A useful perspective for the pastor, and anyone who cares.
Sep 19/ Oct 2 2009 2009 17th Friday after Pentecost
Today, in reading St John Chrysostom’s homilies on Ephesians, I came across a startling “attitude adjustment”, that is a different and better way to look at a vexing problem.
We all have this problem; people do not readily change their way of thinking or way of life.
A pastor especially encounters this problem, and because he (me) has feet of clay, all kinds of non-productive thoughts pop up. One wonders, why am I serving this service, I feel like Fr McKenzie, or “what’s the use? I have said ‘blah blah’ a million times and gotten little response”, or the most damaging thoughts, “I am a failure”.
It takes great patience and faith to be the one that plants and waters, and wait for God to cause the growth. I think sometimes we are not up to it, not only because of our weak faith and general “noise” of our passions, but also because of an unrealistic assessment of how difficult certain things are.
I think it is part of our nature that when we believe something strongly, with our entire heart, so much that we have dedicated our life to it, that we find it very difficult to understand why others do not believe as we do.
St John gives a whole new perspective that should help quiet some of these thoughts. For him, RAISING THE DEAD is easier than changing the beliefs (and practices) of a person. Now, I know that I cannot raise the dead, so I guess I (and maybe you too) should relax a little about changing people.
That is not to say that I (you) should not try – what is pastoral work except helping people to change? (And since we are all a “royal priesthood” we are all responsible to in some way look out for each other’s welfare).
Observe the wisdom of St John on this matter:
“But what is clear? that through His power we have believed that He has raised Christ. For to persuade souls, is a thing far more miraculous than to raise a dead body.
I will endeavor to make this clear. Hearken then. Christ said to the dead, "Lazarus, come forth," (John xi. 43.) and straightway he obeyed. Peter said, "Tabitha, arise," (Acts ix. 40.) and she did not refuse. He Himself shall speak the word at the last day, and all shall rise, and that so quickly, that "they which are yet alive, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep," (1 Thess. iv. 15.) and all shall come to pass, all run together "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." (1 Cor. xv. 52.)
But in the matter of believing, it is not thus, but how is it? Hearken then to Him again, how He says, "How often would I have gathered your children together, and you would not." (Matt. xxiii. 37.) You perceive that this last is the more difficult. Accordingly, it is upon this that he builds up the whole argument; because by human calculations it is far more difficult to influence the choice, than to work upon nature.
And the reason is this, it is because He would thus have us become good of our own will. Thus with good reason does he say,
"The exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe." (Eph 1:19)
Yes, when Prophets had availed nothing, nor Angels, nor Archangels, when the whole creation, both visible and invisible, had failed, (the visible lying before us, and without any power to guide us, and much also which is invisible,) then He ordered His own coming, to show us that it was a matter which required Divine power. (St John Chrysostom, Homily 3 on Ephesians, from New Advent disk (also online at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/)
As is usual in the homilies of St John, he says much with few words. He constantly mixes a moral message with a theological one, and often shows great understanding of human psychology to boot. This is as all preaching should be – ALL theology is moral in nature, and since we preach to human beings, we had best understand how they think, live and act.
Did you see how he explained the reason for the incarnation? And in so doing, he gave us the proper perspective regarding ministering to others. God causes the change – this is so easy to say, but difficult to completely commit oneself to.
Perhaps some would be offended at the second heading of this article “Influencing the belief of the dead.” This *IS* referring to my parishioners AND me, AND the human race.
We can think and act in one of two ways: the way of life or the way of death. When we sin, or our passions boil or influence us, we are going the way of death. Perhaps this may seem melodramatic to some, but it is wholly Christian to believe that sin leads to death. We do not know *how much* sin will actually cause our death, but it is a sure and certain fact that unchecked, unrepented of sin will cause death. All of us, on a relative scale are alive AND dead (or doing things that lead to death) to varying degrees. Jesus Christ came so that we would be completely alive, with no darkness of any kind in us.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2009. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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