We have the parable of the sower and the seed before us. It is easy to understand and, lest there be no doubts and misunderstandings, the Lord even provided us with an explanation.
“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside, and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock, and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.’ When He had said these things He cried, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear!’” (Luke8:5-8)
These last words, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear,” are for all of us to hear. The Lord is telling us that each one of us should evaluate for himself where he stands in relation to these divine words. God puts us before Him and explains the meaning of this story. “Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy, and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.
But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:11-15)
I hope that no one belongs to the first group, where the devil comes and takes the word out of the hearts of those who have heard the word. ((Luke 8:12) “The evil one comes to everyone, without exception,” says Saint Father Justin. “to everyone who has heard the word of God yet has not made it a part of their life, their mind and reasoning, but who has left it outside, on the wayside of his life, who does not care for it and nourish it. Christ is on the wayside of the lives of those who are indifferent towards Him, who do not care for Him or His word, who give no thought to the evil one who steals and takes away the seed that Christ has sown. According to the Blessed Theophilactes, Christ is the way and all those who are not with Christ are on the wayside.”
The story of the seed tells us another important detail. In order for the word of God to bring forth fruit, one needs to distance oneself from busy roads, a certain retreat is required, as well as spiritual silence and reflection. We often find ourselves in the company of people who like to chew on topics such as different spiritual practice and mysticism. They do not know the first thing about their own faith yet feel ready for some reason to delve into the depths of other religions and customs. Others purport to know everything about Orthodoxy, yet their lives are sadly lacking a manifestation of that knowledge. There is no spiritual life without a spiritual struggle. As St. Paul says, “Knowledge puffs up.” (1 Corinthians 8:1)
I believe that most of us are on rocky ground, with weak roots, which is why we are destined to wither and dry out quickly. In my life as a priest I have seen many examples of people warming up very quickly to their faith, and then cooling off just as quickly.
There is not a single person on the earth to whom God has not stretched out His hand, no one who He has not called to Himself. He calls some through happiness and joy, and when they do not heed His call, He calls them again, through trouble and hardship. And then one sees them in church, they show their good will, they ask questions. They even begin practicing the faith to a certain extent. Then, what probably happens is that they are spent too quickly, they tire of church life and imperceptibly disappear from it. As the Lord says, they have no moisture. Regular and constant prayer is the moisture needed for the seed of God to grow and to prevent the plant from withering.
Being Orthodox is a struggle which requires us to abstain from many things that are easy and enticing and to take on a lot of things which are hard and tiring. “For wide is the gate and brad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
Christ’s words about the seed that falls into the thorns and is suffocated by the thorns are relevant to all of us. Here He talks about those who heard the word but, what with their earthly cares and their material wealth, were choked by the thorns and brought forth no fruit (Luke 8:14) There are those of us who might have wanted to live a spiritual life, but caught in the whirlwind of our busy lives we do not even have the time to properly cross ourselves, as we say. Life often goes by in a flurry of activity and business. If we had the strength and the courage to turn around and look at our life, we would see that there is precious little.
The problem is that we do not know how to set our priorities. Things that are not sinful per se, such as TV, travel, a little entertainment and fun, all of these are things that separate us from God. We can find time to watch the news, and those sickly-sweet TV series, yet we cannot find time for the occasional conversation with God. We struggle to find time in our busy schedules to take the children to their piano and karate lessons, and other activities which demand that we get up early in the morning and return home late at night. And then, come Sunday, suddenly we feel sorry to wake the children up for church. We have time for everything except for church. The fruits of these and other misconceptions usually catch up with us later in life, when it is too late to change anything.
“The ones that fell amongst thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. (Luke 8:14) Today we must understand also the problem of false teachings which are generally spread by those who have lost touch with the truth and who have lost their way on the path to truthfulness,” says St. Theophanes the Recluse. “Such teachings are very widespread. In unison and openly they speak against the truth. Others use terms which are understandable only to those who are part of their circle. In reality, both are like carbon monoxide which is inhaled without noticing and which makes one lose consciousness. Further inhalation results in delirious thoughts and actions of the one inhaling the toxic gas, and everything appears to him not in its true form but as an illusion. When you see a person who is under such influence, it us very clear that not only is every truth suppressed in him, but also any feeling of desire towards the truth. It is clear that untruth has taken possession of all the particles of the mind.”
“What is one to do in such situations?” asks St. Theophanes, and answers. “One must never listen to these rants, and if they are accidentally heard or read, one should discard them from the mind. If they cannot disappear easily from there, then reflect and pray and they will vanish like smoke.”
Finally we have that blessed quarter who are not far from God’s path. In their case, God’s word does not fall on rock or into thorns, but on good ground. They bring forth fruits in their patient long-suffering.
he good earth is the person who has tilled his field with the plough of faith and repentance, who has pulled out the thorns of pleasures and earthly cares and who has taken the word of God deep into his heart, cultivated it and nourished it.
If this is not the case with us, then let us attempt to imitate this “blessed quarter,” that we might please God and become part of His chosen flock.