Monday, March 19, 2018

Week Five of Lenten Readings in the Wisdom of Sirach

Readings for Week Five. PDF found here.


1 Evil will not befall the man who fears the Lord,
But in trial He will deliver him again and again.
2 A wise man will not hate the law,
But he who pretends to keep it is like a ship in a storm.
3 A man of understanding will trust in the law,
And to him the law is trustworthy because it is a divine revelation.
4 Prepare what to say and thus you will be heard.
Draw on your training and make your reply.
5 The heart of a fool resembles a wagon wheel,
And his reasoning is like a turning axle.
6 A lusty stallion is like a mocking friend;
He impregnates everyone who sits under him.
7 Why is one day better than another,
When all the light of a day in the year is from the sun?
8 They were separated by the knowledge of the Lord,
And He changed the seasons and feasts.
9 Some days He exalted and sanctified,
And some days He made ordinary.
10 All men are from the ground,
For Adam was created from the earth.
11 In the fullness of knowledge the Lord separated them
And changed their paths.
12 Some days He blessed and exalted,
And some days He sanctified and drew near to Himself.
Some days He has cursed and humbled
And removed from their place.
13 All His ways are according to His good pleasure.
Like clay in a potter's hand,
Thus men are in the hand of Him who made them,
To render to them according to His judgment.
14 Good is the opposite of evil, and life is the opposite of death.
In the same way, a sinner is the opposite of a godly man.
15 Look, therefore, upon all the works of the Most High:
They also come in pairs, one the opposite of the other.
16 I kept the last watch like one gleaning after the harvest.
17 By the blessing of the Lord I arrived in time,
And like a grape-picker I filled my winepress.
18 Observe well that I did not labor for myself alone,
But for all who seek instruction.
19 Hear me, you leaders of the people,
And you rulers of the assembly, listen to me.
20 Do not give authority over yourself while you are still living
To your son or your wife, nor to your brother or a friend;
And do not give your property to another,
Lest you change your mind and need to beg for it.
21 While you are still alive and there is breath in you,
Do not change places with any one.
22 For it is better that your children should ask from you
Than that you should look to the hands of your sons.
23 Be outstanding in all your works;
Do not put a blemish on your reputation.
24 On the day when the days of your life are fulfilled,
At the time of your death, distribute the inheritance.
25 Fodder, the rod, and a burden are for a donkey,
And bread, instruction, and work are for a servant.
26 Make a servant work, and you will find rest;
Leave his hands idle and he will seek freedom.
27 Yoke and strap will bend the neck,
And racks and tortures are for an evil servant.
28 Put him to work that he may not be idle,
For idleness teaches much evil.
29 Set him to the work appropriate for him;
And if he is not obedient, put heavy chains on his feet.
30 And do not act superior toward any flesh,
And do nothing without judgment.
31 If you own a servant, let him be as yourself,
For with your blood you bought him.
32 If you own a servant, treat him as a brother.
For you will need him as your own soul.
33 If you treat him badly and he runs away,
Which way will you go look for him?

·         The contrast between a man of wisdom and a man of sin continues…
·         1: Why does evil not befall the man who fears the Lord? It is not necessarily due to miraculous circumstances, but primarily because the fear of the Lord keeps us mindful of the commandments of the Lord, the seriousness of them, and the first place they ought to occupy in our actions. Therefore, the last chapter’s couple of verses on keeping the commandments, Sirach now tells us that while in trial, our obedience to the Lord’s commandments helps us not fall into evil.
·         2, 3: For the Israelite, the commandments of the Lord are found in the Law, so the two may be used synonymously. For the Christian, the commandments are every word spoken by God, which includes the Law, but also the recorded words of the Incarnate Jesus Christ and the counsel of His Body and the workings of the Holy Spirit which have been left for us, i.e. the Church. This verse tells us the commandments are the outcome of divine revelation and so they are trustworthy. Christianity is not arbitrary nor individualistic. Those who teach, live, and act out an arbitrary and individualist faith invite the rise of atheists who ridicule “Christianity.” They have plenty of ammunition too, such as one man’s infallibility, e.g. a man in the Vatican can tell everyone what to believe or in Protestantism that any man can read the Bible can understand scientific matters better than scientists. Christianity is not a religion, technically; but rather Christianity is the faith of God revealed through Jesus Christ and by His Church. The revelation of the commandments is trustworthy for curing the soul since it comes from God. The commandments teach us how to unite to God’s life-giving energy. So, of course they are trustworthy. A Christianity which is individualist and not centered around the Church and Her salvific Tradition is like the ship Sirach mentions. The individual builds his own ship with rotting wood which can only result in shipwreck when the storms of the world come upon him. His arbitrary beliefs will lead to his spiritual death and any passengers he had following him.
·         4: When a wise man speaks it is with preparation so he speaks accurately, without emotion or fallacy of thought. This is important since the enemies of the Church have always sought to lie about the words of Christ and the Christians. If they cannot misrepresent or mischaracterize, then they will lie outright. Therefore, carefully prepared remarks are important when speaking to an audience or one in authority. However, this is sound instruction for all relationships between fellow men too.
·         5, 6: This may very well be Sirach’s way of saying that a fool engages in circular arguments and is unlikely to become temperate. Friends who are prone to mockery will breed this weakness in their other friends.
