Tag Archives: wisdom

The Wise Are Like God

Tuesday, March 20 (O.S., March 7), 2018: Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent; the Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste († c.320): Cyrion, Candidus, Domnus, Hesychius, Iraclius, Smaragdus, Eunoicus, Valentus, Vivian, Claudius, Priskus, Theodulus, Eutichius, John, Xanthus, Ilian, Sisinius, Angius, Aetius, Flavius, Dometian, Gaius, Leontius, Athanasius, Cyrill, Sakerdonus, Nicholas, Valerius, Philoctimon, Seberian, Chudionus, Aglaius, and Meliton; Hieromartyrs Basil, Ephraim, Eugene, Elpidius, Agathodorus, Aetherius, and Kapiton of Cherson (4th C); New Hieromartyr Priest Nicholas († 1930); New Venerable Martyrs Nilus, Matrona, Mary, Eudocia, Catherine, Antonina, Nadezhda, Xenia and Anna († 1938); Venerable Paul the Simple (4th C); Holy Hierarchs Nestor and Arcadius, Bishops of Tremethus in Cyprus; Venerable Emilian, in the world Victorinus, of Italy; St. Paul the Confessor the Bishop of Plusias (9th C).

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 40:18-31
Vespers: Genesis 15:1-15
Vespers: Proverbs 15:7-19

The reading from Isaiah begins with a challenge. God asks humanity “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with Him?” God answers His own question by calling humanity to account for our idolatry: “The idol! a workman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold, and casts for it silver chains.”

God quickly points out the inherent weakness of the idol. Some are covered with gold and held in place with “silver chains.” Others are made of “wood that will not rot” by skilled craftsman who carefully places the idol in its niche so that it “will not move.”

The irony here is clear. It is human ingenuity and skill that protects from damage and rot the idol crafted to protect the worshipper.

Unlike the idol, “the work of human hands” (see Psalm 115:4 and 135:15), the Lord doesn’t need my protect. God creates the earth and rules over it as its absolute Lord.

It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nought, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

God has no equal and His will “is unsearchable.” While even the young grow “faint and … weary” God is mighty and “strong in power.” What strength we have, we have as God’s gift.

It is this God Who makes a covenant with Abram, promising that he will be a great nation.

In the ancient near east, when a covenant was made, both parties would walk between the split animals calling on themselves a curse if they failed to live up to their side of the bargain. When the covenant is made between only God and Abram, only passes between the animals (Genesis 15:7). God takes on Himself the whole penalty for any violation of His agreement with Abram.

The Creator of Heaven and Earth doesn’t just make a covenant with us. In Jesus Christ, He willingly bears the cost of our violation of the agreement.

God’s willingness to suffer a curse that I bring on myself by my own folly and sin is central to the Gospel. Understanding this helps us see a depth of meaning in Solomon’s extended praise of wisdom in Proverbs.

The wisdom of the wise isn’t passive but dynamic. God the Creator of the “all things visible and invisible” (Creed) takes on Himself the sins of the world and so brings about reconciliation. In imitation of God, the wise man by his wisdom brings peace not only to himself but to others.

Beginning with himself, the wise man reconciles humanity to God. This is why the wise man “pursues righteousness” and, unlike the fool, loves reproof. In stark contrast to both God and the wise man, the fool is “hot-tempered” and “stirs up strife.”

As we’ve seen throughout our reflections of Proverbs, wisdom doesn’t just bring peace; it also brings prosperity. In part, as we read today, this happens because the wise man is content with however much or little he has. “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it.”

For Solomon, however, detachment from wealth and power is very different from rejecting or disparaging wealth and power. Wisdom is found, as the reading from Isaiah suggests, in understand what wealth and power can and can’t do.

The paradox is this: I become like God the more I realize I am not like Him.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Without Repentance the Gift Condemns Me

Monday, March 19 (O.S., March 6), 2018: Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent; 42 Martyrs of Ammoria in Phrygia († c. 845): Theodore, Constantine, Aetius, Theophilus, Basoes, Callistus, and others; ; Hieromartyr Conon and his son Conon of Iconium († 270-275); Venerable Arcadius of Cyprus (4th C); Venerable Abraham of Bulgaria; Holy Hierarchs Evagrius the Confessor, Patriarch of Constantinople; Holy Hierarch Taranius, Bishop of Antioch; Venerable Fridolinus, Abbot of Sakingena; Martyr Gregorisus; Venerable Job, in Schema Joshua, of Anzer († 1720); Finding of the Precious Cross and the Precious Nails by the Holy Empress Helen in Jerusalem (326); Icons of the Mother of God: “Chenstokhov” (1st C), “Blessed Heaven” (14th C) and “Shestokovskoy” (18th C).

