Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Meditation for Sunday, July 15:
Commemoration of the Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils

We read a number of lessons this morning. We have our typical lessons appointed for this Sunday along with additional lessons for our commemoration of the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils and also for St Vladimir. One of the most vibrant passages comes in the first of this morning’s Gospel readings, where our Lord Jesus Christ gives sight to the blind and speech to the mute. We are reminded that He opens our eyes and loosens our tongues.

In Christ, we come to see and know the Truth.

In Christ, we are able to speak and proclaim His Truth with praise and thanksgiving.

Throughout the history of the Church, there have been many occasions when the eyes of perception have been darkened and when the voice of faithful has become confused. There have been so many heresies throughout the history of the Church – so many damaging false teachings that threaten to lead us astray. That’s why we remember the Holy Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils, those holy bishops and pastors who gathered at various times in the early centuries of the Church to bring clarity and focus to our understanding of Christ Jesus and his Gospel. We thank God for the Holy Fathers who labored and struggled, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to keep the Church’s doctrine pure and to manifest that truth both in their teaching and in the life of the Church. They defined doctrines and formulated canons both to guard the true faith and to guide and discipline our lives truly and faithfully.

That theme of remaining faithful in the Truth of Christ – both in what we teach and in how we live – is the theme of the reading from St Paul’s epistle to the Romans (15:1-7). Throughout his writings, St Paul returns again and again to the vital importance of proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for our salvation. There is no other Gospel than the one disclosed in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the One who “did not seek to please himself,” but rather bore the sins of the whole world. That’s the Gospel, and nothing may be added or subtracted. The whole story must be remembered and shared.

St Paul reminds the Romans that one of the key ways we remember the whole truth is through the Holy Scriptures – the sacred writings which have graciously been handed down to us for our learning, to teach us patience, to give us comfort and strength, and give us hope. Again, notice that the truth we come to know in Holy Scripture is inseparable from the truth we live in the Christian life. We have the Scriptures that we might know Christ, and to know Christ is to grow in love and unity with one another.

St Paul gives very practical advice about this life: the strong are to support and care for the weak. We’re to think more about the needs of others than about our own needs and desires. Why? Because that’s what Christ has done for us! God has been patient and comforting towards us, that our divisions may be healed and that we might be “like-minded” toward one another according to Christ Jesus.

That like-mindedness is a precious gift. That clarity of vision and unity of purpose is what the Holy Fathers worked so hard to preserve for us.

Note that last verse of that first reading, Romans 15:7, how St Paul summarizes our life in Christ, exhorting us to “receive one another, just as Christ received us, to the glory of God.”

Receive one another – some English translations say “accept,” others, “welcome.” Welcome one another, receive one another – graciously, lovingly. Taken by itself, this verse may sound very “politically correct”: accept everyone, don’t judge, “I’m OK, you’re OK.” But St Paul is teaching something much more difficult than pallid “political correctness.” He’s teaching us to receive and accept those who aren’t easy to love, those who burden us, those who annoy us, and even those who seek to do us harm. The truth of the Christian life is that because of the Resurrection, because Christ has conquered hell and death, we are free to be kind, to forgive, to be compassionate towards one another – even towards those who are unkind and unforgiving and mean to us.

St Innocent of Alaska, in his instruction to his native converts, described this as one aspect of taking up our cross and following Jesus. St Innocent wrote:

“… if someone has insulted you or laughed at you or provoked you, bear it all without anger or resentment. Similarly, if you helped someone and he, instead of showing gratitude, made up deceitful tales about you or if you wanted to do something good but were unable to accomplish it, bear it without despondency. Did some misfortune befall you? Did someone in your family become ill, or despite all your efforts and tireless labor did you repeatedly suffer failure? Has some other thing or person oppressed you? Bear all with patience in the name of Jesus Christ. Do not consider yourself punished unjustly, but accept everything as your cross.”

It may sound impossible. And if we were to attempt this on our own, by our own strength, it would be impossible, crushing. Even crazy, insane.

But by God’s grace, with prayer and fasting, we are able: to bear these burdens, to welcome one another, to receive whatever and whomever comes our way, because Christ has received us and is making us his own.

By His mercy, by His grace, He is present in our midst, to strengthen and comfort, to make His burden light and His yoke easy. He is present to heal our blindness, to open our eyes and loosen our tongues, that with one heart, with one mind, we may rejoice.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory to Him Forever! Amen.