Epistle: 2 Timothy 2:1-10
Gospel: John 15:17-16:2

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

In the Orthodox Church, today is known as Theodore Saturday (this is always the case for the first Saturday of Great Lent). Throughout the season of Great Lent (period given to us for repentance – refocus on Christ in a proper way) we’re constantly reminded of things in our own lives that we need to be looking at. The Church helps us in our repentance, and in our walk toward Christ, with hints and reminders, especially in the services of the Church. I’d like to begin by relating the story that gives today it’s name, and then reflect on our interactions with God through the prism of this story.

Today we remember the miracle of St Theodore and the boiled wheat. The Holy Great Martyr Theodore the Recruit (Tyro) was a Roman soldier during the reign of Galarius (305-311). He was commanded to offer sacrifices to idols, but being a Christian, he boldly proclaimed his faith in Christ. He was given several days to consider whether he wanted to sacrifice to the idols or be killed – St. Theodore spent the time in prayer and of course again confessed Christ. He was then thrown into prison to be starved, and later he was tortured and finally burned. Fifty years after the death of St Theodore, the emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363) wanted to wanted to do something horrible to the Christians in the capital city. So he commanded the city-commander of Constantinople during the first week of Great Lent to sprinkle all the food provisions in the marketplaces with the blood offered to idols. The food would not only be contaminated with blood (during Lent we fast from animal products), but the food would be contaminated with something that had been offered to pagan false gods. St. Theodore appeared in a dream to Archbishop Eudoxius, ordering him to inform all the Christians that no one should buy anything at the marketplaces, but rather to eat cooked wheat with honey (kolyva). This miracle of the appearance of St. Theodore in a dream preserved the Christians of Constantinople from eating what would have been evil food. In memory of this occurrence, the Orthodox Church annually celebrates the holy Great Martyr Theodore the Recruit on the first Saturday of Great Lent.

I wanted us to hear this story to use this miracle of God’s providence to help us examine our own lives. In this story, God was watching out for His people – He protected and preserved the Christians of Constantinople from eating this defilement. God was guarding His people, even when nobody knew what was going on. [No one was praying specifically about this – the emperor plotted in secret, but God still acted for the good of the Christian Church.] The reality of our daily lives is that we often doubt God’s concern for us. In fact, a very popular notion of God today (and in various times in the past as well – its nothing new) is this idea of a God who has a hand in creation and somehow watches over things, but really doesn’t have anything to do with the individual lives of the people living on earth. Just recently I was watching one of my favorite TV shows, and one of the main characters gave exactly this understanding of God. He said he just couldn’t believe that God would be concerned with all the minor (or even major) details of the lives of people on earth. If He was this all-powerful being ruling the entire universe, surely He had better things to do with Himself than to interfere in our lives all the time. Of course, this is a very convenient God. The question of creation is settled, but this God doesn’t impose on lifestyle – this is a God that let’s man do whatever man wants to do. A very appealing God, but nothing like the God of the Christian Scriptures. And not like the God we see acting in today’s commemoration – a God who is concerned for His people.

BUT, this attitude that we encounter throughout time (of the hand-off God), this attitude frequently infects the Church, and our lives as believers. We sometimes doubt that God really cares about us. At times we have a conscious doubt; does God really care about this? Sometimes that thought is a temptation [where we know that God is active, but we’re being tempted with the thought that perhaps our issues aren’t that important]; sometimes it’s a real concern. That’s natural, in a way, for fallen man to sometimes have doubts – even King David will occasionally question God’s actions in the Psalms. But even more often that thoughts of doubt, we live like we don’t think there’s a God who really cares about what’s going on on the earth. We live like we don’t believe God cares what we do. We often sin like we don’t even believe there’s a God. We feel no shame, no remorse, we often don’t even second-guess our evil impulses – we just do what we want to do. And I can’t think of a better proof that we don’t really believe that the God of the Scriptures, the God of the Christian Church, is involved in His world in the way that we say we believe it – look at how we live. Going further, how we pray? Like we believe God cares? How we plan our lives? Like God has some purpose for them?

These are attitudes that we should take a real serious look at – how do live, how do we pray, how do we go about our day? What we do with ourselves is a very good indicator of what we actually believe. The big difference between the Christian God and some of our more popular secular ideas of God is love. God really does care what happens in the lives of each and every person on the face of this planet. Not because He’s bored, not because He has nothing better to do, not because He’s a busybody. God cares because God is love.

I’d like to end with a few quotes from the Scriptures that reveal to us the depths of God’s concern for us, not just as “the human race,” but for every individual on the planet. “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father [‘s knowledge]. The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31). These are the words of Christ from the Gospel of St. Matthew, assuring the Apostles that God is watching over them. Even a bird doesn’t die without the Father’s knowledge and consent; God knows how many hairs we have on our head – how much more mundane yet intimate does it get? I’d also like to read a few of the verses of Psalm 139. “1 O lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. 2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. 3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. 4 For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether…7 Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? 8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; 10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.”

So the examination of ourselves that we can make today: Do we really believe what these Scriptures teach? Do we really believe that God cares about us? We have to recognize that sometimes we don’t act/think/pray like there’s a God who’s intimately involved in our lives. And once we see this, once we recognize this within ourselves, we can do something about it: we can repent, we can watch out for attitude of a distant God that very easily infects our thinking, and we can pray (one of my favorite prayers in all of Christian history), “Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.”

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!