I awakened this morning with an amazing peace of soul. This seemed incredible to comprehend as we continue to hear of the spread of the Coronavirus, my concerns for the well-being of all the people of our parish, and the questions about our continued services which have been weighing on my mind lately. After my prayer time this morning and as I read the daily readings, I pondered how I could have such peace today.
One thought came to me and continues to be in my mind as I write this: There is peace in obedience. I am so often disobedient to our Lord so this peace is a very nice experience. So what is this obedience right now? As a parish, we have endeavored to do our best to be in obedience to the Archbishop’s directions and to our own Metropolitan’s guidance. It really doesn’t matter what any other church or jurisdiction of Orthodoxy is doing; we have our “orders” so to speak. Our personal opinion on any of the directives we have been given is truly irrelevant.
A couple of Sundays ago, I shared in my homily the story of St. John the Dwarf. Here’s a brief summary of that story:
One day, the abbot of his monastery gave St. John a dried up stick and told him to water it every day until he was told to stop. He could have questioned the ridiculousness of such a task, even calling it a stupid directive. Instead, he responded: “May it be blessed.” He began to water that dry stick daily, which was not an easy task since he lived in the Egyptian desert and had to hike to the river for water each day. Day flowed into weeks; weeks flowed into months…and so on. There was no sign of complaining, questioning, or arguing about why or what he was doing. He simply obeyed. This gets even more profound when you consider that he did this for three years…THREE YEARS. Wow, I have trouble obeying things for three minutes. At the end of those three years, the dry stick suddenly budded and leaves appeared. It eventually bore fruit. The abbot took the fruit and held it up to all the brethren saying: “This, my brothers, is the fruit of obedience!”
The Holy Prophet Samuel told us: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.” (1 Samuel 15:22). King Saul had done what he thought was right in offering sacrifices to God, but he had disobeyed Samuel. Considering the place of the offering of sacrifices in the Old Testament, Samuel holds obedience to be of the greatest importance.
The Holy Prophet Zechariah, in chapter 7 of the book of Zechariah, proclaims to us that obedience is greater than fasting! That should truly strike home as we Orthodox around the world are fasting right now during Lent.
Social media is filled right now with comments from Orthodox Christians condemning the decisions of other jurisdictions and bishops. One thing I learned long ago (the school of hard knocks), we can never be the “bishop’s” bishop. Being judgmental in this way is simply not the path of Orthodoxy. Every Orthodox Christian should endeavor to be obedient to their bishop and not worry about what others are doing in the midst of this pandemic we find ourselves in. Our bishops have an incredible task before them in considering the safety and well-being of their flocks within the practice of our Orthodox Faith. I can’t even imagine the spiritual warfare they encounter as they wrestle with these decisions. When we receive their decisions, may we also say:
“May it be blessed.”