Don’t kid yourself, the spiritual life is no cakewalk. And by that I mean there is a real struggle involved.
To put it like our Orthodox Fathers said – it is war. But not the war we think of nowadays. No, this is a “war” with myself where I have to commit to a purposeful, attentive, struggle against the tug of my passions toward slavery to my desires. I have to “fight” the spiritual fight to tame my desires so they serve me and not master me. I have to actively engage in the daily warfare of being “like” Christ and not simply float along with the rest of the age who are content to pamper their desires instead of tame them.
And that perspective alone means I am going to be viewed by this present age as a threat. I am going to be looked at as a fanatic, a zealot, or a “Christian Nationalist.” Religious academics will write books about how my spiritual attentiveness is a “danger” to the Church. Politicians will say I’m a “threat to democracy” because my life suggests that their lives are immoral. I have to do the hard work of a life of repentance WITHOUT condemning others. Gang, that kind of living takes training and commitment. This ain’t for the timid or the weak of heart!
In the world we live in today, we are faced with increasing opposition to our Normal Orthodox Life. We are misunderstood. We are mischaracterized. We are accused of being bigots or homophobes or all manner of vile things that simply aren’t true. In the face of such spiritual warfare, how do we react?
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Matthew 10:16-22:
The Lord said to his disciples, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.”
Jesus sent His disciples out “as sheep in the midst of wolves.” Could there be a better word picture to set up the disciples to really appreciate what they were sent out to do? This was going to be dangerous. This was going to be threatening to the “wolves” around them. They were going to be in actual, physical “peril.” They were going to be arrested. They were going to have to go to court. They were going to have not just their jobs and families threatened, but their very lives as well.
And in the face of all this that actually happened to all the disciples, Jesus tells them “Don’t be anxious.”
Of course, you can understand why anyone would be anxious in this terrible situation. And you know this because you’ve been anxious in situations that were not nearly as dangerous as what these men faced. You’ve been anxious when someone at your job, or even a family member has confronted you about your faith. You’ve been anxious and afraid when someone says “Those Christians are such bigots.” You don’t want to be thought of as a bigot. You don’t want to be publically shunned or ridiculed. And from that anxiousness, from that fear, they silenced you. You didn’t feel confident enough to defend the Faith. So you told them what they wanted to hear so the pressure would be off. I know how this is because I’ve caught myself doing just that to avoid being labeled or accused in the face of cultural chaos that cancels quick and listens not at all!
But Jesus tells His disciples and us “Don’t be anxious” in these moments because you will be given what to say in those moments IF you will not allow fear to flood your mind and intoxicate your ability to hear what the Spirit is telling you to say. Because, truthfully, you will only be the mouthpiece. It is really the Lord speaking through you because you were sober enough and attentive enough to trust Him and serve Him. And your “enemies” won’t have a response because what you have said will perfectly deal with their blind hatred of the Truth. And through your endurance, you will be saved!
The Great Martyr St. Nikitas is remembered today for refusing to deny Christ even when his own king demanded him to do so. St. Nikitas was of noble birth among the tribe of people known as the Goths. Christianity didn’t stop spreading through the known world at the borders of the Roman Empire. The Faith grew and penetrated even into the pagan tribes and peoples surrounding the Empire. One such example is St. Nikitas. Early in the time when Christianity was quickly growing as the dominant religion in the Roman Empire, the surrounding peoples were also converting to Christianity. Nikitas was meant for leadership among the Goths due to his noble birth. King Athanaric, the pagan ruler of the Goths had Nikitas arrested and tortured, attempting to get this influential man to renounce his Christian faith. When it was obvious that Nikitas was willing to face any torture rather than abandon Jesus, the king had this mighty hero burned at the stake. The Goths became Christians in spite of the king’s objections! By the way, the name “Nikitas” means “victory.”
Today, does your fear of confrontation keep you silent when evil or even foolishness attacks the Faith? Are you afraid to speak up and speak out to declare the Faith? Don’t be anxious! IF you will trust that God knows where you are and what you need, you will have the words to say that will always prove you are living a Normal Orthodox life!
P.S. Destroying the might of error by your firm resolve, and taking the crown of victory through your sufferings, O Nikitas, namesake of victory, you rejoice with angel-kind, and with them, O glorious one, you ceaselessly pray to Christ God for us all.