There is a peculiar desire in many of us: we want to know that which is hidden. We are almost instinctively drawn to those who speculate or even pretend to have answers to unanswerable questions. It is the reason many Christian denominations hold conferences and seminars on unlocking the secrets of the book of Revelations. They advertise, “This has stumped Christians for 1,900 years, but we got it figured out!” And they draw a crowd.
Whether it be heaven, hell, toll houses, the salvation of unbelievers, or the end times, we are easily sucked into conversations about things we truly don’t understand. At most, the scriptures and fathers have only given us hints about these things.
I am reminded of Abba Copres, one of the Desert Father, about whom the following story is related:
One day, the inhabitants of Scetis assembled together to discuss Melchizedek* and they forgot to invite Abba Copres. Later on they called him and asked him about this matter.
Tapping his mouth three times, he said ‘Alas for you, Copres! For that which God commanded you to do, you have put aside, and you are wanting to learn something which you have not been required to know about.’ When they heard these words, the brothers fled to their cells.
THAT WHICH WE KNOW
Unlike the brothers in that story, I rarely flee from such conversations. I find the egotistical part of me wants to show off whatever book knowledge I have gained, and so my mouth spews nonsense and I fall into the sins of pride, vainglory, and idle talking. I puff myself up thinking I know more than what has been revealed to me, and I possibly lead others away from truth.
Abba Copres states that he put aside “that which God commanded.” The commandments of God have been clearly revealed to us because they are the path of life. Those things which are not necessary for our salvation have been hidden from us…for a time anyway.
In The Arena, Bishop Ignatius advises novices to read the Gospels repeatedly, especially Matthew and Luke because they contain explicit teachings on how we as Christians should live in order to be purified of our passions, illumined by the Holy Spirit, and united to Christ Himself.
But in my impurity those things seem so boring. I’ve grown up in a Christian home and have heard the teachings of Christ countless times. Familiarity can breed contempt, or at least disinterest. I desire something new and fresh, and so I attempt to force a glance into those things that have been hidden from me, like a thirsty man trying to drink an entire river, while neglecting that which is expected of me.
I have been taught that in order to be a Christian I should fast, pray, love my friends, love my enemies, love those who are cruel to me or take advantage of me, listen far more than I talk, rebuke my anger, justify others, think of all women in a pure and holy way, show preference to everyone over my own needs, and be filled with holy humility.
I am reminded of a passage from the Wisdom of Sirach:
Do no seek things too difficult for you, nor examine what is beyond your strength. Think about what is commanded you; for you do not need what the Lord keeps hidden.
Do no meddle in what is none of your business, for things beyond human insight have been shown to you. Speculation has led many astray and evil suppositions have caused their minds to slip and fall.
(Wisdom of Sirach 3:20-23)
Truly, “things beyond human insight have been shown to” me. I have received the love of the Father in my heart, the body and blood of my Lord Jesus in the Eucharist, and the gift of the Holy Spirit in my chrismation. All of these gifts God has lavished upon me for my transformation and divinization; and yet I waste time dabbling in the unknown, seeking out that which God has wisely hidden from me.
I would do well to be like Abba Copres and say to myself, “Jeremiah, you have put aside those things God has revealed to you in order to speculate about those things which He has not. Flee to your cell!”
*During the time of the Desert Fathers, there was a debate about the identity of Melchizedek. Who was he? Was he a preincarnate form of Jesus? The Church discussed it and agreed that Melchizadek was a “type” of Jesus, he was a shadow of Who was to come, but was not Christ himself. Describing him, St. Nikolai states, Oh, how many shining comets are seen by men to cross the starry heavens, which appear unexpectedly, glistening, and then are lost in the vastness of the universe, leaving only tales about them! The righteous Abraham, with his descendants, is known to us like the starry heavens over our heads, but Melchisedek is known to us like a shining comet, which suddenly appeared, was bowed down to us by the starry heavens, and was again hidden in the unknown (Prologue of Ohrid, Dec 12).
Photo credit: http://madeincg.deviantart.com/art/Mysterious-World-327313394