Daily Reflection April 30th, 2020

Daily Reflection April 30th, 2020

APRIL 30 Holy Apostle James, brother of St. John the Theologian


A devout elder lay on his death bed. His friends gathered around him and mourned him. At this, the elder laughed three times. The monks asked him: “What are you laughing at?” The elder replied: “I laughed the first time because all of you are afraid of death, the second time because none of you are prepared for death, and the third time because I am going from labor to rest.” Behold, how a righteous man dies! He is not afraid of death. He is prepared for death. He sees that through death he passes from difficult life to eternal rest. When the nature of man contemplates its original state in Paradise, then death is unnatural, the same way that sin is unnatural. Death emanated from sin. Having repented and being cleansed from sin, a man does not consider death annihilation, but the gate to life eternal. If, at times, the righteous prayed to God to prolong their earthly life, that was not because of love for this life or because of the fear of death, but solely that they would gain more time for repentance and cleansing from sin, in order that they might present themselves before God more sinless and more pure. Even if they showed fear before death, that was out of fear not of death but of God’s judgment. What fear then must the unrepentant sinner experience before death?
(St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr John’s Reflection

Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

​Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

(James 1:12-17)

These verses from the Epistle of St. James, brother of the Lord, first bishop of Jerusalem (not the James honored today) are assigned to the feast of the “other” James today. What wonderful, instructive words they are, however. He illumines three realities for us in these words. First, everyone must face temptations, no exceptions. Temptations are endured as spiritual exercise, so to speak. It is by facing (and defeating) temptations that our spiritual strength is honed in the crucible of battle. Good and evil, light and darkness, even life and death, are battling within each of us and while we sometimes lose a battle, we repent and return to battle. Temptation must be defeated, not avoided. Such is the daily life of a Christian. Blessed is the one who fights the war until the end, for the crown of life is then rewarded.

But, ironically, the second reality is that one of the greatest temptations we face is to believe the temptations themselves come from God. Why does God allow this or that? Am I being punished for my sins? How can a good God not heal, or raise up, or anything else we want? Why do I keep struggling with this or that? But James states categorically that no temptation comes from God. The only thing that comes from God is that which leads us to salvation, even if it is a cross. Rather, all temptation finds its germination in our own desires. The fathers say exactly what James says: first comes the desire, then we embrace it and wallow in it, then full-blown sin is alive in us. It is malignant and it leads to death. We must guard our thoughts and desires, seeking only the will of God.

Finally, we hear the words which are prayed at the end of every liturgy: “Every good gift, and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights.” The perfect Gift — Christ Himself — is celebrated and given to us in each liturgy and we are reminded at the end of each liturgy of the final reality: we are armed with that Gift to do battle. Temptation cannot be defeated except through Christ, who strengthens me. Holy Apostle James, pray to God for us! Christ is Risen!