The Holy Gospel, in Luke 10:25-37, offers many topics to reflect on. Currently one of them seems most prominent to me and it is Christ’s very emphasized appeal to move from words and contemplation to deeds.
The holy Evangelists have noted down, for our spiritual growth, a conversation between our Lord and the two people who approached Christ, both asking the same question: what to do to inherit eternal life? The Lord refers both of them to the Holy Scripture. So, if you really need to know what to do, the answer is already given in the Holy Scripture, he says.
This response from Christ provides us with enough knowledge and orientation and a reason to stop wasting time with all sorts of useless “knowledge” and “science”.
People often share with me how they are reading this or that “exceptional” book, or how they are into some kind of meditation or other spiritual techniques, or how they visit some “salvific” seminars and who knows what other nonsense. They tell me this with a most sincere conviction that they have finally discovered that long sought-after pearl of wisdom that helps them resolve all their problems. And then, some of them speak of their plans to travel far and search for the “pearl of wisdom” on the filthy streets of India, or in Tibetan gorges. I would ask them readily if they have learned and applied in their lives the Lord’s Prayer – Our Father; and when they last humbled themselves in prayer before the Lord. There is a saying in our tradition: “Clean up your own backyard first”. First learn something about your own faith and fulfil at least a small portion of what you have learned and that will be enough for your whole life and your salvation.
Behind all this pretentious knowledge and efforts is the demon, the deceiver.
The demon wants to separate the sinful man from his roots, pull him out from his ancestors’ faith and to drag him about, rootless and fragile, through all kinds of sciences and spiritual practices, so that he could finally forever grab the confused and weary man into his demonic claws. The demon approaches him with sly flattery, like: “You are not just an ordinary, common person; you are something special; this faith of yours, Orthodoxy, that is for ordinary, common people. You are unusual and worthy of every praise. The secrets that you are admitted to are not accessible to mere mortals.” Who knows, my brothers and sisters, how many have swallowed this vanity bait of Satan and who knows how many have lost their souls that way.
Therefore the Lord simply refers each one of us to what is already at hand. “What is written in the Law?How do you read it?” he asks the expert in the Law and all of us. (Luke 10:26)
The man immediately recited what he knew. In fact, as an expert in the Law of Moses, he summarized the essence of this Law in one sentence: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. And you must loveyour neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) But only after this does a crucial turn of events occur, when it becomes obvious that this “parrot”, who “knows” everything, doesn’t really know anything. Christ told him to apply what he knew to life and live by this knowledge. “Do this, and you will live.” he told him (Luke 10:28). Carry out this single sentence, fulfil these two essential God’s commandments and it will be enough for you to inherit eternal life.
And we, too, are here, before God. The Lord is telling us the same thing he told the expert in the Law. Most of us can recognize ourselves in this expert. Bishop Nikolaj says, “Many among us can make long and pretty speeches about Christian virtues, but there are not too many of those who practise them.” The holy Orthodox Christianity, unlike the Protestant mess, is not a religion of knowledge and theories, but rather a blessed religion of deeds. “You believe that there is one God. That’s fine! Even the demons believe that and tremble with fear.” says the holy Apostle James (James 2:19). But if you do not fast, if you do not pray regularly and sincerely, do not receive the Holy communion with faith and do not obey Gods’ will, do not fool yourself – you are not an Orthodox Christian. “Go and do likewise.” says Christ to the expert in the Law on two occasions. Once you have achieved that, then come back for more. This is how the Lord “orders all people to fulfil the God’s commandment they know and, once they have fulfilled it and learned the second one, to fulfil that one as well, and then the third one, then the fourth and so on. He does not load a weak back with a heavy burden, but rather loads a back according to its strength. At the same time, that is also a harsh reprimand to all of those among us who want to know more and more about God’s will, but do not try to carry out what they already know about. Mere knowledge of God’s will is not going to save anyone, but its fulfillment will.” says Bishop Nikolaj. When we stand before the Lord, the Judge, He will not judge us by our knowledge, but by our deeds.
The holy Apostle James says it nicely, “Keep on being obedient tothe word, and not merely being hearers who deceive themselves. For if anyone hears the word but is not obedient to it, he is like a man who looks at himself in a mirror and studies himself carefully, and then goes off and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the one who looks at the perfect law of freedom and remains committed to it – thereby demonstrating that he is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of what that law requires – will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22-25) Let us not forget what happened to the servant who hid his talent in the ground and was thrown into the utmost darkness for this (Matthew 25). The Lord warns us, “The ax already lies against the roots of the trees. So every tree that isn’t producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:10). He Himself, when he came upon a fruitless fig tree, cursed it so it dried up (Matthew 21:19).
As opposed to other religions, our sweet Orthodoxy does not set any regulations like saying Our Father, or praying the rosary, a certain number of times, or something similar, to fulfil the quota. True to the word of God, Orthodox Christianity encourages constant “excelling in the work of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58) “The person who had much did not have too much,” says the holy Apostle (2 Corinthians 8:15). In other words, you can never say that you have done enough. The Lord says, “That’s the way it is with you. When you have done everything you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless servants. We have done only what we ought to have done.'” (Luke 17:10)
The holy Apostle tells us that our efforts will not be in vain. “For God is not so unjust as to forget your work and the love you have shown himas you have ministered to the saints and continue to minister to them.” (Hebrews 6:10) As per the Apostle’s words, “We want each of you to continue to be diligent to the very end, in order to give full assurance to your hope. Then, instead of being lazy, you will imitate those who are inheriting the promises through faith and patience.” (Hebrews 6:11-12)