As many of our Serbian Orthodox faithful know, His Holiness Patriarch Pavle of Serbia is in the hospital. Recently posted on the patriarchate website are words and thoughts by various figures from Serbia about the patriarch. Radoslav Bratic, author of “Prayers and Petitions” writes: While I was compiling the book of Patriarch’s interviews and sermons I went often to the patriarchate to visit the patriarch. When the book was published the publisher sent fifty copies to the patriarch for him to give out. When I visited him the next time he took out his money and counted exactly how much the fifty books are worth. I told him that these were the author’s copies to which he replied “Nothing is for free!” I was finally able to convince him that he didn’t have to pay for his own books!
At the Divine Liturgy on the last Sunday of November we heard the gospel reading of the man, called a “fool” by our Lord, who amassed riches for himself to such an extent that he began planning the building of larger barns in order to fit all of his possessions. And in this story our Lord continues saying “but God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’“Thus will it be,” our Lord concludes, “for the one who stores up treasures for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” The man in this story is called a fool but not an atheist. Our Lord, in telling the story, doesn’t make a point of saying that the man didn’t believe in God. For all we know he might of held some sort of belief, albeit weak, in God and even went from time to time to the temple. Perhaps he even made a donation or two. But that wasn’t the point of the story. Rather, the point was that we really don’t know what is waiting for us tomorrow. We don’t know what will happen to us when we close our eyes and fall asleep in the evening. Indeed, this “sleep” is at the core of the meaning of this parable.
In telling us the story Christ gives us a stern warning of falling asleep in our faith. There are different stages of sleep. First of all there is the stage where we are sleeping but can still relate to what is happening around us. For instance, we fall asleep and someone calls out our name, we’re able to wake up immediately. Next, there is a stage where we sleep because we’re tired. This can last for a short time and when we wake up we’re refreshed. At this stage of sleep we’re not unconscious. But then there is a stage of sleep where we can not relate to what is happening around us. That stage is called deep sleep and we become unconscious. It lasts for a long time and when our sleep is interrupted we tend to lose our speech for a short while and we speak of things that don’t make sense until we re-gain consciousness.
It is this final, deep sleep, which our Lord speaks of in the gospel story. Since we’re human our faith in God, like other things in life, might have it’s ups and downs. Perhaps we go through different stages in our life and for a time we stop coming to church. Then, all of the sudden, we start coming again. Though it’s not recommended perhaps, for some reason or other, this might happen to us. The danger, although, is that we not only fall asleep in our faith but fall in deep sleep; which is to say, that we are drawn to such deep slumber that we not recognize the messages given us each Sunday in the readings from the gospels and the epistles of the holy apostles. Each and every Sunday the message in church is the same – it’s a message of how we make mistakes, as well as the dread consequences of those mistakes, but it’s also a message of forgiveness and love, a message of warning to not be fools but “man” in that image and likeness of God in which we were created, always glorifying and worshiping God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.