My dear friends in our Lord: glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever.
We have in this week’s scripture lessons a message of instruction and of encouragement. Instruction and encouragement. These will serve us well now that we find ourselves in the midst of our preparation for the feast of the Nativity of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
We find ourselves in the middle of the Nativity Fast, this time in which we are preparing ourselves, and all too often when we get to the middle of one of the seasons of fast, the novelty – the newness of the fast, as it were – wears off.
When we first start into a fast, our mind is going to be on what we are doing, and what we have given up… Becoming accustomed to the restrictions of the fast, the changes in our diet, and in our routine… the changes in the liturgy, especially among those who pray the daily hours. There’s that process of getting accustomed to it each time a season of fast comes around during the year. And initially, that process occupies our mind, occupies our thoughts of what we’re doing.
But the novelty wears off so it’s important to be reminded of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
But after we have become accustomed, then it is all the more important that we are reminded of why we are doing what we are doing. Because as soon as we have begun to hit our stride in the fast, it’s then that we really need to get down to business… and that’s exactly what Saint Paul tells us today in his epistle to the Colossians.
When he says, “When Christ shall appear, Who is your Life, then you also shall appear with Him in glory.” Saint Paul is reminding us that this is the end game, this is the goal… Both throughout the entirety of our earthly life, as well as during our preparation within the season of the Nativity Fast, Christ must be our life. “And when Christ shall appear,” that is, if we are to find any true glory in life, if we are to find any true glory in the celebration of the most august feast of the Nativity, then Christ must be our life, He must be our life within us. And He can be exactly that, He can be our life, through that grace infused within us by the Sacred Mysteries of the Church. The very life and light of Christ is communicated to us in the Mysteries of the Church.
And Saint Paul reminds us: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth.” “Mortify THEREFORE your members which are upon the earth.”
If Christ is to be our Life, then we are to mortify our bodies, our own bodily desires, our bodily tastes and inclinations. Note that we are not to destroy them, but we are to mortify them, that is to make them as if they were dead, that is, to take away their earthly life. This is not to “kill,” and it is certainly not to bring harm, but it is to empty ourselves of that life which is self-serving, which is pride-filled, which is directed solely towards the material things of this earth – to empty ourselves of such life – to mortify – so that we might be re-vived, given NEW life, and that more abundantly, in and with Christ Who is Himself our life, as Saint Paul assures us. In this we see the solid reminder of just why it is that we undertake the mortifications of the fast: Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Life.
Saint Paul then continues, reminding us: “…fornication, uncleanness, lust, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is the service of idols.” Here we find an enumeration of those things which are incompatible with life in Christ. Now, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is an instructive list, most especially in that solid truth that Saint Paul brings forth, that covetousness is the service of idols.
Indeed, all the sins here mentioned can rightly be thought of as a type of idolatry, for each – in their own twisted way – elevates something earthly into a false divinity. And this is typical of the human heart, that for good or for ill, that it is made to worship. If it rejects the worship of the true God, it will then seek out some creature for it to worship. Even the staunchest, most avowed atheist nevertheless worships his own insight, his own twisted reason and logic as something divine, though he may deny it with his mouth. His heart says differently.
This worship of reason and logic can also infect the minds and hearts of those seeking to live the Christian life, yes, even churchmen, and it has, in fact, done so throughout the ages. Now is the not the time to dwell on this in specifics, though perhaps soon we can have a lecture or a series of lectures regarding it. For the moment, I think it is enough to let this point serve as cautionary example to us, not to let anything – no matter how seemingly refined, no matter how seemingly worthy – take the place of God Almighty. For to place anyone or anything else in His place is quite simply idolatry, and cuts us off from Christ, Who is Life Himself.
The idols of this world – even the idols of the mind – must be just as surely torn down and smashed as those of old.
Saint Paul continues: “For which things the wrath of God cometh upon the children of unbelief, in which you also walked some time, when you lived in them. But now put you also all away: anger, indignation, malice, blasphemy, filthy speech out of your mouth. Lie not one to another: stripping yourselves of the old man with his deeds, and putting on the new, him who is renewed unto knowledge, according to the image of Him that created him.” Saint Paul reminds us – as we must be often reminded – that we have come out of these things, and indeed each and every one of us has come out, being drawn out, being reborn and renewed by and in the Holy Mystery of Baptism, and so we no longer walk in those way, we no longer walk in the ways of the world, in the ways of the children of unbelief.
