Deny and flee
As the Great Fast progressed this year, a couple of things were constants for me. I prayed at the beginning of the Fast that God would give me something, one thing to really focus on. Of course, there was prayer and fasting. But I honestly did not do a great job at fasting this year. Combine my own lack of discipline in that moment with my wife giving birth to our third child and fasting did not go so well for about three weeks. People were bringing us food and I was super tired and…you get the picture. But those are really excuses. I failed at fasting because I lacked the discipline. That lack of discipline came from a cooling of my desire for Christ. That is my fault, no matter my circumstances. But I digress.
Back to the constant thing for the Great Fast.
God brought to a me a text of Holy Scripture for me to dwell on and mediate on for all of the Great Fast. It was 1 John 2:15-17,
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”
I’ve written about this recently but want to talk about it a bit more from the perspective of how we are to do this. I live in America (right now anyway). For anyone who pays attention at all to what is happening here, it is safe to say that we have all noticed a sharp decline in recent years of morality in this country. That’s actually putting it rather lightly. America is headed to Hell at breakneck speed. Our society is disintegrating before our very eyes. Granted, this has been going on for a while but the pace seems to have picked up a great deal over the recent past.
Sadly, this apostacy is not limited to secular society. The label of Christian in this country, frankly, means almost nothing. Most of the “Christians” I know are either just as secular as the world or, at very least, just shrug their shoulders and go along to get along. In America, the Church is largely irrelevant to those who want to truly follow Christ. For those who are to speak out against the godless secular society, they are castigated, attacked and cast out, even being labeled as “old fashioned” or “intolerant” by so-called Christians.
For me, it means I have hard decisions to make. Shall I have my family remain in this godless society or should we flee? Right now, I don’t know the answer to that. But, God brought this text to me and I’ve been meditating on it for awhile now. Some things have come to the forefront:
I have been far too complacent with not just my own sins but in shunning things that can lead to sin. I have been far too complacent in helping lead my family away from those things that inevitably will lead us to sin. I have been far too complacent with the world.
I have work to do. We have work to do, brothers and sisters.
In the words of the Puritan preacher, John Owen, “Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.” And again, he says, “The vigour, and power, and comfort of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh.”
Mortify your flesh; make it your daily work; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.
I recognize the irony of me, as an Orthodox Christian, quoting a Protestant but he merely echoes what Holy Scripture exhorts us to.
St. Paul tells us in Romans 8:5-8,
“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Again, in Romans 8:12-13, St. Paul says,
“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”
I don’t know how much clearer this can be for us as Christians. The world is in the power of our great enemy, Satan. To love the world is to be the enemy of the Father. It is time for Christians to embrace again the call of our Saviour to come apart and be separate. So, how do we do this?
St. Theophan the Recluse is helpful. In his work, “The Path to Salvation” the blessed Saint talks about (among many things) fleeing sin. He says,
“First of all remove the veils from the eyes of your mind that keep your mind in a state of blindness. If a person does not deny sin and run from it, then that is because he does not know himself and the danger he is in for the sake of his sin. If his eyes were opened he would run from sin as he would run from a house engulfed in flames.”
Deny sin and run from it. How?
Again, St. Theophan helps us,
“First of all, go after the body. Refuse it delights and pleasures, restrict indulgences in even the most natural needs; lengthen the hour of vigil, decrease the usual amount of food, add labor to labor. Mainly, in whatever way you want or are able, lighten the flesh, thin its corpulence. Through this the soul will free itself of the bonds of matter, will become more energetic, lighter, and more receptive to good impressions. The material body prevailing over the soul communicates to the soul the body's lethargy and coldness. Physical ascetic labors weaken these bonds and eliminate their effects. True, not every sinner lives unrestrainedly and indulges the body. But it would be hard to find an individual in normal life who does not have something he would do well to refuse the body once the desire for salvation touches his heart. And the goal is very significant — it completely changes one's activity. What you have done previously according to habit, or in support of your usual occupations, you now begin to do with some changes and additional austerity for the sake of salvation — and there will be tangible results.”
Ask God to remove the veil from the eyes of your mind and heart and show you where you are blind. Run from and deny all things to lead to sin. Subject your body (1 Cor. 9:27) to the ascetical practices given to us by the Church. Pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). Give your time and effort and energy to God and let Him have His way with you. Forsake the world and turn to the Saviour. If we do that, we will find rest and comfort for our souls (Matt. 11:28-29).
