Daily Reflection for July 24, 2020

DAILY REFLECTION  •  JULY 24  •  Holy Martyr Christina of Tyre


The Faith of Christ mostly sanctifies and illumines the souls of men when the preachers of the Faith shine in their own lives. Blessed Polycarp, the abbot of the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev, was so completely illumined with the Faith of Christ, both in words and in deeds and in his entire being. Because of this, he had an unusual influence not only on ordinary people but also on princes and noblemen. Listening and seeing this godly man the Prince of Kiev, Rostislav Mstislavitch, became so illumined with the Faith of Christ and thus became so subdued and gentle, that he became a model of life in his immediate surroundings and to his entire people. During the Great Lenten Fast Season, Prince Rostislav received Holy Communion every Sunday and, in all places, sought out those who were in need and those less fortunate and helped them. In the end, he resolved to embrace the monastic order and spoke to Saint Polycarp about this: “Holy father, princely rule in this world cannot be without sin and it has already embittered me and has rendered me incapable.” Polycarp answered him: “If you desire this monastic state from your heart, then let it be God’s will.” Once while in Smolensk, the prince became ill and close to death and ordered that he be quickly taken to Kiev, so that before his death he may receive the monastic tonsure. However, he died before his wish was fulfilled. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.
           See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.
(James 3:2-12)

At first glance, it might not seem obvious, but St. James in his third chapter continues the teaching about faith and works. The passage above is, like most of his lessons, very graphic and easy to grasp. The tongue is the source of many evils. But it really is a continuation of faith and works. He begins by stating that anyone who does not stumble in word (in other words, watches his tongue completely) is perfect, and the control of the tongue also means control of the whole “body” (person). This is works, plain and simple, and the faith that goes into the effort to control the tongue is demonstrated by the control (or lack thereof) of that little monster. It is very easy to understand the examples given of a bit in the mouth of a horse or the rudder on a large ship. Controlling both gives complete control over the horse or ship. So it is with the tongue.

It is actually frightening to think that before all the others ways we sin, before all the other ways we use other “members” of our bodies, before anything else, the tongue may send us to hell. The hypocrisy of blessing and cursing coming out of the same mouth should cause pause among each of us. I had a friend back in my youth who would always say, “You kiss your mother with that mouth?” We might also say, “You kiss icons with that mouth?” or “You kiss your spouse with that mouth?” or “You pray with that mouth?” or (shudder) “You receive the Body and Blood in that mouth?” Language has become so very, very coarse over my lifetime. I hear words from young teenagers and complete strangers in public that I never heard before in front of others. It sometimes seems like “f” is the only letter that begins any type of exclamation — good or bad! And just like the continually more graphic exposure of flesh has desensitized us to those images, so the continual exposure to certain words has devalued the power of those words, which is to the delight of the demons. But all of this gets back to faith. Silence is the language of God — our silence, not His. Only when we shut our mouths, measure our words, remember the power of words to hurt, heal or condemn, can God’s words come through. Using awful and evil language is not the only sin committed with our tongues. Sometimes it’s just the cacophony of noise issuing from our minds and mouths that is the sin. The “works” that need to shine forth from our faith here is to simply be quiet and when opening our mouths, to use them in a holy manner. St. James reminds us of how difficult that really is.

It is no wonder that St. John was called “Chrysostom.” It means “golden-tongued.” When he opened his mouth and loosed his tongue, God came out. When I open my mouth and loose my tongue, who comes out?