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 37:33-38:6
Vespers: Genesis 13:12-18
Vespers: Proverbs 14:27-15:4

Reading the passage from Isaiah quickly, we might overlook the fact that–in both cases–God is merciful. Both kings suffer. The King of Assyria is defeated in battle, Hezekiah suffers a debilitating and–but for God’s intervention–fatal disease. The difference in outcomes between the two rulers is straightforward. Hezekiah repents, the Assyrian king doesn’t.

Repentance requires more than I’m sorry for my sins. This, after all, can be motivated as much by being disappointed with myself as easily as it can an awareness that I’ve strayed from God’s will. Often the sorrow I feel is more the former than the latter.

While sorrow is the opening moment of repentance, in the full sense I need to move past my distress. Repentance requires not bad feelings but a change of heart (metanoia). Not grief for my failure, but obedience to the will of God.

We have an example of obedience in Abraham.

God promises the patriarch that He will give him “the land of Canaan.” Abram (as Abraham is still called), we receive from God all the land he can see from where he stands. “Lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see I will give to you and to your descendants forever.”

To this promise, God adds that Abram’s descendants as numerous “as the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your descendants also can be counted.”

At God’s command, Abram walks “the length and breadth of the land.” Eventually, he comes to “the oaks of Mamre” pitches his tent and worships God.

The metanoia God seeks from me isn’t simply sorrow for my sin, it isn’t even obedience. What God seeks from me is my willingness to still myself and, like Abram, worship Him.

Material wealth, political power and military prowess, these are celebrated by the Old Testament as God’s blessings. The coming of Christ doesn’t undo any of this or any of the other blessings God bestows on His Israel.

What Christ does, is make available to us the wisdom without which material and social blessings become traps. As Solomon says

The wicked is overthrown through his evil-doing, but the righteous finds refuge through his integrity. Wisdom abides in the mind of a man of understanding, but it is not known in the heart of fools. Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.

It isn’t that the King of Assyria was a sinner and Hezekiah wasn’t. It isn’t that one man regretted and the other didn’t. It is rather that, like Abram, one man worshipped God and made God’s will his own.

Without the wisdom that comes from the “fear of the LORD” the blessings God give us remain fallow. Separated from a living awareness of God’s gifts as exactly that, His gifts to me, I begin to think of God’s blessings as my own achievements.

As gratitude withers, prides grows until “passion makes the bones rot.” and I become the man who “oppresses the poor” and “insults God.”

But Christians who reject or minimize material and social blessings are equally misguided. These are given to us so that we can share in God’s redemptive work. Like the man who uses them for his own selfish ends, the Christian who turns his back of these blessings–or condemns those to whom God has given them–and becomes one “who oppresses a poor man insults his Maker.”

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

The Challenge of a Life Without Shame

Friday, March 16 (O.S., March 3), 2018: Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent; Martyrs Eutropius, Cleonicus and Basiliscus of Amasea († c. 308); New Venerable Martyr Martha and Martyr Michael († 1938); Venerable Virgin Piama († 337); Sts. Zeno and Zoilus; Icon of the Mother of God of Volokolamsk (1572).

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 29:13-23
Vespers: Genesis 12:1-7
Vespers: Proverbs 14:15-26

My words and deeds often don’t align because, as the reading from Isaiah suggests, I am often ashamed of myself.

It may be that I have shameful thoughts or done shameful deeds. Just as likely, however, I may be ashamed of the Gospel. Or maybe, I don’t want to behave in such a way that makes clear that I am a Christian. I can be ashamed of goodness as easily as wickedness.

Shame is insidious. It twists and distorts my heart, my relationships with God and neighbor. The great challenge in overcoming shame is that it rarely travels along a clean, straight line. Rather shame mixes everything together, it’s a jumble of sharp edges that cut and dull edges that bludgeon.

The prophet Isaiah summarizes the experience when he says to shame, “You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay; that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?”

