(2 Tim. 3: 10-15)
When we listen to the Gospel readings at every holy Liturgy most of us experience them as complete entities. However, the readings of the Epistles often seem as though they have been pulled out of a wider context and we feel that an introduction is necessary for the sake of better understanding. This is the case with today’s reading of the holy Epistle, which begins with St. Paul’s account of Timothy, his disciple to whom this Epistle is addressed and who, unlike others (and we shall soon discover who these “others” were) carefully followed his “doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long suffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions” (2 Tim. 3:10-11).
The question arises immediately: who are these “others” who are exempt from all the tribulations that befell the holy Apostle Paul and his disciple Timothy? “But know this,” the Apostle himself explains, “that in the last days perilous times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
These are, then, the “others” who have given up and abandoned the path of suffering on which both Apostle Paul and his disciple Timothy walked. For, as the Apostle reminds us, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” ((2 Tim. 3:12). His words are directed at Timothy and at all of us: the choice is ours. “If you wish to live an honest life, you must pay the price of long suffering; do not grumble and complain about the Lord.”
“But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for the salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:14-15).
It is evident that the sufferings that befell the holy Apostle and his disciple were common and that the young bishop Timothy was truly surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) consisting of fellow Christians and co-sufferers. Just as our Vladika Njegosh teaches us that “our destiny is to bear the cross,” so, too, does the Apostle Paul remind Timothy, and through him, us as well, that for Christians suffering is unavoidable, it is their lot.
Apostle Paul instructs Timothy to remember the fate of all those before him who had accepted the Law and the Will of God as their guidepost through life: “From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith (2 Tim. 3:15). For what else could Timothy have found in the Scriptures if not a myriad of testimonies about the ordeals and sufferings of God’s people? As the righteous Job puts it, “man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).
These words on the persecutions of “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:12) still sound somewhat foreign and abstract to many of us today. It is as though they were not directed at us at all. Our ancestors’ faith and their ability to bear afflictions was often put to the test in the past. Our generations, however, fortunately or unfortunately, have been spared these fiery trials and tribulations. This means that we are either not who we think we are – real Christians, or that the Lord, knowing our weakness, is letting us stand on the side.
But this cannot go on forever.
All that has been said in the Holy Scriptures has either come to pass or will come to pass. For all our spiritual slowness we cannot help but notice that an evil net is being spun around us and our lives. Only a few years back we enjoyed a certain degree of personal freedom. No amount of paper was large enough to accommodate all of our personal information. Only the lives of few “chosen ones” were observed and their information collected and put into files. However, with the onset of the new technical innovations such as computers and microchip technology, all of us have been “honoured” by the attention of those who seem to know about us more than we do ourselves. Let anyone try to change their insurance company to avoid paying endless fines for a traffic offence: he will soon feel like a bird trapped in a cage. More and more of our personal information is collected and stored, more and more experiments are being conducted with us, all with the aim of further limiting our freedom. This will continue until the prophecy of St. John the Evangelist comes true about the numbers and the seals on our right hands and foreheads by which they will be able to trace our movements to the most secluded places of the planet.
Therefore, even though we have been spared drastic trials and ordeals, if we belong to Christ, then we must not allow ourselves to be lulled into sleep. We must react to the few tribulations we are faced with. Today we are not led before wild beasts and are not nailed to crosses, but that does not mean that there are no opportunities for us to sacrifice something for the sake of our faith.
In this day and age, for example, when the awareness of Christian fasting has all but faded away, it is an act of a certain form of courage to say, while everyone else is feasting on rich and fatty foods, “Thank you, but I am an Orthodox Christian and I am fasting at this time.” How many similar opportunities have we missed to encourage others to change their way of thinking. It is these and similar situations that true followers of God knew how to stand up for their faith and defend it. “Many are my persecutors and my enemies, yet I do not turn away from Your testimonies,” says the prophet David (Ps. 119:157).
It is human to feel afraid before the prospect of affliction and pain. Better men than we have shown fear in the face of sufferings. “I am afraid of all my sorrows,” admits the long-suffering Job (Job 9:28). However, as the Holy Scriptures teach us, sorrow and suffering carry a deep meaning: their aim is to strengthen and purify us and make us better. “Before I was afflicted I went astray but now I keep Your word” (Ps. 119:67) confesses David.
This is precisely what afflictions are for, as the holy Apostle Peter tells us: “that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:7). The same idea is carried across by the old saying “no pain, no gain.”
The holy Apostle Peter gives us the answer to the question about unjust sufferings, when an innocent person is subjected to torment and affliction. “For this is commendable,” he says, “if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps (1 Pet. 2:19-21).
Finally, “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).
“And may the God of all grace, who called us to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Pt. 5:10-11).