The Arena
The Arena

Episode · 2 years ago

Unmanly Cowardice - Sunday of the Ladder 2020

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Now available at patristic nectar dot Org. patristic nectar publications is pleased to present a new sixpart lecture series by Father Maximus Constas, entitled the life and Teaching of Saint Basil the Great. Saint Basil of Cesarea, one of the three holy hierarchs, is a foundational figure in the life of the Christian Church. His Life and works have inspired and guided the faithful for almost eighteen centuries. In these lectures, the highly esteemed petrologist, Father Maximos leads his students into a deep dive into the life and thought of this holy father, first by unveiling the contours of Saint Basil's life and then by surveying the major aspects of his teaching and ministry. The lecture titles are as follows. Lecture one, the life of Saint Basil the Great. Lecture two, the ascetic writings. Lecture three, the Trinitarian controversy. Lecture four, scripture preaching Liturgy. Lecture Five, social and philanthropic works. Lecture six, Saint Basil as the paradigm of the priesthood. Summary and conclusions for these and other available titles, please visit our website at patristic nectar dot org and now the arena with Father Josiah Trenna, in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Blessed Lord's they to you brothers, and to you brothers and sisters who are at home. You know, when I came in this week to the church, as I drove in each day, I looked at the marvelous banner that we have on the front lawn. It says worship like never before. It was placed there as an outreach to our community so that the tens of thousands who drive by, usually, always, until recently, would see that banner and would be intrigued at the beautiful young girl lighting a candle and that that beautiful message. I thought to myself, though, how ironic we had no idea when we put that banner up that what was really going to be worshiping like never before was this pathetic, horribled experience that we're engaged in now. We're in due to this terrible tragedy, we're worshiping separated from me, from one another and huddled in our own houses and looking at screens. What a what a challenge it is for us. We are learning again. Perhaps in ways we've never learned that we are the servant and the Lord is the master, and where he says to go, we go, and what he asks us to do, we do. We can be thankful that we're not wandering through the Wilderness for forty years, having to eat manna on the ground and looking for the promised land in some distant future. So I have a word for you, brothers and sisters. This is the fourth Sunday of the great fast. This is the Sunday of St John of Sinai, the author of the ladder of descent. It's of a scent. It's an incredible Sunday. You heard the gospel lesson so focused on obtaining the grace of God and healing from the demons and from our sicknesses of body and soul, through prayer and fasting. Jesus just profoundly explains how he works through when we...

...pray and when we fast. I'm holding the marvelous text that set John of sign I wrote the ladder, and it's about St John and the ladder that I wish to speak to you for a few moments. St John's life is a fascinating life. You know, he began the ladder, the guide to the spiritual life, by telling us that we had to renounce the world and detach and live in exile. Those are the first three steps, renunciation, detachment exile. And he practiced what he preached, though he has become an incredibly famous saint. We know very, very little about his origins because he hid them. We know that he became a monk when he was sixteen at Sinai, but he wouldn't tell people much about his past, much about his family. He hid these things because he was laboring. He believed that to be a stranger on the earth was necessary to be a friend of heaven and that the more that we were attached there, the more we would consider ourselves strangers here. So he hit his origins. We know very little about his place of birth, about his parents, about his siblings. He does have a brother who I'll tell you about it a minute. He says this. He says the virtue of exile is separation from everything in order to hold totally to God. He lived in the middle of the sixth century. He became a monk, as I mentioned, at sixteen at Sinai, and he lived for twenty years in obedience and humility to his spiritual father, the elder in Martyrios. He he did what he asked, he tried to think what he thought. He tried to hide his own will in that of his spiritual father and after his elder's death he embraced the the life of a hermit for forty years. So from sixteen until thirty five he was with father martials when Father Marterios died. From thirty five to seventy five he lived as a humble hermit. He lived about five miles away from the monastery of Sinai, which is our oldest continuously active monastery in the whole world. Since the fourteen century. We've called that monastery St Catharine's, but it wasn't called St Catharine's at the time that St John was there. He lived very humbly on a hillside with many other monks who were trying to live quietly by themselves. He also had a special place of retreat, a cave about further towards the base of the mountain, and that is still a place of pilgrimage for for pilgrims today to go visit the Little Cave of St John. In fact, brothers and sister. Some of you might have heard from our own father, Joseph, who has been going around and speaking to small groups in the Paris, to the old people, to the teens, etc. About Sinai and about his pilgrimage there and about going to his cave. St John Ascended very high in the spiritual life. He became a great healer of the body and the soul. He often dwelt in extended times in Ecstasy. But the Great Grace, the most profound grace that the church knows him for is the grace of teaching, the grace of teaching the spiritual life. It said that he is to the spiritual life what saying Gregory the theologian is to the Dogma of the Holy Trinity. He is the master teacher of life with God. He was slandered grievously...