Yes, a life free from shame is desirable. Accustomed as I am to shame’s many burdens and limitations, however, the offer of liberation is unsettling, frightening even. I may not like shame, but at least it’s familiar.

This is why, as in Genesis, the spiritual life is often described as a journey to a strange land. I may not like shame but it at least as the “virtue” of familiarity. In a fallen world, shame is my native land, my “father’s house.”

When I hear the offer of salvation not simply as the promise of heaven at the end of my life but as freedom from shame in this life, like Abram I’mnot sure I want to make the journey.

Freedom from shame not only means traveling to a strange (emotionally and spiritually) land. Italso means becoming a new person–Abram becomes Abraham–who has new and rather intimidating responsibilities.

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.

What if, shame insinuates, I’m not up for the challenge? I’ve failed before, why do I think I won’t fail again? Maybe I’d be better off staying where I am.

To this Solomon responds the “simple believes everything, but the prudent looks where he is going. A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool throws off restraint and is careless.”

Hearing the offer of salvation, I need to look carefully not only at where I’m going but where I am. And where I am isn’t good. Yes, I need to be cautious and not run headlong into the future. I need to do this though not because God can’t be trusted but because in those first few moments of the journey I’m still unsure of myself.

Accustomed as I am to shame, I will at first find my new freedom in Christ intoxicating. Being still unsure of what God wants for me, and from me, I can become quick-tempered, acting too quickly and so “foolishly.” If I’m not cautious, shame can again trap me causing me to be arrogant or to express myself with an unwise zeal.

I need to give myself time to adjust to this new life, this new journey. I need to acquire “discretion” and prudence. In a word, I need to grow in wisdom.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Contracts, Folly and Wisdom

Thursday, March 15 (O.S., March 2), 2018: Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent; Icon of the Mother of God ‘She who Reigns’ (1917); Hieromartyr Theodotus, Bishop of Cyrenia († c. 326); St. Arsenius the Bishop of Tver († 1409); Martyr Euthalia of Sicily († 257); Martyr Troadius of Neocæsarea (3rd C); Venerable Agathon of Egypt (5th C); 440 Martyrs slain by the Lombards in Sicily († 579); Venerable Sabbas, Barsonuphius, Sabbatius, and Euphrosinus of Tver.

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 28:14-22
Vespers: Genesis 10:32-11:9
Vespers: Proverbs 13:19-14:6

Contracts are essential not only to civil society but also our life in Christ. In Jesus Christ, God makes a covenant–a contract–with us. At baptism, God incorporates us into His Body the Church. He seals this new relationship in chrismation; in Holy Communion, we receive a foretaste of the life to come.

The other sacraments build on this baptismal covenant.

Each sacrament renews and strengthens the promise that binds God to us and us to God and each other. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the sacred contract between God and His People is the archetype for all other civil contracts. God’s covenant with His People is the standard against which all other contracts and promises we make between ourselves are judged.

All of this helps us understand the horror that opens today’s reading from Isaiah.

The rulers of Jerusalem made a contract, “a covenant with death.” Rather than looking to God for their salvation. They make a contract with (Hades or Hell), so that “when the overwhelming scourge passes through it will not come to us.”

As the next few verses make clear, this covenant with death is made of “lies” and “falsehood.” In effect, the rulers made a self-defeating promise that undermines even the possibility of fidelity.

God in His mercy annuls the agreement with death.

In the short-term, this means that the people will be overwhelmed with scourges; they “will be beaten down” by them. This is a severe mercy. The severity doesn’t reflect any “divine” malice but how far morally and spiritually the people have strayed from God. The way back to God and to their own vocations is far, the journey arduous.

The journey back to communion with God is long because the people have become not just strangers to Him but the enemies of the justice and righteousness with which God builds His Kingdom.Once again, humanity has come to the plains of Babel.

Like men we read about in Genesis, the rulers of Jerusalem have conspired with death to frustrate the will of God. The fact that this is impossible and self-defeating doesn’t factor into the decision either at Babel or Jerusalem. Against all the evidence of God’s goodness and patience, they are hell-bent on asserting their own will over the will of God.

Isaiah’s warning to Jerusalem and the divisions in the human family that result from Babel are all still applicable today. We are all of us just as prone to make false promises in a vain attempt to subvert the will of God.

