Lessons From One Year In Korea
It’s been almost a year since I entered Korea with my wife, only being married a few months at the time. As Moses was placed in the reeds by the river’s bank without his planning or consent, a series of divinely appointed events placed us in this foreign country for our first year of marriage. As our time here comes to an end I can’t help but reflect on the things I’ve learned. To enumerate every lesson would not be practical so instead I will focus on three main points:
That One Thing
I remember finding the following verse under the heading ‘Miscellaneous Laws’ in the Pentateuch before getting married and desiring and praying to have an opportunity to live it out:
“When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and bring happiness to his wife whom he has taken.” (Deuteronomy 24:5)
Well God answered my prayer in the most unusual way and taught me something in the process: In order to do something well you have to completely and unconditionally dedicate yourself to just that one thing. God moved us from familiar people, places, culture, and even language in order to have us build a strong foundation for our marriage for as many years as God gives us together.
Oneness of Purpose
When your attentions and desires are divided you will do nothing well. As Christ said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.” I remember a conversation I had with a monk as I visited a monastery while here in Korea; I remember asking him, “Why are you here in the monastery, what do you hope to achieve?”
“Deification” came his concise reply. I was impressed not so much with his answer as the fact that he didn’t have to really think about it to respond. There was someone who knew what it was they wanted! He had dedicated himself to the monastic life to pursue union with God – to become by grace what Jesus Christ is by nature. Isn’t that the calling of each one of us? Shouldn’t that be our sole purpose as Christians? Of course, we all have different means of reaching the same goal but in order to reach the goal we first have to make it our one aim, our one focus. In all that we do, whether in eating or drinking, rejoicing or suffering, giving thanks to God for His goodness and provision or giving ourselves over to repentance we should have a goal: union with our God.
Oneness of Being
This concept of ‘one thing’ goes much deeper than it’s superficial appearance. To demonstrate this I want to reference how tears are valued in the spiritual life because they show that man has only one thought and desire – that of God:
in our natural fallen state, we are divided: we think one thing with our mind, we feel another with our senses, we desire yet another with our heart. However, when mind and heart are united by the grace of God, then man has only one thought–the thought of God; he has only one desire–the desire for God; and only one sensation–the noetic sensation of God. That is why repentance and tears are so much appreciated: they help us to find that healing, that state of integrity, because no human being can weep having two thoughts; we weep because of one thought that hurts us. If we are hurt by the thought that we are separated from God, that ‘salvation is far from the sinner’ (cf. Psalm 119:155) and all those things that inspire this pain in our heart, then, of course, we can cry; but if we have two thoughts, we cannot cry -Archimandrite Zacharias
St John Climacus recounts something similar about how it is important to call all of oneself to the worship of God:
Noticing that one of the brothers stood during the Psalm singing with more heartfelt feeling than many of the others. . . I asked him to explain. . . I have the habit, Father John, at the very beginning, of collecting my thoughts, my mind and my soul, and of summoning them, I cry to them: O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ, our King and God.
Blessed is the man who presents himself and worships God with his whole being united as one! Our Orthodox Church allows us to move towards this way of worship as “the Divine Liturgy acts upon the entire man… sight, hearing, smelling, feeling, taste…” (St John Kronstadt). The icons, chanting, incense, candles, kneeling, breast-beating, kissing, partaking in the Body and Blood of Christ … everything is meant to help us worship God with our entire selves. We offer all of ourselves in exchange for all of Him.
Oneness in Spirit
You can also look at doing ‘one thing’ in such a way that it does not need to be done again. There are several saints that model this idea of doing something in the power of the Spirit once and for all. For instance, it is said of St Ephraim the Syrian that he celebrated Liturgy only once and did not celebrate it again. “Once was sufficient for him because he lived the mystery in the power of the Spirit.” Imagine that! Just like the entire life of Christ – every act that He did – was done once and for all, the saints of our Church leave us the same example.
Another such example is St. Mary of Egypt. From what we know of her story it seems as though she only partook in the Holy Eucharist once. This should change our mentality from how many times I can go to liturgy and take communion to how in His Presence can I be if even for a shorter time. How deeply and with how much of myself can I pray? How much will I let Him increase in me? How much can I become like Him?
Community Is Everything
“Our life and our death is with our neighbor.” -St. Anthony the Great
Another precious lesson that I learned while in Korea is that community is everything. I am not referring to the small talk had with acquaintances from work in coffee shops, but rather the discussions with other believers centered on the word of God and worshipping and partaking of the Word of God Himself in the Divine Liturgy.
True community, deep friendship is founded upon the mutual pursuit of the God of love. What’s more is that a genuine community is founded on persons who mutually give of themselves and receive of others. Yes, we should celebrate one another, encourage, rebuke, weep and rejoice with our brothers and sisters but we are called to much much more than that. We need to offer ourselves to the point of death for one another because there is no greater love. Oh that we would say with St. Paul that we could wish ourselves accursed from Christ for the sake of our brethren! Let us labor in love for one another till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
Let us pray the first word of the Lord’s prayer with sincerity of heart united to our brothers in our heart.
And let us not forget the words of St. John Chrysostom:
“I do not believe that he can be saved who does not labour for the salvation of his neighbor. It profited that wretched servant nothing that he had not diminished his talent, but he perished through not increasing it and returning it twofold”
How are we to live up to the lofty calling we have received? How are we to honor the royal image that we bear? How are we to become even as He is?
We must struggle everyday
Let us not waste or lives on trivial pursuits but spend them in repentance!
The first couple of Sundays that I attended St. Nicholas Korean Orthodox Church in Seoul, South Korea the Metropolitan spoke his sermon in Greek and it was translated simultaneously into Korean and thankfully also into English. At that time I was developing the habit of taking just one main point away from the sermon and applying that to myself for that next week (see first lesson :)). Looking back, the first Sunday’s lesson was simply ‘pursue holiness’ and the second Sunday’s was ‘fight everyday.’ I put these two together and it was the general theme for the entire rest of my time there. Even in confession, His Eminence would encourage me to ‘fight everyday,’ to ‘struggle,’ to practice ‘ascesis,’ for that is the secret to the Christian life he would say – to fight everyday.
Fight to remain salty. Fight against following the crowd away from Him. Fight to give away that which you have freely received. Fight to love your wife. Fight to act on the word of God. Fight against your passions knowing that they bring about all kinds of destruction on you. Fight to help those in need. Fight to be humble as it is the foundation for true love. Fight against making excuses for yourself. Fight to cultivate within yourself a deep desire for Him. Fight to remain faithful and to persevere to the very end. Fight to have a holy marriage, to have a little church in your house. Fight to go from death to life. Fight to see the good in people. Fight to become great by keeping the gospel and obeying the commandments. Fight to be full of joy. Fight to read your Bible and go to church. Fight to pray. Fight despite your fear. Fight your self-love. Fight because the road of the cross is an exceedingly beautiful one. Fight to let Him fight for you.
Thank you to all our family at St. Nicholas for a year not soon to be forgotten.
Michael LouisSeptember 22, 2016
John, thank you so much for sharing what seems to have been an enjoyable and edifying year for you in Korea. What a wonderful way to start a marriage! I've learned a lot from this post as a newly married man, and pray that we all continue to share His amazing lessons with each other, to help each person with their personal struggles. To inflame a hope in the fellowship with the Spirit that is working everyday in each one of us! God bless your time and your service.
JohnSeptember 22, 2016
Thanks for your kind words Michael and congratulations on your new marriage! Here's to us continuing to learn from one another and especially from our wives
Michael LouisSeptember 23, 2016
Thank you sir! Amen!