“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”

Gospel Reading: Matthew 23:23-28

‘The Lord said to the Jews who had come to him, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you give a tenth of your mint and dill and cumin, yet have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others…”Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. First cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean…’

This bold passage is, a somewhat harsh reminder to all of us that external expressions of religiosity, a ‘ticking the box’ mentality based on rules, is simply not compatible with Christ’s teaching, the ethos and practical implementation of the Christian faith. Even some of us who are ‘Church-goers,’ who may fulfil several religious ‘obligations,’ may not actually understand what Christ is asking from us in our daily lives and struggles. As Orthodox Christians, our expressions of love for, and faith in, God, are expressions of freedom, of a personal relationship and adoration towards our Bridegroom Christ. In a relationship of love, the idea of having to do something seems strange and unfamiliar, as faithfulness, trust and a willingness to offer everything to the other comes naturally and freely.

Today’s chosen Gospel passage reflects on the fact we often need to work on ourselves, our own repentance and transformation – a process which is primarily internal and spiritual. We may appear to be, or give the impression we are, faithful Christians. As a consequence, we may try to influence those around us, in attending church more regularly, in becoming Christian, and following the Orthodox Christian Faith. This, in and of itself, is good, in the sense that we are all called to be, in our own ways, ‘fishermen of men’ and a ‘light to all nations that salvation may reach the ends of the earth.’ (Is 49:6) However, let us look inwards first, dealing with our own egoism, our broken relationships, our hurtful words and thoughts against others. Saint Seraphim of Sarov famously says: ‘Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved.’ When one grows in the Lord she or he can only be gentle, understanding and merciful to others for they have experienced the Lord’s mercy. ‘You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of one who gives and kindles joy in the heart of one who receives,’ Saint Seraphim advises.

We truly believe as Orthodox Christians that the fullness of truth and the presence of God is experienced within the life of the Church. Let us then be examples to our neighbours, of understanding, of justice and mercy, particularly to those who are neglected of the Church’s care and embrace. Just as we are called to be holy (1 Pet 1:15-16) let our lives and examples motivate others to ‘come and see’ (Jn 1:39) that Christ, the living water will refresh and heal all of our wounds and will become for us ‘a well of water springing up to eternal life.’ (Jn 4:14)

We as young Orthodox Christians are the new and current generation called to preserve, to cultivate, to serve and enrich the Orthodox Faith and Church in Great Britain and Ireland. Let us first look inwards at ourselves, with humility and honesty, in order for us to then share the richness and beauty of the Church’s embrace. Let us be careful with the way we express our faith, not concentrating simply on external religious acts or solely adhering to rules, but freely desiring what is just and good in the eyes of the Lord, always with the example and reminder of the ‘Parable of the Sheep and the Goats’ (Matt 25) at the centre of all we do.

Please ask the young members of your parish this coming Sunday what themes they would like addressed in the forthcoming ‘Weekly Meditations.’
Contact us by email : youth@thyateira.org.uk

Some of our future meditations will be in the form of a video, from various parishes of our Archdiocese, as the Government regulations are gradually being lifted.