Orthodox America


Sour Grapes


Now will I sing to my Wellbeloved
A song of my Beloved touching His vineyard.
My Wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:
And He fenced it,
And gathered out the stones thereof,
And planted it with the choicest vine,
And built a tower in the midst of it,
And also made a winepress therein:
And He looked that it should bring forth grapes,
And it brought forth wild grapes.
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah,
Judge, I pray you, betwixt Me and My vineyard.
What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it?
Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?
(Isaiah 5:1-4)

As aspiring citizens of the promised New Jerusalem, as members of the Church, the mystical Body and Bride of Christ, what reply are we prepared to give to the question the Lord of the vineyard sets before us through His prophet Isaiah?

The vineyard is set here for us in a very fruitful hill, in a prominent land which has long served as a refuge for those seeking freedom from religious persecution and the opportunity to make a new start with renewed hopes.

This vineyard is fenced in with divine revelation, the Holy Scriptures, the writings and examples of the Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs and Fathers. Wherefore seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses as by an invincible wall, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us (Heb. l2:1).

"He gathered out the stones." The wall that protects us consists of many stones: the erroneous ideas and heretical opinions that have been cast out as well as sinful passions and dispositions that were located by the saints, both by their exemplary lives and in their writings. These stones are exposed so that we not let them spoil our spiritual garden.

The choicest vine is planted here, for what could be more choice than He who proclaims: I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing (John 15:1).

The tower in the midst is prayer which stretches from earth to heaven, providing a bridge of ascent for those who travel heavenward its hidden, inner paths. The winepress here flows with a "new beverage" that gushes not from a rock in the desert but from the side of Christ Himself, the Bridegroom Who calls, Come, eat of My bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake the foolish, and live; and walk in the way of understanding (Proverbs 9:5-6).

What could possibly have been done for the vineyard that was not done by its loving and attentive Lord? And why has it produced sour grapes? What sour grapes? Is the vineyard not lush with green leaves and laden with plump clusters? Are the churches not filled with the faithful, embellished with gorgeous vestments and sacred vessels, adorned with compunctionate icons, resounding with the chanting of choirs? Well, at least on major feast days. Do we not have impressive budgets and statistics? And organizations and conventions and periodicals? How can the grapes possibly be sour and the fruit of our Orthodoxy be filled with human bitterness and worldly grit that set peoples' teeth on edge?

Roots

Our Lord Jesus Christ began His discourse on the vine by saying: I am the true vine (John 15:1), which indicates there are other, false vines. Every plant which My heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up (Matt. 15:13).

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them (Matt. 7:16-20).

Their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter; their wine is the poison of dragons and the cruel venom of asps (Deut. 32:32-33).

The Apostle Paul reminds the first Roman Christians: If the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree [St. Paul writes of olives rather than grapes] wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee (Rom. 11:16-21).

Of course St. Paul was writing of the Gentiles being grafted in where the Jews had broken off. But let us not forget that the followers of the Jewish leaders who rejected Christ were broken off from Him by remaining with them.

We stand by faith, says the Apostle. Our faith must be in Truth not in a falsehood or deception; it can live only if it is in Christ, not broken or cut off from Him.

We must check our roots, therefore, to be certain we are living in Christ, joined to Him through His apostles and disciples. It was to them He first said: I am the vine and ye are the branches (John 15:5) and for them, on that same fateful night, He prayed: I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me....Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word; that they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me (John 17:9, 20-21).

We must live the same life as the apostles and all who believe through their preaching, a divine life joined to Christ, the true vine. But simply being attached is not enough; we are called to do far more than just "join".

Cultivation

We must also watch that our vine not be exploited by evil husbandmen (Matt. 21:33-44). The prophet of old complains: Many pastors have destroyed My vineyard; they have trodden My portion under foot; they have made My pleasant portion a desolate wilderness (Jer. 12:10).

If our spiritual fruits are suffering such destruction, pollution or pilfering, we must transplant. We are called to be rational and intelligent, smart not gullible.

In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge. But everyone shall die for his own iniquity; every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge (Jer. 31:29-30, cf. Ez. 18:2).

The responsibility is on us; we cannot blame our "fathers" if we have followed them in iniquity. We live in a "smart" age; even the bombs are "smart". We are called to be "rational sheep" of the Good Shepherd's flock and wise as serpents while remaining as guileless, innocent and harmless as doves (Matt. 10:16).

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in Me... (John 15:5-6) the Savior says, and He goes on to describe the tragic results of separating ourselves from Him. Our life in Him is an active, conscious relationship. It can be violated and broken.

There is a numerous legion of worms, parasites, diseases and blight which can afflict our spiritual harvest. In the true vine, in the vineyard of Christ, protection and healing is offered to us. We must make intelligent use of it and not allow ourselves to be deceived.

Bearing Fruit

Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit (John 15:2). It is not enough even to be a fruit-bearing branch; our calling is not to be self-content. Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples (John15:8).

We must be joined to the true vine; we must be living members, fruit-bearing members; we must bear much fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty (Matt. 13:23). We must also bring forth good fruit-not wild, sour grapes.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such things there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts (Gal. 5:22-24).

By their fruits ye shall know them...A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things, says the Lord (Matt. 7:20; 12:35).

Both sweet grapes and sour grow from the same soil, sunshine and rainfall. The one draws sweetness into itself; the other gathers in bitterness and grit.

Just as it is the contents of the grape that make it either sweet or sour, so it is the contents which we have stored up in our hearts which come out in our daily lives and reveal us as good or evil. The good man treasures every kind of good belief, good thought and good disposition in his heart.

When our Savior began calling His disciples, some offered Him their fervent obedience out of the goodness of their hearts, while others resented everything He did and murmured against Him. He told these murmurers: They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:31-32).

We must recognize our need of salvation and of God's mercy. Grapes mature and sweeten in the summer sunshine, and we must likewise ripen spiritually in the heat of temptations watered with repentance.

Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother's children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept (Song of Songs 1:6).

My vineyard which is mine is before me (Song of Songs 8:12). The soul wedded to the heavenly Bridegroom, the Wellbeloved Lord of the vineyard, Himself the living and true vine, begins and ends with watching over her own vineyard.

But there are rebellious fellow creatures of ours, the wicked demons, who constantly are tricking and tempting us to look after other vineyards, ones that produce wild and sour grapes, thorns and tares, grapes of gall.

The first-made man was placed in the Garden of Eden and commanded to cultivate and keep it. Every person has such a garden and vineyard to cultivate. We can manure it with the remembrance of our sins, water it with repentant tears, prune it with abstinence and self-control, weed it with confession of our sins, and let trials and temptations, like the rays of the sun, activate prayer and contrition within us, and thus grow to maturity.

For our vineyard, St. Gregory of Nyssa tells us (Homily 3 on Song of Songs), is immortality, passionlessness, Godliness, alienation from all evil. Its fruit is purity. This grape is radiant and mature and distinguished by its unique appearance. It delights the feelings of the soul with blamelessness. The tendrils of this vine are our connection and kinship with eternal life. The branches that grow are the lofty virtues reaching ever higher into angelic heights. The green leaves which rustle pleasantly in the quiet breeze are the various adornments of divine virtues which blossom in the Spirit.

Sweetest Jesus save us!

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