The Communion of the Saints: Words Rush Forward

Icon of the Three Holy Hierarchs: Basil the Great (left), John Chrysostom (center) and Gregory the Theologian (right)—from Lipie, Historic Museum in Sanok, Poland.
Icon of the Three Holy Hierarchs: Basil the Great (left), John Chrysostom (center) and Gregory the Theologian (right)—from Lipie, Historic Museum in Sanok, Poland.

Our pastor has a secret weapon. On a weekly basis, he consults a treasure trove of biblical commentary material directly from the Fathers of the Early Church, via the wonders of his Logos Bible Software. The ability of this technology to search such a large body of written material for relevant commentary is quite amazing. More amazing, is the way in which much of what he finds is devoid of the stark contrasts between theology and pastoral exhortation that is often the case in modern biblical scholarship. Many of these Church Fathers were pastoral theologians in the best sense of the term…poetic, comprehensible, intelligent, and full of colorful insight. Equally concerned with faithfulness toward the text and faithfulness toward their flocks, free from the dualisms between the existential and transcendent. At the same time, challenging and (sometimes) downright strange. Beautiful.

Pastor Eric turned to me today in our shared office space and exclaimed something like, “Basil the Great, what a genius. A pastor and theologian without separation, connecting his study to the direct concerns of his flock! Listen to this…” He went on to quote this passage from a letter/sermon that Basil wrote to a colleague who had lost his son.

Be perfectly assured of this, that though the reasons for what is ordained by God are beyond us, yet always what is arranged for us by him who is wise and who loves us is to be accepted, be it ever so grievous to endure. He himself knows how he is appointing what is best for each and why the terms of life that he fixes for us are unequal. There exists some reason incomprehensible to us why some are sooner carried far away from us, and some are left a longer while behind to bear the burdens of this painful life. So we should always adore his lovingkindness and not express discontent, remembering those great and famous words of the great athlete Job, when he had seen ten children at one table, in one short moment, crushed to death, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.” As the Lord thought good so it came to pass. Let us adopt those marvelous words. At the hands of the righteous Judge, those who demonstrate similar good deeds shall receive a similar reward. We have not lost the boy; we have restored him to the Lender. His life is not destroyed; it is changed for the better. He whom we love is not hidden in the ground; he is received into heaven. Let us wait a little while, and we shall be once more with him. The time of our separation is not long, for in this life we are all like travelers on a journey, hurrying on to the same shelter. While one has reached his rest, another arrives, another hurries on, but one and the same end awaits them all. He has outstripped us on the way, but we shall all travel the same road, and the same hostel awaits us all. -St. Basil the Great

The loss of a beloved family member has also colored the reality of my immediate family over the course of the last two months. Basil’s reflections rushed forward to meet me, in a similar circumstance, centuries after they were written. This kind of congruence over time is one of the absolute beauties of our Christian faith. The eternal Church is in communion with the eternal present of God through Christ and His Spirit. Our core congruence over time is simply astounding, outlasting emperors and kingdoms. Our solidarity with this congruence is perhaps one of our best hidden apologetics. Our solidarity with those who walked before us is certainly one of our best hidden comforts.

In the midst of this passage Basil reflects on the example of Job. An Old Testament saint whom Pastor Eric will be preaching about this Sunday, just as Basil did approximately 1700 years ago. A saint who, in every age, has pointed the Christian toward the Christ of Hebrews chapters 1 and 2. Which is the true test of any saint.