Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
BE THE TIME CHRIST BEGAN His public ministry, Rome had been ruling the Holy Land for almost 100 years, through a succession of local governors and administrators. The ruler of Galilee at the time was the tetrarch Herod Antipas, whom the locals called “King Herod.” The region of Galilee was the site of much of the Lord Jesus’ early ministry.

When the Lord’s teaching was rejected in His home town of Nazareth, we are told that “leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea” (Matthew 4:13). It was there that He chose four local fishermen - Peter, Andrew, James and John – and called them to be His followers. As a seaside fishing village, it is likely that Capernaum was a place where taxes would be collected, particularly from the local fishermen. Matthew the evangelist was collecting taxes there when Jesus called him (see Matthew 9:9). It was perhaps to insure that taxes were collected that Roman soldiers were stationed in the area as well.

The Centurion at Capernaum

Matthew does not tell us anything about the officer who called on His help. In the Gospel of Luke we learn a bit more. In Luke 7, the first approach to Jesus on this matter was made by the local Jewish elders: “And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving, ‘for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue’” (Luke 7:4,5). Some commentators have concluded that the centurion might have been a God-fearer or even a proselyte (Gentile convert), but this is not mentioned in either Gospel, as it was not pertinent to the story or its message.

In both tellings of this story, the centurion refrains from summoning Jesus to the servant’s bedside, “for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof” (Matthew 8:8, Luke 7:6). Perhaps the centurion knew it would violate local custom for a Jew (much less a holy man) to enter the home of a Gentile. This is not mentioned, because it too was not pertinent to the story or its message.

What was emphasized by the Lord in both Gospels is the centurion’s faith. Many of Jesus’ contemporaries relied on their being members of the people of Israel to, as it were, guarantee their status before God. But, as the Lord said elsewhere, “Do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matthew 3:9).

Many looked to the correct observance of the precepts of the Law as the sign that they were doing God’s will. The centurion, not being a Jew, could not rely on either of these principles. His response, however, showed that he had the deep reliance on God which validates any religious observance then or now.

Christian tradition has also stressed the man’s humility and made it the model for our response when the Lord is near. In both East and West, his words are incorporated into our prayer as we approach the Eucharist.

In the Byzantine prayers before receiving Communion we say, “I know that I am not worthy or sufficient that You should come under the roof of my soul, for all is desolate and fallen” (Second Prayer) and “I am not worthy, O Lord and Master, that You should enter under the roof of my soul” (Seventh Prayer). The centurion’s humble protestation is clearly the model here.

What is the Principal Message Here?

The “punch line” in Matthew’s story of this healing tells us what his principal message is for us. Jesus marvels at the centurion’s faith, then He adds: “And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 8:11,12).

The idea that Gentiles would be preferred to Jews in the heavenly realm was scandalous to Jews. When Jesus had expressed a similar idea in the synagogue at Nazareth, it nearly got Him killed: “‘Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”’ So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way” (Luke 4:25-30).

The Lord referred to times in the ninth century bc when the Jews fell away from the worship of the one God, accepting the Phoenician deities Baal and Asherath. The prophets Elijah and his successor Elisha confronted the Jews for their apostasy but ministered to Phoenicians and Syrians who were disposed to hear their message. As the widow of Zarephath confessed to Elijah, “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth” (1 Kings 17:24). Their stories are told in the first and second books of Kings.

The story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28) is another example of a believing pagan contrasted to contentious Jews. After a confrontation with Jewish leaders from Jerusalem, the Lord went to the region of Tyre and Sidon where a woman begged His help for her daughter. After at first appearing to decline because she was not a Jew, Jesus obliged her saying, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire” (Matthew 15:28). Again, a Gentile’s faith is contrasted to the argumentative response of God’s own people.

In each case, the prophets and the Lord Himself step outside the box to respond to a believing Gentile, who is then held up an an example to Jews who doubted Him and n encouragement to the Gentiles who were being added to the company of His followers.