Solomon reminds us–reminds me–that “Wisdom builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down. He who walks in uprightness fears the LORD, but he who is devious in his ways despises him.” It is folly to despise God and to seek to overturn His will for me. Instead, it is in my best interest to discern the will of God and pursue it to the best of my abilities. “A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain, but knowledge is easy for a man of understanding.”

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

The Two Great Paradoxes of Human Life

Wednesday, March 7 (OS 22 February) 2018: Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent; Finding of the relics of the Holy Martyrs at the Gate of Eugenius at Constantinople (395-423); New Hieromartyrs Priests Joseph and Vladimir, Deacon John and Martyr John (1918); New Hieromartyrs Priests Michael, John, Victor, John, Sergius, Andrew, Venerable Martyrs Sergius and Antipas, Venerable Martyr Parasceva, Martyrs Stephen and Nicholas, Martyrs Elizabeth, Irene, and Barbara (1938); New Martyr Andrew (1941); New Venerable Martyr Philaret (1942); Martyrs Maurice and the 70 warriors, including Photinus, Theodore, Philip, and others at Apamea in Syria († c. 305); Venerable Thalassius, Limnæus, and Baradatus, Hermits of Syria (5th C); Venerable Athanasius the Confessor of Constantinople († 821); Holy Hierarch Telesphorus, Bishop of Rome; Holy Hierarch Titus, Bishop of Bostra; Holy Hierarch Abilius, Bishop of Alexandria; Venerable Babylas the Jester; New Hieromartyr Michael Lisitsyn († 1918).

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 10:12-20
Vespers: Genesis 7:6-9
Vespers: Proverbs 9:12-18

At the heart of the Gospel is the convergence of divine grace and human agency. I clearly do things. The challenge of the spiritual is to remember that what I do, I do not simply by my effort but by divine grace. There are two ways in which I can go wrong.

The first, as the Isaiah suggests, is that I can forget or deny the necessity of grace. My freedom is God’s gift to me. God’s grace is what makes my freedom possible.

King of Assyria forgets this. God doesn’t deny the king’s accomplishments. These are real. What is punished is his “arrogant boasting” and “haughty pride” that doesn’t thank–or even acknowledge–God’s role in securing the king’s victory.

The other temptation is that I so over-emphasize God’s grace that I fail to acknowledge my role in my life. Yes, my freedom, my creativity, and intelligence are God’s gifts to me but they are gifts given to me to use as I see fit within the limits of ser by God.

We aren’t passive participants in our own lives. This isn’t what God wills for us and it isn’t what He asks from us. I am a partner with God in my own life. A junior partner to be sure but a partner at the same.

To see this we need look no further than the story of Noah. God calls him to build the ark, gather the animals and, in today’s reading, he “and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him went into the ark, to escape the waters of the flood.”

God “commanded Noah” and Noah exercised his creativity and freedom in obeying God. Actually, Noah’s freedom and creativity are revealed by his obedience. It is not an exaggeration to say Noah becomes more fully himself through his obedience to God.

Noah’s obedience and the King of Assyria’s arrogance share something in common. Both are the exclusive property of the man who acts. “If you are wise,” Solomon says, “you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone bear it.”

Virtue and vice, obedience and disobedience, humility and pride, all of these are the responsibility of the individual. While for many people (Christian or not) “individual” has a bad connotation, it does nevertheless serve to highlight the awesome–and at times frightening–responsibility each of us has for our own life.

Like divine grace, the life of the community is essential to our lives. But even if at times it causes me difficulties to do so, I can’t surrender my freedom to the demands of the community. I must freely affirm my membership in the various communities to which I belong.

The first great paradox of human life is this. When I surrender my freedom to the community, I cease to be a member of that community. I become instead a mere appendage to an anonymous collective, a cog in the machine.

To the mystery of divine grace and human freedom, we can now add the mystery of human uniqueness. We are each of us created in the image of God. For all our similarities, no two images are exactly the same.

Owing to the often subtle differences in life circumstances and to the different choices we make, as we grow in our likeness to God, our personal uniqueness is accentuated not diminished or obscured.

The second paradox of our life now comes to light.

To become more my own person, I must become more God’s. It is only through evermore freely saying “Yes” to God that I am able to become more fully who He created me to be.

