The Secret to Keeping the Ship Afloat Is In the Desert.

The Twenty-Fourth Friday of Ordinary Time.

Lessons from the primary feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:

• I Timothy 6: 2-12.
• Psalm 49: 6-10, 17-20.
• Luke 8: 1-3.

Ember Friday of the Holy Cross; the Commemoration of Saint Thomas of Villanova, Bishop & Confessor; and, the Commemoration of Saint Maurice & His Companions, Martyrs.*

Lessons from the feria, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:

• Hosea 14: 2-10.
• Psalm 89: 13, 1.
• Luke 7: 36-50.

The Fifthteenth Friday after Pentecost (the First after the Holy Cross); the Feast of the Holy Martyr Phocas, Bishop of Sinope; the Feast of the Holy Prophet Jonah the Priest, Father of Theophane the Hymnographer & Theodore the Artist; and, the Feast of the Holy Apostle Codratus of Magnesia.**

First and third lessons from the pentecostarion, second & fourth from the menaion for St. Phocas, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:

• Ephesians 1: 7-17.
• Hebrews 5: 4-10.
• Luke 4: 22-30.
• John 10: 9-16.

9:50 AM 9/22/2017 —

The first kind of humility is to hold my brother to be wiser than myself, and in all things to rate him higher than myself, and simply, as that holy man says, to put oneself below everyone. The second kind is to attribute to God all virtuous actions. … The soul, when it is humbled, begins to bear fruit, and the more fruit it bears, the lowlier it becomes.

That esoteric quote is from an even more esoteric saint of whom I'm sure you've never heard: Our Holy Father Dorotheos of Gaza; and, yes, it's the same Gaza over which Jews and Palestinians have been fighting for generations, but in the 6th Century it was a Christian place dotted with austere desert monasteries. The quote is from his Discourse of Humility, and it came to mind when I sat down to look at today's Apostolic reading from Paul's First Epistle to Timothy.
     You might recall me speaking about Timothy at some length last year. He was Paul's traveling companion during the first missionary journey; they had been arrested and imprisoned together at one point. He was a young man, probably in his early twenties; and, when Paul established the Church in Ephesus, he made Timothy the bishop there. Because he was so young, the Christians in Ephesus rejected him as their bishop, and Paul wrote an angry Epistle to them to brow-beat them about it, but he also wrote two short but very beautiful letters of encouragement to Timothy which are also preserved for us in the New Testament; and, today's apostolic reading is from the first. Now, you may think it's odd that I would think of a citation from one of the Fathers on humility when considering poor Timothy's situation, but bare with me.
     When Paul and Timothy arrive in Ephesus, they find the Church there in a state of confusion due to unorthodox preaching. At the beginning of the letter, he reminds Timothy, “ thou fulfillest the charge I gave thee, when I passed on into Macedonia, to stay behind at Ephesus. There were some who needed to be warned against teaching strange doctrines, against occupying their minds with legends and interminable pedigrees, which breed controversy, instead of building up God’s house, as the faith does” (1 Tim. 1: 3&4 Knox). Msgr. Knox, whose translation of Holy Writ, as you know, is my favorite, provides a footnote speculating what some of these strange doctrines might have been; it's not important. What is important is that Paul knew right away that Ephesus needed a new bishop, someone who knew the True Faith, and who could not only preach it with conviction but have the strength of character to silence the heretics that were poisoning the minds of the faithful with whatever these strange doctrines were. In other words, he needed a tough guy he could trust to do the job. Timothy was his best friend. By his association with the Apostle, he certainly knew the faith; as for being tough: he had been in prison with Paul, so Paul knew his character. As loath as he was to part with Timothy, the Ephesians needed him more; so, he leaves Timothy behind and marches on into Macedonia to continue his missionary efforts there.
     Now, during his travels the Apostle made of point of keeping abreast of things. Whenever he would stop in some burg to change his shoes and preach the Gospel, he would collect his messages, sort of like someone without a smart phone stopping at an Internet cafe to check his e-mail;—if any of you remember what an Internet cafe is—and, whenever he got word that things were not as they should be somewhere, he would shoot back a letter to the place to put them back on the right track; and, that's why we have all these letters by Paul in the New Testament to all these different places; and, one of the e-mails he got was from Timothy telling him that things were not going well.
     One of the difficulties in deciphering Saint Paul is that we only have one side of the correspondence. We can only surmise what was said to him by reading his responses to the various Churches as they are recorded for us in the New Testament. When he gets Timothy's e-mail, he fires off a poison pen letter to the Ephesians, as we know; and, we know some of the things Timothy said to him since he addresses them in that Epistle; but, Paul also knows how to read between the lines, and he's getting the sense that Timothy is becoming discouraged and is beginning to doubt himself. Perhaps he was even doubting his own wisdom in making such a young man bishop of such a large and important Church. He writes his letter to the Ephesians, but he also does something he had never done before: he includes a personal letter to Timothy.
     What's remarkable about this letter is how he decides to encourage Timothy. It begins with an exhortation on humility that eventually leads into our Apostolic reading today; and, if we didn't know any better, we would make the mistake of presuming that he's dressing down Timothy, trying to let a little air out of the bellows of someone who thought too highly of himself; but, that's not what he's doing at all. Let me read you a short portion from the beginning of the letter as Msgr. Knox translated it:

