Learning Even from Those Who are Least

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)

“But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they became angry and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read,
“Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?” ‘” (Matthew 21:15)

St. John of Kronstadt reminds us that we might hear the truth spoken to us from people we would never even imagine had anything significant to teach us.  Sometimes we resent the person for being so presumptuous as to tell us something we don’t want to hear or acknowledge precisely because it’s true.

“Sometimes  younger people, or those of equal station, or older ones, teach you by means of hints which you cannot endure, and you are vexed with your teachers. We must endure and listen with love to everything useful coming from anyone, whoever he may be. Our self-love conceals our faults from us, but they are more visible to others. This is why they remark them to us. Remember, that “we are members of one another” (Ephesians IV. 25), and are thus even obliged to mutually correct each other.

If you do not bear being instructed by others, and are vexed with those who teach you, it means that you are proud, and this shows that the fault of which others hint that you should correct yourself is really in you.” (My Life in Christ, pp. 303-304).

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Knowledge and Keeping God’s Commandments

In the Gospel lesson of Matthew 19:16-26, a man asks Jesus, Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”  Jesus tells him, “… if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.

Of course there are 613 commandments in the Torah, so the man seeks further clarification, so he asks Jesus:

“Which ones?”

Jesus said, “’You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ’Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’“

Jesus names five of the Ten Commandments and then adds another commandment from the Torah that he must love his neighbor as if the neighbor is his own self (Leviticus 19:18).  Jesus neither limits God’s commandments to the Ten, nor does he treat this other commandment as any different or less than the Ten.

St. John of Kronstadt comments on keeping the Commandments:

“One definite commandment was given to Adam and Eve, in order that by fulfilling this one commandment – which was, moreover, a very easy one – men might acquire the habit of fulfilling the will of God, the fulfillment of which constitutes the whole well-being of creatures, and might be strengthened in the love of God.

If we turn our attention to the contrary – to the non-fulfillment of the will of the Creator and the fulfillment of our own will, in opposition to the Creator’s – we observe that little by little a man changes for the worse and perverts his own right nature, created after the image and likeness of God, and becomes God’s enemy. So important is the fulfillment of God’s commandments, and so destructive is their non-fulfillment! By giving to the first men His definite commandment not to eat the fruits of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the Lord God revealed Himself as the Guide of the newly-created reasonable creatures, of His children by adoption. Whose fault was it that this guidance was rejected, and that man preferred to be governed by his own will? Even until now, notwithstanding all the progress in sciences and arts, notwithstanding all the treasures of human wisdom, neither the man of ancient nor of modern times can educate himself, because he rejected even from the beginning the guidance of God; for, say, who but God should be our guide? And both at present and in the past only those men successfully completed their mental and moral education who trusted in God and lived in accordance with His commandments, or who now live in accordance with the Gospel and the teaching of the Church, submitting themselves to her guidance. This is useful for all modern teachers to remember.

“Science” – Library of Congress

We have many sciences, but the result obtained is small; our youths have much in their heads, whilst in their hearts they have little – very little and often, alas! Even nothing. Life, then does not correspond with education and science. But ‘though I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.‘ (1 Corinthians XII. 2, 3.).”   (My Life in Christ, pp. 150-151)

Christ is With Us Always

The Ascension

“I am you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28.20). So it is, Master: Thou art with us throughout all days; we are not a single day without Thee, and we cannot live without Thy presence near us! Thou art with us especially in the Sacrament of Thy Body and Blood. O, how truly and essentially art Thou present in the Holy Mysteries! Thou our Lord in every liturgy takest upon Thyself a vile body similar to ours in every respect save that of sin, and feedest us with Thy life-giving flesh. Through the Sacrament Thou art wholly with us, and Thy Flesh is united to our flesh, whilst Thy Spirit is united to our soul; and we feel this life-giving, most peaceful, most sweet union, we feel that by joining ourselves to Thee in the Holy Eucharist we become one spirit with Thee as it is said: “He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.” (St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, pp. 23)

Strengthening Hope

“Hope:

The means to confirm and strengthen Christian hope are

prayer, especially frequent and sincere prayer,

confession of our sins,

frequent reading of the Word of God, and above all,

frequent communion of the holy and life giving Sacraments of the Body and Blood of Christ.

If you indeed call God your Father, then trust and hope in Him, as a Father most merciful, all powerful, most wise, ever-loving, ever perfect. Trust in Him in respect of the blessings of this temporal life, but above all in respect of the future blessing which shall be granted you in Christ Jesus.”     (St. John of Kronstadt in Through the Year With the Church Fathers, p 53)

 

Striving to Rejoice in God

“Strive by every means constantly to rejoice the Heavenly Father by your life; that is, by your

meekness, humility,

gentleness, obedience,

abstinence, right judgment,

love of peace, patience, mercy, 

sincere friendship with worthy people,

kindness to everybody,

cordial hospitality,

universal benevolence,

accuracy in business,

simplicity of heart and character,

and by the purity of all your thoughts.

Teach and strengthen us, O God, to live in accordance with Your Will, for You are our Father, and we are Your children in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

(St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, pp 243-244)

Being Disciples of Christ

Women Disciples of the Lord

“The character of our earthly life is constant expectation of God’s call from this life to the other. We are not our own; we are the servants of God, as the Church so rightly calls us; and servants ought to hourly await their Lord’s call. He will knock, and you must go; ‘that they may open unto him immediately’ (St Luke XII 36).

But meanwhile, how do we live? We have entirely forgotten that we are servants of God; we think that we belong to ourselves, and order our lives not in accordance with God’s commandments, but in accordance with our own will; we live as we like. And it is owing to this that our life is full of numberless sins.

Look upon human life, and you will see that it is full of ‘vanity of vanities; all is vanity’ (Ecclesiastes I. 2): fashions, theatres, card-playing, dancing parties, masquerades, luxurious furniture, pictures and so on. Everything for ourselves and nothing for our neighbor; he may go naked, or die from hunger and cold.” (St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, p 277)

Imitating St. Mary of Egypt

One of the hymns regarding St. Mary of Egypt says that she taught us “To despise the flesh, for it passes away, and to care instead for the soul, since it is eternal.”

St. John of Kronstadt writes that we can fulfill this ideal –

“Prove this by your deeds; fast, gladly bestow charity upon the poor, entertain your guests heartily; do not grudge anything to those who belong to your household, zealously read the Word of God, pray, repent, lament your sins, strive with all your might after holiness, meekness, humility, patience, and obedience.” (St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, pp 175-176)

 

 

Lord, Do Not Harden My Heart Against the Poor

St John of Kronstadt (d. 1908) prayed:

“Lord! Teach me to bestow charity willingly, kindly, joyfully, and to believe that by bestowing it I do not lose, but gain, infinitely more than that which I give. Turn my eyes away from hard-hearted people who do not sympathize with the poor, who meet poverty with indifference, who judge, reproach, brand it with shameful names, and weaken my heart, so that I may not do good, so that I, too, may harden my heart against poverty. O my Lord, how many such people we meet with!

Lord, amend works of charity! Lord, grant that every charity I bestow may be profitable, and may not do harm! Lord, accept Thyself charity in the person of Thy poor. Lord, deign to help me to build a house for the poor in this town, concerning which I have already many times prayed to Thee, the all-merciful, almighty, most wise, wonderful!” (A Treasure of Russian Spirituality, pp 404-405)

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.  If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.  Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,”* says the Lord.  Therefore
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

(Romans 12:17-21)

Loving Sinners

“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”       (Romans 3:23)

When we get passionate about the evils of sin, we often feel the sins of others are worse than our own.   An old joke has it that a fiery brimstone preacher came to a small country church.  As he was preaching, a woman close to the front shouted out: “Amen! Preach the word!” to many things the preacher said.  The preacher denounced the demon of drinking alcohol.  She shouted: “Amen! Preach the word!”   He denounced the evil of playing cards and she shouted: “Amen! Preach the word!”  He railed against dancing and she hollered: “Amen! Preach the word!”  He then inveighed against stealing chickens from a neighbor.  The woman stayed silent.  After church the preacher asked the woman why she so enthusiastically supported him when he mentioned drinking, dancing and playing cards but was silent when he mentioned stealing chickens.  The woman replied, “Because I don’t drink, dance or play cards.”

We readily justify our own sins as mistakes, petty, weaknesses, addictions, personality traits and not as bad as others.  We are much like the Pharisee in the parable with the Publican, pointing the accusing finger while thanking God for not being like them.

St. John of Kronstadt (d. 1908) who was a pretty strict moralist himself, also offers for us some advice about why we should not imagine the sins of others are worse than our own sins.  He points out that we all are sinners, and all share the same human nature, formed by the power of sin.

“We must not look with wonderment and malice upon the various sins, weaknesses and passions of humanity, because they form the old enticement, the infirmity of all mankind, and men themselves by their own strength, cannot anyhow free themselves from them, and therefore a Savior of men was necessary, not an intercessor, not an angel, but the Lord Himself incarnate. May He save me wholly! This is why we should despise human passions, even when directed against us; for instance: envy, malice, pride, avarice, extortion – and must not be exasperated with those who are subjected to them, but must behave gently to them, and act upon them by words, persuasion, and secret prayer, as did the Lord and His Saints in relation to their enemies. This is what the worldly wisdom of a Christian consists in.” (My Life in Christ, p 243)

St. John advocates that we have some sense of compassion for those we see locked in sin because they like us share in “the infirmity of all mankind.”  All of us are sinners, and in Orthodoxy we each proclaim before going to Holy Communion to be the foremost of sinners.  Perhaps we don’t think enough about that statement.  Maybe when we say it, we keep our fingers crossed knowing like the Pharisee that there are Publicans all around us who are far worse sinners than we are.  They should be barred from Communion.

Or, we come to realize the significance of claiming that I am the foremost of sinners.  It really means something.  I should be humbled before Christ, not pointing that Pharisaic accusing finger at anyone else.  Seeing my own sins and not judging my brother or sister.  Each of us has to answer before Christ for our sins.   Rather than judging the other, I can pray for them, realizing their struggles with sin happen because they live in the same world that I live in.  They face temptation and they fall for the same reasons that I do.  We are no different.   Each of us faces temptations and sometimes we fail.  Sometimes we don’t even try to resist sin.  We need God’s mercies, and can find them in seeking mercy for our neighbor, brother, sister or even our enemies.  As our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?”  (Matthew 7:1-4)

In the Love of God

“The love of our Divine Savior, Jesus Christ, of God the Father, and of the Holy Ghost to us is so great, so immeasurable, that, in comparison to it all human dislike, enmity, and hatred against us become insignificant, and seem to vanish entirely. It is because of this boundlessness of God’s love towards us and the insignificance of human enmity that the Savior commanded us to love our enemies, bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us, and to pray for them which despitefully use and persecute us (St. Matthew V. 44). We are in the love of God; does it greatly matter to us if men are not well disposed towards us? What can they do against us when God has so loved us?”   (St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, p 229)