Truly MarvelousFr. Barnabas Powell
It’s the second day of the Dormition Fast! The wisdom of the fasting disciplines of the Church is meant to reinforce the reality that unless the faith is holistically practiced, that is it affects every aspect of your person, the real danger of compartmentalization exists!
One aspect of Orthodoxy that first caught my attention was this focus on Cosmic Truths AND the everyday practice of the Faith. What I discovered was the lofty theology gave me the endurance and courage and humility to keep putting the Faith at the top of my priority list every day! We Orthodox talk about “Theosis” and “Illumination, Purgation, and Union.” We call Jesus “Theanthropos.” We call Mary “Theotokos” and then we go on and on (Just attend one of the many Paraklesis services during this time of year) about the glories of the Mystery of the Theotokos birthing the Word into the World. Lofty, Deep stuff!
But the necessity of this focus becomes all too real to us when we then allow this deep theology to fill the sails of our soul for a recalibration of the priority of the Faith in my everyday life!
Listen to our Lord this morning in our Lesson in Mark 12:1-12:
The Lord said this parable, “A man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a pit for the wine press, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him, and sent him away empty handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed; and so with many others, some they beat and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son; finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” And they tried to arrest him, but feared the multitude, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them; so they left him and went away.
One of the greatest strengths of daily handling of the words of Scripture is seeing treasures like this! The Lord uses a common and mundane daily task like agriculture and teaches us the invaluable lesson of “tending” to our souls. If you’ve ever had a garden, you know how easy it is to ruin the garden by neglect.
But there is more to the story here. The Lord illustrates the reality of God, the Creator, creating His world, His vineyard, and putting “tenants” in charge of His creation to tend to His creation, care for His creation, and grow in their maturity in doing the work of caring for His creation. And the tenants blew it! They fell into the delusion that they, somehow, earned the right to lay claim to the work of Someone else and demand that the “Master” of the vineyard give them all the “fruit” of His vineyard. They even go so far as to kill the “Son of the Master” in the deluded hope they would get the inheritance.
Jesus tells this story to His Jewish audience to wake them up to their misuse of the blessing of being the “chosen people.” We hear the same story as ones who have been blessed with the fullness of the Orthodox Faith for generations and we stand accused of misusing this blessing and keeping this blessing for ourselves. Of course, our horrible stewardship of such a treasure means we’ve watched as successive young people have abandoned anything resembling a serious devotion to the Faith for the “fool’s gold” of a thin veneer of Orthodoxy in their dance costumes!
But, the Lord makes one, final claim; the stone that the builders of our societies have rejected has been made the “Chief Cornerstone” of the building the Creator is building without them! And this loving Creator is constantly inviting all of us to enter into His “building” the Church and live a life of Faith, instead of staying asleep to the Truth! And the gift of fasting is meant to keep us from going back to sleep!
We commemorate the removal of the relics of the very first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, today. After St. Stephen had been killed by the mob, Gamaliel, the great Jewish scribe and philosopher and teacher, and the teacher of St. Stephen, asked certain Christians to go by night to get the body of St. Stephen and bury him in the “field of Gamala” about 20 miles outside of Jerusalem. This is also the place where Gamaliel himself would later be buried. The fact that this great teacher who had St. Stephen as a student cared for him is a testimony of the grace of God. Later, in about 427 AD, a pious priest named Lucian, who was a parish priest nearby this ancient field, was given a dream by God revealing the place where St. Stephen was buried. He went and told the Patriarch of Jerusalem, John, about this and they had workers dig in the spot until they found a box with the name “Stephen” in Aramaic letters. When they opened the box they found the relics of this great Christian hero. They moved this precious treasure with great honor and among a throng of the faithful to Jerusalem on this very day.
Today, when was the last time you really spent time marveling at God’s mercy and love toward you? If you keep that sense of marvel about His wisdom and this faith, you will watch as every part of your life, all your priorities, and your very self becomes transformed by His marvelous acts. You won’t be a foolish tenant in His Vineyard; you’ll live a Normal Orthodox life!
P.S. For the struggles you endured for Christ God, a royal diadem crowns your head, O First Champion of Martyrs. For you refuted the folly of the Jews and beheld your Savior on the right of the Father. Ever beseech Him, therefore, for our souls.