By Fr. Nick Kotsis - Great Lent is the time during the year when there is an appointed schedule for readings from the Old Testament. Most of the year, readings from the Old Testament are appointed only for certain Great Vespers services (readings from the Psalms are the exception – they are offered during nearly every daily service of the Church). Most of the year, the scriptural focus is on the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament.
Today is the 1st day of the fourth week of Great Lent. There are three readings, but I chose the one from Proverbs.
He who is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who pursues evil will die. Men of perverse mind are an abomination to the LORD, but those of blameless ways are his delight. Be assured, an evil man will not go unpunished, but those who are righteous will be delivered. Like a gold ring in a swine's snout is a beautiful woman without discretion. The desire of the righteous ends only in good; the expectation of the wicked in wrath. One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. A liberal man will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. The people curse him who holds back grain, but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it. He who diligently seeks good seeks favor, but evil comes to him who searches for it. He who trusts in his riches will wither, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf. He who troubles his household will inherit wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise. The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, but lawlessness takes away lives. If the righteous is requited on earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner! Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. A good man obtains favor from the LORD, but a man of evil devices he condemns. A man is not established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will never be moved. A good wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones. The thoughts of the righteous are just; the counsels of the wicked are treacherous. The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the mouth of the upright delivers men.
In Proverbs, sometimes a singular thought is carried throughout a passage. Sometimes, there are various strains of thought that follow, one after another. We see some of the latter here. I would like to focus on the sections I underlined.
So much of what Christ tells us in the Gospels reflects these lines. Of course, the author of Proverbs (King Solomon was the principle contributor) was inspired by the Lord to write these wise words. Thus, the same line of teaching is present from the time of Proverbs (roughly 900 BC) through the time of Christ.
The point being, the more we offer to the Lord and to one another, the richer spiritually we become. Following the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all you mind,” and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matt 22:37,39) means that our faith requires action. The result of giving freely and liberally is that we are pursuing righteousness – godliness. Giving freely and liberally, therefore, does not diminish anything we have, but only makes us stronger and more “fully stocked” spiritually.
In this unusual time, we see many of our stores not so “fully stocked.” Even though we have food and goods in abundance, people sometimes panic and stockpile, horde, thinking only of themselves or their immediate family. As Orthodox Christians, we have an opportunity during this pandemic to show our faith, truly and magnanimously, by rising to the occasion and offering of our abundance to those who may have needs.
Our church still functions as a testament to faith in Christ, even if we cannot have services in the usual manner. We, as the Body of Christ, the Church, will be ready to help those in need. We are putting in place a system to ensure that we contact more of our elderly parishioners or parishioners living alone to make sure they are not in want (thank you Philoptochos!). We will also, undoubtedly, be called upon to help others from our local Washtenaw County community with all sorts of needs that are the result of this pandemic. As needs become apparent, please let me know so we can figure out how to help.
We will be there and take this opportunity, dare I say even a gift (all things considered) to express our love for Christ and neighbor. This is one of the ways the early Christians brought people to the faith - through their selfless acts of love and charity in the midst of challenge. Now is our opportunity to bear witness to the strength, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ! Amen!