Thursday, April 30, 2009

Two Teachers and a Consolation

Here follows my translation of a word by Bishop Benjamin of Saratov and Balashov (+1955) entitled "Two Teachers and a Consolation in Our Life." It serves as a good antidote to the sort of jejune and ultimately blasphemous "Prosperity Gospel" nonsense one hears far too often:
All of us, beloved brethren, know that the primary commandment our Lord left us is the commandment of love. We can express this love in an Orthodox church by offering prayer for one another. We need to make the sorrows of others our own; we must lighten the burdens of one another’s lives by a living participation in the woe of our neighbor, for in this lies the fulfillment of the commandment of love. The Lord sends us two teachers in our life: sorrow and offences; and He gives a great comforter: the Orthodox Church.

Many people consider themselves good and beautiful on the outside, but if one glances inside a person one can see so many evils and vices that it seems life is not long enough to mourn for this evil nesting in our soul and corroding it. Therefore the Lord sends us sorrows in order to make us better. David said: It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me, that I might learn Thy statutes (Ps 118:71). One needs to bear sorrows in humility and always to address God with them. The Lord hears every person who appeals for help in woe. Therefore one ought only to call upon the Lord, to weep before Him about one’s sorrows; He already knows everything and sooner or letter will send consolation. If the Lord does not answer our supplications quickly this is not because He is not paying attention to us, but simply because He is testing a person to strengthen him in patience.

Offences are our second teacher. Sending them, the Lord as it were tests us in faith and strengthens us in the warfare with evil. He Himself said: Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh (Mt 18:7). We are now surrounded on all sides by offences and must struggle with them. We hear one thing in church, but outside church hear the opposite: in church we hear the preaching of truth, love, and goodness; but outside church, a mockery of all this, we hear words that try to shake our faith. But we must be confirmed in faith, we must preserve it, hoping in God like children, in the simplicity of our hearts. Now the relations of men to women are looked upon easily, instilling frivolity and all but encouraging debauchery. But one should not take an example from such people; one needs to be chaste and to preserve one’s purity strictly, because such people violate the moral laws of life with their frivolity. The Apostle Paul writes about them: whoremongers and adulterers God will judge (Heb 13:4), for there shall no wise enter any thing that defilith into the Kingdom of Heaven (Rev 21:27).

Many are now hardened in their hearts, not recognizing their own sinfulness; their souls are cold and closed to God. Repentance exists for healing this; it revives such a withered soul, refreshing it like a grace-filled rain falling on soil scorched by hot flames. In all our sorrows and offences we must run to our great comforter, the Orthodox Church, in which Divine grace is present, restoring our virtue-deprived souls. The Lord dwells in the Church and consoles His faithful sons, according to the words of the Prophet Moses: as an eagle bears chicks on its wings, so does the Lord in the Orthodox Church care for every person. One needs only to have patience and to hope on His will; one should remember that we are still very weak, and therefore it is impossible for an unbelieving person to become believing immediately; one cannot immediately take away a person’s illness, one cannot perform miracles on him. Let us all hope in God, for the Lord will be for us the reason in our actions, the comforter in our offences and sorrows, and the guide in our life until that other life comes, in which we will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.
Icon: Detail by Photios Kontoglou (1965), depicting the Lord looking at Peter after his denial (c.f., Lk 22:61).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful and very salient words, Father: thank you for sharing them. Truly if it were not for suffering and offences, how would we ever find God and remain near Him?