Sermon for Forgiveness Sunday

On Patience
Sunday, March 6, 2011
by Fr. John Klingel

Patience.  The definition of patience is that very thing that all of you are going to lose if this sermon is longer than five minutes.  I have to give my wife credit for that joke.

The Greek word for the fourth fruit of the Holy Spirit is makrothumia, which is often translated as “patience.”  However, a more literal translation is “long suffering” or “slow to anger.”  “Patience” is derived from a Latin word, meaning to suffer or to endure.

What is going on here with this word clearly has a lot to do with our point of view in the world.  With makrothumia, we already have the sense of a fight, a contest, a battle.  We all know that in life there will be things that confront us, that upset us, that seem to “get in the way” of what we have to accomplish.  These are precisely the things that we have to be “slow to anger” in dealing with.  Why is that?  Why can’t we just get angry?

Patience is recognized as a virtue because it betrays an inner state of mind.  That state of mind sees the world as an orderly thing, a gift from God, a vehicle of our sanctification.  In this view, we experience reality as an intimate communication from God, not some kind of fearful, disorganized place wherein we are the victims of circumstance and chance.  Further, we are not meant to give meaning to the world by our actions, we are meant to discover the meaning that is already within the world, the meaning that was placed there by God Himself.

However, by itself this world is not the world of paradise; it is a world that still bears the marks of the Fall, which estranged mankind from the radical freedom it was created with.  Within the world and as a result of the things that we encounter, it is difficult for us to maintain that inner, patient state of mind.  When confronted by life’s events, we become confused and we revert to our fallen perspective.  Immediately we lose our sense of wonder and become anxious about our inability to control our lives.

When we yield to the temptation of anger, we recapitulate the fall of Adam in our own lives.  We cast ourselves in a play in which our role is that of the creator, we are all-knowing and are flummoxed by what is going on about us.  In writing about patience, the Fathers advise us that this conflict we experience does have a purpose.  St. Hesychios the Priest bluntly states: “Unexpected trials are sent by God to teach us to practice the ascetic life.”  This is hard for us to accept.  We would almost prefer to think of God as distant and uninvolved in our lives, than to imagine that He is responsible for the things that disturb us.

However, the things that disturb us only do so because of we allow them to.  By falling time and time again out of the state of peace that we are meant to exist in, by neglecting our struggle with the passions, by not renouncing our own will, by rejecting prayerfulness, by entering into anger and being consumed by it, we alone are truly responsible for this disturbance.

There is a solution for this.  When we become aware of this pattern, we need at once to cling to God in prayer.  This is the goal of such natural asceticism.  The “disturbances” will either drive us further from God or back into His embrace.  This is our choice and by making it we reveal our truest colors.  As Christians, we are eminently patient, because we choose to see God’s invisible hand supporting us in the midst of our distress.

St. Isaac the Syrian, “The Ascetical Homilies.”

Homily 42. “Hear yet another consideration.  Every adversity and affliction, if not accompanied by patience, produces double torment; for a man’s patience casts off his distress, while faintness of heart is the mother of anguish.  Patience is the mother of consolation and is a certain strength which is continually born of largeness of heart.  It is hard for a man to find this strength in his tribulations without a gift from God, received through his ardent pursuit of prayer and the outpouring of tears.” (from “The Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian,” 1994: Brookline, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, p. 211)

Homily 56. “To the degree that a man despises this world in his ardent concern for the fear of God, divine providence draws nigh to him, he secretly perceives its assistance, and is given limpid thoughts to understand it.  And even if a man is involuntarily deprived of worldly goods, in proportion to his loss the mercy of God will accompany him and God’s love for men will support him.  Glory be to Him Who deals mercifully with us both in things of the right hand and of the left, and Who by means of these things grants us an occasion to find life!  For by involuntary afflictions God impels toward virtue the soul of those who have grown so feeble through their own volition that they are unable to gain life…God is near to the distressed heart of the man who cries out to Him in his affliction.  For even though in what pertains to the body a man is sometimes reluctant to endure affliction so as to receive help (for the Lord acts like a physician who brings about healing by surgery in cases of grace illness), still the Lord shows great mercy to the man’s soul, corresponding to the severity of his sufferings in his tribulation.” (from “The Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian,” 1994: Brookline, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, p. 276)

St. Hesychios the Priest, “On Watchfulness and Holiness.”

“81. He who honors the Lord does what the lord bids.  When he sins or is disobedient, he patiently accepts what comes as something he deserves.  If you love true knowledge, devote yourself to the ascetic life; for mere theoretical knowledge puffs a man up. (I Cor. 8:1)

82. Unexpected trials are sent by God to teach us to practice the ascetic life.”

(from “The Philokalia, Volume 1” edited by G. E. H. Palmer, et al; 1979: London: Faber and Faber, p. 176)

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