Daily Reflection for August 1, 2020

Holy Seven Maccabean Martyrs with their mother, Solomonia and teacher Eleazar


A weak man usually protects himself by hypocrisy and the strong man protects himself by tyranny. That no man can defend his life before God either by hypocrisy or by tyranny is clearly shown to us by the example of the holy elder Eleazar and King Antiochus. When the tyrannical king brought Eleazar to trial and compelled him to eat pork if he desired to save his life, Eleazar adamantly rejected that. Then some of Eleazar friends handed him a piece of other meat, not swine’s meat, begging him to eat that in the presence of the king and the people in order to safeguard both his life and his conscience. The elder refused this offer saying to his friends: “Hypocrisy is not becoming to me an old man to the scandal of many young people.” The elder Eleazar was slain in the body but he saved his soul. The punishment of God came upon the tyrannical King Antiochus while he was still living. A dreadful disease from within overcame him and his body swarmed with worms and the stench from his body spread afar. In his despair, the king remembered the shedding of the innocent blood of thousands and thousands of human beings who, by his order, were unmercifully murdered and, frightened of God, he began to confess the one God whom, before that, he persecuted by persecuting His faithful ones. However, heavenly mercy did not manifest itself on him. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds) — then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord.  (2 Peter 2:4-11)

The past judgments of God in history are used by St. Peter to give us a hint of what awaits both the righteous and those who would teach falsehood and heresy. God did not spare the angels who sinned — they were cast down and have been in rebellion since. Satan (Lucifer) is the leader of the demons, and he fell the furthest. God did not spare the world that had fallen into complete rebellion in the days of Noah, but sent the rains. Sodom and Gomorrah were turned into ash because they refused to turn from their wicked ways. There are two common traits to the wicked who enter into God’s judgment: immorality and rebellion against authority, especially the authority of the Lord. Both are common to those who invite God’s wrath. There are important lessons here for us, of course. One is that God has wrath. We lose sight of that fact, or, heaven forbid, don’t care. Another is that behavior matters. The immorality that is shown in the Scriptures by Peter is not just thoughts or attitude. It is actual behavior. And we see that type of behavior around us and tempting us all the time. The worst temptation of all is to simply re-define the behavior that God condemns and which seduces us. That leads to immorality and rebellion. We live in a fallen, immoral world in rebellion against its Creator. We do have to choose sides, whether we like it or not. How many of us would like to stand in front of our Savior right now explaining our behavior?

But just as God’s judgment is illustrated against those examples, so is His mercy illustrated. The angels who fell are “reserved for judgment,” but we know that each of us is given a guardian angel, and those like Gabriel, Michael and Raphael (and others), are still sent by God to bring His message to anyone who would listen. The world was flooded because of sin and rebellion, but the righteous Noah and his family were preserved not just by the ark (an icon of the Church), but by the hand of God. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, but the righteous Lot was not only spared, but led by the Angel of the Lord to Zoar and safety. Peter reminds us in all this that “the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations.” When we walk “according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority,” we face punishment in the day of judgment. Finally, Peter reminds us that the ungodly do not even fear speaking evil against “dignitaries.” when even the angels will not bring a reviling accusation against anyone to the Lord. We can become terribly presumptuous in our uncleanness, taking upon ourselves the role of God — meting out punishment and judgment on others when we ourselves are full of darkness. Peter’s words are frightening, and they are meant to be just that. Each of us should have a humble respect, awe and, yes, fear, for the Judgment of the Lord, for each of us will face it.