Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Oil of Fellowship


By Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria

"On Holy and Great Tuesday, we commemorate the Parable of the Ten Virgins in the Holy Gospel."1

In this simple way the sacred Synaxarion indicates what Holy and Great Tuesday is dedicated to. The words of Saint John Chrysostom are both characteristic and moving regarding the Parable of the Ten Virgins: "There were ten virgins, the Gospel says, five who were foolish and five who were prudent. The wise ones had oil; however, since the foolish ones did not, their lamps were extinguished... Virginity is the fire, almsgiving the oil. Therefore, when the fire does not have oil to burn safely and steadily, it is extinguished. Virginity is likewise extinguished when it lacks almsgiving... Who are the dealers of this oil? The poor, the ones who sit in front of the church in order to ask for alms. How much do they sell it for? As much as you want. I do not put a price on it so that you do not qualify the poverty. Buy as much as you can... Give to the poor, so that even if you keep silent (and thousands upon thousands of mouths defend you) almsgiving will take your side and plead on your behalf. Almsgiving is the salvation of the soul."2

To this God-given virtue of almsgiving, which the five prudent virgins had and the five foolish virgins did not, Saint Kosmas the Poet makes mention in one of his hymns from the Canon of Great Tuesday: "May the oil of fellowship in the vessels of our soul be sufficient, lest in going to make the purchase we miss the reward, that we may sing: All the works of the Lord, bless the Lord."3

Fellowship. It is contagious, writes Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite.

Fellowship. It is one of the good things God has given us. To have fellowship with our brethren. To give to those in need, what God in His philanthropy gives us daily. And as the light of an oil lamp is maintained by the oil, so Divine Grace is kept in people's souls with the virtues and especially almsgiving, the crown of all virtues. How characteristic are the words of Christ: "I desire mercy and not sacrifice."4 Almsgiving is the garment of the soul, an advocate before the throne of the Divine Majesty. It makes people rich and even raises them up to the throne of God. Saint John Chrysostom, the preacher of almsgiving, writes: "With great ease almsgiving is raised up to the heavens, and when the angelic powers see it they fling wide open the heavenly gates. If they see the other virtues, without almsgiving, they shut the gates. It appears this is what happened with the virgins who were shut out of the sacred nuptial because they did not have oil constantly in their lamps."5

"The Oil of Fellowship"

"Since Saint Kosmas the Poet urged us to have enough oil in the vessels of our souls, he then shows us the gain which follows."6 This gain is none other than our entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. This entry is acquired with the work we do in our lives which are given to us by God.

And work is not only the cultivation of the virtues and the purification of the soul, but also our offerings towards our neighbors: almsgiving, leniency, gentleness, consolation, protection, kindness, hospitality, brotherly love, benefaction without self-interest or calculation, and perfect love according to Christ.

It is a time for workers and merchants. "Now is the time for work, the future is the time to receive,"7 we are reminded by the theological voice of the Church. We are merchants who seek, according to the words of Christ, the fine pearl: "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls."8

Here are the struggles, here are the pits, but there are the crowns and the prizes of victory. We cannot say that we never met Christ in our lives or that we did not see Him in the faces of our disadvantaged brethren. For He says: "Anyone who loves God must also love their brethren,"9 since "whatever you did for one of the least of these brethren of mine, you did for Me."10 In the face of others we always see the face of God.

"Fellowship"

"Those who are going to welcome Christ, let us listen. Because now it is possible to receive Him. Let us listen and take care, that we may welcome Him with haste. For when you are merciful to the poor and the naked, you welcome and take care of Him."11

"Prepare the lamp, overflow it with oil, as the virgins of old, that you may find O my soul, the bridal chamber of Christ opened."12

"Wherefore, O Bridegroom Christ, number us with the prudent virgins; and including us in Your chosen flock, have mercy on us. Amen."13

Notes:

1. Matins, Synaxarion, Holy Tuesday.

2. St. John Chrysostom, Homily 3 - On Repentance.

3. Matins, Holy Tuesday, Canon Ode 8.

4. Matt. 9:13.

5. St. John Chrysostom, On Elias the Widon and On Almsgiving.

6. St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, Eortodromion.

7. St. Gregory the Theologian, Oration 19.

8. Matt. 13:45.

9. 1 John 4:21.

10. Matt. 25:40.

11. St. John Chrysostom, Homily 1 - Regarding the Saying of the Prophet David: "Do not fear when a man becomes rich" and on Hospitality.

12. Compline, Holy Monday, Ode 8.

13. Matins, Synaxarion, Verses for Holy Tuesday.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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