Daily Reflection for July 7, 2020

DAILY REFLECTION  •  JULY 7  •  Holy Greatmartyr Domnica

The example of St. Dominica, the beautiful virgin, and the example of St. Astius the rich young man, both of whom submitted themselves to torture and death for Christ the Lord, leads us to contemplate that there is nothing comparable in history to the power of Christ by whose help young men conquer themselves and through that, everything else. To obtain victory over one’s self is the greatest victory. Such victors, the Church numbers by the thousands and many thousands. In writing about virginity, St. Cyprian says: “To conquer pleasure is the greatest pleasure, neither is there a greater victory than the victory over one’s desires. He who conquered one opponent, proved himself stronger than somebody else but he who conquered passion proved himself stronger than himself. Every evil is easier to conquer than a pleasure. For all other evils are repulsive while the pleasure of evil is attractive. He who frees himself from desires, frees himself from fear for, because of desires, fear proceeds.” (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.
            Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.
(Romans 14:13-18)

St. Seraphim of Sarov famously said that “If you acquire the Spirit of peace, a thousand souls around you will be saved.” St. Paul says something similar in today’s passage from Romans when he says “…the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The Apostle uses eating and drinking as icons of possible stumbling blocks to someone coming to know Christ. At the time, food was often offered to idols, and Jews who had yet to be exposed to Christ still at least knew about keeping kosher, so the possibility of scandal was real in food and drink. He exhorts us not to “destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.” But food and drink are just examples of things that can seemingly cause scandal. Paul makes two special points in today’s selection.

The first is a Christian must have an overriding concern not to make a brother or sister fall, especially one who is innocent and ignorant about God, but knows “rules.” The stumbling block or cause to fall that he speaks of can lead someone away from God. I remember when I was young (~12 years old), our church had a “New Year’s” celebration on a Saturday evening after Vespers. It got towards midnight, and someone said “we have to stop eating and drinking in a few minutes.” The party wasn’t to go on much longer than New Year’s greetings at midnight, but our priest gave an object lesson. He took the clock off the wall at midnight and turned it back fifteen minutes. His point was to show the absurdity of legalism (11:59 ok, 12:01, not ok). I’m sure the adults all got it. I was scandalized — “how could a priest…why would a priest…” He later gently explained what he did, but at the moment I was horrified. Not sure he ever did such an object lesson again!

The second point Paul makes is that “nothing is unclean.” We must be very careful about that one. We know that on the surface, the legalistic dietary rules of the Old Testament do not apply to those who are liberated in Christ. But just because I can eat pork and shellfish or do anything else that was prohibited in the OT does not mean that I should do it. If what I do leads someone away from God, better that I never do it again. But the other temptation with his words is to think that “nothing is unclean” means “everything is clean.” Paul primarily is using food as his lesson, but there are many other life choices and day-to-day decisions outside of food we must make which absolutely can be clean or unclean. Do not tell anyone that St. Paul (or Father John) told you all of your choices are good because “nothing is unclean.” Ask me if you can have a pulled pork sandwich, and I will ask if I can join you. Don’t ask if you can have an abortion. Some choices will never be clean.