Far from devaluing or denying human agency and the importance of the individual, the fidelity to the Gospel makes both possible.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

In Wisdom We Find Life

Tuesday, March 6 (OS February 21) 2018: Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent; Venerable Timothy of Symbola in Bithynia († 795); ✺ Holy Hierarch Eustathius, Archbishop of Antioch († 337); Holy New Hieromartyrs Priests Alexander, Daniel, and Gregory († 1930); New Hieromartyrs Priest Constantine and Deacon Paul († 1938); New Martyr Olga († 1939); Holy Hierarch George, Bishop of Amastris on the Black Sea († 802-811); Holy Hierarch John the Scholastic, Patriarch of Constantinople († 577); Holy Hierarch Zacharias, Patriarch of Jerusalem († 633); Holy Hieromartyr Severian, Bishop of Scythopolis († 452); “Kozel’shchina” Icon of the Mother of God (1881).

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 9:9-10:4
Vespers: Genesis 7:1-5
Vespers: Proverbs 8:32-9:11

If God is not my sanctuary, than anything I build will fail.

This is the lesson of today’s reading from Isaiah. Though Ephraim and Samaria build with “bricks” and “dressed stones” all their works crumble. As we’ve seen before, without wisdom, wealth–in all its forms–can’t and won’t last.

The devastation that Isaiah says God will visit on the unwise is horrifying. He will take no delight in the strength and promise of the young and “no compassion on their fatherless and widows.” But who are these “godless … evildoer[s]” whose mouths speak nothing but the “folly” that “there is no God” (see Psalm 14:1)?

They aren’t simply unbelievers; Isaiah isn’t castigating atheists. His complaint is against those who use their wealth and power to harm others.

Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!

It is those who are indifferent to their neighbor’s suffering as well as the predatory that God condemns. Against them “his anger is not turned away and his hand is stretched out still.”

St John Chrysostom reminds us that when I read passages like these, I shouldn’t think God’s anger is like mine. My anger is often the fruit of wounded pride or maybe fear. Even when it is justified, my anger is a mix of pure and impure motives.

God’s angry, Chrysostom says, is motivated by His “tender care” and His “loving-kindness” for us. The punishment He inflicts is not done to avenge wounded honor but, like the physician’s painful remedies, meant to heal us from sin.

I need to understand that while wealth in all its forms is a blessing, it has limits. And, in a fallen world, I am prone to misuse wealth even as I am all the other good things God gives me.

My misuse of wealth stands in stark contrast to Noah’s right use.

Reading about Noah building the ark and gathering the animals, it’s easy to get so taken up by the story that we overlook the immense investment of material and intellectual capital the ark requires. It must be large enough not only for Noah’s whole family but for all the animals and birds it will shelter for months. The ark must also withstand the “forty days and forty nights” of high winds and the driving rains that “will blot out from the face of the ground” all life.

Noah isn’t simply wealthy, he is wise. His wisdom extends not only to the things of God. It also embraces the myriad practical details of planning and executing a massive building project.

This is why Solomon says that if we seek wisdom we’ll find not only salvation in the next life but happiness in this life. Our happiness will come because divine wisdom isn’t limited to the things of God. There is an unapologetically practical dimension to wisdom.

Wisdom builds “her house,” mixes “her wine, … set[s] her table.” Wisdom teaches us how to take pleasure in the things of this life, to accomplish practical tasks and to be hospitable. And all this Wisdom does in such a way that we not only remember the life to come but are prepared for this life through the myriad practical details of daily life.

“Give instruction to a wise man,” Solomon says “and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man and he will increase in learning.” Yes, “fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” But as Solomon makes clear and Noah illustrates, insight is both spiritual and practical each in its proper measure.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Without Wisdom There Is No Love

Thursday, March 1 (O.S., February 16), 2018: 2nd Thursday of the Great Lent; Martyrs Pamphilus presbyter, Valens deacon, Paul, Seleucus, Porphyrius, Julian, Theodulus, Elias, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Samuel, and Daniel, at Caesarea in Palestine (307-309). St. Macarius, metropolitan of Moscow, the apostle to the Altai (1926). New Hieromartyrs Priests Elias Chetverukhin (1934) of Moscow and Peter Lagov (1931). New Hieromartyr Paul priest (1938). St. Marutha, bishop of Sophene and Martyropolis, and others with him in Mesopotamia (422). New Monk-martyr Romanus of Carpenision, who suffered at Constantinople (1694) (Greek). St. Mary the New of Byzia in Thrace (9th c.). St. Basil Gryaznov of Pavlovo-Posadsky (1869).

