Daily Reflection for September 10, 2020

DAILY REFLECTION  •  SEPTEMBER 10  •  Martyrs Menodora, Metrodora, and Nymphodora, at Nicomedia


Examples of courage and patience displayed by martyred Christian women-thousands upon thousands of them-have shone with radiant glory on all the pages of the history of the Christian Church. However, as amazing as these examples of voluntary martyrs are, the examples of ascetics, known and unknown, are not a bit less amazing, for asceticism is nothing less than prolonged martyrdom. Paul, the Bishop of Monemvasia, has given to posterity an instructive example of women ascetics. While he was still a layman and a collector of the royal tax, it happened that he stayed in a certain monastery. Seeing ravens landing on the fruit trees, breaking off branches with fruit and carrying them away, Paul wondered at this, and followed them with the monks to see where they were taking the fruit. Going thus, they came upon an impassable forest. The ravens landed at the bottom, deposited the broken fruit branches, and quickly returned. Paul and the monks investigated, and discovered a cave in which three women ascetics were living. The oldest one related their life story to them: She was of noble birth, from Constantinople. When her husband died, another nobleman wanted to take her as his wife by force. However, she decided that after the death of her first husband she would spend the remainder of her life in chastity. Therefore she distributed her wealth to the poor and fled to this deserted place with two of her maidservants. They lived there for eleven years in fasting and prayer, seeing no one and seen by no one but God. God the Provider arranged for the birds to bring them fruit for nourishment. Then they asked the abbot to bring them Holy Communion. Three days after they had received Holy Communion, all three of these holy women reposed, and the monks honorably buried them. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me to the end? How long will You turn Your face from me? How long will I take counsel in my soul, having grief in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
            Look upon me and hear me, O Lord my God; enlighten my eyes lest I sleep in death, lest my enemy say, “I prevailed against him”; those who afflict me greatly rejoice, if I am shaken. But I hope in Your mercy; my heart shall greatly rejoice in Your salvation; I will sing to the Lord, who shows kindness to me; I will sing to the name of the Lord Most High. (Psalm 12)

The Psalmist voices a lament that can be found in our souls at times of struggle. When we are worried, when we are sick, when we have financial concerns, etc.; when it seems like our backs are against the wall in so many ways, the temptation comes to wonder about God’s providence and presence. Psalm 12 begins with an example of that wondering, but then transforms into joy. The questions lamenting “how long” and “will You forget me” are cries of grief when in the middle of struggle. And the struggle doesn’t have to be mine. It can be grief over the struggles of a friend or loved one. It can be the struggle over the seemingly endless list of bad news after bad news this 2020 has brought to us. When we are in lengthy battle, weariness can take over, opening us up to blaming God. The “enemy” that the Psalmist laments is the devil and the various passions by which we are assailed. It seems sometimes like he wins. But salvation is not a battle – it is a war. And wars are won despite losing some battles.

However, the Psalmist does not wallow in lamentation. He turns to hope: “enlighten my eyes,” “I hope in Your mercy,” “my heart rejoices,” and “I sing to the Lord, who shows kindness to me.” Hoping in the Lord’s mercy is the only way out of the morass of self-pity, weariness, and “God-blaming” that we sometimes fall into. It can be difficult to pray, to rejoice, to “see beyond the present cloud.” Sometimes all we can do is sigh in the presence of the Lord. It is at that moment that we remember hope — that the Lord created us for the kingdom of heaven. He does not abandon us in the middle of each storm, but calms the storm, even if at His command and not ours.

This has been such a stormy and difficult time for the whole world. Each of us can add personal stories to the general difficulties. The temptation is to think that God has abandoned us. But the solution is perseverance in hope. Let us sing to the name of the Most High, who has granted us kindness. As I love to remind everyone, our only task at this moment is not to overcome every darkness and difficulty. Our only task is to get to tomorrow.