St John Chrysostom on the Centurion

Great is the pride of those who are in places of command; not even in afflictions do they take lower ground. In John 4, for example, the nobleman is all for dragging Him to his house, and says, “Sir, come down before my child dies!” (John 4:49) But not so this man; rather he is far superior both to him, and to those who let down the bed through the roof. For he does not seek His bodily presence, nor did He bring the sick man near the physician… he says, speak the word only… not looking so much to the health of the servant, as to the avoiding all appearance of doing anything irreverent.

Homily 26 on Matthew

 
WHEN WE THINK OF SLAVERY it is the American experience which automatically comes to mind. America’s slaves were mostly Africans who were captured, bought and sold as a commodity. Slavery was permanent (you could not be freed), hereditary (the children of slaves were automatically slaves), and racial. In the Roman Empire, however, none of these categories applied. Slaves were generally prisoners of war. They could earn or receive their freedom and there was no identification of slavery and race. In both countries, however, slavery meant loss of freedom, hard work, and at best a second class status in society. St Paul uses slavery as an image to describe the sinful behaviors which he saw in pagan society. Rome was peaceful and prosperous; as a result, people were free to be self-indulgent. He saw their behavior, not as freedom, but as a self-surrender to degradation. People had become slaves of their passions, leading to death. No one would personify this more than the emperors. Its greatest leader, Julius Caesar, was said to be “... every wife’s man and every man’s wife.” Nero, who was emperor at the time Paul was writing, castrated and “married” a boy who reminded him of his late wife. Both Nero and the boy would die at their own hands.

Slavery to Sin

Calling himself a “slave of Christ Jesus” (Romans 1:1), St Paul says that the godless present themselves as “obedient slaves” to “sin, which leads to death” (Romans 6:16). He is speaking here of a spiritual slavery which results in spiritual death. Like slavery, sin can possess a person exclusively – we need only think of some examples of addictions which take over people’s lives in our own day. But there are other sinful acts, less harmful to our physical life, to which people can become enslaved. Habits of sin, such as cursing or gossiping become as much part of us through repetition as addictions. They are simply other forms of slavery to sin. Culture can play an important part in this kind of slavery. When a behavior, which the Gospel portrays as sinful, is accepted in the wider culture as “normal,” people become more easily enslaved to it. We may think of sexual or reproductive practices which our society finds acceptable but the Church does not approve. Christians who decide there is “nothing wrong” with these practices do so because the wider (secular) society has accepted them. There are other, less controversial examples of socially acceptable contradictions of the Gospel. Does anyone in our society, for example, take seriously these words of Christ: “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ [an insult] will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna” (Matthew 5:22). Most if not all Christians pay scant attention to this teaching. But if people habitually look down on others in the Church, how able are they to keep Christ’s commandment: “Love one another. As I have loved you so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34,35).

Slavery to Righteousness

Twice in this passage St Paul notes an alternative to the slavery of sin. In v.19 he calls believers “slaves of righteousness” while in v.22 he uses the expression “slaves of God.” Righteousness was used throughout the Old Testament to describe a life pleasing to God. It was equated with a life lived in accordance with the Commandments. By this standard St Joseph, the spouse of the Theotokos, and St Simeon, who received the infant Christ in the temple, are both called “righteous” in the Gospels (cf., Matthew 1:19 and Luke 2:25). The supreme example of righteousness is, of course, the Lord Jesus Himself. As the centurion testified on seeing the manner of His death, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!” (Luke 23:47) Our liturgy describes Christ in the same way. In both the troparion of His Nativity and that of His Encounter with Simeon and Anna we praise Him as “the Sun of righteousness.” This term, prophesied in Malachi 4:2, suggests that the Lord Jesus is the One shining the light of authentic righteousness into the world. The term is used twice in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” and “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”. Living the Godly life is clearly of paramount importance to Christ. By using “slaves of righteousness” interchangeably with “slaves of God” St Paul is clearly following His lead. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” the Lord advised, and you will have everything you need.