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 6:1-12
Vespers: Genesis 5:1-24
Vespers: Proverbs 6:3-20

An ancestor of Christ (Matthew 1:8), King Uzziah began his reign as a young man of 16. Thanks to the prophet Zechariah, the young king “did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 15:3; 2 Chronicles 26:4-5).

As an old man, his pride gets the better of him. and he tried to usurp the prerogatives of the priests and offer incense to the Lord. Afflicted with leprosy, the king spends the last 11 years of his life in “a separate house” and his kingdom ruled by his son Jotham (2 Kings 15:5, 27; 2 Chronicles 26:3).

The immediate context of Isaiah’s encounter with God is one that makes clear the devastation that follows when even God-given authority is devoid of wisdom. Uzziah is a king, not a priest. His authority is divinely circumscribed. There are things he cannot do, places he cannot go. These limits aren’t arbitrary but reflect God’s will for His People.

God calls Isaiah to make clear to people that, like their late king, they have sinned. Uzziah sought to imitate the rules of the Gentiles who held but civil and religious authority as living deities. The Jewish people had allowed this and so God makes their hearts “fat, and their ears heavy.”

God will leave them in their sins “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without men and the land is utterly desolate, and the LORD removes men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.” He does this not out of malice but because it is the way His People will understand the corrupting influence of sin on the heart and the community.

We see also see this corrupting power in Genesis. From Adam to Enoch, as sin takes an ever firmer hold on us, we die at ever younger ages until most of us live only “threescore years and ten” and those who live longer do so in “labour and sorrow” until we are “cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10, KJV).

What then are we to do?

Solomon tells me I need to appraise soberly my situation. I too easily give others responsibility for my life. Like the Jews at the time of Uzziah, I take direction not from God but from other, fallen human beings.

So first I must cultivate detachment from others. I must struggle against vainglory, the tendency to seek the approval of others rather than God.

This a lifelong labor. And so Solomon tells me “Give your eyes no sleep and your eyelids no slumber.” Like the ant, I must labor to cultivate the life of virtue. I must be obedient to God rather than seek the approval of powerful men, “of chief, officer or ruler.”

While never denying the command to love others, Solomon is aware of how easily I can fall into sin when I seek my neighbor’s good opinion of me. Seeking the approval of others will make me a “worthless person, a wicked man.” In time I will become duplicitous and manipulative; a man of “crooked speech” and sly “winks.” I will scrap my feet to avoid work and prayer, and I will be always ready to point an accusing finger at others.

Eventually, my neighbor’s good opinion of me becomes so important that “with perverted heart” I will “devises evil” for others and seek to sow “discord” between my neighbors. Tragically, I will not stop until “calamity” comes upon me and I am ”broken beyond healing.”

As we’ve seen with material wealth, without wisdom I am as prone to corruption by my friend’s love for me as a ruler is by political power. Without wisdom, wealth, love and authority–all good in themselves–become the occasion for my fall.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Wealth: Much More than Money

Wednesday, February 28 (O.S., February 15) 2018: Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent; Apostle Onesimus of the Seventy († c. 109); New Hieromartyrs Priests Michael and John († 1930); New Hieromartyrs Priests Nicholas, Alexis and Alexis; Deacon Symeon; Venerable Martyr Peter; and Venerable Martyr Sophia († 1938); Venerable Eusebius, Hermit of Syria (5th C); Venerable Paphnutius and his Daughter Euphrosyne (5th C); Martyr Major Venerable Paphnutius, Recluse of the Kiev Caves (13th C); Dalmatovo Icon of the Mother of God (1646).

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 5:16-25
Vespers: Genesis 4:16-26
Vespers: Proverbs 5:15-6:3

We misunderstanding the moral teaching of Scripture if we think wealth is just money. As all three readings today, it’s much more.

It’s also about human and social capital, it’s about my abilities and my character and the kind of communities we create for ourselves.

Through the Prophet Isaiah, God condemns those of bad moral character “who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood, who draw sin as with cart ropes.” These individuals have contempt for God: “Let him make haste, let him speed his work that we may see it; let the purpose of the Holy One of Israel draw near, and let it come, that we may know it!”

