December 10 - St. James of Persia
Today's Gospel and Epistle readings perfectly identify the challenges we have ahead of us as St. Phillip's Fast rolls into its third week. Challenges that, as both readings tell us, are based on the roadblocks to salvation---roadblocks in the form of potholes and detours and accidents on the other side of the road that draw our attention as rubberneckers --- all of these are strewn by the devil like so many tacks and nails and pieces of broken glass into our paths. In Luke's Gospel (Lk. 13:10-17) the devil is called out by name---Satan---even as Christ heals the woman who was bent over for over eighteen years. That woman's affliction---being bent over so thoroughly that she was unable to straighten herself out---is clearly the work of the Satan, and that very same affliction can plague many of us in these modern days---we just can't straighten out our lives, we can't walk a straight line, we can't straighten up and fly right. And we can't look up. Why? Because we are bent into a pretzel by focusing mostly on the temptations that the devil uses to distract our attention from our own good intentions, our resolutions to fast, to pray more, to read the scriptures, to help others during the Advent fast.
St. Luke tells us that Our Lord: "laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God." And then Christ said: "And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?"
The Blessed Theophylact reminds us that "it was Satan who brought about our fall by which we lost our incorruptibility" and it is still the devil that takes our minds off the straight and narrow road; that's why we keep falling into the ditch.
St. Paul teaches us the way to keep on the smooth straight road in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph.6:10-17) when he says: "Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." In Paul's day, athletics were just as important to the people of the Roman Empire as they are in our America of 2017. So the Epistle writer uses the analogy of wrestling to teach the new Christians of Ephesus: " For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
Principalities and powers are categories of the bodiless ones, the angels, and in this case the reference is to the revolting angels who chose to follow Satan rather than the angels, like the Archangel St. Michael, who chose to follow God. When you come up to the Cross later today, look back over the choir loft and study carefully the stained glass icon of St. Michael battling the devil. The words in Slavonic over St. Michael's head "Kto Yako Bog" are the words that the Archangel said when rebuking Satan: "Who is like God?" And that phrase is the meaning of the name Michael in Hebrew.
Brothers and Sisters, the devil is real; temptations abound around us every day, and that's real life. St. Basil the Great wrote that "Life is like a scale. On one side, the shallow plate contains the devil and all his wiles. On the other side of the balance, we have the angels of God. To whom will we offer our hearts? Which side carries more weight for us?" Dostoyevsky, took up St. Basil's simile almost verbatim when he famously wrote that "God and the devil are fighting for the soul of man. And the battlefield is the human heart."
Advent won't last very long. It's past time to join the battle. Let's all waste no more time and rise up to follow St. Paul's advice to actively fight the good fight during what remains of the forty days: "And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."