Daily Reflection for August 3, 2020

Venerable Isaac, Dalmatios, and Faustus, Ascetics of the Dalmatian Monastery


Holy souls read Holy Scripture with great diligence concentrating on every word and placing themselves before the mirror of the Word of God as before the Dread Judgment. Their diligence was so great in this that some of the ascetics undertook distant journeys in order to come to a spiritual sage who would interpret for them a word or a saying from Holy Scripture. Whenever it was possible, this was accomplished through correspondence. It is from this that a complete collection of the letters of the saints remained [survived] such as those of Saints Basil, Gregory, Chrysostom, Isidore of Pelusium, Nilus of Sinai and many others. One day St. Cosmas pondered on the words of the Lord Christ when He, in the Garden of Gethsemane, asked His disciples whether they had a sword. When His disciples said to Him: “Lord, behold, here are two swords. And He said to them, it is enough” (St. Luke 22:38). Being unable to explain these words himself, St. Cosmas decided to cross over the wilderness to the distant Lavra called Pirga to the illustrious Abba Theophilus to inquire of him. With great difficulty did St. Cosmas succeed to reach his goal. Theophilus explained to him: “The two swords signify the two-fold order of a god-pleasing life: deeds and visions, i.e., labor and awakening of the mind to godly thoughts and prayer. Whoever has both of these, he is perfect.” (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

Hear, O Israel, the commandments of life; give ear to know wisdom. Why is it, O Israel, that you are in the land of your enemies, that you have grown old in a foreign land, that you are defiled with the dead and counted among those in Hades? You have forsaken the fountain of wisdom. If you had walked in the way of God, you would have dwelt in peace forever. Learn where wisdom is, where strength is, where understanding is, so at the same time you may know where length of days and life, are, where peace is and the light of the eyes. Who has found her place? Who has entered into her treasuries?
            Where are the rulers of the nations and those who ruled over the wild animals of the earth; those who sport with the birds of the air and those hoarding silver and gold, in which men trust (and there is no end to the acquisition of these), those who scheme to obtain silver and are anxious, whose works are unsearchable? They vanish and descend into Hades, and others have risen up to take their place.
            Young men have seen the light and dwelt in the land, but they have not known the way of knowledge, nor practiced it, nor understood her paths; their sons are far from her path.
(Baruch 3:9-21)

Baruch was the secretary to the prophet Jeremiah. His work was written around 580 B.C. and was given to Israel in exile. The powerful words (please read them carefully) above was his attempt to get those in exile to understand why they were in exile. Why, he asks, are you in the land of enemies, growing old in a foreign land? The only reason is they had forsaken the “fountain of wisdom.” That fountain is God. They forsook peace when they forsook Him. He tells them to learn that when they found true wisdom, true strength, true understanding, they would know length of days and life, and peace and the “light of the eyes.” Only in the Lord would they find such things. But then he also illustrates the futility of the lives they were leading — rulers, hunters and “hoarders of silver and gold,” even noting that there is no end to the acquisition of those riches and men put their complete trust in such things. What happens to them? They die, and others rise up to take their place. Complete and utter futility.

Of course, the words written almost twenty-seven centuries ago are completely applicable today, spoken resoundingly to each of us. We are still in exile, living in a world apart from the Lord, outside the gates of the Church, His Kingdom. We are growing old in a land of enemies, a foreign land not intended by God for us. Just like those in exile then, we desire power, grow fat “hunting” in our grocery stores, and there is still no end to the acquisition of silver and gold (and we still trust in them). Indeed, there is never enough. We are called to the same path Baruch lays out for Israel. We must find “true wisdom, true strength, true understanding,” and that is only found in the Church. I must encounter the living God and be transformed into His image. Israel tried to have it both ways — be considered “the Lord’s chosen people,” while living lives that ignored Him. They were sent into exile to lead them to repentance and return. I must acquire the “light of my eyes” and see the things of this world for what they are — a foreign land. I am in exile. But I am called to be among the “chosen of God,” the New Israel, the Church. Only by repentance and return, running away from everything that has seduced me into actually loving and preferring exile, can I be once again considered at home in the loving embrace of my Father. If not, I will die and others will rise to take my place.