The Result of a Righteous Life

This term dikaiosyne in the Greek of the New Testament is sometimes translated as justice, but that word in Western society has a legal or even penal connotation absent from its meaning in Scripture. This becomes clear when we look at the intended result of the righteous life as St Paul describes it here. He asks his readers, “What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death” (v.21). The sin to which the Roman Christians had once been enslaved had only one ultimate result – death. In contrast, living as slaves to God brings about sanctification with its end, everlasting life (cf., Romans 6:22). The fruit of righteousness in this life is sanctification, the same word the Church uses for certain rites, such as the great sanctification of water or of other objects. A “sanctification” in the language of the liturgy is more than just a simple blessing – it unfolds through psalms, hymns and Scripture readings and prayers forming a kind of process concluding in the act of benediction. Likewise the sanctification of the believer is a process, consisting in the blossoming of the Christian life through the love of God and of others, concluding in eternal life. What St Paul described as “righteousness unto sanctification” would come to be called theosis – the process beginning with baptism and developing through prayer, fasting, almsgiving and the other aspects of Christian life, with its goal of that communion with God which is eternal life. .
Living the “Life of Angels”
“God has done the same as if a person was to take an orphan who had been carried away by savages into their own country, and was not only to free him from captivity but to set a kind father over him and raise him to a very great dignity. This is what has happened in our case. For it was not just that God freed us from our old evils; he also led us into the life of angels. He opened the way for us to enjoy the best life, handing us over to the safekeeping of righteousness and killing our former evils, putting the old man in us to death and bringing us to eternal life.”
St John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 11
 
AS AMERICANS WE PRIDE OURSELVES on our freedom. We live in the “Land of the free” and see ourselves as leading other nations to government of, by and for the people. There is ample evidence for this statement. There is also evidence, however, that we are not free. Our country is rife with clinical addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex and gambling. So many lives have been ruined, so many families destroyed by people’s slavery to these addictions. On another level we see people so captivated by their electronic devices that they bump into other people, walk out into busy streets, and even cause fatal accidents while texting. The “free and the brave” have become slaves to Facebook and Twitter. St Paul called the Romans – free citizens of the greatest city in the Mediterranean world – “slaves of sin.” Their way of life was characterized by the worship of many gods (which the Jews would see as idolatry) and by sexual license, abortion and infanticide (which were all sinful to God-fearing Jews). All these practices were considered acceptable, even normal, in Roman society. There was no social stigma attached to any of them. People were free to engage in behavior which the Jews found demeaning and sinful. Some of these Romans had become Christians and were now expected to put aside such behavior. St Paul, however, does not exhort them to be free, but now to be slaves of righteousness. Why would he insist that people exchange one kind of slavery for another?

Dependence vs. Independence

Over the centuries Christians have explained Paul’s teaching in two ways. One way stresses that human freedom is always limited – if not by outside forces then by our own weaknesses. It has often been said that there is always slavery in the midst of freedom. It just depends on which freedom you pick and which slavery you pick. Many of us, for example, are tied unthinkingly to a particular way of thinking or doing things – such as making money at all costs - which can lead to unrighteous-ness. As long as we are tied to the earth for its own sake, we run the risk of chaining ourselves to the things of the earth, which may lead to all kinds of baseness and humiliation. Thus while patriotism is surely a virtue, excessive patriotism (“my country right or wrong”) has lead people to imperialism, colonialism and international terrorism (“might makes right”). Dependence on God is the only “slavery” that does not degrade us. St Justin Popovich, the twentieth century Serbian theologian and confessor, offers the second explanation. He saw our relationship to God in Christ as the only true freedom. “In truth there is only one freedom - the holy freedom of Christ, whereby He freed us from sin, from evil, from the devil. It binds us to God. All other freedoms are illusory, false, that is to say, they are all, in fact, slavery.” (St. Justin Popovich, Ascetical and Theological Chapters, II.36)