·         Now begins some larger and mostly cosmic themes regarding time, duality, and leadership.
·         7 – 13: The Church of God observes feasts and seasons that have divine purposes. This was common in the life of the ancient Hebrew to have a liturgical rhythm to the year. God shows us many ways which he sanctifies Creation throughout human history and sanctifies time by the institution of these holy days. When the full revelation of the Son of God came to men, these holy days were kept and not abolished as some heretics believe. However, they were transformed and filled with greater meaning by Christ and His Church. The Lord said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17). Therefore, the Feast of Lights became Theophany, the Feast of Booths is Pentecost, Passover is Pascha, some see the Feast of Tabernacles or Harvest in the Feast of Transfiguration. Some of these feasts share the exact same name, others are renamed to recognize the new Christ-filled meaning. The chief way we should understand the sanctification of time and really any sanctification by God is laid out for us by Sirach. The Lord separates days and seasons (but also places and people) for Himself, for the execution of divine purposes, and for the reinstitution of incorruption in our corrupt world. God takes ordinary earth and makes man. He takes an ordinary day and makes it a time for bringing in the grace of God into the world. V. 13 is a common saying in the Scriptures, we embrace humility as clay in the Great Potter’s hands. He forms, molds, and shapes us into His ways and according to His judgements. This submission to God, Who is greater than any craftsman will be the creation of a beautiful life which is greater than any artwork.
·         14, 15: The duality of Creation exists to bring man to God. God created a duality since the beginning (heaven and earth). This pattern manifest itself in many other symbolic ways throughout creation (e.g. sky and water, soul and body, idea and spoken word, etc.). God’s symbolic duality in Creation is so powerful that even with the Fall into corruption of man and creation, these patterns made a path towards salvation in this wretched state. The way of God, the way of light, the narrow path, this is one way which brings life. The way of pride and selfishness, the way of darkness, the broad path, this is another way that man chooses and brings death. The duality points the way to God for man. But notice the greatness of God! Jesus Christ participates in corruption voluntarily without being ruled by it. As the Logos, He is the center of our symbolism. He is God who becomes man; and by His participation in death, suffering on the Cross, and perfect humility, He opens to us resurrection and eternal life. This is a definitive aspect of the Logos, He engages with this duality and unites all opposites to Himself. He bears all the sins of the world (while remaining sinless Himself) on the Cross and descends into death (as the Source of Life) to become the salvation for our human race (cf. I Peter 2:24; I John 2:2). This illustrates that God uses both good and evil as differing methods to manifest His will to Creation and that the duality does not hinder His almighty purposes for us and His world.
·         16 – 18: This interesting biographical section tells us a few things. One, the importance of watchfulness (nepsis) in the spiritual life. Two, the importance of work and struggle to receive the blessings of God. And three, that our labor is not done individually nor in isolation, even for the hermit, but is for the betterment of all men who are humble. Christianity is NOT just “me and Jesus”. Christianity is Jesus and His Church. What is this “labor” of which Sirach mentions? This is the ascetical work of our Christian life to attract the grace of God. We fast often, we pray and have vigils, we do prostrations, we give generously through acts of mercy. All these labors are for the acquisition of God’s divine energy and making room for it in our lives. St. Isaac the Syrian writes, “And what is a heart that has mercy? The kindling of the heart for all creation, for men, birds, animals, demon, and all creatures. In bringing them to mind, in beholding them the eyes are filled with tears out of a great and powerful compassion that embraces the heart. And the heart softens, and it cannot bear, or hear, or see any kind of harm, or even the least sorrow, experienced by a creature. And therefore even for dumb creatures, and for enemies of the truth, and for those who cause one harm, it offers supplication every hour, that they be preserved and purified. And even for crawling creatures it prays out of great pity. It is awakened in the heart without measure insofar as one becomes like, in this, to God.”
·         Sirach again gives counsel for the leaders.
·         19, 20: After an exhortation, Sirach tells leaders to be stewards of the things God has given them and keep them, do not abandon them. This would be irresponsible against God and His gifts to them.
·         21 – 24: An act of love to your children and neighbors is to not have need of your children but to maintain the hierarchy of respect, competence, and integrity. Then society will remember you, in the day of your death, the success you had in life, rather than an end to one’s fall.
·         25 – 29: V. 25 speaks of the dignity masters ought to give to their servants. V. 26 tells the proper restraints that keep order among servants. V. 27 relates the punishment of wicked servants. The following two verses reiterate the points. Sirach teaches us that society is hierarchical and not egalitarian, but it only functions well when love the supreme principle. An interesting note that we can apply to our spiritual lives today is if we put ourselves in the place of the servant. God does not deal with us harshly (like a donkey) but he does give us his commandments and when we fall away can chastise us. To work and not be idle in our asceticism will please God, our master, and tune our energy to His will.
·         30 – 33: Vv. 25 – 33 speaks to another time and culture for sure, but we should remember that born out of Christianity was this increase of respect for all men that brought an end to such retrospectively harsh treatment. Yet, we should not impose a contemporary morality on that past and thus ignore the value of this well-defined order that prevented any emergent chaos which is present today and well-characterizes our time due to our confusion about a proper order of society (and not just a proper order, but a divine order). As we sing at Pascha, “…let us call brothers, even those that hate us…” Not only should we see our brother in those of a lesser status, but even our enemies!


