury of looking good so that he didn’t have actually to be good.

St Ignatius of Antioch warns us to avoid just this state when tells the Romans he doesn’t “want merely to be called a Christian, but actually to be one.” The ruler wanted to be called good without actually becoming good because true and lasting goodness requires sacrifice.

This is why when Jesus tells him to sell all he has, to give to the poor, and because His disciple the man is distressed. He doesn’t want to make the sacrifice that goodness requires. His adherence to the moral law, much like some adhere to the teachings of the Church, is merely mechanical.

Watching all this and hearing Jesus say “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” the crowds and above all the disciples are themselves distressed.

St Cyril of Alexandria observes that the disciples “possessed nothing except what was trifling and of slight value.” But whether we have much or little, he says, “the pain of abandoning is the same.”

Whether Christ calls us to give up wealth or prestige, whether we are called to give up family or friends, we are ALL called to sacrifice. Whatever we had before Christ, indeed whatever we had even a moment ago, we are all called to a sacrificial life of “obedience and good will.” Though we come from “different circumstances,” St Cyril say, we are to practice “equal readiness and willingly” to follow Christ.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! Though our sacrifices our different, our calling is the same; To witness to Christ. And just as we have a shared vocation, we have a shared joy.

That joy is this: That in becoming light, in illumining the darkness, we become able to see the true beauty of creation and, what is more important, the real and lasting dignity in Christ to which all humanity is called.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Regrets? I’ve Had A Few

Recently, I was asked if I had any regrets about being a priest.

To the questioner’s surprise, I said yes I did. I went on to explain that while I had regrets that didn’t mean I was unhappy being a priest. Quite the contrary in fact.

My regrets make clear to me how much I value my vocation. When I call to mind the things I could have done, reflect on their value and the satisfaction that I would have come from doing them and I realize that the rewards of being a priest are more than worth the sacrifice.

But to imagine that I didn’t make any sacrifices, that I didn’t give up some good things to receive the good thing of the priesthood, would be to lie to myself. Actually, it would be to lie to myself about myself and about the importance I place of the work I do as a priest.

None of this, I should say, is unique to the priesthood. It is simply part of being faithful to our vocation. Trade offs in life are inescapable and sacrifice isn’t sacrifice–as Fr Chris told me in college–unless it hurts.

Think of the sacrifice of Abraham (Genesis 22:1-19). When God commands him to sacrifice Isaac, the patriarch has a choice to make. Does he value obedience to God more than the fulfillment of God’s promise and his own most deeply held hopes for his future? In other words, does he love God more than the promises and things of God?

For many, the Gospel is less about picking up the cross and following Jesus and more a coping mechanism. Yes, I can use the Gospel to protect myself from the bumps and bruises (and worse) of life. Doing so, however, means that I prefer the things of God more than God Himself.

And it means that I’m not following God or making the sacrifices that come my way. Instead, I’m trying (futility) to lead God, to make Him follow me.

How easily I turn to God and flip Ruth’s words to Naomi: “I will go where you go. I will live where you live. Your people will be my people” (Ruth 1:16).

The irony here is that I don’t need to compel Him to follow me. He does this already. He is always with me, leading the way, clearing the path before me to the Kingdom.

All the sacrifices we make are not simply ours. They all share in the one sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.

The thing is this: Before I pick up my cross and follow Him, He picked up His Cross as part of joining Himself to us. Before we are His companions, Jesus is ours. Before we sacrifice for Him, He has sacrificed for us.

So yes, I have regrets about being a priest. But the cost of the priesthood pales in comparison to the myriad rewards of the priesthood. And again, this isn’t unique to the priesthood.

If we are faithful to our personal vocation, the rewards will outweigh the costs. This doesn’t mean there won’t be moments when we will wonder, or even doubt, whether this is the case.

Painful as they are, these moments of doubts are moments of grace; they are invitations to renew and deepen our vocational commitments. They are our personal experience of climbing the mountain like Abraham with Isaac following along wondering if, when the moment comes, we can be obedient to the terrible thing God asks of us.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory