Patient Endurance and the Tribulations of the Christian Life - A Homily on the Meeting of Our Lord (2020)

February 15, 2020

Patient Endurance and the Tribulations of the Christian Life - A Homily on the Meeting of Our Lord (2020)

 

IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN.

INTRODUCTION

Today is the fortieth day since we celebrated the Nativity of Christ. On this day, we celebrate the Meeting of the Lord. In the book of Exodus, the Lord gave the command to Moses: “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal.” (13.1-2, cf. Luke 2.23). Today, we celebrate this event, as Christ is brought into the Temple by his parents and we note their obedience to the Law, and this particular law which acknowledges God’s beneficence.

Having just celebrated the birth of Christ, and learned of God’s providence in the Annunciation, the virgin birth, Joseph’s acceptance, the angels, the shepherds, the Magi;  once again the goodness of God is laid out before us through our present feast. When the child is brought to the Temple, there also is Simeon, as the Apostle Luke recounts in his Gospel (2.27). Simeon had been instructed by God to come to the Temple on this day, and it is then and there that he recognizes who the child is: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel”(2.29-32). Not only does he recognize the child as the Messiah, but he also prophesies to the Theotokos, saying, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also” (2.35).

 

NARRATION

The life of Simeon is unique in that he was told that he would not die before seeing the Messiah. Tradition tells us that Symeon was one of the seventy translators of the Septuagint. He hesitated over the translation of Isaiah 7:14 which reads (LXX: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive...”) and was going to correct it to γυνή (woman), but an angel appeared to him and told him that he would not die until he had seen the Christ born of a virgin. At the time of Christ’s presentation in the Temple, Simeon was over two hundred years old. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Simeon was lead into the Temple on this day and recognized Christ, and the virgin to whom He was born.

 

THE PATIENCE OF SIMEON

As Abraham awaited the promise of a child from the Lord, he thought that perhaps it was to be fulfilled by conceiving a child with Sarah’s slave Hagar, but this was not to be. Joachim and Anna faced ridicule and ostracization which they patiently endured until God gave them a child. What about Simeon? About him we hear nothing of this, nothing of any despair, any doubt, any strength or endurance, or patience - not anything. Did he wonder at the many children he saw throughout his life as to whether or not they were the Messiah? Did he think he was deluded? Did he doubt his ability to discern the moment that this should happen? How would he know? What does the patience of holy men look like. The patience of a man who was given a very particular promise regarding the nation of Israel, her Messiah, and His own death? In time, being led by the Holy Spirit to the Temple, God enabled him to recognize who the Messiah was.

Patience

The Lord said, “In your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 21.19), but what is this patience? St. Maximos the Confessor says that alongside self-control, it is patience which protects the soul and guards all the virtues (Second Century of Various Texts, #78). St. Peter of Damascus is even more explicit and says that “patient endurance is the consolidation of all the virtues because without it not one of them can subsist”(Twenty-four Discourses, 222).

In short, St. Peter writes, patient endurance is required before anything can come about; and, once something has come about, it can be sustained and brought to perfection only through such endurance. If it is something good, this virtue assists and guards it; if something evil, it confers relief and strength of soul and does not permit the person being tempted to grow faint-hearted, thus experiencing a foretaste of hell. Patient endurance kills the despair that kills the soul; it teaches the soul to take comfort and not grow listless in the face of many battles and afflictions. (ibid.)

Patience which hopes in God’s promises

What encourages patience, is one’s hope in God, one’s trust in that God will do what He has promised us He will do (cf. Rom. 8.25). Throughout the Scriptures, throughout the history of the Church, and manifest throughout the lives of the Saints, we see how God keeps his promises. Though our thoughts may be confused, doubts arise, the world crushes in and our spiritual perception becomes clouded, it is patience which affirms the hope we have in God, the trust we have in the promises He has given us, cf. “Fear not, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12.32) and “I am with you always, even unto the end of the age” (Matt. 28.20). Though, in confusion, Abraham bore a son with Hagar, yet once fortified, he willingly was going to offer his only son Isaac when God asked him to, reaffirming the faith which he now had in God’s promises.

Patience and suffering

Perhaps we understand patience as something possible when we know that the situation about which patience is needed will come to an end. Some may see this in regards to sickness, or poverty, or the trials of relationships. “Will this day ever come to an end?” We are patient and hope for health, for financial security, for the resolution of differences and hope against despair and discouragement. However, what if it is slow in coming, very slow. What if it doesn’t come? Mind you, these are not wrong to hope for. We even pray for such things for ourselves and others; for peace, health, good success in all things.

However, freedom from such things in this life is not always understood as the fulfillment of our patient endurance. Sometimes, the fruit of our patience will only be found after death.

But there are also those who have attained the virtue of patience, even accept sufferings or even ask for them. At the end of his life, Ivan Kontzevich, on his deathbed, had a lot of pain. “Will I suffer long?” he asked and then immediately answered himself, “Let me suffer longer, that it might be better for me in the Kingdom of Heaven” (The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russa, 344). We find that the Apostle Peter, when he was to be crucified, desired to be crucified upside down, so as not to be too much like his Lord. St. Gabriel of the Seven Lakes Monastery, after mistakenly being given a highly alkaline drink used for pickling, which caused him to cough up parts of his esophagus and stomach lining immediately, continued to say, “I need to love more.”

Patience guards the virtues, and it is patience which enables one to retain the grace one is given, as opposed to impatience which drives God and His grace from oneself. Patience allows one to endure hardships and to know the presence and love of God. Although it is common to hear that someone has “the patience of Job,” yet are we aware that when his wife and friends encourage him to turn away from God, he replies, “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him”(13.15)?

In Diveyevo, one hears about the liquidation of the Convent during Soviet times, the persecutions of the nuns, their banishment and imprisonment. However, before it happened, Blessed Pascha told them, they would go to another convent. They did, to the gulag, and many of the nuns accepted this lot and did not complain, and lived as though it was their convent.

Moreover, for the struggle to which patience endurance benefits us, we do not always know why it happens. The Apostle James notes that the trying of our faith produces patience (1.3) Sometimes we do not receive an answer when we would like it. Elder Ephraim of Arizona, makes this point when recalling the final moments of his elder’s life. After having received a revelation about his departure, St. Joseph found his death to be slow in coming and began to question out loud what was taking place, saying, “The sun is rising higher, my child. Why hasn’t God taken me? His decision was clear. Why is He slow in taking me? The sun is high and he should have taken me by now.” Yet, it pleased God to take him two hours later, Elder Ephraim recalls. Why? for the reason, we are told, that “God wanted to teach him the final lesson of human weakness so that he would not be self-reliant. It is as if God were saying, ‘Anyone who relies on his own capabilities will be weak without my grace. No matter how many years you live, no matter how much experience you acquire, you still cannot do anything without me.”(My Elder: Joseph the Hesychast, 629-630).

 

CONCLUSION

Simeon, before his death, saw the Messiah and acknowledged Him as such. He then prophesied to the Theotokos that she would suffer many things. Reverend Fathers, Fathers, Brothers, Sisters, if you want to give birth to Christ in your life, if you want Him to be greater and you less, if you do not want to live but to have Christ in you, then learn patience. Know that you will suffer. Know then that you will have tribulations.  But know also, that you will behold Christ, your salvation.

 

THROUGH THE PRAYERS OF OUR HOLY FATHERS, LORD JESUS CHRIST, HAVE MERCY ON US. AMEN

 

 




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