Thursday, July 7, 2011

To Get Roused and Warmed

Dear Parish Faithful,

Our parish is currently preoccupied with the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, and this is for two basic reasons: 1) On the Church’s liturgical lectionary it is the Epistle appointed to be read during the month of July; and 2) we are reading and studying this Epistle together in our Summer Bible Study. Of course, you can be preoccupied with anything but the Epistle to the Romans, but that choice would only further intensify the spiritual drought that threatens to keep us “thirsty” through the summer months of the liturgical year. The many distractions that we turn to for amusement cannot fill the deeper vacuum that ever-widens when not being “filled” by God. Those distractions seem to be an odd choice – and a poor set of substitutes - when the Church delivers the Epistle to us and only asks for our attention.

At the beginning of his series of great homilies on Romans, St. John Chrysostom said the following:

As I keep hearing the Epistles of the blessed Paul read, and that twice every week, and often three or four times … gladly do I enjoy the spiritual trumpet, and get roused and warmed with desire at recognizing the voice so dear to me, and seem to fancy him all but present to my sight, and behold him conversing with me…

Is it possible for a contemporary Orthodox Christian to “get roused and warmed” by hearing or reading the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans as did the great St. John? Certainly! For it is the same Gospel we hear today as was preached to the recipients of the Epistle in Rome centuries ago. And that Gospel remains “the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith …” (ROM. 1:16). The question is rather: How can an Orthodox Christian not “get roused and warmed” when hearing the Apostle Paul declare:

"While we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man – though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved to his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation" (ROM. 5:6-11).

What has happened to the Orthodox Christian over time who can hear that text and remain indifferent, unmoved, or who restlessly seeks his/her relief from the burdens of life elsewhere and essentially outside of the Gospel? Is that who St. John is forced to address when he continues in his introductory homily on Romans?:

But I grieve and am pained, that all people do not know this man, as much as they ought to know him; but some are so far ignorant of him, as not even to know for certainty the number of his Epistles. And this comes not from incapacity, but of there not having the wish to be continually conversing with this blessed man. For it is not through any natural readiness and sharpness of wit that even I am acquainted with as much as I do know, if I do know anything, but owing to a continual cleaving to the man, and an earnest affection towards him.

After lamenting the fact that many of his flock were ignorant of the Apostle Paul, St. John goes on to speak more generally of the manifold dangers that ignorance of the Scriptures can lead to:

For from this it is that our countless evils have arisen – from ignorance of the Scriptures; from this that the plague of heresies has broken out; from this that there are negligent lives; from this labors without advantage.

To do his pastoral best to familiarize his flock with “this man” – the Apostle Paul – St. John Chrysostom would bring his flock together during the week in order to teach them the Scriptures, through his homilies and catechetical instruction. For St. John was a tireless and relentless advocate of the Scriptures, that no amount of “busyness” should keep us from reading and studying with care. Keeping things simple and to the point, St. John said that it was a matter of “interest.” He was always encouraged by, and had much praise for, the many who responded with interest and attended these gatherings.

Following in the footsteps of St. John Chrysostom, we have our own parish Bible Study in which we are reading and studying the Epistle to the Romans. We will meet this evening at 7:30 p.m. in the church library. All who are “interested” are encouraged to participate.

Fr Steven

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