Daily Reflection for September 1, 2020



We should use all that is necessary in this world for the cultivation of our souls, for when death separates us from this world we will take nothing to the other world except our souls, in whatever state they have been formed here. When he was eighteen, St. Simeon the Stylite was so concerned about the salvation of his soul that one day he fell face down on the earth and prayed to God that He would show him the path of salvation. And lying thus in prayer for a long time, he had a vision that he was digging a trench for a foundation and, exhausted from digging, stopped to catch his breath. A voice spoke to him, saying: “Dig deeper!” Then he began, with greater labor and effort, to dig yet deeper. Again he stopped to catch his breath. But again he heard the voice: “Dig deeper!” He again began to dig, with even greater labor and effort. At this the voice spoke to him again: “Stop, it is sufficient! Now build what you wish to build; for without labor, you will succeed in nothing.” Those who labor little, and build the life of their soul on sensual shallowness, build on sand, which cannot uphold anything, even in this transitory world – and even more so in eternity. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)

The final image shared by St. John in the Book of Revelation is that of Paradise. After the revelation of the descent of the heavenly Jerusalem, John turns to the restoration of Paradise — the healing of Eden. The river of the water of life is the Holy Spirit. Light and water are the signs of the messianic kingdom. Christ is the Light (there is no night, no need for the lamp or sunlight), and the waters (the Holy Spirit) pour forth from the throne of God and the Lamb. The tree of life spanning the river is the fulfillment of the tree of life in Eden, a tree which was forbidden to Adam and Eve and was a tree then of disobedience. The tree of life in Paradise is also the fulfillment of the other tree of life — the Cross. That tree is a tree of obedience, but also of curse (“cursed is death on the cross”), but there is no more curse. Its leaves are completely healing and therapeutic, “unlike the effects of the fruit of the tree of disobedience.” (OSB) Finally, and most wonderfully, those in Paradise will see the face of the glorified Savior, and His name will be on their foreheads. “And they shall reign for ever and ever.”

This final vision of Paradise is, like the vision of the descent of the heavenly Jerusalem, an image of the Church triumphant. We experience a foretaste of Paradise in the Church, particularly in the liturgy. We are baptized in the river of the water of life, given the Holy Spirit in Chrismation, we worship in front of the Tree of Life (the Cross), we eat it’s healing fruit (the Body and Blood), we see the face of Christ in each other, in our icons, and in the Word alive in our midst, and lastly, we are illumined by the eternal Light which shines in the life of the Church. The perfect example and experience of this is, of course, Pascha. It is the Eighth Day, beyond creation, filled with the never-ending light of the Resurrection. It is the establishment of the Kingdom and the destruction of death and darkness. The fulness of Pascha is celebrated on that Day itself, but each and every liturgy is a “little Pascha,” with the death and resurrection of Christ celebrated. How sad it is that we have even Orthodox Christians who view the life of the Church as something ancillary to everyday life, to be embraced or ignored. The life of the Church IS life.

What a way to end a Church Year — the vision of the heavenly Jerusalem. And what a way to enter into a new Church Year — the glorious vision of Paradise. Both visions can be tasted in the Divine Liturgy.