Reflection for November 19, 2020

REFLECTION  •  NOVEMBER 19  •  Holy Prophet Obadiah


A tale of the Elder Barlaam to Ioasaph: A man was fleeing from a terrifying unicorn. Fleeing thus, he fell into a pit, but grabbed hold of a tree. Just when he thought that he was out of danger, he looked down below the tree and saw two mice, one black and one white, gnawing alternately but continuously at the roots of the tree, so as to gnaw through and bring the tree crashing down. Looking down even further, he saw a huge, terrifying serpent which, with its jaws wide open, was waiting to devour the man when the tree would fall down. He then saw four smaller poisonous snakes around his feet. Looking upward, the man saw a little bit of honey on a branch, and forgetting all the danger that surrounded him, extended his hand to reach that little bit of sweetness in the tree. The interpretation is this: The unicorn represents death, which from Adam to now pursues every man to kill him; the pit filled with all sorts of dangers is this world; the tree is the path of our life; the white and black mice are days and nights, that continue one after the other to shorten our life; the huge and horrible snake is hell; the four poisonous snakes are the four elements from which the body of man is composed; the little bit of honey on the branch of the tree is the little sweetness that this life offers to man. Oh, if only men would not be captivated by that inconsequential sweetness, forgetting the terrible dangers that surround them and draw them down to eternal ruin! (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.
            Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8)

Purity. Chastity. Holiness. Cleanliness. Throughout the Holy Scriptures, beginning with Adam and Eve, who were created by God not just as male and female, but as husband and wife, the most intimate relationship possible between two human beings has been clearly defined. The struggle to holiness in this fallen and sinful world very often is centered on our bodies, in particular, how we behave sexually. The words of St. Paul above as he approaches the end of his letter to the Thessalonians is a sound and clear teaching on Christian behavior, and a teaching that echoes other writings of his, as well as numerous other teachings in Scripture. Our world today (probably it has always been thus, but not with the ease we see today) is hyper-focused on sex. We are drowning in pornography, virginity and modesty are seen as a weak character flaws, the sanctity of marriage is denied, the basic God-given human family of male and female as husband and wife is ridiculed, and the Church is seen not as a bastion of virtue and holiness, but rather a stodgy, behind the times old fogie who should “get with the times.”

St. Paul, however, simply and clearly outlines what is expected of a Christian. God has not called us to uncleanness, but to holiness. He reminds the Thessalonians (and us!) he has shown them how to walk and to please God and that we know the commandments of God. When he tells them to “flee sexual immorality,” it is not an empty command, for each should know “how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor.” Keeping our bodies (i.e., vessels) pure and holy, not consumed with lust, makes us different from the “Gentiles,” who do not know God. “Gentiles” in this context are not those who are not Jewish, but those who don’t belong to the community of faith. Now I’ll admit, the people of St. Paul’s time did not have severe temptation available at the click of a mouse, but those times were just as pornographic and “in your face” as our times. Adultery, fornication, prostitution, homosexuality — you name it, it existed then just as now. It’s one of the reasons Paul wrote so much about it. The temptations from the demons take many forms, but none of them are new to us. They are as old as time itself. In this time of self-denial, let us begin by purifying our bodies, beginning with what we let in through our eyes.

Finally, as we are urged to get out of the way and get with the times, Paul reminds us that when we reject these teachings, we are not rejecting man, but God. I wish I could ensure that everyone from about 12 years old and up read these words, but I can’t. I hope that you who are parents not only heed these words yourselves, but teach your children to walk in holiness, which is possible because God has “given us His Holy Spirit.”


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