I often notice and hear from others that one and the same Gospel reading will at one time reveal the truth strongly and convincingly, with a living rainbow of colors, while at another time everything in it seems as if it were dead, cold and inactive.
Completely irrefutable and reliable details of events may suddenly cease to make any impression on the mind. Professor F has shared similar observations with me in regards to his faith, and the seminarians’ studies gave them knowledge that formed a cold cluster in their memory without penetrating into the heart. And yet, sometimes it may be quite the opposite, when your whole being will tremble after reading or hearing two or three words, especially in church.
And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet (in front of Him there was a table around which the guests were lying – M.B.) weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. (Luke 7: 37, 38).
Many sinners’ hearts have been touched by the example of this blessed woman whom the Lord never called a harlot. Many tears have been shed over her and with her in 2000 years!
But why is there such a difference? I have already noticed that one should not be setting any unusual, albeit lofty goals when reading the Gospels. Actions such as collecting materials for future sermons, marking important places for an essay or trying to memorize them in search of material for future lectures are extremely harmful to the action of the spirit of the gospel. I remember reading the Gospels in my cell when I was already a teacher at the academy. There was light in my soul and lively interest in my mind. But then I decided to combine my reading with another task and started marking some passages about the Kingdom of God for my works. As soon as I started this complicated business, the light of the Gospel instantly went out. I tried repeating this practice of chasing two targets for several following days, but alas! The Gospel was dead. I had to give up multitasking and, having asked the Lord for forgiveness, I resigned myself and began, as before, reading for the salvation of my soul. And the corpse came to life.
We are dealing here with a religious law: God’s grace does not allow a person to use it for ‘non-Divine’, earthly purposes. The latter is, in essence, the Jewish materialistic approach to God, the Savior. “You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26) And then the Lord hides His face.
But sometimes a person is simply reading without setting practical goals, and yet the word of God is pale for him. And vice versa: suddenly it will light up with an inner light, healing and reviving him. Then it appears compellingly convincing and makes any doubt simply inconceivable. The truth settles in the heart and mind with absolute certainty and strength.
I explain this to myself by the third method of proving the validity of the word of God, i. e. by grace. The Word of God is the Lord’s direct speech, and the power of Divine grace is hidden in it. Just like everything Godly, it is not subject to compulsory laws of action. It is free to either show or hide itself from us. None of our natural conditions, historical and critical calculations or convincing and reliable facts will help us here. On the contrary, trying to conquer the higher Power can actually hinder the light of truth shining on us. This could threaten us with the danger of falling into magic, losing grace, and being left with the outer shell of truth, powerless and ineffective. In other words, the power still remains in the words, but its action is inaccessible to us (or perhaps to me alone). And vice versa: when God Himself is pleased, then simple words are enough for the light of life to shine. The truth, the Holy Spirit and Christ are hidden in Scripture. They willingly reveal themselves and shed their blessed light making the light of Scripture visible to us. The sun illuminates the darkness of the night and makes everything visible. There is energy in electrical wires, but we cannot see anything until we turn on the light.
This is why the reading of the Gospels in church is accompanied by most reverent preparations: Behold… Wisdom! Let us hear the Holy Gospel. Peace be with all. Then the Gospel is brought in in wonderful covers and placed on a high table with candles in front of it. A reader asks for a special blessing before reading the Gospel, to which the priest answers, “May God, through the intercessions of the holy glorious, all-praised Apostle and Evangelist N., give speech with great power unto thee that bringest good tidings, unto the fulfillment of the Gospel of His beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.”
A secret prayer is also read prior to this:
“Shine forth within our hearts the incorruptible light of Thy knowledge, O Master, Lover of mankind, and open the eyes of our mind; For Thou art the enlightenment of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God”.
Also, the prayer said at the end of Matins has a similar meaning, “O Christ the true light, who enlightens and sanctifies every person who comes into the world: Let the light of Your countenance shine on us, that in it we may behold the uncreated light”…
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds
Source: Benjamin (Fedchenkov), Metropolitan. About Faith, Doubt and Unbelief.