In the Epistle appointed for this Sunday, we hear St. Paul instructing us in a very important truth concerning the Holy Scriptures: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” Such an understanding of the Scriptures is absolutely foundational to the Christian life: the Divine Scriptures are not merely stories about events that occurred halfway around the world many thousands of years ago, nor are they a collection of abstract and intellectual propositions concerning abstruse systems of theology. No, quite the contrary: every single word written in the Scriptures has a direct and immediate relevance for every human soul. Indeed, each line in Sacred Scripture is far more significant and vital than all the worldly concerns and preoccupations which we so often assume to constitute “real life.”
Yet the true meaning of St. Paul’s saying that “we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” can only be apprehended by paying attention to what he had just exhorted us to do in the preceding sentence: “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, the reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.” In other words, the comfort and hope of the Scriptures consist precisely in their call to ascetic self-denial and to the patient and joyful bearing of reproaches, in imitation of the radical and self-emptying love shown to us by Christ our True God.
What a striking contrast this is to the wisdom of the world, and to the false and comfortable doctrines of the pseudo-Christianity which we see everywhere around us today. In fact, the modern world can even be summarized as being the systematic effort to maximize pleasure and to eliminate reproach. Nothing could possibly be so scandalous to the modern world as to teach that pleasure is harmful and that reproaches are needful. Yet such is the message of the Gospel. Such is the way of the Cross. And it is precisely through the Cross that joy has come to all the world.
Because for all its pleasures, the modern world knows precious little of joy. For all its globalism, multiculturalism, and unprecedented technological interconnectedness, the modern age is nevertheless defined precisely by loneliness and isolation. The more the world has attained to outward and obvious progress and success, the more it has suffered from a hidden and inward decay and death. Everything has come to pass according to the sure and certain word of the Lord: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.”
Here is the one and only way in which “we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope”: in the laying down of our life for the sake of Christ. Our comfort is not in the empty pleasures of this world. Our hope is not in the vain desires of this world. Our comfort is to suffer the sufferings of Christ. Our hope is to die the death of Christ. Our joy is to love with the love of Christ, a love which is totally self-emptying and which holds absolutely nothing back.
So if we find ourselves without comfort, if we find ourselves lacking in patience, if we find ourselves unable to perceive our hope, then let us ask ourselves one simple question: have I truly been striving to serve others, or have I merely been pleasing myself? If we find ourselves depressed or dry or forlorn, let us ask ourselves: have I been following the holy example of our Lord Jesus Christ and bearing patiently and joyfully the reproaches of others, or have I instead been following the example of the world in desiring only honor, love, and praise, no matter how little such is deserved?
In the Gospel appointed for this Sunday, Christ heals two blind men and, in His divine humility, warns them not to speak to anyone about this miracle. Afterward he heals a man who is demon-possessed, only to be slandered by the Pharisees who accuse Him of accomplishing this by being in league with Satan. Thus the Savior by His own life and example perfectly illustrates the teaching given in the Epistle by St. Paul: He labors patiently and lovingly for the sake of others, while avoiding praise and peacefully accepting the vilest and most unjust of reproaches. Let us, then, who wish to participate in His divine life participate also in His deeds and, above all, in His humility.
If we only make a beginning in this, then the Lord will by no means fail to quickly send to us patience, comfort, and hope. And we will realize the truth stated by Abbot Nikon (Vorobiev): “when we have cleansed ourselves with repentance, we shall see that the misfortunes sent to us were actually signs of the Lord’s mercy and love for us. And we shall understand that we need these more than all the good things of the world.” To our God be honor and dominion, always, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.