Reflection for October 30, 2020

REFLECTION  •  OCTOBER 30 • Hieromartyr Zenobius, and his sister, Zenobia of Aegae in Cilicia


A great son of the Orthodox Church, King Milutin saved the Balkans from Uniatism. At that time in history when the Byzantine emperor’s conscience was weakened, this noble and God-bearing Slavic king rose up decisively and, with God’s help, saved Orthodoxy-not only in his own land, but also in all the lands of the Balkans. He who closely examines the life of the holy King Milutin will understand why God gave him success after success in all his works throughout his life. When Milutin ascended the throne, he immediately vowed to God that he would build a church for each year that he would reign. He reigned forty-two years and built forty-two churches. Next to some of the churches-for example, in Thessalonica and Constantinople-he also built hospitals for the indigent, where the poor would receive everything free of charge. Beyond that, he especially loved to give alms to the needy from his own enormous wealth. Oftentimes, this powerful and wealthy king dressed in the clothes of a poor man and, with two or three of his servants, walked among the people at night and asked about their misfortunes, and gave to them abundantly. He lived a very simple, familial life, even in the midst of his great wealth-though he never seemed that way to foreigners. He had become accustomed to a simple life while still at the home of his father, King Uro I. It is told how Emperor Michael Palaeologus sent his daughter Anna with a retinue to the court of King Uro, as an offering to Milutin, in order to lure the Serbian king into union with Rome. But King Uro, seeing the foolish extravagance of the princess and her retinue, said: “What is this, and what is it for? We are not used to such a life.” And pointing to a Serbian princess with a distaff in her hand, he said: “Behold, this is the kind of clothing we expect our daughter-in-law to wear.” (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

“He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters. When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:23-26)

This passage from the Gospel of St. Luke is the prescribed gospel reading for today. I’ve always thought that these words of Jesus about the unclean spirit are some of the most important and impactful words that He utters for us. This is part of His response to those who asked for a “sign from heaven.” He cast out the demon from someone mute, and the healed person spoke. Some then said that He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the “ruler of demons.” But Jesus teaches them that if demons were cast out by demons, the kingdom of demons would fall, since it was divided against itself. Hence, they asked for a sign then from heaven. But no sign was coming, because He is the sign. But today’s passage begins with the teaching that Jesus “gathers,” and the demons “scatter.” Unity is the presence of the divine, and disunity or confusion the sign of demons.

Then He illustrates with the story of the unclean spirit. St. John Chrysostom said that the unclean spirit was the rebelliousness of Israel in the Old Testament. It was cast out of the people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. But that unclean spirit comes back to the place “in order,” with seven even more unclean spirits and the last state of the man (Israel) is worse than the first, because they then reject the Messiah in their midst. This story from the lips of our Lord is more than an illustration of the rejection of the Messiah by Israel. It is a commentary about the spiritual life. So often in our spiritual lives, we work and work and work to rid ourselves of some temptation or sin. That is well and good. But the point the Lord was making is that eliminating or cleaning out something bad or evil is not only useless, but even opens us up to more temptation and sin if we don’t fill the original space with something holy and good. It is not enough to “sweep out ” the house of our souls, if the sweeping only leaves a vacuum. We know nature abhors a vacuum — something will fill it. The demons love a vacuum, because it becomes an invitation for them to attack. We might rid ourselves of one demon only to find a worse one, or several even more deadly ones, because we left an empty space. Fasting is a good example. We fast from certain foods at times, even all foods at some times, not because they are bad or evil, but because we are trying to create a space for something more important, more holy. If we abstain from all foods the night before liturgy, it is to create a hunger not for breakfast, but for the Lord in the Eucharist. But if we eliminate food(s) without filling the space with prayer, repentance, almsgiving, etc., it’s just a diet, and there are better diets. And, more importantly, it is an invitation for someone, or something, to fill the space.

Our Lord was speaking about much more than Israel being prepared to receive the Messiah. He was speaking about you and I being prepared to receive the Messiah!


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