Daily Reflection for October 21, 2020

DAILY REFLECTION  •  OCTOBER 21  •  Venerable Hilarion the Great


The All-seeing eye of God watches over all men and, in a wondrous manner, guides the faithful to salvation. That which seems to the faithful a great loss can show itself over time to be a great gain. The case of St. Philotheus and his brother, who were lost to their mother, is similar to the case of St. Xenophont (January 26), and the case of St. Eustathius and his wife and sons (September 20). When St. Philotheus and his brother were sitting in a Turkish prison in Macedonia, the Most-holy Theotokos appeared to them in the form of their mother and said, “Arise, my dear children, and follow me!” and suddenly the young men found themselves in a monastery in the town of Neapolis in Asia Minor. When the young men related to the abbot what had happened to them, he understood that this was from God, and he received the young men and tonsured them. A long time passed after this. Their mother grieved for them but overcame her loss. Finally, she decided to enter a convent and dedicate herself to God. God’s providence brought her near the monastery where her sons were. Once, during the patronal celebration of this monastery she came with the other nuns for the celebration. She saw her sons in church but did not recognize them. Just then, one of the brothers called the other by his secular name. The mother’s heart was touched by that name, which was dear to her, and she looked carefully into their faces. Then she recognized them and they recognized her. Their joy was exceedingly great, and they gave heartfelt thanks to God. Believing Christians should not despair over even the greatest loss. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
           But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?”
            And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28)

The line and tension between “law” and “freedom” in the Christian life is a sometimes blurry line. Today’s selection from the Gospel of St. Mark is a graphic illustration of each side of that line. The battles between the Pharisees and the Lord are frequent in the gospels and essentially iconic of the struggle between “letter” and “spirit.” This particular battle was over the disciples plucking grain and eating it on the Sabbath. The letter of the Law was clear — plucking that grain was a violation. But the Lord then throws the absurdity of their charge back at them by reminding them (who were learned in the scriptures) of the story of David and the showbread. The spirit of the Law was not violated by His disciples. The strict judgmentalism of the Pharisees was the true violation. Then He reminds them that the Sabbath (i.e., the whole Law) was made for man, not vice versa, so the “Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

This episode should speak to each of us, because the daily practice of our faith can fall into legalism. We know there are days of fasting, foods we can and cannot eat at certain times, rules of prayer, feast days and liturgical services offered. We can follow every one of the rules to the letter and feel really, really good about ourselves. But legalism does not give life; the Spirit does. And we know that the Lord did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it and liberate us from it. So, what then? Are we to not follow the teachings of the Church in the name of “freedom?” On the contrary, the teachings of the Church in and of themselves do not give life, but lead us to life. Fasting does not save us; but self-denial can. Words of prayer mumbled in fulfillment of an artificial rule do not save us; but the Word springing from our hearts can. A Sunday morning “obligation” of church does not save us; but communion with the living God at His banquet table can. Finally, we can use the “spirit” argument to never follow any rule. “I’m liberated from all that legalistic stuff.” All that does in engrave laziness and excuse on our hearts, souls, and even bodies. The “Sabbath was not made for man” indeed. But it was made, so “rule” has a place, a very important place, in the spiritual life. We must always make sure it is wed with “spirit.”


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