1 Vain hopes and lying belong to a man without understanding,
And dreams give wing to senseless men.
2 Like him who grasps after shadows and chases the wind,
So is he who pays attention to dreams.
3 The vision of dreams is this against that,
The likeness of a face opposite a face.
4 What will be cleansed from an unclean thing?
And what will be true from a false thing?
5 Divinations, omens, and dreams are worthless;
And like a woman in the pains of childbirth,
The heart becomes visible.
6 Unless visions are sent from the Most High in a visitation,
Do not give your heart to them.
7 For dreams have deceived many,
And those who hope in them have fallen away.
8 Without such lying, the law will be fulfilled,
And wisdom is perfection in the mouth of the faithful.
9 A man who has traveled about knows many things,
And a man with much experience will speak with understanding.
10 A man who has not been tested knows little,
But he who has traveled about increases his astuteness.
11 I have seen many things in my travels,
And my understanding is more than I can express in words.
12 I have frequently been in danger of death,
But I have been saved because of these experiences.
13 The spirit of those who fear the Lord will live,
For their hope is in Him who saves them.
14 He who fears the Lord will fear nothing,
And he will not be cowardly, for the Lord is his hope.
15 Blessed is the soul of a man who fears the Lord.
To whom does he look? And who is his support?
16 The eyes of the Lord are upon those who love Him.
He is a powerful protection and a strong support:
A shelter from the burning heat,
A shelter from the noonday sun,
A guard from stumbling,
And help from a fall.
17 He raises up the soul
And gives light to the eyes.
He gives healing, life, and blessing.
18 If a man sacrifices by means of wrongdoing,
The offering is a mockery,
And the gifts of the lawless are not accepted.
19 The Most High is not pleased with the offerings of the ungodly,
And a man does not atone for his sins with a multitude of sacrifices.
20 He who offers a sacrifice from the property of the poor
Is like one who kills a son in the sight of his father.
21 The bread of the needy is the life of the poor.
He who deprives them of it is a man of bloodshed.
22 Whoever takes away his neighbor's livelihood murders him,
And whoever deprives a hired worker of his wages sheds his blood.
23 If one builds up while another tears down,
What do they profit other than toil?
24 If one prays while another curses,
Whose voice will the Lord hear?
25 If a man washes himself after touching a corpse,
Then touches it again,
What does he profit by his washing?
26 So it is with a man who fasts over his sins
And goes and does the same sins all over again.
Who will hear his prayer?
What does his humbling profit him?

·         Prudence is an overarching theme in the first part of this chapter (vv.1 – 17). After this, Sirach has a lengthy instruction concerning the worship of God (XXXIV, v. 18 to XXXV, v. 24).
·         1 – 8: St. Diadochos writes concerning dreams: “In our quest for purity… the safest rule is never to trust anything that appears to us in our dreams. For dreams are generally nothing more than images reflecting our wandering thoughts, or else they are the mockery of demons. And if God in His goodness were to send us some vision and we were to refuse it, our beloved Lord Jesus would not be angry with us, for He would know we were acting in this way because of the tricks of the demons.” This is the clear teaching of our Holy Fathers. They plainly instruct us to not trust in dreams. St. John Climacus even writes, “He who believes in dreams is like a person running after his own shadow and trying to catch it.”
·         9 – 12: Oftentimes, Sirach has spoken highly of the elders and the importance of listening to them. Why? Because of their experiences while passing through life seeing many things. In a similar manner, those who are well-traveled also have many experiences and can provide wisdom for many situations. Thus, traveling is a good activity. With all things, though, moderation is needed. To travel so much that one is not rooted is a problem and can make one wayward in other areas of his life.
·         13 – 17: These verses echo back to Chapter I, when Sirach praises the fear of the Lord and the glory it brings. We can see the fear of the Lord in these verses as descriptions that could easily be equated to a loving father and a young child. The father issues rules, not to be tyrannical but out of the wisdom he has experienced in his life. This wisdom creates the rules to bring the child to a better place, a more functional behavior than were the child left to his unwise desires. For the loving father, raising the child is not about any arbitrary rules he imposes but to bring his child to successfully interact with the world and with God. At the same time, he does not abandon his child to these rules. He is there for Him and is the child’s “hope” in difficulty, “support” in weakness, “protection” from adversary, “shelter” from chaos, “guard from stumbling”, “help from a fall”. St. Maximos defines it in this way: “Fear of God is of two kinds. The first is generated in us by the threat of punishment. It is through such fear that we develop in due order self-control, patience, hope in God and dispassion; and it is from dispassion that love comes. The second kind of fear is linked with love and constantly produces reverence in the soul, so that it does not grow indifferent to God because of the intimate communion of its love. The first kind of fear is expelled by perfect love when the soul has acquired this and is no longer afraid of punishment (cf. I John 4:18). The second kind, as we have already said, is always found united with perfect love. The first kind of fear is referred to in the following two verse: ‘Out of fear of the Lord men shun evil’ (Prov. 16:6), and ‘Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Ps. 111:10). The second kind is mentioned in the following verses: ‘Fear of the Lord is pure, and endures forever’ (Ps. 19:9. LXX), and ‘Those who fear the Lord will not want for anything’ (Ps. 34:10. LXX).” The fear of the Lord is not a terrorized or frightened disposition, but one of immense respect, great awe, and profound appreciation for providing man’s physical and spiritual needs. Of course, some families are dysfunctional and some children do not have this experience of a father to relate to and understand God. However, that dysfunctional family is not in isolation. There are aspects of this everyone can see in other families, in stories, and in those whom we respect. God is the archetypal Wise Father and has revealed Himself as such. In v. 14 , we have Sirach calling us to fortitude and hope through fear of the Lord
·         Sirach now begins to talk about worship. No other author of books in the Scriptural Wisdom genre gives such attention to proper worship like Sirach. Sirach lived after the prophets, so he had their guidance when contemplating Israel’s offerings and sacrifices. Sirach’s instruction on worship and sacrifice is another of the many transitional aspects we see between the Old Testament and the New Testament. For him, as for the Christian, the sacrifices are interior sacrifices of our energy and the offering of virtue on the interior altar of the heart. From this point to the end of the chapter, he describes those sacrifices and offerings that are unacceptable to the Lord. Starting at the beginning of the next chapter, the description will be of offerings that please the Lord.
