November 16, 2013

Saint Matthew the Evangelist as a Model for our Lives

The Holy Apostle Matthew (Feast Day - November 16)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Matthew the Evangelist practiced the profession of tax-collector. Christ found him sitting in his tax office and invited him to join His disciples. Levi, which was his original name, followed Him immediately, and then, just to celebrate the event of his calling to the apostolic office, he hosted a table to honor Christ, which was attended by many tax-collectors and prostitutes. This provoked the envy of the Pharisees, who resentfully asked the Apostles why their Teacher eats and drinks with tax-collectors and sinners. Christ Himself gave them the answer, telling them that the healthy have no need of a physician, but the sick, and that He came to invite sinners to repentance and not the righteous. Of course, the Pharisees were not righteous, but hypocrites. They considered themselves righteous however, and others they saw as sinners.

After Pentecost Matthew the Evangelist preached the Gospel in Ethiopia and was perfected through a martyric death, since after cruel tortures they burned him. Before his martyric death he managed to convert many to the faith of Christ by his holy life and miracles that he accomplished. Even after his martyric end his holy relic was miraculous and converted the king of Ethiopia to the true faith, who eventually became Bishop.

Matthew wrote his Gospel in the Hebrew language, for the Christians of Palestine who were being persecuted (Saint John Chrysostom).

The life and times of Matthew the Evangelist give us the opportunity to emphasize the following:

First, Matthew the Evangelist, as we saw, was a tax-collector, and tax-collector's at that time were considered sinners. Their job was to collect taxes from the people and it seems that some of them abused their power. The case of the tax-collector Zacchaeus is known, who hosted Christ in his home. He repented sincerely and wanting to demonstrate his repentance he publicly promised that he would split half of his possessions with the poor and would pay back fourfold all those he owed, whom he slandered. Christ did not despise sinners. This is why He was incarnated, to lead them to repentance and salvation.

Matthew was a benevolent man who loved Christ and wanted to be His disciple. He was ready to follow Him, which is why he responded immediately to the call of Christ. Those with benevolent intent, sooner or later will find their way because the mercy of God never leaves them, "but it chases them throughout the days of their lives". Besides, the first message of Christ was a message of repentance. And He stressed that tax-collectors and prostitutes will go before us into the Kingdom of God. "And having taken hold of it (the Kingdom of God), Pharisees and publicans and adulterers are reformed" (Great Canon). This is why we must never judge anyone, except only ourselves.

Second, for repentance to have substantial results it should be sincere and linked with the confession of sins before a Spiritual Father, and for this confession to be true and lead to salvation it requires sincere repentance. There are many people who somehow repent of their sins, but they do not confess to a Spiritual Father. Just as there are those who go to Confession without sincerely repenting, but they do so out of habit in order to receive Communion for great feasts. Whoever sincerely repents, confesses their sins before a Spiritual Father and receives the remission of their sins from Christ. For a Priest does not forgive sins, but it is Christ through the Priest. Confession is a Mystery and the Spiritual Father is enlightened by the Grace of God, depending on the receptivity, as well as the disposition of the one confessing to apply what they hear and strive to transform their passions, which are the cause of sin. The purpose of the life of man is to receive the Holy Spirit (Saint Seraphim of Sarov), and this will happen if a person is previously healed, or purified of their passions. This is why a Spiritual Father has a duty to help people transform their passions.

On the great feasts of the year, namely three or four times a year, many people come to commune and some of these consider it necessary to confess. It is something like a custom. They go to a Spiritual Father, and they usually say: "I have nothing; read the prayer over me that I may commune." If they are forced to say something, they say: "I haven't done anything significant: I haven't killed, I haven't stolen, etc. What can I say, I sin because I am human." This is neither repentance nor confession. Whoever sincerely repents desires to change their lives and they do not justify themselves, but they proceed to a laborious effort, under the guidance of the Spiritual Father, to purify themselves of their passions. And they commune of the Immaculate Mysteries only when the Spiritual Father judges so, and not when they judge for themselves. Frequent Divine Communion, always with the blessing of the Spiritual Father, supports people and shields them from the fury of the devil. "... that I may not by long abstaining from Thy communion become a prey to the spiritual wolf."

There is unfortunately some confusion around these issues. With the little I have mentioned in writing, we want to give the opportunity for the wise to become wiser. However one thing is certain: a spiritual life without a spiritual guide does not exist.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΣΤΗΣ ΜΑΤΘΑΙΟΣ", November 2003. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.