...by some monks who were jealous of his influence and of his teaching ability. And when he was slandered he refused to speak for one year. St John he said, well, if I'm causing temptation and people are slandering me, I won't speak anymore. So he shut his mouth and he only began to teach again when his calumniators actually repented and came to him themselves. The very people who had been slandering him came to him and begged him to start teaching again, and then he accepted and he began to teach again. He was enthroned as the Abbot of the monastery in Sinai, and there's a story, a very beautiful story, associated with his enthronement. It said that on the day of his enthronement, six hundred pilgrims came. Besides all the monks and the clergy, six hundred pill pilgrims came and they put of course, they had the services and the enthronment, and then they had to feed that Colossus of people. And it said that the Holy Prophet and God see are Moses himself was seen as the master of the feast, moving here and there through the pilgrims, giving orders, marking orders at the cooks and at everyone who was administering, administering the feast, clad in neatawe. This appearance of Moses is very illustrative and very beautiful, because St John became the new Moses on the same mountain. He became a seer of God and a teacher of the law, the spiritual law of God. He's always been seen as the new Moses by the church, delivering the precepts of the Christian faith. In fact, this great work, the ladder of divine assent, wasn't originally titled The Ladder of Divine Ascent. This is the name that the church gave to this book. St John Titled It something else. He entitled this the new the tablets, the tablets of the spiritual law. Think of Moses bringing the tablets of the law down from Sinai. Here is the new Moses on Sinai giving the the new tablets on how to live the Christian life. This book is nothing less than a guide to evangelical living. It is the Gospel fleshed out, Jesus's words put into practice. That's what this book is. It's read in our monasteries every great lent. It consists of thirty chapters that vary in link. From the shortest like the short of chapter in the entire book as a is a chapter dedicated to avarice. It's one page long, the love of money. He was writing mostly from monks, and most of them had killed that in order to become to become a monk. That's step sixteen. It's followed next by the second shortest, which is step twelve, which is on lying, which is a page and a half. On the other end of the spectrum is his chapter on discernment of Thoughts, which is the longest chapter, Chapter Step Twenty six, thirty six pages long, and it's followed by the second longest, which is step four on obedience, which is a very close second at thirty four pages long. The audience to whom St John is writing he makes clear in the very opening chapter of the book, the very first paragraph in fact, he begins in step one, where all Christians have to begin when they go to baptism, which is on the renunciation of the world and the devil. This is his opening sentence, this is how...