·         18, 19: No good deed can be born out of a bad one. The ends do not justify the means.
·         20 – 22: The examples given here are either robbing the poor or robbing a neighbor which makes him poor. Sirach is speaking of physical things, but we can see it applied to spiritual things too. If one robs another of the energy he exerts towards virtue and directs it towards his own selfish ends, then he has robbed something of great value and made it of lesser value (e.g. a neighbor asking you to help move on a Sunday morning, or a neighbor asking for an investment that would prevent your tithe).
·         23 – 26: Vv. 23 – 25 sounds similar to King Solomon’s famous proverb: “As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly” (Proverbs 26:11 KJV). By these examples, Sirach is moving the conversation from one of physical offerings to spiritual offerings. These verses do not speak of grain or flesh-meat offerings, but offerings of our energies to God by fasting, prayers, and humility. Sirach speaks more on this at the start of the next chapter. St. John Climacus quotes v. 23 when he ties it to his word on obedience. He says, “He who is sometimes obedient to his [spiritual or monastic] father and sometimes disobedient is like a person who sometimes puts lotion in his eyes and sometimes quicklime [an ancient and medieval chemical weapon used to blind one’s enemy]. In the Christian’s case, this concerns obedience to the Church. We do not fast simply because of the food, nor pray because that is what Christians are supposed to do. We fast and pray because we submit ourselves in obedience to the Church which teaches us humility and sets us on a path for receiving God’s divine energy. Therefore, we grow greater and greater in our acquisition of the grace of God. But we lose it all when we leave the path of repentance and return to our sins.


In observance of the Vigil with the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete, no readings are allotted for today.


1 The man who keeps the law will abound in offerings;
He who heeds the commandments sacrifices a peace offering.
2 He who returns a kindness offers fine wheat flour,
And he who does alms sacrifices a praise offering.
3 To forsake evil is pleasing to the Lord,
And to forsake wrongdoing is atonement.
4 Do not appear before the Lord empty-handed,
For all these offerings are made because of the commandment.
5 A righteous offering anoints the altar,
And its fragrance rises before the Most High.
6 The sacrifice of a righteous man is acceptable,
And its remembrance shall not be forgotten.
7 Glorify the Lord with your generosity,
And do not reduce the firstfruits of your hands.
8 In every gift let your face be cheerful,
And sanctify your tithe with gladness.
9 Give to the Most High as He has given to you,
And give to Him with generosity, according to your windfall.
10 For the Lord is He who repays,
And He will repay you sevenfold.
11 Do not bribe Him, for He will not accept it;
And do not offer an unrighteous sacrifice.
12 For the Lord is the judge,
And there is no partiality with Him.
13 He will not show partiality to a poor man,
But He will hear the petition of him who is wronged.
14 He will not overlook the supplication of an orphan,
Nor a widow when she pours out her story.
15 Do not the tears of a widow run down her cheeks
As she cries out against him who caused them?
16 He whose service is pleasing to the Lord
Will be accepted by Him,
And his prayer will reach to the clouds.
17 The prayer of a humble man passes through the clouds,
And he will not be comforted until it reaches the Lord;
18 And he will not withdraw it until the Most High visits him,
Provides justice for the righteous,
And executes judgment.
19 So the Lord will not delay,
Neither will He be slow to help them,
20 Until He crushes the loins of the unmerciful
And repays vengeance upon the nations,
21 Until He destroys the multitude of the insolent
And crushes the scepter of the unrighteous,
22 Until He renders to a man according to his practices
And the works of men according to their devices,
23 Until He judges the cause of His people
And brings them joy with His mercy.
24 Mercy is beautiful in the time of His affliction,
Like rain in the time of drought.

·         Sirach continues to speak of sacrifices and offerings in this chapter but now turns to those which are acceptable to God. Sirach also continues to guide Israel from an understanding of physical offerings to those of spiritual offerings. These are what the Lord truly desires and expected of Israel. The offerings of grain and meats were only a shadow of these true spiritual sacrifices (i.e. the ascetical labors of prayer, fasting, prostrations, etc.).
