Daily Reflection for July 9, 2020

DAILY REFLECTION  •  JULY 9  •  Hieromartyr Pancratius, Bishop of Taormina in Sicily

Many ask themselves, why God takes young men, young girls and children from this life and why does He not permit them to grow old and then take them through death to the other world? That is God’s plan of Dispensation and that is the holy will of His Providence. However, there are some examples in the enormous experience of the Church that sometimes God does so according to the wishes and prayers of his chosen ones in the other world or of relatives. St. Ader (in monasticism Athanasius) appeared to his wife, whom he had suddenly left with three children and entered a monastery where he died. When the wife reached a state of despair first, because of her concern for the helpless children and second, because of her concern for her husband for she did not know where he was, her husband then appeared to her from the other world in a dream with a glowing face and in a radiant white garment and said to her: “Cease to cry and to cry out against me. Behold, I will take two of the children from you to myself and you, if you want, to concern yourself with the salvation of your soul.” At the same time and in the same manner, he also appeared to St. Theodosius the Stylite and said to him: “In three days an old hermitess who lives near the monastery will go to the Lord and in that cell put my wife so that she may live an ascetical life as a nun. Let the youngest child remain with her until he grows up. He will walk in my footsteps and will be the successor to the apostolic throne in Jerusalem.” And in truth, all this occurred as was foretold. On the third day the old hermitess died and so also did Ader’s two older children and his wife assumed the cell of the old hermitess along with the youngest son who, when he grew up, became the patriarch of Jerusalem. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

Awake, awake, O Jerusalem, and put on the strength of your arm. Awake as in the beginning of days, as in the generations of old. Are You not He who dried up the sea, the abundant water of the deep, and made the depths of the sea a road of passage for those who were delivered and redeemed? For with the Lord’s help, they shall return and come to Zion with gladness and everlasting joy; for exceeding joy. Praise and gladness shall come on them, and pain, grief and sighing shall depart from them. “I Am, I am the Lord who comforts you. Know who it is you feared, for you were fearful of mortal man and the son of man, those who wither like grass. You forgot the God who made you, who made heaven and laid the foundations of the earth, but all your days you feared the angry face of him who oppressed you. For he plotted to take you away, but now where is the anger of him who oppressed you? For when you are saved, he will not stand still nor tarry. For I am your God who troubles the sea and causes the waves to roar. The Lord of hosts is My name. I will put My words in your mouth, and protect you under the shadow of My hand, with which I established heaven, and laid the foundations of the earth. I will say to Zion, ‘You are My people.'” (Isaiah 51:9-16)

My daily reading discipline has me deep in the Prophecy of Isaiah. This beautiful, poetic passage from chapter 51 speaks not just to Israel, but to the Church, the New Israel. Not just to a long ago, far away people, but to us. The “strength of your arm” is Christ Himself. The call to awaken is to have remembrance of Paradise. And that remembrance includes the awareness of just Who God really is — the One who led the Israelites across the Red Sea, who made heaven and earth, who causes the waves of the sea to roar. In the midst of the beautiful poetry, God speaks. “I Am the One who comforts you.” But he accuses His people of forgetting Him because they feared the angry face of their oppressors. Israel was in exile and fearful of mortal man instead of the eternal God. But God reminds them that the oppression (and the oppressors) will not stand, because He will save them and protect them “under the shadow of His hand,” the same hand that fashioned creation. The exile, the fear, the doubt, the forgetting of God, all describe Israel. But it also describes us.

We live right now in very turbulent times. Political and social unrest, the looming sword of a pandemic hanging over our very heads, economic upheaval, a polarization in society that can’t even agree on basic moral issues or even on the existence and value of God. We can certainly fear “mortal man and the son of man,” because violence and suffering come at their hands. It is easy to be afraid. If we remember that since Adam and Eve were cast out of paradise everyone born has been born into exile, we can get a much clearer vision about such things. If we begin our day remembering that God has given us life and prepared a Kingdom where all that suffering, anxiety and fear will go away, current hurdles don’t seem so daunting. When we remember that the Creator of heaven and earth will “protect us under the shadow of His hand” (what a wonderful image) and vanquish all enemies, all foes seem feeble and weak. These chapters in Isaiah begin to prophecy about the coming of the Messiah. Israel forgot that He was coming. Remembering that He came we must. And because He came, exile is temporary, defeat is an illusion, and there is nothing to fear except forgetting the One who covers us with the shadow of His hand. What a lovely passage.