Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bishop Benjamin on Thomas Sunday

Here is my translation of a word by Bishop Benjamin of Saratov and Balashov (+1955) for Thomas Sunday entitled "The Power of Christ":
Beloved brethren, today we heard how doubt arose in one of the Apostles about whether Christ was indeed risen. The Apostle Thomas did not believe, he wavered, and the Lord assured him. He appeared when Thomas was together with the Apostles and said to him, taking Him by the hand: Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side: and be not faithless, but believing (Jn 20:27).

The doubt involuntarily arises in many of us of whether Christ can reveal Himself now in order to comfort us. For no matter how much we weep, no matter how great our sadness, Christ does not reveal Himself to our bodily eyes, and the worm of doubt gnaws at us.

One ought to respond to two questions: is there a power that the Lord God the Comforter can give us; and, if so, how can our hearts receive it? Christ gives us to understand that there is in fact such a power when he says: I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves (Mt 10:16) – and promises that the wolves will not kill His sheep. It is clear that the Lord sends them some sort of particular saving power that protects and comforts them.

To obtain this Divine power we must be sheep of the flock of which Christ is the Shepherd. As rational sheep of His flock, we must be meek and patient, we must have quietness of manner, mildness, and purity of heart, which express repentance and peace with God.

St John Chrysostom says the following about the presence of the power of God among the quiet and meek: “If a person is meek, like a sheep, and wolves fall upon him, they cannot kill him, for he has a particular Shepherd.”

If a person in our times has quietness of manner, meekness, patience, and purity of heart for the sake of Christ, then the Lord will send down upon him this Divine power, and this weak person will overcome great obstacles and pass through great barriers.

John the Theologian speaks in his Book of Revelation about a vision he had. He saw a large book sealed with seven seals, and many wept about who would open it and show them what was written therein. Someone’s voice told him: Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof (Rev 5:5). When John saw three enormous lions, to his question of who would overcome them, he heard an answer: the Lamb, Who had received the power of a lion to overcome (Rev 17:14).

Facts from throughout all of history bear true witness to the existence of the power of God in the meek. For instance, in ancient times Isaac the Patriarch (that is what righteous people were called then) was always meek and patient. As a nomad, he moved from place to place. The pagans hated him and frequently drove him away from wells and pastures. But he remained silent and obediently went to another place with his household and flocks. This occurred many times, and here is how the Lord rewarded Isaac.

Once he planted seeds of wheat on a small piece of land and had such a crop, one hundred times over, that the pagans, as the Holy Scripture says, gnashed their teeth out of envy. Thus the Lord rewarded and blessed Isaac for his meekness.

In the earlier days of Christianity, Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem relates the following instance. A certain pious rich man had a son. Before his death he called him to himself and said: “My son, chose which you desire: either take the riches, or I will leave you with only God’s blessing.” The quiet, meek youth did not want the riches, and decided it was better to be left with God’s blessing. The father left his entire estate to the poor and died, leaving his son without any means whatsoever. And the Lord rewarded this meek youth. A certain grandee lived in that city that had a daughter for whom he wished to find a husband. He was tormented by the question of to whom to give her, given that among the rich there are evil and dishonest people. He decided to pray, and said to his wife: “In the morning go to the Church of the All-Merciful Savior, and the first person who enters therein will be the husband of our daughter.” When the wife entered the church in the morning, she saw there a poor youth who was in the habit of praying there. She spoke with him, and he related everything to her. Then she went to her house and gave thanks to God. The grandee arranged the marriage of this youth with his daughter, making him once again rich and fortunate. Thus does the Lord comfort and bless those who have meekness and quietness of manner.

The Lord can comfort us in our difficult and sorrowful life if we apply ourselves on our side.

If we are irritable, we should not say that we will not defeat this passion – but instead we should defeat it. The rain that falls on the earth nourishes only those plants that have the power of life in them; the withered, no matter how much rain falls on them, will remain dry. If we upbraid ourselves for our irritability and pride, then the Lord will help us also.

Let us all work on this, so that the Lord will comfort us unto the ages. Amen.

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