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An Explanation of Certain Texts
of Holy Scripture

by Bishop Theophan the Recluse

Matthew 9:16-17

     "No man putteth a new piece of cloth unto an old garment ... neither do men put new wine into old bottles." What does the Savior wish to teach by this comparison?

     By this comparison the Lord taught that strenuous labors, without the spirit of true life, bring no benefit to our moral character, but rather, confusion and corruption. A repentant sinner is given grace, which forms in him a determination to please the Lord, without sparing his own life. All labors are useful to a person with determination. However, should a person who lacks it, attempt on occasion, for example, to impose a severe fast on himself, he will strain and strain harder, but then he gives up his efforts. And after this his life becomes even worse.

Luke 20:18

     What do these words mean: "Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken, but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder"?

     The unbeliever, the blasphemer, the doubter will fall upon this stone. The Lord promised forgiveness to one who blasphemes the Son of Man.... So although he is thoroughly broken, if he repents, he will be saved. And so it will be also for those like him. But upon whomever the stone shall fall ... that person is worthy of the Lord's full wrath; he has perished, there is no hope for him.... Of such are those who are in [ultimate] despair, the militant atheists, the satanically stubborn, and those like them.

Luke 16:1-12

     The Meaning of the Parable of the Dishonest Steward. First of all, establish in your mind that in the parables, it is not necessary to ferret out the meaning of every detail, but one must hold on to the main thought of the parable, which the Lord almost always indicates. For example, the Lord calls Himself a "thief" only in the sense that He will come unexpectedly and unnoticed. All other features characteristic of a thief are not to be taken into account. So also in this parable. The Lord intended to point out only one aspect: namely, how the dishonest steward, having heard that he was about to be dismissed, did not dawdle, but immediately set about his task with an eye to making his future secure. The comparison here is that we, knowing for certain that what awaits us [sinners] is to be deprived of the Kingdom, do not even bat an eye. We live carelessly, as though no affliction awaited us. It was this thought that the Lord expressed when He said, "The children of this world are wiser than the children of light." We ought to restrict ourselves to this thought, without trying to explain other aspects of the parable, even though certain things could be said about them.

Matthew 11:11

     How should we understand the Savior's words, "He that is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he (John the Baptist)"?

     Answer: All of the Fathers understand "the least" to be the Savior Himself: for who, born of a woman, could be greater than all, except He? He calls Himself "the least" from the degree of humiliation He took upon Himself in the economy of His incarnation. This is why the Apostle says, "He humbled Himself" (Phil. 2:8).

Matthew 11:12

     Why does the Lord say that from the time of John the Baptist, the Kingdom of God will be taken by force? Was it not taken by force before John?

     Answer: "To take by force" is not an exact translation, for in the divine order of salvation, nothing can be forcibly taken. The Slavonic translation is more precise: "to compel onself," to take something by effort. This is also what the Greek word signifies. The thought here is that one forces one's way into the Kingdom as one might squeeze through a dense crowd. This is so in practice: forcing oneself and stuggle are essential in those seeking salvation and the Kingdom of God. Only those who are like this reach the Kingdom. It is not just given to everyone, as a privilege. As to why from the days of John this is so ... one need not search further but must admit one's inability to explain this.

Romans 9:11-16, 18

     The Lord says that "the Kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force." In the writings of the Apostle Paul we find that the matter of salvation does not depend upon us at all (v. 16) and that before our birth, God has determined for us one fate or another.

     What is the relationship between the Divine provision and our free will?

     Answer: The fact that the Kingdom of God is "taken by force" presupposes personal effort. When the Apostle Paul says, "it is not of him that willeth," this means that one's efforts do not produce what is sought. It is unnecessary to combine them: to strive and to expect all things from grace. It is not one's own efforts that will lead to the goal, because without grace, efforts produce little; nor does grace without effort bring what is sought, because grace acts in us and for us through our efforts. Both combine in a person to bring progress and carry him to the goal. (God's) foreknowledge is unfathomable. It is enough for us with our whole heart to believe that it never opposes God's grace and truth, and that it does not infringe man's freedom. Usually this resolves as follows: God foresees how a man will freely act and makes dispositions accordingly. Divine determination depends on the life of a man, and not his life upon the determination.

1 John 5:16-17

     What is a sin which is not unto death?

     A mortal sin is one which kills the soul, depriving it of grace. A sin which is not unto death does not kill, but torments or defiles the soul. It is hardly possible to determine namely which sins are of one or the other category. In life the following is needed: as soon as your conscience begins to convict you, quickly repent and in this way the destructive power of sin will be curbed. There is no sin which can withstand the effect of sincere repentance.... And thus one should be put at rest.

Source: Orthodox Life, Volume 33, No. 4 (Jul.-Aug. 1983), pages 42-43, 45. Translated from L'Eternel (in Russian), No. 301, January, 1973, pp. 8-10.


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