The Sixth Sunday of the Apostles
God will send his grace and his truth
He will send from heaven and save us
The power that is in his works he will show to his people
The Spirit of truth, he who proceeds from the Father, for he is the Power of God
The Spirit, the Paraclete, is the Power that is from the Father [and the Son] who dwelt in the apostles, the friends of the one who gives life to all, and made them the salt which seasons the taste of the dull. They enlightened the world through their teaching, and gained clarity. They believed and confessed in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And while Satan marshaled his armies for battle, they did not tremble from afflictions, nor were they weakened by torments; for by the suffering and death of the Son were they saved, and because of this, they gave their flesh over to accept every torture, that they may resemble their Lord. For they saw that by his suffering he saved his Church, and by his death he gave life to all creatures, that they may become, for him, heirs of the kingdom.
The Greek word theoria means “looking” or “observing.” It is, both in ordinary language and in the understanding of the Fathers, the compliment and even contrary of “practice” or “action.” The dynamic between these two relative expressions in the Christian faith is symbolized in Luke’s Gospel in the passage about Martha and Mary. While Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speak, Martha was busy and anxious with housework.
The tension between prayer and action is a common one in Christian life, but the solution is not a simple matter of balance. Mary, in Christ’s words, “chose the better part” (Luke 10:42). The two are not equal sides of the same coin. Neither is it right that, even worse, prayer and rest, “sitting at the Lord’s feet” as it were, exists for the sake of action, as if we pray only in order to be “energized” for our work in the world. This is, unfortunately, the view most common in the world – especially in America – about rest and vacation. One today does not work so that he has a time and place to rest well; he rests only so that he may work more efficiently. This is a sad state of life, and contrary to the expectation that Christ has for us: “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)
The greater thing in human life, the “better part,” is theoria or observing the goodness of the Lord and of the world he has made. The deeper this observing becomes, the more we live out our lives as God’s true children in Christ. The more we observe God’s own Nature, the more we know him and become like him. This is why the first part of the Basilica Hymn of the Seventh Sunday of the Apostles is a reflection on the interior Nature of the Holy Trinity:
The Spirit, the Paraclete, is the Power that is from the Father [and the Son]…
But, just as theoria is not the whole picture of Christian life, neither is simply the theoretical understanding of the Trinity the whole picture of salvation history.
The Lord asks a pointed question near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount: “if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?” Even more pertinent perhaps is what can give us taste if we already find ourselves bland? Our hymn answers this question:
…who dwelt in the apostles, the friends of the one who gives life to all, and made them the salt which seasons the taste of the dull.
It is this same Holy Spirit who is the Power from the Father who dwells in the apostles and in us, and makes us the salt of the world which Christ asked us to be. It is through the Power of God in the Holy Spirit that salt is seasoned, that it is made into salt.
As a consequence, the apostles lived a life of service and action, becoming the “light of the world” though they were foremost in the knowledge and intimacy of God that comes through a silent, meditative observation:
They enlightened the world through their teaching, and gained clarity. They believed and confessed in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The two elements of action and meditation are intertwined here, not as a result of human effort, but rather as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit: the apostles enlightened the world at the same time as they confessed the Trinitarian Mystery.
In fact, and this is the main point, they enlightened the world because they confessed the Trinitarian Mystery. Their work was a direct consequence of their meditation, a natural, almost effortless and certainly spontaneous expression of their “observation” of God in heaven. In other words, the world did not gain flavor and light because of what they did; they became the salt of the earth and the world became flavorful and enlightened because of who they were. Our hymn does not say that the Holy Spirit “gave them flavor,” but rather that it “made them the salt of the earth.” So with us, if our action is to be a true expression of our faith, and if it is even to be truly effective, it should be more a result of who we are because of God dwelling in us, and less of what we do by our own human effort.
Who are the real enemies of the Christian faith? More pertinently, who are the real enemies of Christians, and how are Christians supposed to fight them? The concept of a holy war is one that has never existed for the Church of the East, for the Church east of the Roman Empire, which never had an army with which to fight.
On the other hand, the concept of “spiritual battle” as the soul’s fight against the devil and its own evil inclinations is one common among the writings of all the Fathers of the Church. But even here there is a nuance worthy of consideration: the spiritual battle is not merely spiritual, just as our meditative theoria is not closed off, even by its own nature. There is a physical element to the spiritual battle, one which shows itself to the world and brings it light and hope: not the fight of the sword, but martyrdom. Martyrdom, the giving of one’s blood for the faith, is the ultimate victory of spiritual battle against the true enemy, the devil, and it is the ultimate victory because it is the ultimate imitation of Christ, who gave life to us all by his death:
…And while Satan marshaled his armies for battle, they did not tremble from afflictions, nor were they weakened by torments; for by the suffering and death of the Son were they saved, and because of this, they gave their flesh over to accept every torture, that they may resemble their Lord. For they saw that by his suffering he saved his Church, and by his death he gave life to all creatures, that they may become, for him, heirs of the kingdom.