On Suffering and Repentance

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.

This Sunday, the 5th Sunday of Lent, there is a lot going on:  We have a lot going on in the Gospel prescribed for today, and also with the feast of St. Mary of Egypt, in our world in general, and within our personal lives, as we reach this 5th Sunday of Lent.  It is time for us to reflect once again and to ponder the state of our souls, the state of things in general and the state of the saints and those in today's Gospel reading.

Matushka and I have a dear friend and sister in Christ, Presvytera Katherine Hartung, who has cancer and is suffering a great deal –  as her husband put it – it is an “unimaginable suffering.”  She suffers from great physical pain and from great emotional pain, knowing that she has 4 children and a husband that she may leave behind.  I can't even imagine what she must be going through.  And yet, she has been given a gift.  She has been given the opportunity to suffer, as all of the saints have suffered, and also perhaps to have the chance to more adequately prepare for her death.  We only look upon her suffering and we cannot taste it because we have not experienced it.  But, we can look at the opportunities afforded to us through another person's suffering, through the suffering of our sister in Christ.

In today's Gospel, we have the account of the Apostles James and John who seem to be focused on the wrong things. The Gospel tells us, that as they were following Jesus “they were afraid” just like all of us are at many times during our lives.  Jesus, knowing their hearts, pulled them aside and told them of what things would come to pass.  Hearing this, the disciples reply:  “Grant us that we may sit, one on your right and the other on your left in your glory.”  And Jesus tells them they do not know what they are asking.  Jesus asks them:  “can you drink from the cup that I drink from and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”  And they say “yes Lord” and He tells them “you will indeed drink from the cup I drink from and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.”  And, in this, He was speaking to them about the suffering they would endure as His disciples.

And, so we may ask, what is this cup that Christ drinks from, and that His followers will also drink from?  Looking to our beloved saints, we find our answer.  Our Holy Father Ignatius Brianchininov wrote about this very subject, in response to this very Gospel, and he has this to say:

Two beloved disciples asked the Lord for thrones of glory, and He gave them His Cup (Matthew 20:23.)

The Cup of Christ is suffering.  But for those who drink from it on earth, the Cup of Christ grants participation in Christ's Kingdom.  It prepares for them the thrones of eternal glory in heaven.  We stand in silence before the Cup of Christ, nor can any man complain about it or reject it; for He, Who commanded us to taste it, first drank of it Himself.

The bitterness of this Cup cleanses the heart from forbidden, destructive and sinful pleasure.  Through the humility that flows from it in abundance, the pride of understanding on the carnal level is mortified. To him who drinks from the Cup with faith and patience, the eternal life, which was, and still is, lost to him by his tasting of forbidden fruit, will be restored.

I will accept the Cup of Christ — the cup of salvation.

The Cup is accepted when the Christian bears earthly tribulation in the spirit of humility learnt from the Gospel.  St Peter turned swiftly with a naked sword to defend the God-Man, Who was surrounded by evil doers; but Jesus said to Peter:  Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it? John 18:11.

So, too, when disaster surrounds you, you should comfort and strengthen your soul, saying, 'The Cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?'  The Cup is bitter: at first sight all human reasoning is confounded.  Surmount reason by faith and drink courageously from the bitter Cup:  it is the Father Who gives it to you, He who is all good and all wise.  It is neither the Pharisees, nor Caiaphas, nor Judas who prepared the Cup; it is neither Pilate nor his soldiers who give it!  The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?

I will take the cup of salvation... (Psalm 116:13); I cannot reject the Cup — the promise of heavenly and eternal good.  The Apostle of Christ teaches me patience when he says, we must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God. Acts 14:22.  How can we reject the Cup, which is the means of attaining this Kingdom and growing with it?  I will accept the Cup — the gift of God.  For the Cup of Christ is the gift of God.  The great Paul writes to the Philippians, For unto you is given in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29).

You receive the Cup, which seemingly comes from the hand of man.  What is it to you whether the bearer of the Cup acts righteously or unrighteously?  As a follower of Jesus, your concern is: to act righteously; to receive the Cup with thanksgiving to God and with a living faith; and courageously to drink it to the dregs.

Temporal suffering has no importance in itself: we lend it significance because of our attachment to the earth and to all corruptible things, and through our coldness towards Christ and eternity.

These are the words dear brothers and sisters in Christ of our Holy Father St. Ignatius Brianchininov, and we find these words fulfilled in the life of our Holy Mother Mary of Egypt whom we celebrate today.  She fled from the life of vanity to the life of repentance.  We have reminders all around us, if we take hold of the messages, to repent and to remember what is truly important.  We have the lives of the saints, the words of the Holy Gospel and our own personal experiences which God uses all the time to help us on the path to glory.  Let us take heed.  It is the 5th week of Lent and we are weak and we are tired.  Yet, let us push on and use the opportunities given to us and not waste time.

Dear Brothers and sisters – if you are strong and healthy use it to do good and to repent while you still have the time.  If you are weak, still repent!  We can all repent.  All of the time in the desert, Mary of Egypt felt that her repentance wasn't enough – it is never enough – and yet it is what God has given us.  There are many distractions and many lies, but also many lights along the path, and with God's help we can cut through the forest and find the light.  There is still time and let us not be negligent.  Let us use the examples of our beloved saints, our beloved friends, the Lenten season, and the messages given to us through the Holy Gospels/writings to do God's will.  May our journey be blessed as we travel onward to Holy Pascha!!!