For Thy sake we are slain all the day long,
we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.
Quoting the foregoing epigraph from the Psalter, St. Paul brings his Epistle to the Romans (8:36) to its height as he supplants the lament of the chosen people in the Psalm with the ceaseless victory of faith achieved in the countless martyric works the faithful willingly undergo in the everyday realm of this world for the unsearchable and divine sacrificial love of our Lord.
As for the modern day, I am reminded of the poignant statement of Archbishop Averky (Taushev) that all the ever-increasing distractions we face in the situation of the modern world commensurate with perhaps a more threatening persecution than that which the previous generation faced at the hands of the outwardly murderous Soviets .
For anything that separates us from the love of Christ, anything that separates us even for a moment, from our repentance of our invariable fall from communion with Him, slays our very spirit and pollutes the soul.
That party scheduled, that kids’ sporting event, that self-time for this or that, preparation for work, etc., scheduled of course in conflict with the Divine Services (for one instance), if given into, slays our spiritual commitment to the One Thing Needful, and precludes even the condition of the possibility of edification.
What is really at stake? It’s just one little birthday party. It’s just one soccer game, one day I have to prepare for the next demanding work-week. Just one day I have to lay around like a buffoon and binge on utter inanity.
Salvation. Taken for granted by the Protestants who prostitute their very souls (unawares, no offense) because all one need do is flip the switch again and proclaim to oneself the acceptance of Him back into one’s heart, like switching favorite department stores, one’s salvation truly is not even guaranteed after one lifetime of prayer, fasting, and repentance.
By way of contrast, “You’ll never make it to heaven,” says the frustrated apostate of the one “skipping” for Church whenever possible any of the secular holidays announced every two weeks by the shelves of the corner pharmacy store found every two blocks in every city and town across the globe. These are but charades put up against the issue of one’s own salvation.
These are but charades to the soul, seeking after wholeness, groping through the dark to find a way beyond the fragmentation of self-will, the isolation of the world which offers (nay requires) only increasingly entrenched appetite-fulfillment (tyranny of the passions) or alienation.
The sacrifice of attending every or as many of the Divine Services as possible is minuscule and thus absolutely all the more imperative up against our ontological injunction of repentance existing by default of the incalculably great “magnitude” of His mercy (for it is beyond all possible conceptions of magnitude).
Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God, is our ladder to heaven. Born of the pure virgin blood of the already (albeit not by immaculate conception) Most-Holy Theotokos by the Holy Spirit, God. The ever-virgin birth-giver of God, the heavenly throne of the King, the Queen of Heaven, who also resurrected following her earthly repose, became the condition of the possibility of our own transformation unto sanctity, the order of the Divine (deification, theosis).
But such a process may only begin with repentance.
We have said nothing about the resulting illumination by which one’s very soul is transfigured unto Life. And this only by a constant rejection of self-will, an utterly unwavering mortification of oneself, every urge, every sigh, every complaint, every demand, every fit and start, every reaction to the obstacles and objects of “desire” constantly scattered before us on our path, denied in advance, precluded, cut off. This comes only by way of true, uninterrupted repentance in prayer and fasting with one’s entire comportment.
And there is nothing else that matters, as there is nothing else. All else leads to death. All else leads to disease, permitted by God only for the benefit of His fallen creatures, a bitter medicine enabling our souls to turn back to Life.
And then there is martyrdom.
As the good thief to the right of our Lord on the Precious, Holy, and Life-Giving Cross was saved by a mere confession of faith at the Eleventh Hour (St. Dismas), so also are we when we are slain only for our love of the Lord.
And this many times a day. Of St. Paul’s recasting of the admonition that we are slain all the day long, St. John Chrysostom writes:
It is possible in one day to die not once or twice but many times. For someone who is always prepared for this will continually receive a full reward. This is what the psalmist hints at when he says ‘all the day long.’
Always prepared. No matter what. And like the ancient martyrs killed daily as sheep by the unbelieving wolves in every city during persecution, we may cry this aloud in our day as we endure what we must.
But how do we stay always prepared?
For one, we must never romanticize that we are instantly just like the martyrs just because we are in the Church, are clergymen, or are churchmen. For are we not like the tenants in our Lord’s parable of the vineyard (Matthew 21:33-44), who despite our impassioned, even murderous ways, our being worse than harlots and publicans from time immemorial, still received God’s unwavering providence?
The landlord (God) provided the vineyard and hedged it all round (the Law of God; or also the Holy Angels protecting), the winepress (Holy Altar), planted the crops, leaving not much more for the tenants to do, and went “into a far country” (longsuffering). His great care for His people, His benevolence, His love offered from the beginning and unwaveringly so despite their (our) ways, is boundless. He sent more and still more servants/husbandmen (prophets, teachers) to gather the returns on the fruit and wine (their obedience) and the tenants beat and murdered all of them (indignant, wicked). He finally sent his only son and they cast him out and slew him.
And the disciples and those listening to our Lord answered rightly, that when the landlord returns to find all that had been done that “He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other tenants, who shall render him the fruits in their seasons.”
Our Lord then quotes the scriptures and elaborates:
‘The stone which the builders rejected, the same has become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.’ Therefore I say unto you, the Kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
As head of the corner, the chief cornerstone, indeed God is the Lord, and over all people, all of His creation. Unbelievers in their indignant and wicked ways, not-believing despite His unwavering care and providence and benevolent granting of free will, from the ages unto the ages, shall be cast out, shall not inherit the Heavenly Kingdom.
As St. John Chrysostom tells us, the parable indicates the great blessings (and the great dread on the part of those who would give in to their passions) that the death of the Son should effect. It also indicates the extreme punishment that must be endured for the Crucifixion and their crime of Judgment.
“Thy right hand, O Lord, hath been glorified in strength, Thy right hand, O Lord, hath crushed the enemies. And by the multitude of Thy glory Thou hast smashed Thine adversaries.”
These quotes from Exodus together constitute the prayer a priest/deacon pray when donning the right Epimanikia (cuff) when vesting for a service. It is also part of the Song of Moses sung at the end of the 6th Old Testament reading on Great and Holy Saturday (as our Lord hung on the Cross).
In assisting us in staying prepared for nothing short of great suffering, affliction, and death, and indeed for being slain all the day long, this parable also instructs us in its stark contrast between God’s absolute benevolence and our excessive idleness. Always given over to sin, we keep up our own exile always despite more and more of the Lord’s terrible mercy.
And again we sing the lamentation, Glory to Thy Long-suffering, O Lord, Glory to Thee! For we slay again those servants sent our way in the hopes of our repentance, as the Blessed Theophylact has it. And still He has not pursued we wrongdoers for our just deserts. But how long must He endure this wicked and adulterous generation?
We must condemn our own inclination to sin, our wicked self-will, lest we be condemned in eternity.
And we must center ourselves around the Lamb of Christ, offered up of His own will to be slain, and His precious blood shed for the Life of the world, as we are called to transcend the world’s entrenchments, the snares of the passions, as death itself has been slain. In His victorious Resurrection, the whole of death and Hades has been conquered, our wickedness, our entrenchment has been undone, and we have become unfettered by all that would slay our resoluteness in struggling toward salvation.
And in the constant preparation in the fullest possible cycle of the Divine Services, and reception of Holy Communion in the Bloodless Sacrifice of the Eucharist, and ONLY in such (i.e. the Holy Orthodox Church) may the Lord keep His children at the ready unto the ages. Amen.
Sept. 5/17, 2020
🕂 Finding of the relics of Saint Joasaph, Bishop of Belgorod (1911)