Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
This past October Br. David Vryhof and I were among the leaders in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where we explored the development of Christian monasticism in the early centuries. The first monastery we visited was in the desert just outside of Jericho near the Jordan River: St. Gerasimos’ Monastery, a very beautiful, active, welcoming Greek Orthodox community. On that site in year 460, Abbot Gerasimos built the original monastery. Today, when you enter the monastery precincts, the first image you confront is not a cross, nor stained glass window, nor ceramic tapestry, nor an icon – all of those are there – but rather at the entry you first confront a lion, a full-size bronze-cast lion.