His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH Remarks at the 2009 Diocese of Los Angeles and the West Antiochian Women’s Retreat in Southern California
April 3, 2009
Frazier Park, California
It was our Lord Jesus Christ that called us to abandon father and mother and cares of this world to seek Him. Throughout the ages, men and women have taken this command quite literally and fled into the deserted places of the earth to seek God in solitude and repentance.
This seems too far from our world, where we wake to almost instant turmoil each morning. We must prepare children to go to school, fix breakfast, hustle off to work, do household chores, contact friends, help others in need, cook meals, do the laundry… the list goes on and on.
Yet, we are warned that our Lord is coming. Here the words of the Bridegroom Service of Holy Week:
Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight! And blessed is the servant whom He shall find watchful. Yet, unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless. Beware then, O my soul, and be ye not overcome with sleep, lest thou be given over to death and shut out of the Kingdom. But return to soberness and cry aloud: Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God: through the Theotokos, have mercy on us.
The desert fathers and mother sought lives of vigilance, constantly watching themselves and seeking out even the smallest of sinful thoughts. This was their ‘sleeplessness,’ never resting from their inner alertness. By being purified through constant repentance, they sought not to lose sight of God.
When we read the desert fathers’ stories, sometimes we are tempted to despair and wonder how we can be saved when we are so often ‘sleepy’ when it comes to our spiritual lives. While I, like you, look forward to Father David’s comments on this, I would like all of you to consider this exhortation.
Just as much as we are called to seek out the hardship of repentance, we must also be ready to confront the evils we encounter in the world through the martyrdom of faith and patience. The devil and those who hate God are constantly seeking for us to compromise our Faith. The evil one seeks to defeat us in the street and in our homes by provoking us to agree with his falsehoods.
The chief falsehood is that God will not grant us strength to do the good we cannot do on our own. St. Paul told us of God’s admonishment to him: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
The desert mothers and fathers taught us to confess our weakness, to know it each moment and turn only to God when we need help. While the ascetics sought this repentance through solitude, we must find ours by facing constant struggles in this world.
Our asceticism is to live as pure as we can in this world of filth. And, when called up, offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God through martyrdom.
Is martyrdom dying a violent death? No, it is to live as witnesses to God’s mercy and love by patiently enduring hardship and suffering. St. Katherine and countless other martyrs bore witness to Jesus Christ through their public suffering, which manifested the power of God. In their weakness, as St. Paul tells us, God’s glory was revealed.
Though we are weak, we, too, can be martyrs when we rely on God and face our suffering with patience and calmness. Though the devil threatens and even takes our possessions and our reputations, we must bear witness to our confidence in His mercy and salvation.
In this regard we must never compromise: God is our only hope and our only help. We cannot rely on man and his creations, wealth and worldly power, to save us. Our own labor must be meaningless before the glory of God. When we totally rely on Him, then He will reveal Himself to our enemies.
And so, the ascetics and the martyrs bear witness to the same God and reveal the single purpose we have, which is repentance that leads to salvation. Let us learn repentance that we might become greater partakers of His glory in our daily lives.