We live in a time when everyone seeks the "easy way." Our society is geared towards the use of modern "conveniences" to leave us free to relax—physically and mentally. Leisure has itself become a way of life. The unfortunate result of this philosophy is the large number of people today who are not only unwilling, but even incapable of applying themselves to work which is demanding or requires concentration. Spiritually, the consequences are even more lamentable, for spiritual life, above all, requires concentration, determination, and dedication:
The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the
violent take it by force.
Each day of our life brings us new experiences through which we have the opportunity to grow spiritually, We must make use of these opportunities, just as anyone who wishes to be successful even in worldly pursuits. If, on the other hand, we are negligent and easily succumb to temptation, we can in a single moment of weakness bring great harm to ourselves and even to the society in which we live. Good examples of this are given in the Bible accounts of Adam in the Old Testament and Judas in the New Testament. Both were close to God. But in a moment of trial they gave in to their fallen natures thereby losing contact with God and bringing a curse upon themselves and all mankind.
Only the hearty soldier is victorious; the dedicated worker advances in his profession; the dedicated priest nurtures his parishioners; the dedicated scientist discovers the new laws of the universe; the dedicated athlete wins the race. Likewise, it is only through great persistence and dedication that we will succeed in the spiritual life. We must also be strong in our convictions and set a good example for those around us. Dedication and strength of character bring people to sainthood. Even if we ourselves do not attain sanctity, these qualities can bring us closer to God. Among the many examples of this in the Gospel is the moving story of the Canaanite woman whose daughter was possessed. This story' of only eight verses contains several lessons.
Our Lord went from Galilee into the land of the Gentiles, to those people considered by the Jews as inferior human beings. In going to the area of the Canaanites, our Lord wanted to show the Jews that although they were the "chosen people," the rest of humanity was not excluded from His mission.
He tried to go unobserved, but a Canaanite woman recognized Him and cried, "Have mercy upon me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil." Indeed, we must wonder at the strength of belief of this Canaanite woman. She asked our Lord to help her, not her daughter, since the daughter was possessed and would not understand anything herself. As a dedicated mother the well-being of her daughter was her only concern. She had probably spent quite a bit of money and effort seeking physicians and others who might help her daughter, but everything was in vain. Then she heard about a man in Palestine who possessed Divine power and helped people in whatever they asked. She believed strongly that our Lord was the last hope for her, and that He could help her.
Upon hearing the voice of the suffering mother, our Lord did not respond immediately and kept on walking. By doing this our Lord tried to show His Apostles how limited they were in their thoughts and habits, and how they sometimes completely ignored God's laws, making out of faith something mechanical and cold.
When the Apostles asked our Lord to send the woman away because they were annoyed at her persistent crying, He answered them saying, I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel," meaning that He is keeping His promise to the chosen people. With this statement our Lord wanted to remind the Apostles that they could be wrong in thinking that He came only to the chosen people. But the Woman did not give up. She ran ahead, kneeled and · repeated her petition. Our Lord then answered her saying it was not good to take bread from children and throw it to the dogs, But the woman was not offended by these words for she was humble enough to know how far away from our Lord she was spiritually. Therefore, she answered that even dogs feed themselves from the crumbs which fall from the master's table.
This story presents a beautiful example of strength of faith and determination; despite conditions which were not in her favor, this woman still strongly believed that her only salvation, her only hope, Was through our Lord Jesus Christ. Seeing this and having made His point to the Apostles and to the people, our Lord said to her, "O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt."
Our Lord never praised His Apostles for their faith. Quite the contrary; He accused them of having little faith and even addressed ,them as unbelievers or spoiled. Only much later did the Apostles clearly understand His message. But how different from them we are. We claim to be followers of Christ, we claim to be believers and children of God. But if we are put to the test, will Christ wonder at our great faith, or will He call us unbelievers? Just as · the chosen people of the Old Testament lost their faith in God and became preoccupied with the mechanics of their faith, so do we, the chosen people of the New Testament, lose ourselves in customs and mechanics and forget the living Word of Christ !
As Orthodox Christians we have been given the fullness of the truth; we have no excuse to neglect our salvation--even in these spiritually perilous times. Let us take the example of this Canaanite woman and, recognizing our unworthiness, place all our hope in the mercy of our Lord, Let us not be discouraged by difficulties of circumstance and the spirit of easygoing indifference which prevails in today's society. Let us avoid the "easy way"--the path to spiritual death--and choose rather to stand with determination at the doors of Christ's Kingdom, knocking until it shall be opened unto us.
Fr. Peter Burlakov
All Russian Saints Church