IN THOSE DAYS, Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was eager to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the presbyters of the church to meet him. When they came to him, he said to them, "Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the Church of the Lord and God, which He obtained for Himself with His own blood. I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to tempt the disciples to follow them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the message of His grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing. You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
In the above Epistle excerpt Saint Paul gives a valuable advice to the presbyters of the Ephesus Christian communities. He exhorts them to shepherd the Church of the Lord and God, that is the flock entrusted to them by Jesus. However, the advice he gives does not have to apply just to clergy or leaders of the Church.
"Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock," meaning, be take care of yourself and the people in your community. There is nothing unique to the clergy in this advice. "Keep watch," take care, "over yourself." Doesn't each and every one of us need to do the same? "And over all the flock." Even if some of us live alone, we still have someone close, someone who is important to us, someone whom we take care of.
Therefore, Saint Paul's words apply to everyone. And notice the order who to take care of. "Keep watch over yourselves...," first take care of yourself. If I remember correctly, on airplanes, if anything goes wrong, the instructions for the parents are to put the oxygen mask and life vest first on themselves, then on the kids. Why? If a parent begins with the child, he/she might not finish in time, then both might die. If the parent secures him/herself first, then he/she can, somewhat more calmly, focus on the child. In worst case scenario, the parent can grab and hold on to the child.
So, take care of yourself first. We are in a unique time with the quarantine and lockdown, where we focus almost exclusively on our physical well-being. We stay home, we wash our hands like maniacs, we sanitize all the surfaces we can think of. When going outside, we wear masks and/or gloves, we refrain from physical contact with anyone outside our immediate family. I see a lot of people walking, running, riding bikes. Our physical health is important, so it's good to see so many people prioritizing it.
But, what about our spiritual well-being? What have we done to take care of that? Do we spend intentional, conscious, and focused time with God daily? It doesn't have to be long, 10-15 minutes upon waking up and 10-15 minutes in the evening. This intentional time with the Lord does not have to be prayers. Prayers are prayers. Intentional time is something like a silent meditation, becoming aware that we are in the presence of God, Who is present everywhere, always, but we are not. So we need to present before Him at least for a bit every day. In this podcast episode, Dr Albert Rossi discusses the importance of daily meditation.
Spiritual well-being does not end with prayer. In the above Epistle, Saint Paul also says, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." We truly possess something only when we can freely give it away. We are truly rich, when we give away our wealth. We truly have faith, when we share it with others. I guess, the best word to describe Saint Paul's saying (who, by the way, is quoting the Lord here; a saying that is not found in any of the four Gospel accounts; something to look into in the future reflections) is mercy.
By being merciful, we take care of ourselves and those entrusted to us, be it our immediate family members, anyone we take care of, our neighbors, or just a random stranger, because it is impossible to be merciful and, for example, judgmental or hateful. And God only knows how much our society needs mercy right now. It is intolerable to watch news right now or read the posts of friends on social media or read articles and opinions of people whom you would consider intelligent. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone considers themselves to be right. Some people look for ways to use the current situation for their own benefit. Others are finding ways to be victimized by it, in order to claim persecution.
In all of this, there is one thing missing - mercy. So be merciful to yourself first. Take care of your physical health, but do not neglect your spiritual well-being. And be merciful to others. God has entrusted us to one another. Just like a priest is responsible for his flock, so each of us is responsible for our spouses/children/relatives/neighbors.
For last year's reflection, click here.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest