The Lord Jesus speaks about Discipleship when he says that a Disciple is not above his Teacher, and that the ambition of the Disciple is to be like his Teacher. To become like Jesus, in the Orthodox understanding, is not simply a matter of trying to act as he did, or to do what he commands. In our own strength we are not able to consistently change our character and the quality of our heart. There are many people who try to “be good”, and can act in a pleasant way to others, be helpful and thoughtful. But when placed under stress in one way or another, they still give way to anger, frustration, envy and pride, unless the very nature of their heart has been transformed, and this is beyond us.
We are invited to do so much more than just imitate the Lord Jesus as best we can. We are given the opportunity, as Disciples, to actually become like him through the gift of the Holy Spirit who is the divine power of God to transform and transfigure those who receive him into their hearts. This means that as we grow closer to God we discover that we do not stop to ask – what would Jesus do? as if it was something entirely separate from our experience. Rather we come to know what Jesus would do, and find the strength and grace to do it as something that becomes more and more natural to us as we truly become like Jesus, as far as we are able.
We are not greater than our Teacher. All that we learn in the way of Discipleship comes from the Lord Jesus. But what he teaches us, and what we gain by living each day with him, is not simply a new morality, with a detailed list of dos and don’ts, but a new life itself, a new heart, a new mind, so that all we think, and say, and do is thought and said and done in the power and grace and love and light of Christ himself.
Scripture – Matthew 10
1 He called to himself his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every sickness. 2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these. The first, Simon, who is called Peter; Andrew, his brother; James the son of Zebedee; John, his brother; 3 Philip; Bartholomew; Thomas; Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus; Lebbaeus, who was also called Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him. 5 Jesus sent these twelve out and commanded them, saying, “Don’t go amongst the Gentiles, and don’t enter into any city of the Samaritans. 6 Rather, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, preach, saying, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’ 8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. Freely you received, so freely give. 9 Don’t take any gold, silver, or brass in your money belts. 10 Take no bag for your journey, neither two coats, nor sandals, nor staff: for the labourer is worthy of his food. 11 Into whatever city or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you go on. 12 As you enter into the household, greet it. 13 If the household is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it isn’t worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 Whoever doesn’t receive you or hear your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. 15 Most certainly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgement than for that city. 16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep amongst wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. 17 But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you. 18 Yes, and you will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the nations. 19 But when they deliver you up, don’t be anxious how or what you will say, for it will be given you in that hour what you will say. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. 21 “Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child. Children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 You will be hated by all men for my name’s sake, but he who endures to the end will be saved. 23 But when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next, for most certainly I tell you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man has come. 24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his lord. 25 It is enough for the disciple that he be like his teacher, and the servant like his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more those of his household! 26 Therefore don’t be afraid of them, for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in the ear, proclaim on the housetops. 28 Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. 29 “Aren’t two sparrows sold for an assarion coin? Not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Therefore don’t be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows. 32 Everyone therefore who confesses me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven. 34 “Don’t think that I came to send peace on the earth. I didn’t come to send peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to set a man at odds against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 A man’s foes will be those of his own household. 37 He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me isn’t worthy of me. 38 He who doesn’t take his cross and follow after me isn’t worthy of me. 39 He who seeks his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. 40 “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me. 41 He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. He who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. 42 Whoever gives one of these little ones just a cup of cold water to drink in the name of a disciple, most certainly I tell you, he will in no way lose his reward.”
From the Fathers
John Chrysostom (349-407 A.D.)
If the Spirit had not yet been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified, how then did the disciples cast out the unclean spirits? They did this by his own command, by the Son’s authority.
Note the careful timing of their mission. They were not sent out at the beginning of their walk with him. They were not sent out until they had sufficiently benefited by following him daily. It was only after they had seen the dead raised, the sea rebuked, devils expelled, the legs of a paralytic brought to life, sins remitted, lepers cleansed, and had received a sufficient proof of his power both by deeds and words—only then did he send them out. And he did not send them out unprepared to do dangerous deeds, for as yet there was no danger in Palestine. They had only to stand against verbal abuse. However, Jesus still warned them of larger perils to come, preparing them for what was future.
[This commentary by St John Chrysostom shows us how the path of Discipleship is truly a journey. It is a journey in the power and strength of God both before the gift of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Baptism, and after receiving this gift in Baptism. But we can also see that in this journey of Discipleship we gain confidence as we see God at work in us, and around us. The Twelve were only sent out after they had followed Jesus daily, and in our own experience, as we follow Jesus Christ closely, as his Disciples ourselves, we see what he is doing and we are encouraged to believe that he will continue to work for us and even through us in the future.]
