Weekly devotional from Fr David Hostetler who is stationed in Okinawa.
“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:18) When Jesus tells Peter that the Gates of Hell will not prevail he is clearly assuming that the Church, as such, will be aggressive. Gates, as a rule, are stationary and cannot attack anyone. Over the time that I have worked with the Marine Corps I have learned that the mission of the Marine Corps rifle squad is to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy. We as the Church should adopt this as our mission as well.
The prayers and hymns during Holy Lent teach us how to engage this mission, and none better than the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian. In its three stanzas the prayer covers these three aspects of our Christian mission:
O Lord and Master of my life, give me not the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust for power, and idle talk.
Unlike the Marines our enemy is not external forces, but internal passions. This list helps to identify—locate—our enemies. In what aspects of my life am I not giving full effort? Am I praying as I should? How often do I meddle in other peoples’ business? Is my meddling in my brother’s affairs intended to help him or to puff up my pride? How many of my words are measured, used only when necessary and for the edification of others? By praying this prayer with heart-felt honestly we open ourselves to the possibility that these things are not integral parts of us, but are alien and subject to removal.
But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of purity, humility, patience, and love.
Fortunately, we don’t have to run like a Marine to close with the enemy. Our proximity to our own passions makes it easy to join the battle, so that we can engage them by employing virtues. The hatred and pride that makes us lust for power and want to meddle is not turned away but by love and humility. Martin Luther King, Jr. reflects the teachings of the Holy Fathers when he said that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brother. For blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.
To destroy the enemy we must concentrate on him alone—my sins—and not be distracted by judging others. When we can do that we win, and the enemy is destroyed. When we are able to see our own sins and recognize that they are what keep us from obtaining a deeper relationship with Christ, then we can understand our reliance upon His mercy, for which we pray more frequently and more fervently during Lenten services. Because through His mercy we become partakers in both His death-destroying death and His life-giving Resurrection by which the Gates of Hades were smashed forever. They never had a chance.