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Homily for 7/12/09 - P5 - zeal and knowledge

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  • Fr David Moser
    Romans 10:1-10 Consider the many flowers that we have around us. There are flowers in a multitude of colors and shapes and sizes. Just as one plant blooms and
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 12, 2009
      Romans 10:1-10

      Consider the many flowers that we have around us. There are flowers in a
      multitude of colors and shapes and sizes. Just as one plant blooms and
      then fades, another takes up the cycle providing us with a constant
      source of beauty throughout the season. We can appreciate the beauty of
      the flowers without knowing much about them, but in order to really work
      with the flowers, to plant them and grow them in the right combinations
      to make that constant beauty or to breed new strains of flowers takes a
      deeper knowledge of the nature and characteristics of plants. This we
      gain by studying the flowers, not just perceiving their beauty, but also
      perceiving the various parts of the plants and just how the plant
      produces flowers and what makes one large and the other small or one red
      and the other yellow. With the study of plants we gain not only an
      appreciation for the outward beauty of the flower, but also for the
      underlying complexity and beauty of its nature.

      Like the flowers, the soul of man is also a beautiful thing and we enjoy
      its fruits in our friendships with one another and our interactions with
      interesting and diverse people. Our soul, however, is also an object of
      study so that by understanding its nature and characteristics and inner
      workings we might understand ourselves and see more clearly how it is we
      can fulfill our purpose to become like God and so increase the beauty of
      our own soul. Although there is a secular science of the study of our
      inner being called psychology, the true study of the soul belongs only
      to the Church – for the soul is the seat of our spiritual essence and
      cannot be understood apart from that aspect. Thus the Church over the
      centuries has given to us a science of the soul that in knowing about
      the soul we might more effectively work out our salvation and enter into
      more intimate communion and union with our Creator.

      Today in the epistle, part of this science of the soul is given to us
      for we are instructed about two different but interdependent
      characteristics of the soul – zeal and knowledge. These are two very
      familiar characteristics, something that we all perceive in ourselves,
      but to understand them in relation to one another and how they work
      together for our salvation is the theme of this section of the epistle.
      Zeal is that drive or desire that pushes us towards a certain goal. We
      all have experienced zeal every time we get excited about something and
      feel really motivated to achieve a goal. That inner push is what we call
      zeal. Very often we recognize zeal when it is there, but working with it
      is less certain. Knowledge, on the other hand, is something with which
      we are very familiar. We are learning constantly from our experiences,
      from school, from books and other media, from other people and a
      multitude of sources. This is how knowledge is gained and once we know
      about something we can use that knowledge to manipulate it. Thus we even
      have a saying that “knowledge is power”. Zeal and knowledge are two
      parts of the soul which constantly interact and work together. Here the
      Apostle shows us a little bit about the proper, beneficial interaction
      of these two characteristics and how they work together to bring us into
      union and communion with God.

      We heard today at the beginning of the epistle about a condition that
      leads us away from God. That condition he calls zeal without knowledge.
      He describes this condition to us as a person who has a great desire and
      enthusiasm to know God but who goes about it in the wrong way. Such a
      person has a deep desire to find God and that desire drives his actions,
      but without proper knowledge he is driven in the wrong direction. It is
      as if you were to get into a car to go somewhere. You turn on the engine
      and put the car in gear and give it some gas, but neglect to take the
      wheel and steer the car. Certainly the energy and mechanics of the car
      will take you somewhere, but without guidance it will more likely be
      into the ditch than to your desired destination. Zeal is the energy and
      mechanics that drive the car, but knowledge is the guidance provided by
      the steering wheel to keep the car headed in a particular direction.
      Even if you should grasp the wheel and begin to steer the car, if you do
      not know where your are going or how to get there, you will most likely
      end up lost or arrive at the wrong destination. So knowledge by itself
      is not sufficient, one must also have the correct knowledge. Such is the
      case of the people described by the Apostle in his letter, they had a
      certain zeal for God, but guided that zeal inaccurately by using the
      wrong knowledge and thus were not moving towards their desired goal.

      There are other difficulties that can arise when zeal is not governed by
      knowledge. Zeal is like a fire. It gives us energy to accomplish many
      things, but it also consumes fuel and when it has consumed all the fuel,
      it goes out and we are left with nothing. Knowledge is the means by
      which that zeal is controlled so that it does not burn everything up at
      once in an explosion of energy – but rather it burns slowly and in a
      controlled manner so that there is enough energy to complete the task. A
      fire can burn a whole forest full of trees in a matter of minutes, but
      if that fire were controlled, the same amount of wood fed to it slowly
      would burn for years. We sometimes experience this same thing in our
      lives where we suddenly are struck with great zeal for a particular
      pursuit, and we follow that pursuit with seemingly unbounded energy for
      a brief period, but then our interest wanes and finally we drop the
      pursuit, only half begun for lack of desire. Our zeal has run out. This
      same thing we see in the spiritual life frequently when a person
      “discovers” some spiritual truth and all of a sudden is on fire with
      enthusiasm and is completely involved. But after a short time, that fire
      seems to wane and they lose their zeal for the spiritual life. This is
      because the zeal was not controlled by an accompanying knowledge and so
      allowed to burn out of control and in a short time burned out.

