Daily Reflection for September 26, 2020

DAILY REFLECTION  •  SEPTEMBER 26  •  Repose of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian


Thus writes the Apostle James: Let him know, that he who converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins (James 5:20). The apostles of Christ did not simply speak thus, but confirmed it by their work. St. Clement of Alexandria relates that, somewhere in Asia Minor, St. John the Apostle had baptized a pagan youth and entrusted him to the care of the local bishop, while he went on further to preach the Gospel. In John’s absence, this young man became corrupt, and began to drink and steal, and finally joined a band of thieves in the forest, who attacked men and robbed them. After a while John returned, and heard from the bishop what had happened to this young man. Then Apostle John, not wasting a moment, found a horse and a guide and rushed to the forest where the robbers were to be found. Searching through the forest the saint found them, and confronted their leader. When the young man recognized John, he began to flee. Though aged, John chased him and, despite his old age, caught him. The young man fell at the feet of the apostle and, in shame, could not look him in the eye. John embraced and kissed him, as a shepherd does upon finding his lost sheep. The saint brought him back to town and confirmed him anew in the Faith and in virtuous life. Thereafter pleasing God, this young man entered into rest in due time. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness.”
            If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This was offered to idols,” do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness.” (1 Corinthians 10:23-28)

Today’s lectionary selection from 1 Corinthians is one of the most beautiful, concise, and profound words from the Apostle. The passage seems to be about eating and fasting, and on one level, it is. A dilemma for early Christians was the fact that much of the food available to them had a good chance of being offered to idols first. St. Paul quotes Psalm 23, which we reflected upon a couple of days ago. Everything belongs to the Lord, and has been blessed for our use. That includes food. If someone not Orthodox, or even Christian, invites us to dinner and we are inclined, or even obliged to go (for business, etc.), Paul’s advice is clear: go and eat whatever is set before you. If it is a Friday, and your unbelieving friend serves pot roast, you bless it, thank God for it, and eat. If he is in your house, you serve an appropriate fasting meal. Control what you can control, then don’t worry about it. Paul makes the distinction clear; everything is lawful — there is nothing unclean. But just because I have the liberty to not be bound by “clean and unclean” does not mean everything is “helpful,” or “edifying.” In other words, the liberty we have in Jesus Christ does not mean we do whatever we wish. We are to make helpful and edifying choices. That includes fasting and food. But the second bit of Paul’s advice is also clear: don’t seek your own well-being, but rather, the well-being of the other. If I am in a situation where the choices I make can edify or scandalize those around me, I am always to edify. Scandalizing someone with my behavior because I am “free in Christ” is not liberty, it is selfish. Eating and drinking will not save us. Nor will fasting. But caring about the well-being of others and edifying them will.

A long time ago, when I was a baby priest, one of my parishioners came to me with a dilemma. Her best friend (non-Orthodox) was being married on August 29, the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, a strict fast day in the Orthodox Church. She wanted to go, but didn’t want to break the fast. So, she had decided to go to the wedding, but not the reception, and wanted to know if that was appropriate. I told her absolutely not, that it was a sin to scandalize her best friend by using a fast as her excuse for not coming to her wedding and rejoicing in the day. It seemed to me that this was a perfect example of being invited (not just dinner, but a wedding!), desiring to go, then “eat what is set before you, asking no question for conscience’s sake.” I even told her that if she was that concerned about missing the fast to simply strict fast the following day, keeping a fast and not scandalizing anyone. Was that advice right? I hope so, and if not, the sin is mine and not hers. We Orthodox are a funny lot. We worry about having a hamburger on a Friday, even confessing it — then judge, gossip, condemn, curse, fail to forgive or pray, are lazy in church services, and any other of the multitude of sins we commit. Better to eat the hamburger and change myself.