Sunday, August 30, 2009
Church calendar, today's Gospel and other thoughts
There is a joke that you can set your watch by the Chruch Calendar. You know what time it is during the day based on the prayers of the hours. You know what day it is because each day has a specific commemoration whether angels, saints, John the Forerunner, etc. And you know what Sunday it is after Pentecost based on the Epistle and Gospel lessons. For the past five years, on this Sunday, which falls between mid-August and mid-September, I was able to tell that we are getting out of summer and headed towards autumn and the start of the new Church Year, which, for the Orthodox, begins on September 1.
Today's Gospel (Matthew 19: 16-24) is the all familiar story of the rich man who asks the Lord what he must do to inherit eternal life. Christ's answer that the man should sell all of his possessions was disheartening to him and that men left sorrowful. According to the biographer of St. Anthony, St. Athansius, wrote that the great saint passing by the entrance of a church heard this same Gospel and immediately sold all his possessions and retreated to the ascetic life in Egypt. So, what are we to make of this Gospel? I can only speak for myself.
I am at a crossroads in my life where there is much uncertainty and little clarity. I have managed to get my foot in a number of doors but I keep getting pushed out. This has, as you can expect, given me a lot to despair over and become depressed. Going to a confession some weeks ago, I made confession to my priest about what I was going through. And he said that perhaps what I needed to do was to lay my life's work, my career, as a sacrifice to God as Abraham did with Isaac. And only when he Abraham was prepared and truly committed to possibly losing what was most important to him (after all he and Sara had waited a very long time for a child), that it was restored to him. Similarly, Job had laid up all his possessions as a sacrifice and all he had lost was returned to him many times over. For this young man, no doubt earnestly desiring eternal salvation which only Christ can give, he was unwilling to sacrifice his possessions. This young man, like Abraham, had choice. Job had all this taken away against his will but still abided by the results. Like Job, my circumstance was dictated not by my own choice but unlike Job and like the young man, I'm not willing to offer it as a sacrifice to God. And perhaps why my career has not had any openings because I'm trying to hang onto it by my own terms. So, unlike Job and unlike Abraham, it won't be restored to me. I must be prepared to lose everything in order that it could possibly be saved.
At least that is the way I see it. I'm no theologian and I'm not very wise.
Today the Church Calendar allowed for the lesson to be read that I needed to hear, that I needed to absorb and digest. So, to those who believe that the church calendar is a fossil that needs to be disregarded or tossed out, well, it works for me.