We would first of all like to acknowledge the efforts of Father Emmanuel, the spiritual Father for many of us, in preparing and conducting the Bible Study lessons each week. They allow us to grow in knowledge and spiritual understanding for the ultimate goal of drawing nearer to God. Furthermore, it should be noted that the ideas drawn in this article are merely summations of the talks given to us each week, and are not intended to replace the talks themselves.
It seems suitable to first set the focus point for the lesson in question. While there were many ideas and points covered, the general idea was that of love. To speak of love, how can we not speak of God? As Father repeats time and time again, "God is love". If a person says that they love God but still holds a grudge against their neighbour, the person is fooling themselves. For it is not possible for them to say that they love God and not love their neighbour.
"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." (1 John 4:7-11)
It is important to note here that unless something is done out of love, it has little benefit. Take, for example, the Pharisees, whom we so often use to show this contrast. The Pharisees were focussed with correctness and conventionalism. Being more concerned with correct practise, they left little space for God, and so became blind to the Truth. They could not even see the Lord standing before them, despite all the miracles and wonders performed by Him. They had no love in their hearts, and so God could not dwell in them. So it is with us! If we become too preoccupied with what we do and how we do it, and have no love in our hearts, we can also fall into the same trap.
Love should be ever with us in all areas of our life, especially so in the family. In the raising of children, discipline and order are certainly important but without love, it is useless and ultimately, counter-productive. Saint Paisios speaks of this in one of his books. He says that the care a mother gives a small child is very important because a child’s upbringing determines the rest of his life. If someone becomes holy and goes to Paradise, his mother gets a lot of the credit.
He then encourages us to imagine a mother who has four children, each of which attained, so to speak, an eight out of ten on their report card for Paradise. Does not their mother, to whom they owe so much, get at least two of those points? Well, two points, by four children, is eight. Give her another two for her own struggle, and she passes through to Paradise with flying colours. Though this is just an analogy, it shows the importance, and responsibility we carry, in the raising of children.
Children should be our focus but with how much the world has changed, the importance and value of family life has suffered greatly. Previously, families could survive off a single income; the Father would go to work and the mother would focus on the raising of the children. Now, though, society demands more from us and a family cannot survive off a single income and so this has changed the way we raise our children.
To show what the world has come to, Father made particular reference to an advertisement from the newspaper, which read, "Change your brain, change your life." It was saying that whatever your mental problems, the world has a cure for it. How ridiculous! There is only one, true source of healing, and that is God. The soul and the body are linked together; though you may try to treat the body, unless you also consider the soul, all efforts are futile. The problem here is that people need help but they don't know where to find it anymore. Without the context of the Church, people are lost, and will stay that way until they address the issues of their soul. All of this just goes to show how much the world has become distanced from God.
It is important to briefly speak of another gift of God, that is, of humility. Humility is often misunderstood. It is not something that you strive for or that you work towards. It is not something that you can just wake up with. Humility is a gift of the Holy Spirit and is not given lightly. You should instead strive to become closer to God, to draw near to Him. This means struggling spiritually, applying the conscience, and in turn, accepting God into the heart. When this happens, the Holy Spirit will fill you and bestow an abundance of gifts. This is what is important, what we should strive towards.
Lastly, to conclude, let us briefly speak of the role of the priest. The priest and the people are similar, in that we all, through baptism, carry the priesthood of Christ, and as such, have a responsibility not only to live according to the will of God but to be witnesses of the truth. Where the priest is different is that he is directly responsible for the people, which is practised via the Sacraments of the Church, the energy of the Holy Spirit that has the effect of transforming man.
For general clothing, a priest is required to wear a black cassock, where the black indicates that he is dead to the world. Many people do not realise this and so, when they see a priest, are taken aback.
What is important to take from all of this is that we do not know how long we have here on earth. Our soul may be called back today, tomorrow, next week,...we do not know! What is important is the state of our soul when we appear before Christ in all His glory. As Christ said, the greatest commandments are those of love:
"'...And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:30-31)