...he opens his book. He says our God and King is good, transcendently good and all good. He starts where all teachers of the faith start, where the Christian life starts, with God. It's not something that we've invented. This is something that the all good God has brought to pass in our lives. Everything in the Christian life flows from the knowledge of God. And then making that statement about God, he immediately goes to explain that God has created rational beings, that all the rational beings that he has endowed with the honor of having free will can be divided into five groups. The first group he calls God's friends, and these are the noetic and incorporeal angels. This is the first group. The second are God's true servants. These are human beings who tirelessly seek to do God's will. They love him and they seek his will. The Third Group of these rational beings honored with free will, he calls the worthless. The worthless. Who are the worthless listened to his words? Those who think of themselves as having been granted baptism that have not faithfully kept the vows they made to God? Oh my God, the worthless are Christians who are relying on their baptism but are not actually living for God's will. The fourth group he calls the completely estranged, the completely estrange, and these are unbelievers and heretics. And then the fifth he calls the opponents, and the opponents are those who have not just rejected God's commandments but there waging a bitter war against the faithful. These are the persecutors. All rational beings made by God and endowed with the honor of free will, can be divided into those five groups, and he says, of those five groups, I am writing this book for Group Number Two, the true servants of God, those who want to serve him and to know his will and how to do his will. Saint John Reposed at an advanced age and his brother, whose name was George, who was also a fellow monk with him in Sina and a bishop. He was John's designated successor and there's a beautiful story in John's life at the end of his life between him and his brother George. George did not he knew his brother was getting ready to repose and to go to the next life. So he prayed to God. He said, Lord, do not allow my brother to die first. Make me die first, because there is no way I can govern this monastery without him. So as he saw his brother dying, he went to his brother and he said you're not going to die first, because I ask God to let me die first, and John simply looked at him. He said, brother, don't worry, if I have boldness before the Lord when I repose, I will make sure that you are with me within one year. I will make sure. In fact, he reposed first. George did not get his wish, but George reposed ten months after his brother and they were in paradise together. What an amazing life and what an amazing book. I'd like to say, as the last part of my homily, a word about one particular step. It's step twenty one, and the name of that step is called on unmanly and Pueril cowardice. UNMANLY and Pueril cowardice. Puero means childish. You know, this week I was walking into the church on one of the days and I...

...cross paths with one of our prishoners who was going out. She had come to kiss the cross and to take a flower from the Cross and to get some holy bread and to pray, get some grace, and she was walking out and she was holding this book in her hand. So I commended her. I said, all you're reading the latter. How wonderful, and all she did was grown. She went Oh, when I said that. I trust that that was the grown of grace. I trust that that was the grown of a struggle engaged. Certainly that's what pursuing the Christian life requires. Some groaning. I think some groaning and this chapter, this Chapter I chose because of the tremendous fears that are before all of us. Were in such an unusual time. Very few people have any way to relate to this time. I don't. I mid my mid S. I've never seen anything like this. I've never lived through anything like this. I I'm in the Church and my all my strength is being exercised not to break out in tears during this liturgy. Where is everyone and why is this? I have a neighbor. She's older than I am. She's one the full woman, Pious Catholic woman, and she lives right across the street from me and she's been our friends for we've been friends for twenty years, just the beautiful person, and she shared with us this week that we that she shared some of her own experience, some of her own lived experience, which gave us a better footing and I want to share it with you. She said that this was not surprising to her and that she in fact had lived through this. She said when she was a little girl, she was in Minnesota and she was confined to her house for an entire summer. She could not leave her house because of the outbreak of polio in our country. They could not the children were not allowed to leave their can you imagine being in Minnesota for a summer inside Carril as one? That had to be a challenge. That had to be a challenge, so she said. This is how threatening she said. She also remembers the day that her dad erupted in tears because the vaccine for the polio was found and was able to be administered to her and to the other children and he was able to rest that his children weren't going to contract polio like so many had. She also said that growing up she did not know a single family in her world that had not lost a loved one to the influenza outbreak of one thousand, nine hundred and eighteen. Every family she knew had lost a grandparent or cousin or someone. Anyway, when I heard that, it helped me understand that this is nothing new. This is nothing new and the actions that were taking right now are not new. We got through it then and, with God's help, we can get through it now. But we need a perspective and we need confidence in God. We need trust in God and we have to watch out for cowardice and that's why I want to end with a few words about cowardice. UNMANLY. He calls it unmanly and puerile cowardice. Listen to his description of cowardice. He says this.