·         1 – 4: The peace offering was offered to God voluntarily and not due to any need or requirement of the Law. Oftentimes, a peace offering was given to the priest out of thankfulness for God’s unsolicited generosity, the fulfillment of a vow, or deliverance from danger. Hannah offered a peace offering after the birth of Samuel. The other interesting thing about a peace offering is a portion is given to God, the priest, and (unlike the others) back to the offeror. V. 2 speaks of the praise offering. This was a specific type of peace offering that was in response to thankfulness to God, involved unsweetened cakes, and not given back to the offeror. To give alms is the Christian way to fulfill the praise offerings of the Law (Sirach recognized this higher service to God and this is what God expected of the Israelites). In gratitude to God for His great blessings we give to the less fortunate. To do so with kindness is a praise offering of great quality (“fine wheat flour”). The Psalmist and St. Paul following him tells us that our lips can be a praise offering to the Lord by speaking doxology or singing hymns to the Lord for all His goodness (cf. Hebrews 13:10-16). The praise offering also points to the Eucharist with it being the highest expression of the praise offering. A praise offering is sometimes even called a thanksgiving offering. Regrading atonement, this was the liturgical practice of the High Priest once a year taking two goats to atone (to make man and God “at-one” again) for the sins of the people. The first goat was killed with the High Priest taking its blood into the Holy of Holies then sprinkling the area to purify it. The High Priest would take the other and release it into the wilderness away from the people (a scapegoat). The goat is used as an icon of the wicked and Sirach tells us in v. 3 that we cast our sins away into places unknown where we will not pursue it. This is the atonement that pleases God. Sirach then tells us that we do not approach God with nothing, because there is so much we should offer in terms of virtue and abandonment of sin.
·         5, 6: We read in the Old Testament often of sacrifices which please God ascend to him as a “sweet savor to the Lord”. This symbolizes an act of man reaching heaven where his act is received by the immutable and eternal God. This is a physical image of our sacrifice. When we give ourselves and our energy to God and fellow man by prayer, fasting, vigil, almsgiving, prostrations, and all ascetical efforts for the accomplishment of virtue by the growth in divine energy and then God accepts these sacrifices of a pure heart, we are made known to Him. At the End Times, we will not be found with the goats on the left, but rather with Him as the sheep on His right.
·         7 – 10: As St. Paul says, “…God loveth a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7b KJV). God is not interested in the material gifts exchanging hands, nor does He care about the amount we give. He cares about the state of our soul, whether it is outgoing in love and selfless or hoarding and selfish. St. John of Kronstadt writes in his diary, “Rejoice at every opportunity of showing kindness to your neighbor as a true Christian who strives to store up as many good works as possible, especially the treasures of love. Do not rejoice when others show you kindness and love – consider yourself unworthy of it; but rejoice when an occasion presents itself for you to show love. Show love simply, without any deviation into cunning thoughts, without any trivial, worldly, covetous calculations, remembering that love is God Himself.” The Orthodox Study Bible tells us concerning v. 10: “If we give our tithe, the Lord has promised to repay us sevenfold. How? Perhaps by making us wiser in the management of our money. Or He may prosper our work so that we have even more to give. Or both! Even better, He always enriches the generous giver with joy and many spiritual blessings.
·         11: This verse acts as a transition between unrighteous sacrifices and God’s judgement of righteousness and unrighteousness. The Lord determines these things since He knows the heart (cf. Psalm 43:22b LXX).
·         Now, Sirach describes the characteristics of God as a Judge. The two aspects that a judge must balance are the execution of justice and of mercy. Justice is another of the four cardinal virtues. We should point out something very important here. “Justice” and “righteousness” are synonyms in the Church. In Greek, it is actually one and the same word (δικαιοσύνη). The definition is to bring a wronged or unjust situation back to state of normalization. Justice/Righteousness has less to do with the appeasing of parties (yet that can occur), but more to do with remedying corrupt situations. This section can be divided into three parts, with a concluding verse.
·         12 – 15: The first aspect of God as a Judge is His impartiality. St. Paul also points this out (cf. Galatians 2:6). Even a poor man can wrong another by laziness or unwillingness to work. So, the Lord hears the petitions of the wronged rather than the materially disadvantaged. The Lord hears the cries of the wronged and attends to them, regardless of who they are or their insignificance or drain on society.
·         16 – 18: The second aspect is that God hears the prayers of those “whose service is pleasing” and “a humble man”. These two types of men are basically the same since humility is the first of the virtues. This aspect was also mentioned in the previous verses but Sirach tells us here how they are received by God. The Lord hears them, visits the supplicant, gives justice, and executes His judgment.
·         19 – 23: Third, the justice and righteousness of the Lord comes swiftly, forcefully, and completely. We can often see justice and mercy as opposites. Justice may be cruel but fair. Mercy may not be fair but it is kind. This wrongly understands both justice and mercy. The “unmerciful” and “unrighteous” are “crushed” and the Lord brings “mercy” and “joy” to His people through His judgement. He “repays vengeance” to nations and repays according to their own “devices” and “practices”. Therefore, justice comes to the wicked and mercy to the good. This is not a matter of fairness, kindness, or cruelty but of truth and goodness.
·         24: Mercy is given by God during difficulty. Like resurrection after crucifixion or “rain in the time of drought.” This is the central message God has for His people. It is the message of the Cross and we adorn and crown our churches with it, we wear it, we depict it everywhere. Life is full of “affliction” and suffering. This is the reality of the fallen world, due to our sins. Yet God’s mercy is the consequence of those who seek Him with their whole heart. When a man’s will is mixed with God’s mercy, he may see God and this is the source of all things truly “beautiful.”


