The Antidote For Ungodly PassionsFr. Barnabas Powell
I wish I would have learned this sooner! The power of the Faith to transform me into the man God has created me to revolve around the ascetical timing of my passions so that they become servants to me instead of unruly masters. Learning to tame my “ungodly passions” means an attentive practice of the spiritual disciplines enshrined in our annual entry into the “Arena of the Virtues” of Great Lent. This extended and serious fast contains everything I need to teach my passions their proper place and how these passions are meant to be taught to serve my life instead of running (ruining) my life.
For years, I thought the purpose of the Faith was to make sure I didn’t “go to hell” or to get “saved” by accepting Jesus as my personal savior so that God would let me into heaven. This ideology is simply too small and it often leads to a perpetual spiritual kindergarten that never graduates to a more mature Faith that actually transforms my life.
However, what I’m discovering is that these untamed passions are actually so much more deeply embedded in my soul that I am finally waking up to the wisdom of this annual practice of Great Lent to drill deeper into my heart and deal with some really significant spiritual illnesses I keep discovering in my own life! What a treasure this Faith truly is. And it turns out as I continue to do this work of spiritual maturity I discover that most of my conflicts internally also create conflicts externally.
What if the outward conflict is merely a reflection of our inner conflict?
Just look at our Lesson today in Jude 1:11-25:
Beloved, woe to the ungodly, for they walk in the way of Cain, and abandon themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error, and perish in Korah’s rebellion. These are blemishes on your love feasts, as they boldly carouse together, looking after themselves; waterless clouds, carried along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved for ever.
It was of these also that Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads, to execute judgment on all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness which they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own passions, loud-mouthed boasters, flattering people to gain advantage.
But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; they said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who set up divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.
Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen.
St. Jude continues our education about the perennial war between the “ungodly” and themselves. Yes, you read that correctly. There is no war against God. How foolish. God is no one’s enemy, though there are many who are His enemy, at least in their own minds. Actually, they war against themselves. That’s the war that has been raging since the Garden of Eden. And God, Who did not start this fight, will end it! So, when we enter into this struggle, this fight, during Great Lent, where we go into struggle with our desires to tame them and turn them into the servants they were meant to be, we get to choose whether we will stay “ungodly” or we will keep moving by repentance toward being “godly” by taming our “unruly passions.”
Look at how Jude describes these foolish people:
- They walk in the way of Cain. This way is the way that led Cain to destruction. The path that only focuses on me rather than the humble willingness to follow timeless wisdom.
- They “abandon themselves” (isn’t that a wonderful way to say that?) to Balaam’s error. This is the error that led the prophet Balaam to accept money to prophesy against the People of God in the First Testament.
- They “perish in Korah’s rebellion.” Korah rebelled against Moses’ authority in the First Testament along with 249 co-conspirators and was consumed by fire! St. Jude goes on to describe these people as “blemishes on your love feasts” (referring to the Eucharistic assembly), waterless clouds, fruitless trees, wild waves, and so on.
All to show that their rebellion against wisdom is empty and self-destructive, but brings no lasting harm to God or His plan for humanity!
Jude reminds the believers that this was all foretold. Scoffers would be where ever the Faith was practiced. And the natural result of these scoffers would be division, empty lives, and undisciplined passions. And the only response to these scoffers isn’t an argument, but a focus on our own spiritual discipline through prayer and growing in our love for God. That is the only response that can ever hope to turn a scoffer away from his self-destruction towards God’s mercy!
St. Polycarp, who we remember today, is a perfect example of how to deal with the scoffers and enemies of the Faith. This godly bishop, who was a disciple of St. John, the Apostle, was arrested for being a Christian by the Roman authorities. He was already well into his 80s at the time of his arrest and when the Roman proconsul begged him to deny Christ to respect his age, St. Polycarp said “I have been serving Christ for eighty-six years, and He has wronged me in nothing; how can I blaspheme my King Who has saved me?” And when the proconsul told him to dismiss Christianity by saying “Away with the atheists” St. Polycarp waved his hand over the crowd of pagans in the arena and said, “Away with the atheists.” At this the proconsul had St. Polycarp burned at the stake for his Faith. This man had tamed his passions so that when tempted to spare himself suffering by giving in to the passion of fear, he chose that which is eternal over that which is temporary!
Today, are you discouraged by the folks who make fun of people of faith? Or do you get angry when your faith is attacked? Don’t. It doesn’t help and only sinks you into the very mud that traps these misguided people. No, respond with tears of compassion and a redoubling of your focused discipline in the faith and you will show these people how to be Orthodox on purpose!
P.S. Through godly virtues, you brought forth for the Lord God much spiritual fruit, O most blessed Hierarch, and so did prove worthy of God your Lord, O wise Polycarp. Wherefore, on this day we who have all been enlightened through your holy words extol your praiseworthy memory and glorify Christ the Lord.
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