In their pride, they fail to realize that God’s silence, His seeming unwillingness to take swift action against the sinner, isn’t weakness. God delays in responding “for our salvation” (2 Peter 3:15). God gives me time to come back to myself, repent of my sins, and return to Him in humility (see Luke 15:11-32).

Without repentance, our wealth becomes “bitter.” Without humility, we “call evil good and good evil.” We have inverted and corrupted our understanding of the moral life because we “have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.”

This temptation has been with us from our earliest days.

Only six generations after Adam, humanity has learned build cities, herd cattle and create music. We created an abundance of material and cultural wealth. But along the way, something went terribly wrong.

Cain slew Abel in a fit of jealousy. Now Lamech kills the man who strikes him. Murder has become cold and calculating. Where once humanity depended on God right wrongs, now we seek revenge: “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”

And yet there is hope.

Though the darkness has spread throughout the human world, Adam and Eve haven’t surrendered to despair. Instead, they have a son–Seth–who God calls to take up Abel’s place in the human family (compare Acts 1:12-26). Like every newborn child, Seth is a sign of hope, a reminder that individually and all corporately we can begin again.

New beginnings in a fallen world require renewed self-discipline and a more discerning response to our neighbor.

We must, Solomon tells us, be content to drink from our “own cistern.” We need to see to our own needs and those of our family. This doesn’t mean we are indifferent, much less hostile, to our neighbor. It does mean that we must be careful in how we disperse our wealth.

Humanity is now a mixed moral bag. Virtue and vice exist in each heart and are battling for control. If we fail to account for this our material, human and social capital will be squandered. Like “streams of water in the streets” it will just be wasted.

Once again what matters most is not wealth–material, human or social–but wisdom. Without proper discernment and discretion, to say nothing of ascetical discipline and moral virtue, our best intentions will lead to slavery.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

My Wealth is For Our Benefit

Tuesday, 14 February, 27 (O.S., February 27) 2018: Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent; Repose of Saint Cyril, Equal-to-the-Apostles and Teacher of the Slavs († 869); New Hieromartyr Onesimus, Bishop of Tula († 1937); New Hieromartyr Deacon Tryphon († 1938); Venerable Auxentius of Bithynia († 470); Venerable Isaacius, Recluse of the Kiev Caves († c. 1090); 12 Greek Master-Builders of the Dormition Cathedral in the Lavra of the Kiev Caves (11th C); Venerable Maron, Hermit of Syria (4th C); Holy Hierarch Abraham, Bishop of Carrhae in Upper Mesopotamia (5th C); Transfer of the relics of the Martyred Prince Michael of Chernigov and his councilor Theodore (1578); New Martyr George of Mytilene.

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 5:7-16
Vespers: Genesis 4:8-15
Vespers: Proverbs 5:1-15

If wealth were morally bad then there could be no virtuous way to create, acquire, concentrate or much less use it. After all, as St Paul reminds us, we can’t “continue in sin that grace may abound” (see Romans 6:1ff, NKJV).

Whether we are talking about its material or less tangible (though no less real) forms wealth is fundamentally good. And because it is morally good, our use of wealth must likewise conform to the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God. Whatever its form–spiritual, intellectual, social, cultural no less than material–wealth makes moral demands on us that we can only meet if we are wise.

The reading from Isaiah sets the standard for wealth. Isaiah’s argument is easy to miss because (as if often the case with the Prophets) he tells us what we must NOT do with our wealth.

Having blessed “the house of Israel and the men of Judah,” God expects them to respond with justice. Instead of a People who pattern themselves after “the Lord of Hosts,” what He sees is “bloodshed,” what He hears is the”cry” of the oppressed for liberation.

It isn’t that some are rich and some are poor. Rather, the rich have rigged the system so that the poor remain poor. The rich have “join[ed] house to house” and added, “field to field until there is no more room” for the poor to live or work.

The rich have used their wealth not just to marginalize the poor but to keep from them the necessities of life. For this reason, God will reduce the rich to poverty. He will destroy the wealth they have and prevent them from again growing wealthy. “Surely many houses shall be desolate, large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant. For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath, and a homer of seed shall yield but an ephah.”

Having forgotten the lesson of Cain–that to be human, to be myself, is to be my brother’s keeper–the People of God people “go into exile” where “their honored men are dying of hunger, and their multitude is parched with thirst.”

