There’s just no substitute for contemplation. But it seems our modern world is moving at such a break neck speed that contemplation is impossible! That’s why authentic faith is the “last, true, rebellion” and the hardest and most rewarding path to being truly human!
Listen to what Abba Evagrius says “A wandering mind is made stable by reading, vigil and prayer. Flaming lust is extinguished by hunger, labor and solitude. Stirrings of anger are calmed by psalmody, magnanimity and mercifulness.” It sounds like the ability to contemplate extinguishes the ways at which we harm ourselves through undisciplined passions. I really need this in my life. Don’t you?
Look at our Lesson today in 2 Timothy 2:1-10:
TIMOTHY, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hardworking farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything.
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in my gospel, the gospel for which I am suffering and wearing fetters like a criminal. But the word of God is not fettered. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory.
St. Paul gives 4 labors to his spiritual son,. Timothy, that will help him keep his focus in Christ. And these same labors are gifts to you and me today to help us keep our lives headed in the right direction.
The First Labor is “Be Strong.” Easy for you to say. But, think about it, how do we become strong? We exercise. We labor. We focus our attention. Anything you do well is the result of your practicing, sometimes failing, but learning from your mistakes. St. Paul tells Timothy that he is to “be strong” in the grace of Jesus Christ. And how do I do that? By myself? NO. By the common effort and exercise of following wise teachers and saints. By exercising your faith in reading the lives of the saints, actively memorizing the prayers of the Church, practicing the wise rhythm of the Church liturgical cycle, you become strong in grace.
The next Labor is “Share.” This labor is very hard, because it is a sharing in the sufferings of Christ Himself. And how am I supposed to do that? If you’ve ever faithfully done an exercise routine for your physical health, then you understand this suffering. The suffering comes in saying “no” to the easy distractions that knock you off your focus. It’s the same with your spiritual life. By being willing to take on the sufferings of Christ, you “suffer” the hard work of saying no to distractions, and “yes” to a focused way of living based on the timeless wisdom of the Faith.
The Third Labor is “Think!” How many mistakes in my life would have been avoided if I would have just taken a moment to think before I jumped? But Paul tells Timothy that the key here is to “think over what I say.” Pay attention to the wisdom of your spiritual fathers and mothers and follow up that attention with a willingness to listen for the Voice of God when you ask the Lord to help you become wise.
The Final Labor is “Remember.” The key labor in all of this is to “remember Jesus Christ.” Our Orthodox Faith is centered on Jesus Christ, a Person, not a religious philosophy. And how can I not forget Jesus? By active participation in the rhythm of the Church Year as we “remember” Jesus in the Feasts of the Church; in the Fasts of the Church; and in the liturgical life of the Church. If you work at remembering Jesus, then fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays is vital for your labor to remember! It’s not a burden but a labor gifted to you to help you remember!
Today, are you willing to do the hard labor of breaking from a hectic life that only ends up making you a slave to a million passion? If you want to be free, then start being free from that slavery of a life by embracing the 4 labors that lead to being Like Christ! Be Orthodox on Purpose!
I am convinced, using myself as an example, that many of us believe our affection for Christ is all that he wants. I was passing our icon corner, which is in the middle of our living room, made the sign of the cross, said something like, “I love you Lord Jesus,” and immediately a voice in my mind said, “I want you to do more than have feelings for me.” Often feelings reassure us that a relationship is what it should be, and that in itself is probably very misguided, but when it comes to God even more so. But when love has in its definition purification, illumination… then, that love requires more than affection. God bless you.