1 Have mercy on us, O Lord, the God of all, and look upon us,
And put Your fear on all the nations.
2 Raise Your hand against foreign nations
And let them see Your power.
3 As in us You have been sanctified before them,
So in them may You be made great before us.
4 Let them know You as we also have known You,
For there is no God but You, O Lord.
5 Renew Your signs and work fresh wonders;
Glorify Your hand and Your right arm.
6 Stir up Your anger and pour out Your wrath;
Drive away the adversary and destroy the enemy.
7 Hasten the time and remember Your oath,
And let people declare Your mighty works.
8 Let him who survives be devoured in Your fiery wrath,
And may those who harm Your people meet destruction.
9 Crush the heads of the rulers of the enemies
Who say, “There is no one but us.”
10 Gather together all the tribes of Jacob,
And grant them their inheritance as from the beginning.
11 Have mercy upon Your people called by Your Name, O Lord—
Upon Israel, whom You have likened to Your firstborn son.
12 Have pity on the city of Your sanctuary,
Jerusalem, the place of Your rest.
13 Fill Zion with the celebration of Your divine virtue
And Your people with Your glory.
14 Give testimony to what You created in the beginning
And raise up the prophecies spoken in Your name.
15 Reward those who wait for You
And let Your prophets be found trustworthy.
16 Hear, O Lord, the prayer of Your suppliants,
According to the blessing of Aaron over Your people;
17 And all on earth will know
That You are the Lord, the God of the ages.
18 The stomach eats any kind of food,
But some food is better than others.
19 As the palate tastes the flavor of game,
So an understanding heart detects lying words.
20 A crooked heart will cause grief,
But a man with great experience will pay him back.
21 A woman will accept any son,
But one daughter is better than another.
22 A beautiful woman gladdens a man's face
And surpasses his every desire.
23 If there is mercy and gentleness on her tongue,
Her husband is not like other men.
24 He who gains a wife gets his best possession,
A helper like himself and a pillar of support.
25 Where there is no wall, the property will be plundered,
And where a man has no wife, he will wander around and groan.
26 Who will trust a well-equipped thief
Who skips from city to city?
27 Who will trust a man who has no home
And lodges wherever night overtakes him?

·         The first part of this chapter is often given the title “A Prayer for Israel” which finishes at v. 17. While it is given this name, it is also a prayer for the whole world and is even useful as a prayer for the New Israel, the Orthodox Church.
·         1 – 5: Throughout this prayer, we see Sirach depicting God as an avenger for Israel against Her enemies. This is clear, but we should remember that God is free from passion so He does not act in the corrupt way in which we are inclined. God is the perfection of all virtues and their source. Therefore, we should understand the nuances of this depiction of God which Sirach presents to us. “Fear” should be understood as explained in Chapters I and II. “Power” should read as divine energy, i.e. the grace of God which creates, sustains, and can deify man. Blessed Augustine comments on v. 4 (but can include v. 3) by saying: “We see this prophecy in the form of a wish and prayer fulfilled through Jesus Christ.” V. 5 is also a prophecy of the work of Christ. Christ transformed the “signs” of the Old Testament with His own “fresh wonders.” The arm and specifically the hand is a symbol of action. The right is a symbol of actions which is defined as direct relationship or drawing to oneself. This is the same prophesy Isaiah gives: “I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and see my glory” (Isaiah 66:18b). Yet it is in the context of “driving away” enemies and adversaries through His anger and wrath. This is the natural effect of our proper understanding of God’s wrath, to bring His creation and people back into Himself and into alignment with the way of His commandments.
·         6 – 9: The Greek word for “anger” in v. 6 is best translated this way, but has a wider meaning of a strong disposition to a certain way, the energy that fixates the will. We should understand “wrath” as described in Chapter XVI. Therefore, when we pray to “drive away the adversary and destroy the enemy” we are praying for the removal of all things that inhibit the grace of God and to draw creation closer to God. The “oath” refers to God’s covenant with Abraham (cf. Genesis 17) that from Abraham’s seed shall come many kings and God shall be their God forever. Concerning v. 8, the Lord is often revealed as a “consuming fire.” As these words are getting defined, this is not to take away from the fierce tone of the prayer, but to understand the ferocity of it within the context of righteousness. So, the Lord’s wrath does consume but we should also remember the Lord is an illuminating light. This light and fire is exactly the same, i.e. the energy of God. The difference comes in men’s souls and how they are conditioned to receive this energy, as light or as fire. Through the ascetical life we bring divine energy as a purifying light into the heart. Through selfish energy, when such petty power meets the energy of God, only a total consumption can result which the Scriptures describe as a fire. When the pride of men becomes so great they attempt to force godlessness and remove God’s commandments in men’s lives, we pray they are “crushed”. Therefore, it is not a sin asking God to end the rule of our godless and secular overlords, so that God may be shown as great among men.
·         10 – 13: We should read these verses (with the whole of the Old Testament) in the light of the Age of the Church of Jesus Christ. These verses can easily be read to speak of today’s Church and even each Christian. V. 10 is a petition for the unity of all Christians and heirs of the promised covenant. V. 11 asks God for mercy and the new name of the Lord, Christians, who are truly like the firstborn, Jesus (cf. Romans 8:29). Every Christian is Jerusalem when considering vv. 12, 13. We ask for our heart and soul to be humbled and filled with “divine virtue” and “filled” with the God’s glory, i.e. His uncreated light.
