Tuesday, November 20, 2007

On Faith and Works (Another Stray Thought)

He also spoke this parable: "A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, 'Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?' But he answered and said to him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.'" (Luke 13:6-9)

Good works are not the “fruit of faith”! Fasting, vigils, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting of the sick and imprisoned, etc., are the works of faith. They are the digging and fertilizing – and pruning and aerating and cultivating.

The Fruit is Christ. That is why St. Paul wrote to the Galatians (who misunderstood and were trying to earn their way to heaven) that he was like a mother in labor with them all over again “until Christ be formed in you.” (Galatians 4:19)

And you have to do that digging and fertilizing and cultivating of your soul so the seed of the Word planted there (Matthew 13) may sprout and mature and bring forth the fruit, Christ. This does not happen magically! You must work at it, just as you must at marriage (even a good marriage). Or, to switch metaphors, you have to invest the money (the grace, the Holy Spirit) you’ve been given. (Matthew 25:14-30) If not, the Word in you will remain barren; that is, your soul will not be Christ-bearing. If you are afraid to do these things (for fear, perhaps, that this is “works salvation”), you will end up like the servant in the parable who was afraid to invest the money entrusted to him and was called slothful; “even what he has shall be taken away.”

Saint Symeon the New Theologian says that it is not what man does which counts in eternal life but what he is, whether he is like Jesus Christ our Lord, or whether he is different and unlike Him. He says, "In the future life the Christian is not examined if he has renounced the whole world for Christ's love, or if he has distributed his riches to the poor or if he fasted or kept vigil or prayed, or if he wept and lamented for his sins, or if he has done any other good in this life, but he is examined attentively if he has any similitude with Christ, as a son does with his father."

(I took that from Ch. XV of The River of Fire. The author, Dr. Alexandre Kalomiros, gives no citation for this quote.)