I can still hear the words from my mother’s mouth “OPEN WIDE”. I was not sure what it was I was going to be receiving but I knew it wasn’t going to be candy, but then I also trusted that my mother wanted what was best for me. In her quest to keep me healthy, I on occasion had to swallow some distasteful medicine, and on occasion some fried liver and cold Brussels sprouts but that is another story! Mom didn’t want me to suffer and trusted the good doctor’s prescription and only needed my cooperation, open wide and swallow!
When it comes to suffering, sometimes I feel like a tall lightning rod rising up touching the sky in the midst of a violent electrical storm! Yes, at times my struggles seem to be more than I can possibly bear! But any good lightning rod is well grounded and able to take an enormous amount of violent attacks. And we Christians are to be well grounded anchoring our souls to the Lord of Creation cooperating with His efforts in our salvation. St. John of Kronstadt wrote: “God is always stronger than evil, and therefore always conquers. Everything is possible unto those who believe and trust. We must struggle and conquer.”
We pray in our evening prayers: “Help Orthodox Christians to struggle” and what we are really asking for is to be a taller lightning rod amidst our storms with a better connection to ground though our trust in our risen Lord, open wide! We in the Russian church hear the word “podvig” and it is difficult to fully define. But mostly podvig means a spiritual struggle or a battle between our earthly scarred sinful bodies and our salvation seeking souls.
Saint Theophan the Recluse defines our total Christian life as αγώνας (agonas) (struggle). He says that the spirit hates sin, while the flesh dwells in it. How is this battle within ourselves to be won? Through αγώνα (agonas-spiritual struggle) of bringing the soul into mastery over the body and according to Saint Theophan “all the Saints accept the only true path to virtue to be pain and hard work…lightness and ease are a sign of a false path. Anyone who is not struggling, not in an agona, is in spiritual delusion” (The Path to Salvation).
Sometimes we find the path to being a well grounded lightning rod as a bit distasteful. St. John of Kronstadt reminds us: “Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it: where there is no struggle, there is no virtue; where there are no temptations for faithfulness and love, it is uncertain whether there is really any faithfulness and love for the Lord. Our faith, trust, and love are proved and revealed in adversities, that is, in difficult and grievous outward and inward circumstances, during sickness, sorrow, and privations.”
So then we find that in order to stay spiritually healthy we are to open our hearts widely and trustingly swallow the good medicine that God has sent our way. Remembering the Gospel reading we heard this morning; “And Jesus said to him, “‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.’” [Mt. 22:37] Open wide!
Fr. Gabriel Weller 9-9-2018