V. Rev. Fr. Nicholas Apostola
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church
This week we begin the Triodion, the Church’s hymn book for Great Lent leading to Pascha. While Lent is still a few weeks off, the Fathers decided to help us get ready for it by focusing our attention through Scripture readings and hymns. Today’s Gospel lesson is the parable of the the Publican (tax collector) and the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14). The Epistle reading is from St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy, 3:10-15.
The selected reading comes out of a portion of the Letter concerned with the End-Times, that is, the Second Coming of Jesus. St. Paul is predicting what will happen to people as the time for the Lord’s arrival draws near. He is particularly trying to encourage and strengthen his beloved disciple Timothy, who we learn from St. Paul’s letters and in Acts, is a quiet and retiring person, not the kind of strong personality that St. Paul is himself.
The first thing that St. Paul offers Timothy is his own example. He has done this in other situations as well, for example when he tells the Corinthians that they might have many teachers but not may fathers (1 Cor 4:15); or when he tells them to “be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). So, in a more gentle way, he says to Timothy: “You have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, and my suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.” (v. 10-11) St. Paul had suffered in many places, but in this passage he only mentions those places that Timothy would personally remember, especially Lystra, where St. Timothy was born, raised, and first met St. Paul.
He then tells Timothy a sobering reality: “All who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (v. 12) He is speaking first and foremost out of his own personal experience. While a committed disciple of the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, he persecuted the followers of Christ mercilessly. When Jesus appeared to him and he then became a follower of Jesus, he himself became the one persecuted. In our own time Christian believers are being firebombed and killed even in their own Churches, in Nigeria, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, and Indonesia — only to mention a few places. For them and others a choice to openly confess their faith in Jesus Christ may very well mean a choice to suffer and die. Not so many years ago the same was true in all of the Eastern Bloc.
This is not to say that people of other faiths do not also suffer persecution — sometimes at the hands of ‘Christians’ — but suffering because of faith in the person and teachings of Jesus the Christ has distinguished His followers throughout the centuries. Most of us have grown up in a political environment where we have never had to choose between our lives and our faith. Unfortunately, from the outset, many Christians have. Regardless, it is never easy to be Christian. While we might not be asked by others to put our lives on the lines, we are still asked by the Lord Himself to die to ourselves in order to truly live, in Christ.
The second point, a corollary, is that: “wicked people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived.” (v. 13) One of the titles of the devil is the “Deceiver.” It was through his deception that Eve took the fruit in the Garden. It was she who naïvely deceived Adam to share in it. (cf. Genesis 3:1ff) St. Paul speaks of a cycle of evil and wickedness. One feeds on the other. It becomes difficult, if not impossible, to stop. Only with God is it possible to break this cycle. (cf. Matthew 19:25-26)
St. Paul offers this instruction to Timothy, both to strengthen his resolve in the face of persecution as well as to prepare him to face the wickedness of the world. “Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (v. 14-15)
Timothy’s mother was a pious Jewish woman married to a pagan. Theirs was what we might call today a “mixed marriage.” Nevertheless, she educated Timothy according to Jewish tradition; beginning from age five all children were to be instructed in the Sacred Writings. Even while recommending the study of Scripture, St. Paul also emphasizes the role of the people who taught him. We can presume that he meant his mother. Just as he had offered himself as an example to follow, so too is he now reminding Timothy of his mother’s example of faith. As parents we are the primary example our children look to for everything, but especially regarding our faith; the way we integrate and manifest what we say we believe with how we actually behave is what our children will remember.
Finally he reiterates the power of Scripture to “instruct for salvation.” Until recently it was common for children to memorize Scripture, and especially the Psalms. One requirement for ordination to the episcopacy is to be able to recite the entire Books of Psalms by heart. Verses of the Sacred Text that are engraved on our hearts come to our aid when we are struggling and in need of consolation. “Through our faith in Christ Jesus” the comforting words inspired by the Holy Spirit bring peace to our hearts and salvation to our souls.
Maranatha! (“Lord, come!”)