In our everyday life we struggle with work at jobs, with work at home or school, with work at our volunteer activities such as sports, choirs, neighborhood and community groups. We even struggle with work at our churches, especially when it comes to fundraisers to keep the doors open. However, most of our work time, energy, and effort is placed in our jobs and our homes.
But when we ask ourselves why we work so much we more often than not simply answer by identifying a ‘need’ of some sort. We need a place to live, we need food to eat, we need clothes to wear. For most of us these needs are met quite amply even if not precisely to our glamorous liking. But being 21st Century inhabitants of the so called civilized world we have identified some other “needs” as well. In order to do our jobs we also need vehicles. A mode of transportation is quite honestly a need, as most of us would not be able to function on public transportation; never mind the concept of neighborhood subsistence. Further, we need a telephone. It’s simply impossible to function without this device that allows us to communicate with someone who is in a distant location away from us. Moreover, the basic phone isn’t sufficient we need computers and portable devices that function precisely like computers and take us into the universe of the internet. All of these have become ‘needs’ for many of us.
You might think, I’m finished with my rant. But I can point out to other so called ‘needs’ that we have developed. We have costly sports organizations for all types of sports because our kids aren’t allowed to play outside in their neighborhood with other kids. We have art and music and more sports workshops for pre-teen kids, because they “need” those things.
While I lament much of the above, I admit that some of these aspects have indeed become indispensable. I also firmly state that some of these developments are good and useful. However, I lament even more greatly the fact that we have lost or perhaps never really developed, the ‘need’ to repent. St. John the Forerunner and along with him, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ firmly exhort us to “REPENT” as part of our preparation for the kingdom of heaven.
Christianity is often reduced to ‘clubs’ which gather to assemble a set of programs which makes all the paying members feel good about their membership. Yes, indeed, we Christians love lofty prayers or songs, our dynamite preachers, our social justice ministries, our charitable outreach programs to the needy, and the golden calf of 21st century American Christianity ‘youth programs’. It is so much easier to feel like a Christian when all we have to do is participate in some fun activities, give some money to the poor, or congratulate our kids for coloring yet another silly coloring page, hear our teens say they had fun at youth group. Now, none of these activities is bad, in fact, they are all good things, but when these are absent from the meaningful pursuit of repentance of our sins, all of them become useless. The greater problem, perhaps, is the fact that we do not stop to consider that we might live a life that requires change. We don’t really want to change anything in our lives, because we love all of these things that take our concentration away from the brokenness that thrives in our lives. To repent means indeed to change, to turn and face away from worldly passions and face toward the Triune God. To repent is to sink into the depth of the brokenness we have built in our souls and to struggle to shed the dirt that stains the icon of Christ shining brightly within us.
Brothers and sisters, such an example of inner search and repentance is our Holy Mother Mary of Egypt. She lived a life of intentional sinfulness, and when she realized it, she sought forgiveness within the Body of Christ, His living Church on earth. Then having been given the Mysteries, the immortal Body and Blood of Christ, she began her ascetic life of repentance. Brothers and sisters, she is indeed one lived a life that was not of this world. While nearly 5 decades in the desert alone is not what the Lord God expects of us, her example teaches us how much more we can grow. Perhaps we excuse ourselves that we do not identify with early life of sin, and most of us don’t, but the lesson remains valid. Unless we examine our lives honestly and deal with our brokenness earnestly we will continue to miss the mark, to live a life of sin, all the while convincing ourselves that we are doing good things and we believe in God’s grace.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us take St. Mary of Egypt as an example of the realization of our own need for repentance so that we too, may be exalted by God’s favor, to the glory of His kingdom. Amen.
By Fr. Timothy Sas.
(Delivered on Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt – 29 March 2015
Lenten Vespers at Twelve Holy Apostles Church – Duluth, Minnesota)