Wealth must be used–invested if you will–in our neighbor so that he, in turn, can likewise invest in others. It isn’t enough to give the poor bread; we are called as well to help the poor fulfill their own vocation to care for others.

We are all of us, rich and poor alike, our brother’s keeper. It is in this shared obligation for each other that we find the moral principle to guide our relationship with wealth in its material and less tangible forms.

And if we fail to be our brother’s keeper? Then like the man in Proverbs who succumb to the blandishments of the “loose woman” whose lips “drip honey,” those who fail as to be their brother’s keeper soon discover that their wealth “is bitter as wormwood.”

Like the adulterer, the person who uses wealth for his own advantage at the expense of others will follow his mistress as “her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol.”

None of this, however, is to suggest wealth is evil; it isn’t. But wisdom requires that I use my wealth–in all its forms–not simply for my own benefit but for yours as well.

For Solomon, and so for us, the wise man is the one who avoids loose living, who loves ascetical discipline and accepts correction gracefully. Such a person will “drink water from [his] own cistern, flowing water from [his] own well.”

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Wealth is Good, Wisdom is Better, Both Are From God

Monday, February 26 (O.S., February 13), 2018: Monday of the Second Week of Lent; Venerable Martinian of Cæsarea in Palestine (c.422); New Hieromartyrs Priests Basil and Gabriel († 1919); New Hieromartyr Sylvester, Archbishop of Omsk († 1920); New Hieromartyrs Priests Zosimas, Nicholas, Basil, John, Leontius, Vladimir, Parthenius, John, John, Michael; Deacon Eugene; Venerable Martyrs Anna, Faith and Irene; Martyr Paul († 1938); Saint Stephen Nemanja (in monasticism Symeon), Prince of Serbia, the Myrrh-Gusher († 1200); Holy Apostle Aquila and his wife Priscilla (1st C); Saint Eulogius, Archbishop of Alexandria († 607-608); Venerable Zoe and Photina (5th C)

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 4:2-5:7
Vespers: Genesis 3:21-4:7
Vespers: Proverbs 3:34-4:22

Like many Old Testament authors, the Prophet Isaiah see material wealth as a good thing and even, as in today’s reading a blessing from God. In the day of the Lord “the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.” This wealth will belong to the holy ones of Jerusalem and to those washed clean by the Lord.

Poverty and deprivation, however, are a sign in Isaiah that the person has lost God’s favor because of his sin. In fact, just as God blesses His faithful followers with wealth, He brings ruin on those who fail to uphold the demands of justice.

To contemporary Christians, this all sounds crude. We’ve come to believe that the true blessings are spiritual, internal and, above all, non-material. Many Christians are simply uncomfortable with saying that God has blessed them materially.

Our reluctance to see wealth as a blessing can have an unfortunate result. However unintentionally, it walls off from God the material aspects of human life. Whether we think of material goods as a necessary evil or only as morally neutral, not seeing them as a blessing from God “frees” us from having to do the hard work of thinking about the morality right use of wealth.

And yet in Genesis, there is an intimate connection between our relationship with God and how we value–or not–the material world. Abel offers God “the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions.” He offers to God the best of what he has.

Cain, however, evidently just offers whatever he has at hand. He doesn’t take any care in choosing his offering. He is seemingly indifferent to the quality of the fruit he grows.

When we denigrate material wealth, we very quickly fall into the habit of offering to God not what is best in our life but whatever is convenient. If I scorn the material blessings that God gives me, I say in effect that I have nothing of value to offer. And how could it be otherwise since I don’t see any value in the things I have?

Over time this deadens my sense of gratitude to God. What might starts as sincere attempt to avoid being overly attached to material goods can quickly become lack of thankfulness to God. When this happens I become, in Solomon’s words, a scorner, a fool who will only “get disgrace.”

The material world is a blessing. Wealth is a blessing. Wisdom requires that I understand this. It also requires that I understand that material goods are not greatest of God’s blessing.

To prize wisdom above all else, I need to understand the value of things. If I don’t see the value of the harvest, how can I thank God for the fruit? If one lamb is as good as another, there are no choice lambs to sacrifice.

Wealth is good, wisdom is better. But both come to us from the hand of God.

I need to understand the value of passing things to understand the value of lasting wisdom.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory