Lord, you now dismiss your servant in peace as you have promised” (Luke 2:29)

Father Joel William

February 25, 2021

The story of Saint Symeon witnessing the Birth of Lord Jesus Christ enlightens the value of time.  When Saint Joseph and Saint Mary bring the infant Jesus to the Temple and they bring with them a sacrifice of turtledoves. Before they can accomplish this though, Saint Symeon meets them at the entrance. There Symeon says, “Lord, you now dismiss your servant in peace as you have promise for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples; a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.” (Luke 2:29)

Symeon was one of the Jewish Priests that helped to compose the Septuagint, or Greek, Old Testament. When he translated a verse from Isaiah as “Behold a virgin shall bear a child…” instead of “a young maiden”, he was amazed and he doubted. Little did he know that all of the 70 scribes had done the exact same thing. Because he doubted, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to him and told Symeon that he would live to see this miracle. This all occurred 100-150 years before Lord Christ’s birth! Finally, Symeon saw the Messiah coming in the form of this young babe, born of a virgin, and he weeps in joy. For here in Lord Jesus he sees the great love of God that will free us from the bondage to death, the never-ending “winter”. He sees in the child the Son of Righteousness that thaws the hearts of men and that sheds the heavenly light to a people who sit in darkness and shadow. So if you catch yourself watching to see if Phil sees his shadow, rejoice in your heart knowing that the Light of Christ has so illumined the world that we no longer fear the dark for it is only illusion and smoke.

The Scriptures and the witness of the Saints, especially within the Slavic tradition, describe different types of foolishness. In Scripture we read of the rich man who seeks only his own comfort, whom God calls a “fool.” (Luke 12:20) We also read of the “foolish virgins” (Matthew 25:1-13) and of the “foolish disciples” on the road to Emmaus, who are “slow to believe” (Luke 24:25) and understand the things that have happened to Jesus. These moments of fools and foolishness concern the denial of God and His work of salvation. The rich man serves only himself and not others by hoarding his goods; the “foolish” virgins do not prepare for God’s plan and lose the light and their way; and the disciples have not kept faith with the Christ and the Father but instead are scattered and afraid, ignorant of Scripture’s message and promise.

Yet, in Scripture we also see those that are foolish in a different way; In his first letter to the Corinthians Saint Paul calls those who labor for God as “fools for Christ’s sake.” (1 Corinthians 4:10) We also read of those who mocked the Apostles at Pentecost saying, “They are full of new wine” (Acts 2:13), thus calling them drunks and fools. In both of these cases, in contrast to the other fools mentioned above, the Apostles speak knowing God’s plan and message for mankind. That message is inherent in the sacrifice of Jesus. It is a message that can only be understood by those who reject the foolish “wisdom of the world” (1 Corinthians 1:20) and turn instead to the cross that appears to be “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:18) itself. That is why Paul also says that the cross is “to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness…because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-25) This rejection of the world can be seen most clearly in the monastic life and especially in the saints, mainly from the Slavic traditions that are called the “fools for Christ.” The men and women that fall into the latter expression of the ascetic life presented themselves before their fellow men in order to be mocked. They played the part of fools to show the hypocrisy of the mockers. Through the sacrifice of their “dignity” they even corrected the actions and misdeeds of Tsars.

Observing the value of time, though, it’s not the timing of the message, but the timing of our foolishness. Do we time our lives to the beat of the world or to the beat of God? If we read the material, Scripture; and we practice, have a prayer life, and live the life of the Church; and we make the time and effort to be “for Christ’s sake” then we are joyful fools, like Saint Laurence who said, while cooked over a fire, “Turn me over. I am done on this side.” If we do not do these things then the world will laugh in scorn as we stumble through life and God will not laugh at all and we will just be fools.

At the end of the Divine Liturgy the Priest declares, “Let us go forth in peace.” The people’s response is: “In the name of the Lord.” This call and response are at the heart of the Christian witness. The understanding that each Christian is meant to go out into the world in the “name of the Lord”, meaning both to take His name, as “little Christs” or Christians, and to act in His name among the nations, is the central reality of Christ’s message in Matthew, “…go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19) However, the simple reading that sees this dialogue between the priest and the people as only a means of ending that particular Liturgy misses the point of each Christian’s need to be with others in Lord Christ.  To truly understand what it means to “go forth in the name of the Lord” is to look into Scripture and see what God has done when those who follow Him go forth from one setting to another. When we look at the reality of the journeys undertaken by all those whom God has called we see that there is always an element of return in the going.

When one goes out in the authority of the Lord, one is also expected to come back as well. In fact, if there is no return then the journey is incomplete. If we look at Moses, who went forth into the wilderness, he returns to Egypt to bring God’s people out of Egypt and back to the “Promised Land”. In this case there are two moments of going forth: Moses’ and that of the Israelites who, having gone into Egypt, now return to the land of Jacob, their ancestor. There is even a third element of the going out and return in that the Jews bring back the bones of Joseph who was sold into slavery and went out of the land of Jacob, his father, and now returns with the people of God. Lord Christ Himself also makes this journey into Egypt and back to the land of Jacob while an infant. Lord Christ also journeys out from Jerusalem and returns to it for His crucifixion. Likewise, when he sends His disciples out to heal those in the countryside they return to Him. And the greatest return of all is that Lord Christ returns us to the proper place at God’s side when He ascends, restoring our nature to the full image and likeness of God.

The early Christians also understood this need to go out and come back. The Apostles went from Jerusalem to proclaim the Gospel and returned to the Holy City for counsel and to hold councils. Paul when confronted by Christ goes into the wilderness and returns to Damascus to begin his own apostleship. As Christianity spread throughout the Empire, Christians of all ranks regularly made “returns” of their own, no longer simply to one city, but to all the places that God had worked through the Apostles and their successors. These journeys, or pilgrimages, connected the separated Christian communities in a way not possible in a purely physical way. As each Christian prepared to go forth he/she also prepared to return with a renewed spirit and a restored understanding of being in Christ. Each time one went on a pilgrimage it meant leaving behind anything that separated the pilgrim from God and instead trusting God to strengthen and illumine the one making the journey and through them others when they returned home. In this way the missionary mind of the Church is continually renewed in each of us.

Those who read this who have never “made” a retreat or gone on a pilgrimage will find that their journey into the life of Christ is still incomplete. They stand isolated and not yet whole within the life of the Christian community. They will find that time passes too quickly. Yet there is hope if we remember: the start of the journey of a lifetime, the return to Lord Christ, begins with our taking a first step.

Source: Saint George Orthodox Church