Be Mary, or at Least be Martha

Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”   (Luke 10:38-42; the Gospel lesson for the Nativity of the Theotokos)

St Theophylact of Ochrid comments:

Understand that Martha represents active virtue, while Mary represents divine vision. Action entails distractions and disturbances, but divine vision, having become the ruler of the passions (for Maria means mistress, she who rules), devotes itself entirely to the contemplation of the divine words and judgements…therefore, whoever sits at the feet of Jesus, that is, whoever steadfastly follows and imitates Jesus, is established in all active virtue. Then such a man will also come to the listening of the divine words, that is, he will attain to divine vision. Mary first sat, and by doing this she was then able to listen to Jesus’ words.

Therefore you also, O reader, if you have the strength, ascend to the rank of Mary: become the mistress of your passions, and attain to divine vision.  But if you do not have the strength, be Martha, and devote yourself to active virtue, and by this means welcome Christ.

(Hillarion Alfeyev’s Jesus Christ: His Life and Teaching, p. 453)  

Prayer Before Reading Scripture

Great Lent is a time for us to do spiritual reading, including the reading of the Holy Scriptures.  Scripture reading is begun with prayer and often in Orthodox tradition causes us to move from meditation on the Word of God to prayer to Christ the Word of God.

St. Theophylact (d. 1108AD) credits St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD) for authoring the following “Prayer Before Reading or Listening to the Word of God”:

O Lord Jesus Christ, open You to the eyes of my heart, that I may hear Your word and understand and do Your will, for I am a sojourner upon the earth. Hide not Your commandments from me, but open my eyes that I may perceive the wonders of Your law. Speak unto me the hidden and secret things of Your wisdom. On You do I set my hope, O my God, the You shall enlighten my mind and understanding with the light of Your knowledge, not only to cherish those things which are written, but to do them; that in reading the lives and sayings of the saints I may not sin, but that such may serve for my restoration, enlightenment and sanctification, for the salvation of my soul, and the inheritance of life everlasting. For You are the enlightenment of those who lie in darkness, and from You comes every good deed and every gift. Amen.”

(The Explanation of The Epistle of Saint Paul to the Galatians by Blessed Theophylact, pg. XXV)