He says cowardice is the daughter of unbelief. Unbelief is the mother of cowardice and it gives birth to fear. It all comes from not believing in God. He said. Cowardice is also a quote rehearsing of dangers beforehand. We think about things that even haven't happened yet, but we're getting afraid of what might happen. Milt that's not yet spilled, because we aren't focused on where we are at the moment. Cowardice is a loss of assurance in God. Cowardice, he says, vainly, trufts in itself and it can attack and enter our lives either through the body, sometimes we just have an immediate bodily responsive fear, or through the soul. We perceive something in the soul that scares us. He goes and no matter how it comes in, it will pass. If it comes in the body, it will pass to the soul. If it comes in the soul pass to the body. What's the advice he gives after describing it? This is the advice. Three little things, but so profound. First, he says, confront your fears head on. Confront your fears head on. He says, go to your fears and arm yourself with prayer. Go to your fears and arm yourself with prayer. Stretch out your hands and flog your enemies with the name of Jesus, because there is no stronger weapon in heaven or on Earth than that name. He says. Look your fears in the face and then call on the name of Jesus. Say, when you're looking at them, in the name of the father, son and Holy Spirit, say Lord Jesus, Christ son of God, help me, have mercy upon me. Say His name, and that is like flogging the devils who are trying to bring you into cowardice and fear. He says, if you stay thankful for the deliverance that he will give you, he will continue to protect you from fear your entire life through this means. This is another quote. This into this, he says, let us charge into the good life with joy and with love, without being afraid of any of our enemies, though unseen they are able to look at the face of your soul and if they see your soul altered by fear, they take up arms against us all the more fiercely. But no one fights a resolute fighter. You hear what he's saying. He's describing how the devil's look at our faces and they can actually see the face of our soul. And if we're allowing ourselves to live by fear, then they're going to scare us more, they're going to attack us, he says, take up arms even more fiercely. But if they see that we're resolved to trust in God and to face our fears and not to be dominated by them, they'll run away, because nobody wants to get in a ring with a person who really wants to fight, who's willing to fight. No one fights a resolute fighter. So this is the first piece of advice. Confront your fears head on. The second is humble yourself before the Lord. Humble yourself before the Law Lord, he says, it's impossible to overcome fear instantly. It's impossible. It yields more quickly in proportion to how much we mourn. Those who mourn, he's says, are not subject to fear. As long as we keep the disposition of the beatitudes. Blessed are those who mourn. As long as we remember our poverty, remember as long as we keep a poor spirit, then we rely on God and not on ourselves. As long as we have a spirit of mourning about who we are, God is close, we are protected, we are safe and we don't fear. He said, actual freedom from cowardice...

...comes when we eagerly accept all unexpected events with a contrite heart, and is shouldn't we apply that today? Actual freedom from cowardice comes when we eagerly accept all unexpected events, and certainly this is an unexpected event, with a contrite heart. We don't complain about it, we don't doubt. With a humble heart, we trust God. This is how it ends, and this is his third piece of advice. Trust in the Lord, face your fear head on, take a humble disposition, mourn, because no one fears things outside when you're when you're with God. And the third put your whole confidence in him. He says the Servant of the Lord fears his master alone, and if we don't fear God, then we will fear even our own shadow. Let us who are weak, he says. Let us who are weak, have the courage to offer our infirmity and our natural weakness to Christ with unhesitating faith. Confess your weakness to him, he says, and we shall certainly obtain His help, the master of the spiritual life, step twenty one on conquering unmanly and Pueril fear or cowardice. May God help us to trust him. Cominent, we hope that you have enjoyed and have been edified by this presentation offered to you by patristic nectar publications, a non profit organization committed to nourishing the spiritually thirsty with the sweet teachings of the Holy Fathers. If you are interested in other available titles or if you would like more information on patristic nectar publications, please visit our website at www dot patristic nectar dot org. Again, that's W W W dot patristic nectar dot org.

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