Choosing Righteousness 

The Roman Christians’moment of choice, according to St Paul, was in thepast: they had made the commitment at their baptism. This is why St Paul could speak of them as “having been set free from sin” (Romans 6:18). There are two distinct but complimentary movements at our baptism. The first involves our choice. We reject the dominion of sin and choose to unite ourselves to Christ. The second is the work of God who immerses us into the death and resurrection of Christ. Through this two-fold process we are freed from the power of sin and death. We are called to ratify our baptism every day by choosing righteousness as a way of life. This is sometimes a struggle, but we know it is possible for us because of our union with Christ. When we are buried with the Lord in baptism, we are granted the joy of His new resurrected life. When we live conscious of His life in us our lives take on a heavenly and uplifted spirit. To paraphrase St. John Chrysostom, if we believe the Lord is risen, we should believe it about ourselves as well.

Slaves or Friends?

In the Gospel, when the Lord was asked about freedom, He replied “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:34-36). If, then we have been made free by our union with the Son of God who delivered is from the eternal power of sin and death, why does St Paul say that we should be slaves, rather than sons? The answer is expressed clearly in the epistle: “I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh” (Romans 6:19). When St Paul began forming new Christians by speaking of freedom, he was often misunderstood. People thought they were no longer bound to any standards of behavior – they were “free.” Paul did not dare tell people they were free – they were too immature to hear it. As he told the Corinthians, “I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able” (1 Corinthians 3:2). St Paul then began using a different approach, as is evident in Romans. He does not contrast slavery and freedom, but contrasting their former slavery to sin to their Christian dependence upon God. Later Christian writers spelled out St Paul’s distinction of spiritual milk and solid food in a systematic way. At the earliest stages some believers relate to God as slaves to a master: they fear God and seek to avoid His punishment by keeping His commandments. Believers at a later level of spiritual maturity relate to God as an employee to an employer. They seek to please God and thereby gain a reward. They expect their devotion to be paid off in heaven. The most mature believers are the children of God. They know the love God has for all mankind – indeed, for all creation - and they love Him as their Father. These are the believers who know that God calls them to communion with Him and they strive to become one with God. They are the “sons” who abide forever.
 
WHEN WE THINK OF SLAVERY it is the experience of blacks in America which most often comes to mind. Africans targeted by commercial slave traders as ignorant savages were captured in raids, transported across the Atlantic and sold on the open market like livestock. In the Roman Empire slavery was not tied to race as it was here. The first slaves seem to have been children sold by their own parents and enemy warriors and their families captured during battle. Debtors sold themselves into slavery to cover their debts. They could be freed if their family or friends paid off the debt or even as a reward for exceptional service. They might then enjoy the patronage of an employer, their former master or someone else recognized in a public ceremony. This last example seems to have been the model of slavery St. Paul had in mind when he wrote of people set free from sin and become “slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:16) through baptism. Incorporation into Christ was seen as delivering people from slavery and connecting them to a new Protector whom they would now serve.

Are We Slaves or Free?

A popular name for men in the Arabic-speaking world (both Christian and Muslim) is Abdullah, the “slave of God.” the same term St. Paul uses here. Whenever we receive baptism, the Eucharist or a blessing we are called “slaves of God” as well. Perhaps to respect our sensibilities, the phrase is usually translated as “servant” or “handmaid” of God but in the original Greek it is the same word translated here as “slave” (doulos). This concept may strike us as misguided – did not the Lord Jesus teach us that we are His friends, not His servants (cf., John 15:15)? Yet He also said that “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). The fact is that we are never completely autonomous – we are always serving someone or something. It may be our country, another person, or our greed. The apostles knew that the Lord had called them to an intimate relationship with Himself; a relationship in which they dedicated their lives to serving Him and His Father. The fifth-century Syriac Father John the Solitary (commemorated on June 19) clearly expressed this paradox in a letter on the monastic life which has survived the centuries. “Be both a servant, and free: a servant in that you are subject to God, but free in that you are not enslaved to anything – either to empty praise or to any of the passions. “Release your soul from the bonds of sin; abide in liberty, for Christ has liberated you; acquire the freedom of the New World during this temporal life of yours. Do not be enslaved to love of money or to the praise resulting from pleasing people” (St. John the Solitary, Letter to Hesychias, 25, 26). For the Christian, then, freedom is the God-given ability to be ‘slaves of God” rather than captives of sin. We are free, not from any obligation but from the fruitless effects of living apart from God. We can now bear fruit of holiness and, in the end everlasting life.