·         14 – 17: The prayer began with supplication for the enemies of the Lord to be crushed and ends with the righteous of God to be exalted. The prophets refer to anyone who has achieved unity with God that they either have the Holy Spirit praying in their heart (i.e. the noetic prayer) or are deified and receive a word directly from the Lord. Sirach prays these words so that these men be given trust and be made known to the world, which has been answered since the first Christian Pentecost.
·         The rest of this chapter gives instruction on discernment. We read from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers: “An old man was asked, ‘How can I find God?’ He said, ‘In fasting, in watching, in labors, in devotion, and, above all, in discernment. I tell you, many have injured their bodies without discernment and have gone away from us having achieved nothing. Our mouths smell bad through fasting, we know the Scriptures by heart, we recite all the Psalms of David, but we have not that which God seeks: charity and humility.’” St. John Cassian when discussing among his fellow monks which virtue was lacking in the lives of their fallen monastic predecessors, he answered: “Lacking the training provided by older men they could in no way acquire this virtue of discernment which, avoiding extremes, teaches the monk to walk always on the royal road. It keeps him from veering to the right, that is, it keeps him from going with stupid presumption and excessive fervor beyond the boundary of reasonable restraint. It keeps him from going to the left to carelessness and sin, to sluggishness of spirit, and all this on the pretext of actually keeping the body under control.”
·         18 – 20: The uses of discernment, in these verses, is compared to the eating of food. Some food tastes different than others and some sit better with the stomach than others. Regarding spoken words, the same thing applies, but instead of the stomach, the heart experienced by struggle and the grace of God can detect the truth of a matter, it is a type of clairvoyance according to St. Silouan. But with sins and passions cutting off the grace of God the heart becomes corrupted. For those of us who do not have healthy hearts, we have the Church Fathers, Saints, and contemporary Elders who have godly hearts, great experience, and who can discern for others the good things of God which we cannot discern for ourselves.
·         21 – 24: Receiving a wife, especially in the ancient world when marriages were arranged is also a metaphor for discernment. Few interactions are more susceptible to deceit than with the opposite sex. Therefore, men of discernment arranged marriages for the young who were inexperienced in discretion. Sirach does not have the petty modern understanding of arranged marriages. For him marriage is not a question of youthful romance, but rather the “mercy and gentleness of her tongue” and “a helper like himself and pillar of support”. These things, when they were arranged in the ancient world, were wise marriages being the “best possession” and a source of “gladness”. The Orthodox Study Bible has an interesting note: “Women of ancient times often had little or no choice concerning the man they would ‘accept’ to marry. As with Isaac and Rebekah, for example (Genesis 24: 1–67), marriages were often arranged by parents or someone in authority. It is worth noting, however, that some sociological studies indicate there was not the unhappiness arising from this practice that we moderns are prone to imagine, and certainly not the divorce rate! The Scriptures laud a ‘woman’ who is ‘beautiful’, both outwardly (v. 22) and inwardly (v. 23).” The last chapter of the book of Proverbs (31) relates more detail on this.
·         25 – 27: These last few verses regarding discernment give some more common examples of its use. The wise discernment of walls to protect property, a wife to help a man, distrust of an experienced thief, and distrust of one who does not desire a home.


1 Every friend will say, “I too am your friend,”
But sometimes a friend is a friend in name only.
2 Is it not a grief to the death
When a companion and friend turns to hatred?
3 O evil reasoning! Why were you involved
To cover the land with deceit?
4 A companion delights in the gladness of a friend,
But in time of affliction, he will be against him.
5 A companion labors to help a friend for his stomach's sake,
And in a time of battle he will take up the shield.
6 Do not forget a friend in your soul,
And do not be unmindful of him with your wealth.
7 Every counselor extols his own counsel,
And some offer advice in their own interest.
8 Protect yourself from a counselor
And know beforehand what is his interest;
For he will take thought for himself
Lest he cast his vote against you
9 And say to you, “Your path is good.”
Then he will stand aside to see what will happen to you.
10 Do not consult with a man who looks at you suspiciously,
And hide your counsel from those who envy you.
11 Also, do not consult with a woman about her rival,
Nor with a coward about battle,
Nor with a merchant about exchange,
Nor with a buyer about selling,
Nor with a slanderer about gratitude,
Nor with an unmerciful man about generosity,
Nor with an idler about any work,
Nor with a seasonal hired hand about completing his work,
Nor with a lazy servant about a big job.
Pay no attention to these in any counsel.
12 Instead, persevere with a godly man
Who you know keeps the commandments,
Whose soul accords with your soul
And will share in your suffering if you fall.
13 Stand firm on the counsel of your heart,
For no one is more faithful to you than it.
14 For a man's soul sometimes tells him more
Than seven watchmen sitting high on a watchtower.
15 And in all matters, pray to the Most High
That He may direct your way in truth.
16 A word is the beginning of every work,
And counsel comes before every action.
17 Four types of things appear
As a clue to a change of heart:
18 Good and evil, life and death;
And it is the tongue that continually rules them.
19 There is an astute man who is a teacher of many,
But is useless to his own soul.
