Now Is The Change of the Most High

There is no doubt that God is changing the world – though most of this work is hidden. A strange part of this hiddenness is the work that God does within us. The work is not entirely hidden – I can look back and see change that has occurred in my life – it’s just that it helps sometimes to live long enough to see it.

Human beings seem to change at a pace that is entirely human – which should come as no surprise. Thus we find ourselves going to confession repeatedly with the same sins. But apart from abrupt personality changes, this is simply the likeliest and most human of events. The struggle against some sin is the struggle of a lifetime.

Some things happen quickly – in a “single moment” as we sing about the thief on the cross. But these are rare or involve decisions that have as their very character an either-or nature. “Either I am going to say yes or no.”

Patience is perhaps the most common word in the New Testament. Indeed, in its full meaning it is not just patience but “patient endurance.” Being patient is one thing, but bearing with the things with which we must bear while we are waiting is the stuff that endurance is made of. And, of course, if the change we are waiting on is in someone else (a lousy spiritual practice), the wait can be a very long time.

God is indeed transfiguring the world, and each of us in it as we give ourselves to Him. But this is always a day to day effort and generally a slow work. But occasionally – just occasionally – grace does what we would never do and we find ourselves already become what we could not be.

This is the grace of prayer, for instance. The marvelous gift of prayer when we did not think we could pray, or an act of kindness when our heart was deeply hardened. I give thanks to God for these small, sudden changes, gifts of grace that tell us not to lose heart in the long struggle. God wins. What I cannot change, He can, and will. Thanks be to God for His grace.

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19 Responses to “Now Is The Change of the Most High”

  1. frontierorthodoxy Says:

    I think I see what you’re getting at, father, but just to clarify: you’re not pressing for some sort of teleological view of evil, here, where one is always working toward some sort of millenarianism, right? I’m not intending to pick a fight, but just looking for a clarification. In America, millenarianism runs rampant, so just suggesting a clarification. Please don’t think I’m accusing you of it. I am not!

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  3. Tim Says:

    Thanks Father. I am new to the gift of prayer in my everyday life and am grateful for it.

  4. fatherstephen Says:

    No Millenarianism here. My intention was primarily to think about patience (“let patience have its perfect work”). I do not believe in “progress” (particularly in an ecclesiological sense). Even within the culture – technological change should not be confused with progress. But that God is transforming us – “from glory to glory” – is the word from Scripture. One of the problems of millenarianism (besides being wrong) is its tendency to stop looking at God and to start looking at us.

    Father Stephen +

  5. Elaine Says:

    Father, thanks for this post. I didn’t understand what you meant in yesterday’s homily when you said, “We are not swans.”

    Today, reflecting on this–“But occasionally … grace does what we would never do and we find ourselves already become what we could not be”–I went to this poem, and believe I understand. Almost.

    Not Swans

    by Susan Ludvigson

    I drive toward distant clouds and my mother’s dying.
    The quickened sky is mercury, it slithers
    across the horizon. Against that liquid silence,
    a V of birds crosses-sudden and silver.

    They tilt, becoming white light as they turn, glitter
    like shooting stars arcing slow motion out of the abyss,
    not falling.
    Now they look like chips of flint,
    the arrow broken.
    I think, This isn’t myth-

    they are not signs, not souls.
    Reaching blue
    again, they’re ordinary ducks or maybe
    Canada geese. Veering away they shoot
    into the west, too far for my eyes, aching

    as they do.

    Never mind what I said
    before. Those birds took my breath. I knew what it meant.

    “Not Swans” by Susan Ludvigson, from Sweet Confluence: New and Selected Poems. © Louisiana State University Press, 2000. Reprinted with permission.

  6. fatherstephen Says:

    Elaine,
    This is wonderful – but there is a mistake. Time for humor, I suppose. I did not say “we are not swans” in the sermon yesterday – or if I did it would have been some sort of slip of the tongue of which I am not aware. (Now I’m wondering what I did say).