Freedom Takes Work

In our day many people see freedom to mean an absence of obligation, an absence of laws or responsibility. To be free means to do whatever one feels like without restraint of conventions, or other people’s idea of what is right. This may be the freedom of the adolescent with an unexpected day off from school, but is it the freedom of the children of God, of those made after His image and recreated in baptism? Is freedom nothing more than the freedom to be lazy? Or does freedom have a richer meaning for the believer? In his First Homily on Ezekiel Origen teaches that spiritually indolent people are actually rejecting their freedom. The freedom of the children of God means that we not paralyzed by the negative forces to which we may be exposed. We are able to get off the couch, as it were, to “make an effort, to toil, to fight, to become the artificer of your own salvation.” To those who are reluctant to alter their comfortable routines Origen asks, “Are you then reluctant to work – you who were created in order to create?” According to the creation story in the book of Genesis we human beings are given the charge to make something of the earth, to be co-creators with God of our surroundings; and the first thing deserving our attention is our own character. We need not be swept along by a mediocre way of life: we can assert our true freedom by living as servants of God through a repentant way of life. In the Liturgy we repeatedly ask that we may spend “the rest of our life in peace and repentance,” but rarely make the effort to let that happen in our lives. Many of us have become comfortable with a kind of spiritual inertia, content that we are not committing grave sins. We seem to be not doing anything at all, but in fact we have made a choice. In spite of the gift of divine life we have received, we have opted to give God merely a token of respect but to live most of our lives with little thought to serving Him. By not being His servants we have compromised our freedom. Our lives seem to echo this hymn from the Lenten Triodion: “In the waters of Baptism, O Father, you have made me Your child. In Your great goodness, You adorned me with all the virtues. But by my own free choice, I have become enslaved to fruitless thoughts which have brought me down to poverty. Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.”

Is Saying “No” the Height of Freedom?



Commenting on the teaching of Saint Maximos the Confessor, Pope Benedict XVI offered this reflection:

“Saint Maximus tells us that – and we know that this is true – Adam (and we ourselves are Adam) thought that the ‘no’ was the peak of freedom. He thought that only a person who can say ‘no’ is truly free; that if he is truly to achieve his freedom, man must say ‘no’ to God; only in this way, he believed, could he at last be himself, could he reach the heights of freedom.
“The human nature of Christ also carried this tendency within it but overcame it, for Jesus saw that it was not the ‘no’ that was the height of freedom. The height of freedom is the ‘yes,’ in conformity with God’s will. It is only in the ‘yes’ that man truly becomes himself; only in the great openness of the ‘yes,’ in the unification of his will with the divine than man becomes immensely open, becomes ‘divine.’ What Adam wanted was to be like God, that is, to be completely free. But the person who withdraws into himself is not divine, is not completely free; he is freed by emerging from himself, it is in the ‘yes’ that he becomes free… It is by transferring the human will to the divine will that the real person is born; it is in this way that we are redeemed.”

