Year 2 - Week 3 (September 19 - 25)

Day 1 (Monday)

Ecclesiastes 11:7-10; 12:1-14

Last week we read the first chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes, in which Solomon considers the vanity of all his efforts and labors. He goes on to consider how the pursuit of pleasure, and wealth, and power, are all vanity as well, of how it is impossible to be safe or secure in any way, of how “time and chance” always seem to confuse what seems to be a sure thing. This week we will read his conclusion, about how one should live, knowing the things that he has come to know.

Youth and Old Age

7 Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to behold the sun. 8 For if a man lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.

9 Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. 10 Remove vexation from your mind, and put away pain from your body; for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.

12 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; 2 before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain; 3 in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look through the windows are dimmed, 4 and the doors on the street are shut; when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the voice of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low;

5 they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because man goes to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets; 6 before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, 7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. 8 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.

Epilogue

9 Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging proverbs with great care. 10 The Preacher sought to find pleasing words, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. 11 The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings which are given by one Shepherd. 12 My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (Leader should point out two things: the Teacher, who is Solomon, and is old at this point, is saying that everything he did in his life seems vain and pointless, as he is approaching the time of his death. Everything in Chapter 12 from verse 1 through verse 8 is a poetic reflection on aging and death. Second, the final verses, from 13-14, are where Solomon says what is actually important, what we should actually concern ourselves with. Everything is vain…except for honoring God and keeping His commandments.).

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 2 (Wednesday)

A Prayer for 9:00 A.M.

Our Day 1 reading presents us with the question of how we should live our lives; if we can recognize the truth of what Solomon says, that all “normal” human action and priorities come to vanity, then the task that falls to us is to learn how to fulfill our daily tasks, whatever they may be, in a way that is not vain. In order to do so, we should always begin with prayer.

Prayer, in the Orthodox Church, fulfills two functions. 1) At the most essential level, to pray in the morning is to open the door of our hearts and lives to the Lord, to invite Him to be present and active in our lives that day. Therefore prayer is how we ask God to act in us. 2) On a secondary level, in the written prayers of the Church, as we use them to ask the Lord to be present with us, we also find guidance in how we ourselves should approach the day, what challenges and temptations we should watch for, and where we should focus our attention, with the help of the Lord. We will see both of these functions present in the prayer we will read today.

This prayer is taken from the service of the 3rd Hour, which would be prayed at about 9 in the morning; it was written by St. Basil the Great.

Prayer at the 3rd Hour
O Lord our God, You gave Your peace to men and sent down the gift of Your All-holy Spirit upon Your disciples and apostles, and by Your power You opened their lips with tongues of fire. Open also my lips and teach me, sinner though I am, how and for what I should pray.

Guide my life, O calm Haven of the storm-tossed, and reveal the way in which I should walk. Renew a right spirit within me, and with Your Sovereign Spirit steady my mind, that, guided and guarded each day by Your good Spirit, I may be able to practice Your commandments, always remembering Your glorious presence that looks upon the deeds of men.

Let me not be deceived by the corrupting delights of this world, but rather strengthen in me the desire to attain the treasures of the world to come. For blessed and praised are You in all Your saints forever and ever. Amen.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (Leader should note what we ask God to do in our lives, on the one hand, and what we ask God to help us do. It may be worth reading the prayer a second time, with these questions in mind, and pausing as we find answers to each item.)

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?

Day 3 (Friday)

1 Peter 2:1-10

Last time, we saw St. Peter talk about how the Faithful to whom he is writing have been delivered from futility and death into new life in Jesus Christ, in whom they were promised that they would live forever. He urged them to then leave behind the desires and fears of this vain world and to become holy. Here he will continue to develop this theme, and get specific about the sins they need to leave behind.

The Living Stone and a Chosen People

2 Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture:

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner,”

8 and

“A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

10 Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.

Live as Servants of God

11 Beloved, I beseech you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul. 12 Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. 17 Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Discussion questions:

1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (Leader should point out that St. Peter is telling the Christians that, even though they are being rejected by their neighbors, they have been made the people of God, which is far better. He is also urging them to live as Christ commanded them, so that their neighbors, and even their enemies, will see how they live and give glory to God. For advanced conversations, you can urge a reflection on what it means to “live as free people, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil, but live as servants of God” (verse 16).

2) Where do we see Christ in this text; what is He saying or doing here?

3) Do we see ourselves and the Church in this text; what does it say about us?

4) What do you find difficult about this reading? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question, as always. )

5) Does this reading make you think that you need to change anything in your life?