Daily Reflection May 22nd, 2020

Daily Reflection May 22nd, 2020

MAY 22 Holy Martyr Basiliscus, Bishop of Comana


How was Moses able to fast for forty days? How were the many Christian ascetics able to live a long life in extreme abstinence from food and drink? For the physical man who does not know about the spiritual life, this is impossible to believe. It is impossible even to prove it to him, for the understanding of it is achieved only by experience. When the torturers of St. Basiliscus detained him for three days without food and water, and when they did offer him food to eat, he refused, saying that he was not hungry. “I am,” said he, “filled with immortal food and do not want to receive mortal food. You are fed by earthly bread, but the heavenly word of God feeds me; wine makes you happy, but the grace of the Holy Spirit makes me happy; meat satisfies you, but fasting satisfies me; physical power strengthens you, but the Cross of Christ strengthens me; gold makes you rich, but the love of Christ enriches me; clothing adorns you, but good works adorn me; you are made happy with laughter, but I am comforted by the Spirit through prayer.” Behold this man, one of many, in whom the word of the Lord was confirmed: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God! (Matthew 4:4).(St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr John’s Reflection

But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles… Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. They wrote this letter by them: ”The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law’ – to whom we gave no such commandment – it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. “We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement. (Acts 15:5-12, 22-31)
The reading appointed for today from the Acts of the Apostles is so important in the history of the Church. The early Church, being composed essentially of Jews who followed Christ, was embroiled in a controversy — should Gentiles who receive Christ be circumcised according to Old Testamental law? This spoke to a couple of issues: first, the idea of Gentiles coming into the Church was astounding to many at first. It was Peter’s vision of the sheet and the revelation that God wanted all His people in the Church (no one is “unclean”) and then the numbers of Gentiles who followed Christ after seeing miracles and hearing Peter and Paul that calmed the initial resistance to Gentiles. But then the question came up: are they bound by the OT Law? The second issue was how to decide such a question.

The fifteenth chapter of Acts is the first recorded Council of the Church. When the apostles broached the question of circumcision, it was decided that the only way to answer the question was to come together in council. Conciliarity has been the basic form of Church government ever since. We can read about the Ecumenical Councils of the Church, and other councils in history that guided the Church through the centuries. But the reality is that conciliarity is the basic way we run the Church at every level. Although we are hierarchical, it begins with the Synod of Bishops (a council). Each diocese has a diocesan council. Each parish has a parish council. All the councils are for one reason only: to determine the guidance of the Holy Spirit in directing the Church. Many minds inspired in one direction has always been seen as the guidance of the Spirit. The formula that was used in the letter sent to Antioch by the apostles is the same formula used to this day: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, that…”

But what they decided was equally important. In not demanding circumcision from Gentiles coming into the Church, they proclaimed the catholicity of the Church. It is for everyone. Christ transcended and fulfilled the Law in Himself, so the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham’s people is not necessary. The New Israel has a new Law and He is Christ. But the apostles did keep some of the law: you must abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. This is good guidance to Christians down to this day. So the question of circumcision, while seeming “external,” was profoundly “internal,” for it led to the practice of conciliarity used to this day, and to the understanding that Christ came and died for everyone — Jew and Gentile alike. The fulness of Him in the life of the Church has been given to each of us, not to some. Christ is Risen!