      These then are the two greatest dangers of “zeal without knowledge”:
      first wrong knowledge that leads us astray and second no knowledge that
      leads to an early burnout.

      This first condition of zeal without knowledge also implies its opposite
      – knowledge without zeal. Knowledge without zeal occurs when one builds
      up a vast store of information but has no desire to do anything with it.
      Going back to our car, such a condition would be the person who knows
      exactly where he’s going and how to get there, having studied all the
      maps and read all the books. He can tell you about every feature of the
      place he is going – but he never even gets in the car, let alone turns
      it on. Such a condition is even more tragic in a way than its opposite
      for the person knows all about his destination, but does nothing to put
      that knowledge into practice. He never arrives anywhere because he never
      leaves. In the spiritual world, these are the ones who can quote from
      the scripture and from the writings of the fathers as though they were a
      living library – but never follow their own advice. They may become
      respected as knowledgeable or as scholars, and we may even assume that
      since they talk about these things they must also do them, but such is
      not the case. They are dead in the water, not going anywhere but with a
      full knowledge of where it is and how to get to where they are not going.

      There is a third tragic situation and that is the person who has neither
      knowledge nor zeal. He is not motivated to go anywhere and really
      doesn’t care to know what he might be missing. Unfortunately many of us
      fall into that spiritual category without really knowing it. We belong
      to a Church because we think it is a good thing, but we don’t take the
      time to learn about our own faith. We don’t read, we don’t pray (because
      we’re too busy or it just isn’t a priority), we don’t participate in the
      services (we just attend sometimes to keep up appearances). The life of
      the Church doesn’t impact our lives because we have no idea how that
      might occur – nor do we have the desire for it to impact our lives since
      we like things just the way they are. We don’t do anything that might
      kindle a desire for God, even if there is a spark that lands in the
      heart by chance, it is soon snuffed out by indifference and the cares of
      the world. This person has shut himself off completely from God.

      Of course the condition that we do need to foster in our lives is that
      of zeal guided by knowledge. We must have zeal for God – but where does
      this zeal come from and how do we foster it? Zeal is the combination of
      desire and feeling that drives us. Zeal for God is created by and fed by
      love for God. This is the key, we must love God first and above all. If
      we do not love God then we will get nowhere. How do you love God? First
      by getting to know God – that is by learning about Him and also by
      interacting with God in prayer and in the reading of Scripture. Think
      about all that God has done for you and given to you and from that
      realization of His boundless care and provision will grow first
      gratitude and then love. God Himself is Love and thus in order to
      acquire love for Him in ourselves, we need only ask Him to give us that
      love and awaken it in us. When the spark of love for God begins to burn
      in our heart, then it is necessary to fan the flame and nurture it and
      feed it by constant attention and communion with God (that is through
      prayer and the sacraments).

      As the love of God grows within us, so also must knowledge. It is vital
      from the beginning to make sure you have the correct knowledge of God.
      This starts with the account of His own self revelation which is the
      Gospel. But the scripture alone is not enough for it can be
      misunderstood and misinterpreted. Therefore we also need teachers who
      have themselves experienced the union with God in their own lives so
      that they can instruct us. These teachers are the saints and holy
      fathers of the Church. Thus in addition to the scripture, it is
      necessary to immerse yourself in reading the lives and sayings of the
      saints, in reading the writings of the fathers who describe their living
      relationship with God and who can thus provide you with the direction to
      acquire that same relationship. Over all is the guidance of the Holy
      Spirit and the watchful eye of the Holy Tradition of the Church which
      warns us when this or that instructor might be straying from the path
      and thus keep us focused on only those sources of information that are
      true and reliable. In order to properly apply this knowledge we have our
      own guide in our spiritual father who, by the grace of God given him by
      the sacrament of ordination is tasked with the responsibility to guide
      you on the path of salvation.

      This is the proper condition for the Christian – to be filled with zeal
      born of the love for God which is guided by the knowledge of God and of
      the path of salvation provided by the Church. If we maintain both our
      zeal and our knowledge and faithfully apply both on the path of
      salvation, we will arrive safely and securely at our goal of living in
      union and communion with God.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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