Daily Reflection for July 18, 2020

DAILY REFLECTION  •  JULY 18  •  Martyr Emilian of Silistria in Bulgaria


Which is more pleasing to God: a life of asceticism in the wilderness, or works of mercy? Men of prayer in the wilderness think that man, living among men, will find it difficult to safeguard the purity of the heart and to direct the mind toward God–no matter how many good works he performs.  Yet those who do good works among men say that the man in the wilderness is totally occupied with his own salvation, and does not help in the salvation of others. Two Egyptian brothers, Paisius and Isaiah, inherited a great estate from their parents. They sold the estate, and each took his share of the money. One of them immediately distributed his money to the poor, became a monk, and withdrew into the desert to lead a life of strict asceticism–that through patience, fasting, prayer and purifying the mind from all evil thoughts, he might save his soul. The other brother also became a monk, but did go to the desert. Instead, he built a small monastery near the town, with a hospital for the sick, a public refectory [dining room] for the needy and a resting place for the sorrowful. He dedicated himself entirely to the service of his fellow men. When both brothers died, a dispute ensued among the monks of Egypt: which of the two fulfilled the law of Christ? Unable to agree among themselves, they came to St. Pambo and questioned him about this. St. Pambo replied: “Both are perfect before God; the hospitable one is like the hospitable Abraham, and the ascetic is like Elijah the Prophet–both of whom were equally pleasing to God.” Yet not all the monks were satisfied with this response. Then St. Pambo prayed to God to reveal the truth to him. After praying for several days, St. Pambo said to the monks: “Before God I tell you that I saw both brothers, Paisius and Isaiah, together in Paradise.” With this, the dispute was settled and all were satisfied. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed. Save me, and I shall be saved, for You are my boast. Behold, they say to me, “Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come.” But I have not become weary in following after You, nor have I desired the day of man. You know the words that proceed from my lips are before Your face. Do not be as a stranger to me, and spare me in the evil day. Let those who persecute me be put to shame, but may I not be ashamed. May they, but not I, be terrified. Bring upon them an evil day and crush them with a double destruction.
(Jeremiah 17:10-14)

Jeremiah was a bold and clear prophet. He was also under plots and active persecution much of his adult life. The words he spoke to the Lord above are a prayer for protection against his enemies. They begin with a proclamation of faith and trust: He will heal me, He will save me. Then a lamentation that the people always ask him for the “word of the Lord” but fail to recognize it, or fail to follow it. But Jeremiah does not weary of following Him, nor does he desire the “day of man” (i.e., praise, glory, etc.). Finally, the prayer for protection: put to shame the persecutors, let them be terrified, crush them with “double destruction (!).” If a prophet is someone who discerns the word of God and the will of God, then Jeremiah’s journey was indeed prophetic, because he did just that. But a prophetic calling also brings suffering, because the fallen, corrupt world often does not want to hear the word of the Lord and often does not want to keep the will of God. The response often is persecution, slander, violence, even death!

This prayer of Jeremiah is an outline for every person of faith. Every one of us has a prophetic calling, not only to discern the word and will of God, but to trust that what comes with that calling will be given to us as needed and able to receive. Each one of us has to pray like Jeremiah — He will heal me, He will save me. We must mourn that many (most?) people around us do not want to hear the actual word of the Lord. Most want “their” version of that word (we are subject to the same temptation). Then if the word truly comes, few follow it. Finally, there is persecution of various levels and types. At first, mild attacks against faith and minor temptations to apostasy. This is not necessarily from others, but demons. We must beg the Lord for protection against such persecution and the strength to not waver. You see, the struggle of Jeremiah against his persecutors and his trust in God is played out not between me and others, at least not at first. The struggle is first played out against me and myself. My stubbornness and willfulness that stops up my ears and keeps me from hearing the word of God must be tamed. The Word must be heard and become alive in me before I can even dream of asking God for protection from others. The first enemy that persecutes me is me. The saints figure that out quickly and move on. For many (again, most?) of us, we spend a lifetime never winning the war because we don’t recognize the first line of attack. May the Lord open our eyes.