20 A man who devises words craftily will be hated.
This man will go hungry,
21 For grace was not given to him from the Lord,
Because he is destitute of all wisdom.
22 There is a man wise in his own soul,
And the fruits of his understanding are trustworthy when he speaks.
23 A wise man will instruct his own people,
And the fruits of his understanding are trustworthy.
24 A wise man shall be filled with blessing,
And all who see him will consider him blessed.
25 The life of a man is numbered by days,
But the days of Israel are without number.
26 The wise man will inherit trust among his people,
And his name will live forever.
27 My son, while you are still living, test your soul,
And see what is bad for it, and do not give in to that.
28 For not everything is profitable for everyone,
And not every soul enjoys everything.
29 Do not be gluttonous for every dainty food,
And do not give yourself over to food.
30 For overeating will bring sickness,
And gluttony will lead to nausea.
31 Many have died because of gluttony,
But the careful man will prolong his life.

·         This chapter touches on a variety of important pieces of instruction.
·         1 – 6: These verses continue the theme of companionship and friends which we also saw in Chapters VI and XIII. They warn against false friends and distinguish between companions (or what might be called acquaintances today). An acquaintance helps in survival and general well-being. A friend goes even further.
·         7 – 11: Counselors are necessary for important positions. Yet, they will speak from their own experience and “interest.” This is countered by knowing the agenda of the counselors and knowing the desired outcome for the issues at hand. These verses give many excellent examples of how to refrain from advice from those who are inexperienced and will give inherently bad advice.
·         12 – 15: Sirach then provides the traits of good counselors. The two most important are mentioned first, perseverance in godliness and adherence to the commandments. However, Sirach also mentions the “counsel of your heart” and brings up the trustworthiness of our own discernment when we are humble before God. Sirach briefly touches on this in Chapter XXII. We can call this our conscience. The Christian must obey his conscience and do all things to not drown its voice. This catastrophe is prevented by prayer to God.
·         16 – 18: The use of the term, “word” here misses the meaning of the verse. The proper term and original Greek word is logos. We have discussed logos a few times already. In this context, our logoi (plural of logos) takes the theoria (theory and ideas of godly living, i.e. noetic prayer and deification) and turns it into praxis (the practice and action of godly living, i.e. repentance and purification of the heart). According to Met. Hierotheos, “St. Gregory the Theologian says that theoria and praxis are beneficial because theoria ... guides him to the holy of holies and restores him to his original nature; whereas praxis receives and serves Christ and tests love with actions. Clearly, theoria is the vision of God.... [P]raxis is whatever deeds it takes to lead to this love.” The Logos of Heaven, radiates His energy to create and sustain Earth. In the image of God, man also takes his contemplation of the ideal, the universal, the archetypes, and heavenly order and attempts to apply it to the practical, the particulars, and earthly order. Now, since man is corrupt, this can break from God’s divine order. But Sirach teaches us that good, evil, life, and death are the ways we get corrected in this most basic work of man. The use of logos still does have the meaning of “word”, but it is more than that, as described just now. By speaking the ideas into words, the instructor makes possible for the listener to practice and act out a way of living. Language can influence and affect others. For the Christian, these are from the revelation of God and saints who have illumined their nous as a portal for translating their knowledge of God into reasonable (as the KJV translates this verse) or rational (from ratio the Latin word for logos) words for sinners to be led to God.
·         19 – 21: These verses expand on the righteous use of logos and corrupt use of man’s logos. The proper use of our reason (logos) comes from wisdom which in turn is the result of the divine energy, or “grace…given to him from the Lord.” When grace is absent, then wisdom is not available, making possible a man’s passions to corrupt his words.
·         22 – 26: The accomplishment of attracting the uncreated energy of God, acquiring Wisdom, and bringing a healthy order to your soul brings about blessings and trust among one’s neighbors. Not only will counseling be helpful but long remembered when one’s soul is filled with God’s grace.
·         27 – 31: Here, we learn of not only the spiritual dangers of gluttony, but also the physical dangers of gluttony. The “test” of one’s soul is not experimentation with vice, sin, and passion, but rather examination of what influences it towards God or away from God. The core message of these verses is the importance of self-denial and asceticism. Self-denial is a key to life since it does not overwhelm the soul and body and brings one to temperance which allows for attention to God and for room to possess His power to work in our lives; because, men (as those at the intersection of the physical and spiritual) should be sustained by the grace of God. This is why the Christian life is symbolized by the Cross and why our life in the Church is characterized by prayer, vigils, fasting, prostrations, acts of mercy, etc. St. Clement of Alexandria describes fasting as an “abstention from foods according to the meaning of the word, but the food does not make us either more just or unjust. Yet, in its mystical meaning it declares that as the life of each one depends upon food, total abstention is the sign of death. Thus we ought to abstain from worldly things, for we would die as far as worldly matters are concerned; and after that, when we partake of food of divine nature, we will live in God. Above all, total abstention empties the soul of matter, and presents the soul pure and nimble to the body according to the divine words. Then, on the one hand, worldly nourishment consists of temporal life and iniquities, while divine nourishment is faith, hope, love, patience, knowledge, peace, prudence, as our Lord said in Matthew: ‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled’ [Matthew 5:6], where truly He attributes this longing to the soul and not to the body.”


In honor of the Great Feast of the Annunciation, no readings are allotted for today.