One of the greatest attractions to me towards the Orthodox Church was the continuity of practice and, more importantly, a real connection to the People of God.
There’s an old story about a British journalist visiting the library of one of the ancient monasteries on Mt. Athos in Greece. He was walking among the stacks with the monk librarian and the old monk was talking about this and that saint or writer and telling stories about the people who wrote the books in the library.
At some point, the journalist began to notice a subtle but significant reality. The monk was talking as if he knew these people and as if they were still alive. This struck the journalist rather odd and he commented to the monk about what he had observed.
Now it was the monk’s turn to be perplexed. He told the journalist “We spend our lives not just knowing the ideas of these writers but they, themselves. They are our brothers and they are with Christ and Christ is not dead, so neither are they. Don’t you folks believe Jesus rose from the dead?”
This leads to our Gospel Lesson today in Luke 11:47-54; 12:1:
The Lord said to the Jews who had come to him, “Woe to you! for you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. So you are witnesses and consent to the deeds of your fathers; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zacharias, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it shall be required of this generation. Woe to you lawyers! for you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard, and to provoke him to speak of many things, lying in wait for him, to catch at something he might say. In the meantime, when so many thousands of the multitude had gathered together that they trod upon one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”
Our Lord Jesus gives a series of “woes” to the religious leaders of His day. And He finishes His lesson with the warning to avoid the “leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” You see, the Pharisees claimed to be faithful to the tradition of the faith they had received, but they had perverted the faith with a loss of the love necessary to fill tradition up with the warmth of true devotion. They had reduced all too often the intentions of the faith to draw all to God to a mere outward observation of certain rules and regulations while forgetting the weightier matters of mercy and love. Their hypocrisy made that which was beautiful into the exact opposite of what it was to be.
We must always beware of that little bit of “leaven” that infects the entire body because it always causes us to forget people!
This faith is meant to connect us with each other! I came to Orthodoxy because I could no longer justify making this up as I went along. I had to abandon the “cafeteria” approach to the faith and humble myself by submitting my life to other lives who had lived this faith before me. I wanted to be part of that communal memory that held the lives of that “great cloud of witnesses.” Being in communion, actual communion, with my brothers and sisters in Christ became more important to me than my own talents, insights, and comfort. If we are ever going to be Orthodox on Purpose we will have to hold dear the real people who came before us and see our obligation to the faithfulness they left for us to follow and pass on to the next generation!
Today, let’s root out all the “leaven” of hypocrisy by repentance and being vigilant against the loss of love for God and others AND let us take seriously the irreplaceable gift of the Saints to our successful practice of the faith today. Stand in front of your icons today and say “God is wondrous in His Saints!” And fall in love all over again with the God Who already loves you more than you, yourself, know how to love!