Daily Reflection for July 6, 2020

DAILY REFLECTION  •  JULY 6  •  Venerable Sisoes the Great

From where do we know that there is life after death? We know from Christ the Lord: on the basis of His words, His resurrection and by His many appearances after death. Philosophers, who recognize life after death, recognize it on the basis of their thinking but we recognize it on the basis of experience, especially the experience of holy men who were not capable of falsehoods nor could they proclaim falsehoods. When Sisoes lay on his deathbed, his face was very radiant. The monks, his disciples, stood around him. Then St. Sisoes gazed around and said: “Behold, here came Abba Anthony!” he remained silent for a while and then, again said: “Behold, here came the prophets!” In that moment, his face glowed even more and he said: “Behold, here came the apostles!” Following that he said: “Behold, here came the angels to take away my soul!” Finally, his face shown as the sun and all were overcome by great fear and the elder said: “Behold, here comes the Lord, look at Him all of you.” Behold, He speaks: “Bring to me the chosen vessel from the wilderness.” After that, the saint gave up his soul. How many more similar visions were there and that from the most reliable witnesses!  (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.
           Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.
           Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
(Romans 12:4-5, 15-21)

This is such a wonderful selection of various advices from St. Paul to the Romans: we all are individual members of the Body of Christ (contrary to some theologies, he does not refer to various denominations as the “members!”); in that Body, we all have talents and gifts to bring; we are to be of one mind with each other; do not repay evil for evil, do good in the sight of everyone; try to live peaceably with everyone; finally, do not seek vengeance against anyone. The Lord will take care of that — when we repay evil with good, it is more injurious than any vengeance we might extract, and we then live well ourselves.

But two sentences in this passage really stand out. The first is, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” We might be tempted to say that is simply empathy. And we would be correct. But it is deeper than that. It is one thing to say to someone, “I know how you feel. That happened to me one time.” It is a completely different thing to enter into the joy or the sorrow of a person. It is not just knowing how someone feels (good or bad) in a certain situation. It is completely identifying with a person, becoming one. It is communion at the deepest level. That nice little list above is kind of a set of preconditions for that communion. When we are humble enough to do the things Paul asks, we are then open to the person in front of us. Then we are not just “happy” when someone is joyful. We are filled with the joy of that person. Their joy becomes my joy. We do not just “cry” when someone is sorrowful because we share their sadness. Their sadness becomes my sadness. The weight of the sorrow weighs us down also. Communion.

The second sentence is the last one. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Wow! We often reduce our efforts to live Christian lives and to do virtuous things to deeds that somehow compile until we have enough to get into heaven. Paul’s sentence reminds us that when we do good, we aren’t just doing good things — we are battling evil and trying to overcome it with our good. In the Liturgy of St. Basil, we pray in the great intercession after the consecration of the Holy Gifts, “Make the evil be good by Thy goodness.” When we do good things, we confront evil with the Lord Himself. Every good thing that we do, every good and prayerful thought, every good kindness toward others, is actually presenting face-to-face the Lord Jesus Christ to the demons. We are not piling up good “stats,” we are manifesting the presence of Christ Himself. And evil cannot stand up to Him. Or to anyone truly good. Goodness brings us into communion with each other, and into communion with Him.