October 4, 2019
My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, I have often encountered this concept of memory in the fear of people. We want to be remembered. We want people to know our names. This has always been true. But now, in today’s social media world, the need to be recognized, affirmed, and shared consumes many of our young people.
Why do people do what they do? For evil or good, it is often to be remembered. In our world that is so connected, people have never been more lonely, and more desirous of notice.
This is seen in a great many facets today. Athletes: Individuals can quote many of the most famous basketball, soccer, football, hockey players of the last hundred years. Do we remember the athletes from two hundred years ago? Actors: People can recognize actors and actresses from one hundred years back, but do we know the great actors of Greece hundreds of years ago? Politicians . . . Builders . . . Philosophers . . . you name it, there is a level of celebrity.
And it is fleeting. Many of these famous individuals will ask this question later in life, “Don’t you know who I am?!”
The reality, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, is that with a precious few exceptions, ALL OF US WILL BE FORGOTTEN IN TWO – THREE GENERATIONS! This is true even of our families who adore us. How many of us know the life story of our Great-Grandparents? Our Great-Great-Grandparents? This is not something of which to be ashamed. This is the natural state of history. And even if we strive to be that 1 in a billion person who generations will remember, even that does not guarantee the lasting affect of memory.
I met a traveler from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Percy Shelley, the poet, recognized this sad reality in his poem, Ozymandias. Even someone who had crushed empires and whom enemies the world over feared and respected is forgotten to history. This is the arrogance of our humanity. To want to be remembered forever because “I MATTERED!”
And yet, we don’t. The world continues . . .
This ardent desire stems from the human longing for immortality. Even if I cannot physically live forever, at least my memory will persist long, long after I am gone. Hearing my name will elicit a response, a memory and an emotion. Is it any wonder this desire is linked with depression within our young people as they begin to realize through memes and the memory of the internet that nothing last forever, not even them.
To be forgotten is the most terrifying concept. This is one of the reasons why the Israelites placed such a heavy emphasis on memory. Not our own, mind you, but God’s. They understood that we exist in the memory of God, and this is immortality. Their statement continues into our own Orthodox wishes to an individual, “Memory eternal.” Many mistake this wish as a hope that the loved one does not fade from our memories, but the reality is that this prayer seeks the memory of the individual to remain forever in God’s memory.
Understanding this concept of God’s memory and recognition brings us to one of the most terrifying verses I have ever encountered in the Scripture in which the Lord says, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you” (Matthew 25:13).
To understand this further, let us read the entire parable.
Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, saying, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. And later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ But he answered and said, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.—Matthew 25:1-13
This frightening closing to the parable requires a little digging. First, most of us look to the five wise virgins and thing they are greedy when dealing with the five foolish virgins. We ask ourselves why they couldn’t have shared like we are taught in grammar school.
The problem, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is that the fuel the virgins used to light their lanterns, was not kerosene or olive oil. How do we know this? The hint is found in why the Lord Jesus did not recognize the foolish virgins. They ran to the market and purchased fuel but this was too little, too late. It was not authentic. They were not prepared to meet him and it showed.
That fuel was the fruits of the Holy Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians :22-23). Can you buy any of these fruits? How do you monetize kindness? How do you share forbearance? How do you give away self-control?” You cannot. These are not items but qualities of personhood. This is character.
And how do we have character? “Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Romans 5:3-5). Hope is the Holy Spirit and this is brought about through Characteristics of the Holy Spirit, those fruits.
This is the fuel the Wise Virgins used in their lanterns. But the just as the fuel is a metaphor for the fruits of the Spirit, so also are the lanterns themselves. The lanterns are the Virgins.
This is seen in the image of the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as the fire alighted over the heads of the Disciples in the upper room. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:1-4). This does not mean the fire stood over them like birthday cake candles but filled the disciples to the brim and burst from the tops of their heads in flames.
We are called upon to acquire the Holy Spirit (St. Seraphim of Sarov) and take on its qualities. When we acquire the Holy Spirit we acquire His fruits and His Characteristics.
But what does this have to do with the 10 Virgins? Everything! How are we to be known by Christ? “But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver” (Malachi 3:2-3).
A purifier of silver in the time of Malachi and Christ would need to first gather a lodestone of silver from a mine. This would come with many impurities and other elements along with the silver. This cannot be separated simply by hammering at the lodestone with a chisel. This process requires the purifier to hoist the silver into the fire to burn away the impurities. Due to silver’s delicate nature, fire can destroy the silver if the purifier is not careful and this necessitates he remove the silver from the fire periodically to cool. Because the purifiers of this time did not have thermometers or computers to analyze the silver, the purifier would need to do this process by eye, and this would mean he would have to remain very close to the silver. Indeed, he would need to stand in the fire with a fire suit to carefully handle the silver. One might ask, when does the purifier know that this process is complete? The answer is simple, when He can see His face in the silver.
Christ allows us to endure the fire as we grow in Him and the end goal is for us to resemble Him. All of these analogies are regarding us, His children. Let us look at one more analogy from Corinthians and then we will return to the Virgins.
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one must be careful how he builds. For no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, his workmanship will be evident, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will prove the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as if through the flames. Do you not know that you yourselves are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple (Corinthians 3:10-17).
Again, we see the Fire of Judgement, but look carefully. The Fire of the Holy Spirit did not destroy the good quality ornaments, only the faulty. The house survived. This means we will live forever. No matter what, we will live forever.
So why am I afraid? Why does this verse terrify me so? ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you” (Matthew 25:13).
For the Lord to not know me, it means I am bereft of the Holy Spirit. I have no fuel, none of the characteristics, none of the fruits. I have no is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control. Christ cannot see His face in me.
You see, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, when we seek to have the world know us, we often put our relationship with Christ on the backburner. We forget Him. We neglect our prayers. We forget to go to Church. We forget to serve our brothers and sisters. All because we are so infatuated with ourselves and our “Selfie” culture, we have forgotten the one will never forget us.
Rather than seeking immortality in this fallen world, let us seek to be known and remembered by the One who loves us and wants a relationship with us, the One who sits in the fires of our lives with us and preserves us. The one who gives us immortality freely at the cost of His life on the Cross; our God, our Lord, our Christ.
May your memory be eternal, my brothers and sisters in Christ!
Your servant in Christ,
Fr. Dimitri Tobias