"The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom"
(Proverbs 9:10; Psalm 111:10)
A homily by a hieroschema monk that can apply to the transmission of wisdom to our children:
The first 2 verses in today's Gospel read: "The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"
St Anthony the Great once commented on this excerpt from the Gospels and his words are preserved for us in the writings of St John Cassian in the talk of the Egyptian monk Abba Moses on discretion. So Abba Moses spoke as follows:
"I remember that while I was still in my youth, in the region of Thebaid, where the blessed Antony lived, the elders came to him to inquire about perfection, and it was discussed at great length what virtue or observance could preserve a monk always unharmed by the snares and deceits of the devil, and carry him forward on a sure and right path, and with firm step to the heights of perfection. And each gave his opinion, and some said it consist in zeal in fasting and vigils, because a soul that has been brought low by these, and so obtained purity of heart and body and are more easily united to God, others said in despising all material things, as, if the mind were utterly deprived of them, thus it would come more freely to God, as if from then on there were no snares to entangle it; others thought that withdrawal from the world was the thing needful, i.e., solitude and the isolation of the hermit's life, since living in this way a man may more readily commune with God, and cling more especially to Him; others laid down that the duties of charity, i.e., of kindness should be practiced, because the Lord in the gospel promised more especially to give the kingdom to these; when He said 'Come ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungred and ye gave Me to eat, I was thirsty and ye gave Me to drink, etc..'"
"Then at last the blessed Antony spoke and said: 'All these things which you have mentioned are indeed needful, and helpful to those who are thirsting for God, and desirous to approach Him. But countless accidents and the experience of many will not allow us to make the most important of gifts consist in them. For often when men are most strict in fasting or in vigils, and nobly withdraw into solitude, and aim at depriving themselves of all their goods so absolutely that they do not allow even a day's allowance of food or a single penny to remain to them, and when they fulfill all the duties of kindness with the utmost devotion, yet still we have seen them suddenly deceived, so that they could not bring the work they had entered upon to a suitable close, but brought their exalted fervor and praiseworthy manner of life to a terrible end.'"
"'Therefore we shall be able clearly to recognize what it is which securely leads to God, if we examine with greater care the reason of their downfall and deception. For when the works of the above mentioned virtues were abounding in them, discretion alone was lacking, and did not allowed them to continue to the end. Nor can any other reason for their falling off be discovered except that as they were not sufficiently instructed by their elders they could not obtain judgment for Christ says, "if the light which is in thee be darkness, how great will that darkness be!" For no one can doubt that when the judgment of our heart goes wrong, and is overwhelmed by the night of ignorance, our thoughts and deeds, which are the result of deliberation and discretion, must be involved in the darkness of still greater sins.'"
Here St. Anthony is speaking of discretion in reference to ascetic labors but today we find ourselves in such an atmosphere both in the world and the Church that we need discretion concerning correct understanding of our Orthodox Faith. Yes, are we holding fast to the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints? We find ourselves in the midst of varying conflicting opinions even in the Church. So we need discretion, the eye of our souls must be whole. How can we acquire this discretion? What can safeguard our hearts from error?
Something very helpful which can be expressed in one word is piety, or evsevia in Greek or blagochestiye in Slavonic. This is a holy humble blessed fearless fear of God in which there is peace. It is the core of our life in Christ. St. Theophan the Recluse explains it like this: "the standing in awe before God in the heart. This fear is the guardian and defender of the state of grace." And he goes on to instruct: "Steep yourself in this godly fear, reflect deeply upon it, and impress it firmly upon your conscience and heart. Revivify it constantly within yourself, and in its turn it will fill you with life."
In another place he says: "We should always hold fast to the fear of God it is the root of all spiritual knowledge and all right action. When the fear of God rules in the soul everything goes well both within and without. Try to kindle this sense of fear in your heart every morning before you do anything else. "
Let us, then strive to fulfill St. Theophan's instructions. And remember this is not an intellectual acknowledgement that he speaks of, or a working of the brain but rather that of the heart. For he said, "Try to kindle this sense of fear in your heart" and "stand in awe before God in the heart." Then we shall be able to perceive with our heart, again I want to stress that this is not to understand with the brain but to perceive with the heart--as our Lord shows us in the parable of the sower for He says that the word is sown in the heart and those that understand with their heart bear fruit. May God grant us this and so discern the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. Amen.
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