Reflection for October 22, 2020


Holy Equal-to-the Apostles Abercius the Wonderworker, Bishop of Hieropolis


As much as the strictness of holy men toward themselves is a cause for amazement, so also is their compassion toward others. They have disinterest for themselves, and concern for others. St. Hilarion the Great, unable to pay his fare to Sicily, offered the owner of the ship his Gospel (which he, in his youth, had copied with his own hands). When he had cured a certain prince of an unclean spirit, the prince wanted to present him with ten liters of gold. The saint would not accept the gold, but showed him barley bread and said: “Those who feed on this kind of bread look upon gold as mud!” When men begged him to pray to God for rain, or to save them from floods or poisonous snakes, St. Hilarion helped them by his prayer. This is how St. Abercius acted as well. Seeing many people in pain and sickness, he knelt in a certain place and prayed to God that He would open up a spring of warm, healing water there, that the infirm might be healed and glorify God. God then opened a spring of warm water on that spot. When Abercius healed the emperor’s daughter of insanity, the emperor offered him gold, silver and other gifts, but St. Abercius said: “Riches are not needed for one who considers bread and water a royal meal.” Not seeking anything for himself, Abercius nevertheless begged the emperor to do two favors for his flock in Hierapolis: to build a bath over those healing waters, and to give sufficient wheat each year to the poor of Hierapolis. The emperor agreed and did according to the saint’s request. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem.
            And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village. (Luke 9:51-56)

This little passage from the gospel reading prescribed for today in the life of the Church jumped out at me when I read it. The “time had come for Him to be received up,” so Jesus “set His face to go to Jerusalem.” It was the divine knowledge about His passion that drove the Lord to go so determinedly that when His disciples went to a village to prepare for Him to stay there, the villagers determined that He was not going to stop, so they offered no place, no hospitality. Then the sons of Zebedee asked the Lord if they should “call down fire.” Two things made the words jump out to me: first, this is not the only time we see a poor “vision,” even selfishness and ignorance from disciples, in particular James and John. Remember, they were the ones who asked if they could sit “one on Your right hand and one on Your left,” when the Lord returned in glory, leaving the other apostles angry and jealous. Its more than a little jarring to see that the Twelve could be just as small and petty as us every day Joes. It speaks to the humanity of the disciples and the fallenness that Jesus came to heal. He doesn’t condemn them for their pettiness, but allows them to grow in holiness by continuing the journey with Him. So He also does with us. Our pettiness and sin only condemn us when we choose to revel in it and refuse to repent.

The other jarring aspect of this passage is the form that the pettiness takes. James and John actually ask Jesus if they should destroy — literally destroy — the Samaritans in the village for their lack of hospitality. Vengeance and destruction urged by apostles from their own mouths! Jesus rebukes them and reminds them that He came to “save lives.” We are so often judgmental and vengeful when we are insulted, or hurt, or abused, or sinned against in any other way. Oftentimes, our first reaction is revenge. If not inflicted by us, then misfortune as “just desserts” inflicted “by God.” Mercy and forgiveness are not just “virtues,” they are divine virtues that reflect the Lord Himself. I have no doubt that there were moments in my life that if I had the ability to “call down fire from heaven” I would have. That does not speak well of me. It did not speak well of James and John. And it does speak well of anyone who claims to love the Lord and follow Him. If apostles can succumb to pettiness, I must have my guard especially up, for the demons do not have to try nearly as hard to get me to “call down fire.”


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