March 11, 2023

Homily for the Second Sunday of Great Lent: The Teachings of Christ and the Teachings of Men (St. Luke of Simferopol)

 Homily for the Second Week of Great Lent:
The Teachings of Christ and the Teachings of Men

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

If on the first Sunday of Great Lent, as you remember, the Holy Church triumphed at the affirmation of Orthodoxy by Seven Ecumenical Synods, then on the second Sunday she honors the memory of Saint Gregory Palamas, the great defender of Orthodoxy.

He lived in the 14th century, almost six centuries after the last Ecumenical Synod. He received a comprehensive education, was close to the Byzantine Emperor and served with him, but then left court life and retired to Mount Athos, for his soul strove for constant and inseparable communion with God. In his days, blasphemy arose against monasticism, and especially against the monks of Athos, who were reviled for devoting their entire lives only to serving God, contemplating God and praying.

Saint Gregory denounced these detractors with great force and stood up in defense of Orthodox monasticism. At the same time, the heretic Barlaam arose, who impiously taught that the Lord Jesus Christ, in His great Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, shone not with Divine, but with simple, earthly light. Saint Gregory denounced this heretic and affirmed the doctrine of the divine origin of the Light of Tabor.

On the feast day of this great saint, like all saints, you hear the words of Christ in the Gospel reading: “Truly, truly, I say to you: whoever does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in a different way, that one is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep” (John 10:1-2).

Here all false teachers and heretics are compared to thieves and robbers who do not want to humbly enter the holy faith through the door of Orthodoxy, but strive to climb in elsewhere. But there is only one legitimate holy entrance into the Divine teaching, and we have one Teacher - Christ (see Matt. 23:8), and we must follow only Him, and no one else. “I am the door: whoever enters by Me will be saved, and will go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9).

At this door He appointed the holy apostles as guardians of the kingdom of heaven, after whom many other good shepherds received successive ordinations; they all teach the good sheep, the flock of Christ, to listen to the voice of the only Teacher and Shepherd, to follow Christ.

There were and are many leaders whom the human race chooses for itself, many teachers who point out the various paths of life. But the Lord Jesus Christ commands us Christians to follow only Him, the Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for His sheep (see John 10:11).

What do all the leaders of men teach, and how do their teachings differ from the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ? All human teachings are aimed at perfecting our social and political life. They talk almost only about how life should be organized from the outside, what state laws to establish, how to achieve the most perfect form of government. Much wisdom, much greatness, much usefulness is known to us from these human teachings. Before the best and most worthy, before the most just of them, we bow down.

But why do we still follow one Leader, our Lord Jesus Christ? Why do we put His holy teaching above all the political social teachings of the world, even the most just ones? This needs to be understood.

Before the Lord Jesus Christ, the world was deeply alien to what He taught, did not think at all about what He considered the most important and necessary for people, thinking only about the external. The ancient world was convinced that only fair state laws were needed to eradicate evil on earth; and the new world dreams of social equality. But our Good Shepherd spoke about something completely different.

You know that during His forty days of fasting in the wilderness, Satan began to tempt Him. He took Him to a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the earth and said: “I will give You authority over these kingdoms and their glory ... if you worship me” (Luke 4:6–7). And the Lord answered: “Get away from Me, Satan, for it is written: You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him alone” (Luke 4:8).

He rejected political and social power for Himself and did not think about social reforms. And afterwards, on other occasions, He rejected this authority, for when people asked Him to judge their cases, He avoided it, saying: “Who appointed Me to be the judge among you?” (Luke 12:14). And when, before His terrible sufferings on Golgotha, He appeared before Pilate, and he asked Him: “Are You a King?” He answered: “Yes, I am a King, but My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:33-36).

This is important for us - that He is the Leader of a kingdom not of this world, but all the leaders of men are the leaders of the kingdom of this world.

What is the fundamental difference between the teachings of Christ and all human teachings? That He taught us about the kingdom that is within us; taught us to listen to the voice of the heart: “For from within, out of the human heart proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, murders, thefts, covetousness, malice, deceit, lasciviousness, an envious eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22) . You will find the same thought in the Gospel of Luke: “A good man brings forth good out of the good treasure of his heart, but an evil man brings forth evil out of the evil treasure of his heart; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

In our spiritual life, and consequently in all external life, which is in the closest connection with spiritual life, our heart reigns and dominates over our mind, over our will and aspirations. We think the way the heart wants, we believe what the heart likes, we direct our will in accordance with the aspirations of the heart. Feeling, the organ of which is the heart, dominates all our thinking, faith, knowledge, over the whole worldview, over all social and political aspirations.

As our heart is, such is our activity. If the heart is pure, holy, imbued with ardent love for the Lord Jesus Christ, then all deeds, all thoughts, all social and political views, all our philosophy will be imbued with this feeling, these holy commands of the heart. And then, from the good treasure of our hearts, we will bear good fruits in all our activities, and above all, in everyday life, in communication with people around us. And if dark evil reigns in the heart, then, no matter how perfect the social and state structure, no matter how fair the established laws are, it will do evil. No laws, no social order can curb the human heart.

People seek to punish evil with judicial punishments, but evil continues, crimes do not stop. You know that even with the most perfect structure of the state, there are many low, dishonest people who do evil and with all their activities destroy everything good, and with the aspirations of their black hearts hinder it and deprive it of strength; there are many selfish people who care only about themselves, who do not stop at crushing everyone who stands in their way of life. You know how many depraved people there are, and no laws can achieve that all people become pure and kind, so that there are no dishonest people, no egoists.

Only the Lord Jesus Christ can do this, for He brought us His Divine teaching about what our heart should be like, how we should correct it. And with His Blood and His Body, which we partake of, He gives us strength to fight evil, to purify our hearts. That is why He is the only Holy Leader for us, for the eradication of evil cannot and never will be achieved by human leaders. We need Divine grace, Divine power to correct human hearts, we need grace-filled help to people in the fight against evil. How can we not love with all our hearts the Lord Jesus Christ, Who taught us the deepest truth, drew our attention to our hearts, brought the Divine and luminous teaching about love for one's neighbor?

And it should be noted that what He taught - love, mercy, meekness, humility - was deeply alien to the hearts of the pagans. They revered not meekness, but pride, they considered it an inexcusable weakness to give alms to the poor. They had widely developed slavery, degrading human dignity; they did not consider slaves as people and treated them like cattle. Words of love, meekness, humility and mercy would sound wild and absurd among them. But these words were resounded throughout the world in the Divine teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ and gradually conquered human hearts. And instead of the former pride and contempt for people, the recognition of the dignity of precisely these qualities was established.

Therefore, every Christian must remember that one must purify one's heart, eradicate evil thoughts from it, and strive to make it holy. The holy Apostle James says: “Correct your hearts, you double-minded ones; lament, weep and wail; may your laughter turn into weeping, and your joy into sorrow. Humble yourself before the Lord and He will exalt you” (James 4:9-10).

Humble yourself before the Lord, repent of what defiles your hearts, fill your life with the desire for love, goodness and mercy, and then the grace of the Holy Spirit will rest upon you. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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