At least we should not do so. But how often do we fall into doing so? Let us be honest, as Saint Paul says, “Lie not one to another.” Let us be open. How often are we the victims of our own passions? How often are we the servants of our own pride? How often do we fail in the walk? We do it constantly. Even daily do we fall, and many times daily. But we are reminded now not only of the things of the heart, the former service of idols, but we are to put away anger, indignation, malice… all of these things. And unless we are truthful before God, making sincere confession of our deeds before Him, then we are again making idols out of our sins. If our shame is so much that we can not bring ourselves to confess, then we elevate our shame into an idol, and seek to dethrone God Himself. We ought not even let the inability to find a priest confessor stop us from confessing, though this must be done in the way taught by the ancient fathers, ways which have remained alive in the east, but which are long forgotten and even derided after the so-called “Reformation” in the west. And this is precisely why the wrath of God is come upon us, when we seek to make any excuse for our sins.
But grace transcends east or west. Saint Paul concludes: “Where there is neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free. But Christ is all, and in all.”
There is not a person who canot avail himself of the grace that comes to us through our Lord Jesus Christ. There is not a person on this earth who is not called to be a saint, regardless of where they come from. For as I have said before: It is not by their roots, but by their fruits ye shall know them. Not by their roots: it matters not where you’re coming from, what matters is where you’re going. And if you’re going towards Christ, in His Light, in His Grace, then you are heading in the right direction. You are heading by, through, with, and in Christ. Then all the rest is simply details.
And we see that in today’s Gospel, in our Lord healing the ten lepers. And we see in the Gospel Lesson a great encouragement, lest we be tempted to lose heart in the fight. Our confused minds and our idolatrous hearts tend to make things seem terribly complicated. In the light of Christ, as in today’s Gospel, we can see how simple the life in Christ actually is.
First, the lepers called out to our Lord, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” So also must we call out to our Lord. We do so liturgically each and every day – every hour. How many times a day do we specifically ask the Lord’s mercy on us? Literally thousands of times.
And our Lord in today’s gospel simply says to the lepers: Go show yourselves to the priests. That is all He says. Just gives them one small command. And it is a command which, if we are to attempt to delve into it with human reason, to try to understand it, it doesn’t seem to address their situation at all. While the priests were the ones who were officially to judge whether one was leprous or not, or whether a healing had taken place or not, our Lord’s command doesn’t mention leprosy. Nor does He ask the lepers any questions, as we have seen in other healings. He does not inquire regarding their faith. He doesn’t even ask if they want to be healed.
At their request of mercy, He simply says to go, and they simply went. So must we, as we daily call upon the Lord for mercy, He daily tells us to go forward and do our daily duty. So let us do it. We need not ask questions regarding it, and neither are we asked questions. We simply receive the word of our Lord, and we go forward, so that, “it came to pass, as they went, they were made clean.”
Very often this is the way great things are done in the spiritual life. Our lord tells us to go forward and do our daily duty, and very often it is in doing our daily duty, attending to our state of life, attending to the needs of each and every day – doing it strengthened by the grace of God – and it is thus that the grace of God is working within us – that we are healed of our sins, our passions, our weaknesses, just as we see here… as they were going on their way, they were simply walking along and doing what He said, and they were healed. And that is what we must do too, we must do as He says, And in doing as he says, even if at first look it doesn’t seem to be addressing the situation, if we simply do as He says, then we will see the working of Christ.
“And one of them, when he saw that he was made clean, went back, with a loud voice glorifying God. And he fell on his face before His feet, giving thanks: and this was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering, said, Were not ten made clean? And where are the nine? There is no one found to return and give glory to God, but this stranger. And He said to him: Arise, go thy way; for thy faith hath made thee whole.”
Remember, dear friends, that duty – even to the commands of God – is no excuse for ingratitude. Following the command of God is not an excuse not to give thanks to God. Our Lord had told the lepers to go show themselves to the Priests, He did not add a subclause saying that they should return to Him to give thanks if, perchance, they were healed along the way. So those nine were actually following the letter of the law, following our Lord’s command. And in so doing, they killed the very spirit of thanksgiving within them. There are those who would make it so, even today, and that, too, is for another lecture. Today let us simply take the lesson that though we have our work, though we have our duties that we must attend to, and they are very important, they are not to be made into an excuse not to return and give glory to God.
And this, my friends, is the lesson that is given to us by the Church this week, to instruct us and to sustain us and to encourage us, as we make our walk in this Nativity Fast.