How true is that saying, and what a welcome it deserves, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I was the worst of all, and yet I was pardoned, so that in me first of all Christ Jesus might give the extreme example of his patience... (1 Tim. 1: 15&16).

In other words, here's Timothy, wondering if maybe he's in over his head;—that, in spite of Paul's initial confidence in him, he's really not up to the task—so, Paul draws upon his own history, reminding Timothy that he, too, was considered unfit to be a bishop because he, after all, was once the most violent persecutor of the Church, and what changed all that was a direct infusion of Grace by Jesus Christ. “You think you're not all you should be?” Paul says to Timothy. “I was a lot more incompetent than you are are. Compared to what you're going through, Christ's patience with me has been extreme!”
     As the first chapter of the letter comes to a close, he reminds his young friend that Timothy didn't appoint himself bishop of Ephesus, so there's no sin of pride involved here, and that he needs to buck up and do the job, remembering that, so long as we are doing our duty, it is Christ who works through us. And, I believe Msgr. Knox was the first person to ever translate the last line of the chapter literally from the Greek: “Some, through refusing this duty, have made shipwreck of the faith” (1: 19). The actual word he uses is Ἐναυάγησαν, a combination of two words: ναυς meaning "ship," and ἄγνυμι meaning "to break apart." It's a very earthy expression. When we screw something up, sometimes we'll jokingly say, "Boy, that was a real train wreck"; except they didn't have trains in those days, so they called it a shipwreck. In the context of the Apostle's discourse, shirking the duty of correcting those who preach heresy results in breaking apart the Bark of Peter, the Ship of the Faith. In other words, if Timothy allows himself to succumb to the false temptation that he shouldn't correct those preaching error because he's not up the job, the result will be a shipwreck.
     Which brings us right back to the esoteric wisdom of Our Holy Father Dorotheos of Gaza: the first kind of humility is to see everyone as better than me, and the second is to realize that everything I do that's good is really being done by Christ. Timothy's problem is that he's looking for something in himself to overcome his difficulties, but it's not there. What Saint Paul is encouraging him to do is look instead to Christ; only there will he find what he needs. The Desert Father sums it up this way, which is a good way for us to conclude:

A man standing in need of everything from God is ready to make progress. He is always calling on God for fear that God may stop helping him; and so, let his native weakness and powerlessness appear. So through this act of humility he prays, and through his prayer he is made humble. …the more humble he is, the more he gets from God, and so he advances in his spiritual life through his virtue of humility.

* Cf. the first footnote attached to the post here for an explanation of the Ember Days.
  Thomas of Villanova, born in Spain, belonged to the Hermits of St. Augustine before becoming Bishop of Valencia. He died in 1555 having given away all he possessed to the poor. Ordinarily a feast of the third class, his day becomes a commemoration when falling on an Ember Day.
  Maurice led the famous Thehan legion. He and his soldiers were put the sword for their faith by Maximian at Agaune, now the city of St. Maurice in Switzerland, in the year 285.
  The commemorations are made by two additional Collects, Secrets and Postcommunions added to those of the Ember Day, as Masses for the commemorations are not allowed.

** Phocas was martyred in Pontus under Emperor Trajan sometime between AD 98 and 117.
  The priest Jonah was a "late vocation" and the father of two saints: two sons who were glorified for their confession of Orthodoxy during the time of the Iconoclast heresy. After the death of his wife, Jonah withdrew to the Lavra of St. Sava the Sanctified, where both his sons earlier had been tonsured as monks, and where he lived out his days until his death in the ninth century.
  Codratus was a contemporary of the Apostles, and was known for his prophesies. He feast is transfered from yesterday because of the Leave-taking of the Exaltation.