Monday, April 14, 2014

The Fruits of Repentance

Jesus Curses the Fig Tree (1684) by Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib

"O faithful let us fear the punishment of the fig tree which was dried up for not having borne any fruit; let us offer worthy fruits of repentance to Christ, who grant us His great mercy."
--From the Aposticha of Bridegroom Matins on Great and Holy Monday

When Christ hungered and approached the fig tree, He expected it to be bearing fruit; when it was not, He cursed it.  Just so, the foolish virgins not possessing oil were barred from the feast.  It is as if Christ said to them as He said to the high priests and the presbyters of the people, "For this I say to you that will be taken from you the kingdom of God, and it will be given to a nation producing the fruits of it."  This too will occur to us if we are not watchful, if we are not prepared in a wedding garment when the Lord comes to invite us into His bridal chamber engulfed in light.  Let us beg Him, "Fill the garment of my soul with light," and let us work to enkindle that light in ourselves.  Without an overflowing union with He Who is Light, "we are soulless wood, fruitless and withered, matter which is fit for the unquenchable fire" (St. Symeon the New Theologian).

Jesus did not call men to Himself to be barren trees but to be fruitful vines; even at the first humans' creation God told them, "Be fruitful and multiply."  If it was so under the Old Covenant, it is even more so under the New.  For remember the grace of Baptism: "Every man before Baptism is weighed down like iron, and sinks: when he has been baptized he is no longer like iron, but now rises like the fruit-bearing wood...Thou becamest a dry tree in Adam; but now through the grace of Christ thou hast budded into a fruitful tree" (St. Ambrose).  If even then the barren were cursed, how much more will we be cursed, we who have such an outpouring of grace and the indwelling of the Spirit!  Through the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah the Lord lamented about His people, "When I would gather the produce theirs, not are there grapes on the vine, and not are there figs on the fig tree, the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them."  Thus the Lord treats them in accord with their barrenness, and they respond, "Past is harvest, ended is summer, and we have not been saved."  What does not produce fruit the Lord does not save.  "If the fruits of love are not in us, our labour is useless" (St. Symeon Metaphrastes).
 Jeremiah from The Slaughter of the Innocents (1308-1311) by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319)

The Lord, of course, does not abandon us trees to wither: He gives us what is needed to bear fruit, if only we toil for it.  He sends rain upon the just and the unjust, He provides food for every creature according to its need; He sends prophets to call us, His Spirit to guide us, His charisms to inspire us.  All we must do is open wide to His gifts and use them, to embrace what He bestows on us.  He does not curse the servant to whom He gives no talents; He curses the one who does not make fruitful the talents he was given.  If we toil for the Lord all our days, even if we see no effect upon earth, He knows all our deeds, and He will reward us for the spiritual fruit hidden from our eyes; thus, on earth, "Though the fig tree do not bear fruit, nor is there produce on the vine; fails does the work of the olive, and the fields do not produce food; cut off from the fold be the flock and do not begin the herd in cribs.  I yet in the Lord will rejoice, I will joy over the God of mine salvation." For in our God we never know what wonders will be worked through our efforts; as St. Seraphim of Sarov instructed, "Sow everywhere the good seed given to you.  Sow in good ground, sow in sand, sow among the stones, sow on the road, sow among the weeds.  Perchance some of these seeds will open and grow and bring forth fruit, albeit not at once.  Do not bury the talent given to you, otherwise you will be punished by your Lord." 

The Lord Jesus Christ pours His Spirit upon all men, and He expects Him to bear good fruit and not return to Him empty; yet we are the ones who must be good soil, we are the ones from whom fruit must be born.  As we come out from the Egypt of slavery to the passions, "It is necessary for have not only the knowledge of the Law and of faith, but also the fruits of works well pleasing to God" (Origen).  Let our goal be that the Lord may say to us, "Ye are the vine, ye are the vintage; planted as a vine, as a vintage have ye given fruit" (St. Ambrose).  Especially during this Great and Holy Week, as we stand like the virgins awaiting the Bridegroom's greatest days, let us cultivate ourselves and bear good fruit, that we may obtain the garment of light and enter the divine bridal chamber, where there all light will be God and the darkness will be no more, where there will be no pain, no grief, no sighing, but everlasting life.
 The Parable of the Ten Virgins

Nota Bene: The opening quote and the references to the "bridal chamber engulfed in light" and "Fill the garment of my soul with light" come from the service book for Bridegroom Matins produced by the Metropolitan Cantor Institute of the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh.  The quote from St. Symeon the New Theologian is from his Ethical Discourses X, as found in Volume I of On the Mystical Life, translated by Fr. Alexander Golitzin, published in the Popular Patristics series of St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.  The quotes from St. Ambrose are from his De Sacramentis (On the Sacraments), II.IV.11, V.III.14, and V.III.16, as found in On the Sacraments and On the Mysteries, translated by T. Thompson and edited by J.H. Srawley (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1950).  The quote from St. Symeon Metaphrastes is from his Paraphrase of the Homilies of St. Makarios of Egypt, §II.22, as found in Volume III of The Philokalia, compiled by St. Nikodimos the Hagiorite and St. Makarios of Corinth, translated by G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Bishop Kallistos Ware (London: Faber and Faber, 1984).  The quote from St. Seraphim of Sarov is quoted in St. Seraphim of Sarov by Valentine Zander, translated by Sister Gabriel Anne, S.S.C. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1975).  The quote from Origen is from his Homilies on Numbers, XXVII.6, as found in An Exhortation to Martyrdom, Prayer, First Principles: Book IV, Prologue to the Commentary on the Song of Songs, Homiloy XXVII on Numbers, translated by Rowan A. Greer (New York: Paulist Press, 1979).

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