Daily Reflection May 26th, 2020

Daily Reflection May 26th, 2020

MAY 26
Apostles Carpus and Alphaeus from among the seventy


We should not desire the death of a sinner, but his repentance. Nothing grieves the Lord more, Who suffered on the Cross for sinners, then when we pray to Him for the death of a sinner and thereby to remove him from our path. It happened that the Apostle Carpus lost his patience and began to pray that God send down death upon two sinful men; one a pagan and the other an apostate from the Faith. Then the Lord Christ Himself appeared to Carpus and said: “Strike me; I am prepared to be crucified again for the salvation of mankind.” St. Carpus related this event to St. Dionysius the Areopagite and he wrote it down and gave it to the Church as a lesson to all, that prayers are needed for sinners to be saved and not for them to be destroyed, “for the Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr John’s Reflection

And they took (Paul) and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.” For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing. Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ (Acts 17:19-28)

Back in 1999, I was privileged to attend a conference of Orthodox journalists (I was editor of Orthodox New England at the time) in beautiful Portaria, Greece (high above Volos). After the conference, we all went to Athens (which I hated) to spend a day or two seeing the various sights. I cannot describe the feeling that I had when we went to the Areopagus and I stood where St. Paul stood and preached. We read that preaching in today’s appointed reading above. To be sure, there was not quite the same atmosphere as he encountered (there was trash and “touristy” junk everywhere). Nonetheless, standing there, and even the memories as I write this, gave me chills knowing what happened in that very spot. His preaching was to a curious and pagan crowd.

The sermon is very important to us for a couple of reasons. Pastorally, Paul began where his crowd “was,” so to speak. He didn’t speak as if he were speaking to learned Jews. He didn’t preach “against” paganism. He began by pointing to something they could understand; an altar to “The Unknown God.” Theologically, he then pointed to Christ as that very same Unknown God. Ultimately, he demonstrates for them (us) the reality of preaching in the Church. To one extent or another, Christ is an “unknown God” to everyone who begins to seek Him. The Church pastorally begins “where we are” and peels away little by little the layers of ignorance and the unknown. She tells us — “HE is the one you call unknown.” She then theologically points to Him and tells us there is nothing unknown about Him at all. All revelation about God and the Kingdom come through Him to those who seek Him in the Church. Paul tells them (and us) that He is not bound by anything created, including a temple made with hands. He made one human nature that we should all seek Him and find Him for “He is not far from each one of us.” That one human nature turns to Him for in Him “we live and move and have our being.”

The revelation that “The Unknown God” is not unknown at all is a revelation not only to pagan Athenians, but to pagan 21st century Americans. Paul knew that those Athenians were seeking God. Are we? Christ is Risen!