He Must IncreaseFr. Barnabas Powell
Einstein’s theories of relativity and space time mark science’s attempt to explore and understand the created order. And reading about these ideas gives me a headache! But I am fascinated by the complex beauty and wonder these ideas reveal. A recent long term experiment conducted to test the theory of curved space time and the effects this has on our perception of time is awe inspiring. Scientists have more information today about just how gravity affects our perception of time. The more we learn about our universe, the more we are challenged to stand in awe of our Creator.
This is why I find it a bit amusing that some will take these discoveries and jump to the conclusion that there is no God or that religion is mere superstition that is always at war with science. Dogbones! Nothing is further from the truth.
Still, we do wrestle with our own presuppositions and our silly narcissistic notions of our own centrality to existence! It reminds me of a story about a young man who wished to become a monk in a local monastery. He paid a visit to the kindly, old, abbot of the brothers and was received warmly into the gray-bearded man’s little office. The abbot sat the boy down and began to explain the rhythm of life of a monk; times of work, times of prayer, times of worship. And then the old abbot began to explain the fasting disciplines of the monastery. At each new revelation, the young man’s eyes got bigger and bigger. Finally the boy cried out “But Abba, if I fast that much I’ll die.” And the wise, old abbot replied “Well, son, must you live?”
In today’s Gospel Lesson we continue our reading about the greatest Old Testament prophet in history, St. John the Baptist (named after the action, not the denomination!). In John 3:22-33 we get a glimpse into the heroic faith of St. John and also a lesson on how we are to embrace a lifestyle that accurately reflects our true love and devotion to our faith.
I bet you won’t be surprised to hear me say that it has little to do with your own comfort or reducing our faith to some glorified self-help instruction!
No, in fact, St. John reveals the absolute key to spiritual maturity and actual Orthodox Faith. In response to seeing so many leave him and start to follow Jesus after St. John announced to the world that Jesus was the Messiah they had all been waiting for for 6000 years, St. John’s disciples started getting worried that they days of being famous were over. St. John sees clearly the end of his own ministry. In fact, it won’t be long until he is arrested by Herod and Salome will ask for his head on a platter. But John also understands the beauty of his accomplished ministry and he responds to his questioners with grace, humility, and confidence. In verse 30 St. John says “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
The key to actual and sustained spiritual maturity is a Christ-centered life. When you are confronted with an ethical dilemma “He must increase, and I must decrease.” When you are tempted by selfish sins “He must increase and I must decrease.” When you are plunged into disappointment at being betrayed or hurt by another “He must increase and I must decrease.” It is the consistent practice of preferring Christ above all others that sets in motion the quiet confidence and peace that weathers any storm.
Today, where does Christ need to increase in your life, and where do you need to start decreasing the destructive self-centered attitudes that hinder your love and devotion to Jesus? The rhythm of daily and consistent prayer, the daily practice of the disciplines of the faith, the regular and prioritized participation in the liturgical life of your parish are all the tools to help you accomplish Jesus increasing in your life and you decreasing.
St. John calls you today to look to Christ. The Theotokos gestures from the icon to look to Christ. The Scriptures call you to look to Christ. The liturgy instructs you to center your life on Christ. Today, He must increase, and I MUST decrease.