The Lord Jesus says that he did not come to bring peace on the earth, and that there would be disagreement and discord even between parents and children, and members of the same family. We can become discouraged when we begin the journey of Discipleship and expect that everything will be wonderful and filled with easy progress. But as soon as we turn to God with commitment we discover that all manner of opposition, both deliberate and unintentional, is aroused against us.
The Lord Jesus wants us to be prepared for this and not surprised. Orthodox Christianity teaches that there are wicked spiritual forces, fallen angelic beings, who have turned away from obedience to God and seek to draw mankind away from God with them. Not only will they do all they can to disturb us, but they will also stir up all manner of feelings and thoughts even in those closest to us, so that even our own family can be used as an obstacle to Discipleship.
What can we learn from this passage? It is that the Lord Jesus does not want us to be discouraged if we do face opposition in our spiritual efforts. He does ask us to make seeking after God a priority, even when our family are not supportive of us, even when they do not want us to be committed to God. That never means that we should be rude, or aggressive, or disrespectful. We do not overcome the opposition of others by using the same language and attitudes. But we must be prepared to cope with those close to us not being enthusiastic about our pilgrimage of Discipleship.
This can be very painful, but it is a sharing in the pain which the Lord Jesus himself experienced. He was rejected by those he had created in love for union with himself. It is in remaining committed to God, despite every opposition, that we discover true life.
1. Be sure to pray the Lord’s Prayer in the morning and evening, with warmth and attention.
2. Read Psalm 1 in the morning again, prayerfully and apply it to yourself so that the words become your own.
3. Continue to pray the Jesus Prayer in the morning and evening. But try to increase the number of times you prayerfully repeat the words of the prayer to 25 times in the morning or evening. This will still only take a few minutes but will produce spiritual fruit in time.
4. Read the Gospel again carefully, and listen for the words that come alive by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Write this in your notebook and reflect on them through the day.
5. Do not forget to pray for those on your intercession list in the morning and evening, with warmth of heart and attention.
From the earliest times in the Church infants have been baptised, because Orthodoxy, continuing the teaching of the Apostolic Church, does not believe that baptism is a way of telling God we have become a Christian as in many Protestant groups. On the contrary, in the Orthodox understanding, baptism is the means by which God does something for us, giving new life in union with him. From the beginning, infants have been baptised to give then the gift of new life in Christ.
St Justin Martyr, (100-165 AD) Apology 1.15.6, writing to the Emperor in defence of the Christians, says,
Many, both men and women, have been Christ’s disciples from childhood, and have remained pure at the age of sixty or seventy years.
This certainly indicates that there were many in the Church, and known to St Justin Martyr, who had been Christians since their childhood.
These children are considered to have been disciples of Christ, just as they have remained disciples of Christ in their old age.
A little later, St Polycarp (69-156 AD), the bishop of Smyra and disciple of the Apostle John, was martyred during one of the waves of persecution which the early Church faced. His martyrdom is recorded in some detail, and we have the account of his trial before the magistrate where he says,
Fourscore and six years have I been His servant, and He hath done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?
This would clearly suggest that from his earliest childhood, even his birth, St Polycarp had been a servant of God in some sense, and there being no other means of membership of the Church but baptism, it would seem likely, though not definite, that this is what he means.
A little later still, and St Irenaeus (130-202 AD), the disciple of St Polycarp, and bishop of Lyons, in direct succession of teaching and practice from the Apostles writes in Against the Heresies 2.22.4,
For He came to save all through means of Himself – all, I say, who through Him are born again to God – infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness, and submission; a youth for youths, becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord. So likewise He was an old man for old men, that He might be a perfect Master for all, not merely as respects the setting forth of the truth, but also as regards age, sanctifying at the same time the aged also, and becoming an example to them likewise. Then, at last, He came on to death itself, that He might be “the first-born from the dead, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence,” the Prince of life, existing before all, and going before all.
St Irenaeus has told us that he was careful to teach what he had heard from St Polycarp, just as St Polycarp taught what he had heard from the Apostle John. More than that, when writing against the heresies, the false teachings being introduced by some, the essence of his argument was that the Apostolic Church preserved in all places the teachings and practices which the Apostles had taught, and which were still taught by the bishops they had appointed in every place. Therefore, if he speaks of infants and children being born again, which must mean being baptised, then this is a practice he finds in all places and already with an antiquity so that it was not something newly introduced. Elsewhere in his writings he is often found pointing out exactly where a new teaching began and even gives the names of the persons who introduced it, to show that it was not Apostolic, but he does not criticise the practice of infant baptism, and seems to refer to it here as an expression of the salvation which is the gift of Christ by the incarnation.
It was a practice from the earliest times, and continues in the Orthodox Church today.