    I might have said, “But we are not John” (the Baptist) – since that thought was there. Preaching without notes (occasionally such as yesterday) makes it hard to find out what you did say.

    On the other hand, I have occasionally heard people report profound things they heard – and which I never said – for which I can only respond – that there is someone (or Someone) else preaching or at least being heard.

    It appears, from the beauty of the poem that the S(someone) had something profound to say. Sorry it wasn’t me…

  7. Marsha Says:

    Father, thank you for clarifying. I, too, was wondering when you had said “we are not swans” but figured I was probably “not present” or something at that moment.

    Lovely poem, though, Elaine, I may co-opt it.

  8. fatherstephen Says:

    I must have said it – slip of the tongue. 2 witnesses makes it pretty strong evidence. I’ll ask Beth. It will have to go down in St. Anne lore as Fr. Stephen’s “Swan Song.”

  9. easton Says:

    father, i think marsha is saying she did NOT hear you say it! thanks for this message at the start of a new year!

  10. fatherstephen Says:

    Oh…obviously I am not operating at my maximum today.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    I appreciate this post very much. My priest also says that we bring the same sins to Confession again and again. And I do, indeed, find myself bringing the same sins to Confession. I even get spiritual guidance, and I still commit the same sins–and later realize how problematic they are in my life both to me and those close to me. I am blessed in that I have very patient, forgiving, understanding Christian friends.

    I also find it interesting that you say some sins can be a struggle until the end of our lives. I certainly believe that is true, but I have actually heard Christians who are not Orthodox and more mature in their faith than I am say that they have short periods in their lives they can go withou sinning and that the Christian life is easy for them to follow. I appreciate your perspective and the perspective of the Orthodox Church. Even the saints felt that they did not live model lives.

  12. Steve Says:

    Dear Fr. Stephen,

    Whatever you thought you said it sounded much like “here am I, and the children the Lord has given me” (Isa. 8:18).

    Thank you!

  13. Elaine Says:

    Hang on–are we swans, then?

  14. fatherstephen Says:

    I don’t think so, except in somebody’s very nuanced manner.

  15. mic Says:

    Anonymous…

    i have heard someone say that before as well (the not sinning for a couple/few weeks). i’m still baffled by the statement, and how matter-of-fact it was presented.

    Fr., it was a great post for sure, timely as well. Blessed Epiphany, and Happy New Year!

    peace
    mic-

  16. fatherstephen Says:

    There are some with certain Protestant denominations who believe that we can go without sin for periods of time. This would be foreign to an Orthodox understanding. Even were a saint to live in such a manner, they would never say such a thing. It is generally a trivialization of sin – seeing as discreet infractions of the commandments instead of seeing it in a more complete existential manner.

  17. Barbara Says:

    And yet we pray, God grant us to keep this day or evening without sin. I often wonder how this is possible.

  18. Xenia Says:

    I love when we pray that — keep us this day/night without sin. I never look at it as though I can succeed 100% but it’s like an invitation to continually start anew and try again. And it sees our lives as the step by step, day by day, night by night effort and struggle that it is to dedicate ourselves to God. When I’m feeling the most distant from God, these words provide such hope that He can help me do better than I’ve been doing and come again into His presence even if it’s just briefly until I need to be reminded again by the prayer to start afresh.

  19. coffeezombie Says:

    Xenia, that reminds me of the “Prayers by St. John Chrysostom, according to the hours of the day” (in the Evening Prayers in my prayerbook). Two of them (back to back) are:

    “O Lord Jesus Christ, write me, Thy servant, in the book of life, and grant me a good end.
    O Lord, my God, even though I have done nothing good in Thy sight, yet grant me, by Thy grace, to make a good beginning.”

    I’ve found it interesting that the order isn’t reversed, but that second one in particular is a prayer that has become one of my favorites for a similar reason as you cite.

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