Our world is consumed with pride.
So are we, if we’re honest. Or maybe it’s just me.
We see this pride in everything. The media proudly struts about, pounding their nonsense into the brains of those foolish enough to listen to them, lecturing us about how we should be living a more woke life. The education system proudly flaunts the fact that they have largely abandoned traditional teaching methods and classic education and, rather than teaching our children how to think and read and interact with their fellow humans, they clamor about how modern their methods are, while teachers unions whine about doing their job because they might get sick. The government so proudly lectures us, in the persons of the radical left, about how we are all racists and sexual bigots because we (Catholics) cling to the Faith. Our own Church hierarchy, in their arrogance, feel that they can adjust the Tradition of the Church to fit into their liberal ideology and expect the faithful to just go along with the nonsense.
It’s everywhere and consumes all in its path.
This was, perhaps, the great sin of Lucifer. In his pride, he wanted to be the star of the show, not some lowly virgin who would give miraculous birth and certainly not to God the Son who would dare to lower Himself to become human. How dare God not recognize the beauty and knowledge and wonder of him, Lucifer thought! He was and is consumed by pride.
But our readings today point us in a very different direction. Our Epistle is St. Paul’s famous text on humility: Philippians 2:5-11. Our gospel reading is St. Matthew’s narrative of the Passion of our Lord Jesus: Matthew 26:36-75, 27:1-60.
Let us consider together the humility of our Lord Jesus. St. Paul reminds us that we are to have the mind of Christ. And, in our text today, what is the mind of Christ?
He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. God the Son, who has existed for all eternity, through Whom the world was made, for Whom the world was made, took upon Himself human flesh. He took on all our weakness and frailty. Imagine, brothers and sisters. God has become human. He emptied Himself of the glory in which He lived and the constant praise of the angelic hosts to hear the hateful words of sinful man who spat on Him and mocked Him. We could spend the rest of our lives meditating on this fact and not exhaust its depths:
He emptied Himself.
He humbled Himself, being obedient to death, even to death on a cross. Fathom, if you can, the humility of the God-man, God the Son, who was and is and is to come. He obeyed the will of the Father, knowing it would cost Him agony that we cannot possibly comprehend and suffering a death that was excruciating beyond what we can imagine. Look at our gospel reading and see His agony. He was beaten, spat upon, stripped naked, nailed to a cross. Behold His suffering and fall on your knees, brothers and sisters.
And we, brothers and sisters, we not only observe but are invited to participate in His very Passion. What grace He has given us, that we should be joined to His suffering and death by faith! We cannot, we must not turn away from our own suffering for, in it, we embrace the suffering of our Messiah.
Embrace the humility of our Lord Jesus in your own life. In the garden, He said, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death: stay you here, and watch with me.”
What an invitation He has given us! We are invited to stay with Him and watch with Him in prayer!
Do our souls sorrow for our sins?
Do we watch with Christ in prayer?
Our Lord said to the Father, “Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
Are we willing to submit to the will of the Father, no matter the cost? Are we willing to submit our own will? Do we submit to His Church, and thus to Him, or do we demand our own way? Let us take to heart the words of our Savior, even in His suffering and Passion,
“Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh weak.”
Let us embrace what our Lord has gone before us to show. Let us take to heart His words and amend our lives, rend our hearts and submit. Let us watch and pray that we may not enter into temptation. Our flesh is indeed weak and selfish and prideful. Pray, brothers and sisters, that your spirit would be made willing. Fast, pray, embrace the life our Lord has called us to, a life of submission to the will of the Father and service to our Lord Jesus.
And what shall come of us after we have submitted, after we have fasted and prayed, after we have submitted to the will of the Father?
Like the veil of the temple, our hearts will be torn in two. Not in pain but in freedom. For the veil of our flesh and sin that has separated us from God our Father will have been torn finally in two. Our hearts of stone will become hearts of true flesh. We shall have then the mind of Christ. And we shall see our Lord face to face, as He is.
Oh, this is the end, dear brothers and sisters, of embracing the Passion of our Lord. We shall be made in His image and we shall see Him face to face! Watch ye, therefore, and pray!