The Voice

 
In the time of Jesus, sheep were not raised specifically to be slaughtered for food, but they were raised for their wool, and so they remained in the flock all their lives. Sheep came to know the voice of their shepherds and hey would flee away from the voice of other shepherds. Jesus said, “The sheep know the voice of their shepherd and they follow him, but they will never follow a stranger. They will run away from him because they do not recognize a strange voice.

Honestly, I’ve spent a lot of my life following voices that were not that of the Shepherd. Also, there were times when I thought I was following the Lord, and it was another voice. People often confess that they are confused and uncertain about God’s will. We have trouble figuring out just what the Shepherd wants us to do. Certainly, this may be due to the fact that many things speak to us and compete for our attention. So how do we recognize the voice of Christ in the midst of all the voices that speak to us?

Let’s go back to Genesis for a moment, a time when creation first heard the voice of the Shepherd. The Bible says that God created by speaking a word: Let there be…and it was so. The Fathers point out that God doesn’t have lips or a tongue or a voice box, nor did he utter sounds that travel through the air to strike some cosmic eardrum. The idea of speaking has to do with expression, a revelation of the inner hidden being of God. (a side note: the Vigil begins with a silent censing to remind how God began creation in silence; that is in a place beyond our hearing.)

The voice of the Shepherd is the same today. It is heard primarily with the “ears” of the soul, and it creates something in us because the Voice reveals the unseen God. Yet, like the sheep of Palestine, it may take us a while until we only hear the voice of the Shepherd, and no other. It is important then, that we sharpen our hearing by immersing our selves in all the ways that God has made available to us to hear His Voice. What are those ways?

For the Orthodox, the sources of the Voice are rich indeed. The Voice of the Shepherd can be heard in the prayers of the Church, in the beauty of the liturgy, in the grace of an icon, in the diligent study of the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers, in the lives of the Saints, and even in our dialogue with other Orthodox Christians: bishops, monastics, priests, and brothers and sisters. From these kinds of sources, we can begin to sharpen our ears to hear the Voice so that we can hear the Voice that speaks in the solitude of our hearts.

Is it any wonder then that our enemy does all he can to separate us from these sources? His goal is to deaden our hearing and then fill our hearts with all kinds of voices until we know only confusion and uncertainty. The hunter of the sheep distracts us with noise, hurry, and burdens. He increases the volume to drown out the Voice. He increases the pace of life so that we don’t have time to listen to the Voice. He doesn’t have to do much with our burdens for we excel in burdening ourselves until we have no ears for the Voice. In the end, we become separated from the flock and are easy prey for the hunter.

There is one good thing about this: if we become separated, the Good Shepherd will come to find us. And he has help. Every good shepherd has a sheepdog or two to help keep the sheep together. The Good Shepherd has two sheepdogs. Do you know their names? David the King wrote: “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…”  All my life, these two dogs, Goodness and Mercy, have been at my heels, barking and trying to get me back into the flock. Thank God!

Perhaps I have finally learned that it is best to stay in the sheepfold of the Good Shepherd, the Church. In this place, I must listen carefully for the voice of the Shepherd until the day comes when I hear no other, or at least flee from the ones that I know are not the true, life giving Voice of the Shepherd.

Someday, that Voice will call me from the grave.


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