The Struggle Within
Saint Paul understood it well when he said, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” (Romans 7.15) We all ‘want’ to follow Christ, but we struggle to put in place those guarantees that would lead us to success. If it was true for Saint Paul, it remains true for us today.
With the fast from meat beginning today, we begin our outer struggle for the benefit of our inner struggle. Never forget that fasting is to win victory within. It is never about food. We just use food as the means to our spiritual ends.
The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth. Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in health; I know that it is well with your soul. For I greatly rejoiced when some of the brethren arrived and testified to the truth of your life, as indeed you do follow the truth. No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth. Beloved, it is a loyal thing you do when you render any service to the brethren, especially to strangers, who have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey as befits God’s service. For they have set out for his sake and have accepted nothing from the heathen. So we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers in the truth. I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge my authority. So if I come I will bring up what he is doing, prating against me with evil words. And not content with that, he refuses himself to welcome the brethren, and also stops those who want to welcome them and puts them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. He who does good is of God; he who does evil has not seen God. Demetrios has testimony from every one, and from the truth itself; I testify to him too, and you know my testimony is true. I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face. Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, every one of them.3rd John 1:1-15
It wasn’t just Saint Paul that struggled with doing what was right. In today’s reading from Saint John’s Universal Letter, we hear that certain leaders in the Church were ignoring his instructions. Still others were fighting to be obedient to the Apostles and to Christ. If it was true for the 1st Century Church, it will be true for us today.
If only the struggle was just within. Just as the ancient Church existing within societies that did not believe in Christ, we live in the same societies. Today the Church commemorates Saint Leo, the Bishop of Catania. He struggled at the end of the first millennium against paganism and sorcery. It was ‘officially’ a Christian empire, but still many refused to follow Christ. The pagans and other non-believers, have always had a certain amount of influence upon the Church. What was true then, is true today.
Within the Church today we continue to battle the influence of our own lack of faith. Unfortunately, the battle is not limited to our own lack of faith. Many of us are under the influence, as was the case in every century of human history, of those non-believers outside the Church.
Influence from the outside was the cause of great turmoil in the Church affecting both members and leaders. Patriarchs, emperors, and even door keepers were not immune to falling victim to the false teaching outside the Church. What was true then is true today.
As we begin our final week of the Triodion, I invite you to focus on the inner struggle to remain loyal to Christ and His Church. Fight the temptation to allow outside influences enter your heart. ‘Just because’ the world thinks a behavior or teaching is good, doesn’t mean it is good.
I’m not about to suggest we build walls around the Church to keep the ‘bad people’ out because they tend to keep out the ‘good ones’ as well. I do think we should stand guard though at the gates of our hearts and the gates of the Church. At a minimum we can deflate the battle before it becomes uncontrollable.
The struggle is real. The fast is real. One helps the other. The struggle gives the fast purpose. The fast gives the struggle meaning.
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