09 October 2016
In this life, everything is hidden under its opposite. That is a great mystery, and yet it is true. And if we learned the lesson, it would revolutionize the way we live. The sorrows we face could be tokens of mercy; the joys we experience could be calls to repent and return.
In today’s epistle, St. Paul draws a remarkable contrast: “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”
On the one side he puts the way that things seem. We seem to be imposters, unknown, dying, punished, sorrowful, poor and having nothing. On the other side he puts the way things really are. We are true, well known, live, are not killed, are always rejoicing, making many rich and possessing everything ourselves.
We Orthodox have a category of saint, the holy fool, who embodies these words of St. Paul. St. Basil the Blessed, St. Ksenia of Peterburg, St. Andrew of Constantinople—all these were given the grace of Christ to live their lives as homeless, sometimes naked, always disconnected from the ‘normal’ life around them but profoundly connected to the life of the living Christ. If you’ve seen the movie Ostrov—The Island—you’ve seen a depiction of a holy fool.
It doesn’t matter to me which side of the political spectrum you stand on: liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican or Libertarian—every Orthodox Christian must see that if any time and place called for a holy fool to arise, ours is surely it. Look where we have gotten with our much-vaunted reason and education!
We have completely lost the human person. Women are treated as objects. The unborn are ripped from the womb and left to die. The poor are dishonored and disrespected. We identify ourselves with our greed and desires, and enshrine them in law. We are caught between slogans like “Black Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter.” We talk, but don’t listen; we give advice, but don’t take it; instead of works of mercy to the poor, we give words on social justice about the poor. We try to make the rest of the world in our image, and do not deal with the problems at home. When Scripture pronounces God’s harshest judgment, it does so in these words: “And so God gave them up to their own desires.” Are we not there, friends? Are we not there?
This is no time for nostrums, or pious pronouncements. Nothing can save us now but repentance. We must give up trying to look respectable. As St. Paul told the Corinthians, “Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise.”
With repentance there is hope, even in the midst of death. As we carry the corpse of western culture out to the cemetery…as we see its promise end in silence…perhaps we shall encounter Christ again, as did the widow in today’s Gospel. He raised up Russia after 70 years of atheist Bolshevism. He can do the same for us.
So let us live in repentance, dear brothers and sisters of Christ. Let us stop measuring with the world’s measure, and learn to measure all things by the wood of the cross—the only truly straight edge. Let us embrace, as we are able, the foolishness of him who foolishly gave himself utterly and completely to ungrateful slaves. Let us embrace, to the degree we can, the weakness and shame and scandal of the Cross. For as our Bishop reminded us a few weeks ago, there can be no resurrection Sunday without first knowing the pain of Great and Holy Friday.