Church Fathers and Teachers: From St Leo the Great to Peter Lombard, p. 62

 
THE GOSPELS PRESENT A PICTURE of the world in which Christ lived which is not always understood. While they focus on His interaction with the leaders of Israel, the Gospels also show us how many other groups and peoples He encountered. Official Judaism, centered on Jerusalem, was made up of several strains. We hear of the Pharisees (the rabbis, focused on the Torah) and the Sadducees (the priests, centered on temple worship). The Gospels also mention the Samaritans with their reverence for the ancient shrines rather than Jerusalem. And we know of others groups who did not esteem the Jerusalem establishment but retired to the Judean desert to await the expected Messiah. Many feel that John the Forerunner was one of them. Besides these representatives of mainstream and fringe Judaism, the area was also home to Gentiles. Some were native to the area. Jesus often traveled to the east side of the Jordan, called by Isaiah (and quoted in Matthew 4:15) “the Galilee of the Gentiles.” Visiting the area of Tyre and Sidon Jesus encountered many Gentiles as well. Then, of course there were the colonists who inhabited the cities of the Decapolis, ten Roman and Greek cities in today’s Jordan and Syria, and the Roman presence, based in Caesarea on the Mediterranean which governed the area in the name of Caesar. Some of these Gentiles respected Jewish belief and were known as “God-fearing” although they were not part of the Jewish people. The centurion in Matthew 8:5-13 was probably one of these God-fearers, attached to the provincial capital at Capernaum. The corresponding passage in Luke cites the praise of the local Jews that “he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue” (Luke 7:5). The story of the centurion and his servant reveal two themes important to the Jewish believers for whom the Gospel of Matthew was written. The first theme is the belief that Jesus is the Messiah. Like all Jews, these believers held that the Messianic era would be marked by physical as well as spiritual renewal. In crafting the Gospel the Evangelist intersperses the five Discourses (Jesus’ teachings) with accounts of how Jesus’ presence revitalized people. This would be the proof that He was the Messiah, as we read in His encounter with the disciples of John the Baptist:
“Now when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them’ ” (Matthew 11:2-5).
In other words the messianic signs are evident – the Messiah is at hand. The second theme would be increasingly important as more Gentiles entered the community of the Church. It is expressed in the words of Jesus concerning the centurion, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:10-12). Gentiles would believe and by their faith they would displace the Jews in the people of God.

The Gentile Church in Rome

In some areas, like the eastern end of the Roman Empire and beyond in Persian territory, Jewish believers would remain as the dominant presence in the Church for many years. In other areas, such as in Rome, the opposite would be true. Gentiles came to dominate the Christian community even in St. Paul’s lifetime. Speaking to these Gentile Christians St Paul uses terms that may surprise us. “For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness” (Romans 6:19). How could St. Paul call the Romans, who gave the world law, philosophy and civil order “slaves of uncleanness”? For Jews the greatest uncleanness and lawlessness was idolatry, not believing in the one true God. Roman society was based on a religion of many gods and goddesses; for Paul that made it de facto unclean and lawless. And it led to “more uncleanness.” When we recall that devotion to “the protectress of Rome,” the fertility goddess Cymbele, involved intercourse with temple prostitutes we can understand how – at least as far as St Paul was concerned – idolatry begets immorality, making its followers “slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness.” Having been baptized, Roman Christians were now to be “slaves of righteousness” instead. For St. Paul, righteousness was certainly not to be found in the idolatry of pagan Rome nor in the observances of Rabbinic Judaism. While the Jews considered righteousness a matter of keeping the Law of Moses, St. Paul insisted that righteousness was found only through our relationship with Christ. The bulk of the Epistle to the Romans would elaborate this teaching. Connecting righteousness to the Messiah did not originate with St. Paul. One of the last of the Hebrew prophecies in the Old Testament, Malachi, spoke of the coming of “the Sun of Righteousness” in words which seem to summarize the entire Gospel. Early Christians saw this as a prophecy fulfilled in Jesus and His Forerunner, John the Baptist:
“Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple – even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts. … But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings…” (Malachi 3:1, 4:2)
Early Christians soon connected this image of Christ as the Sun of Righteousness to the progress of the Gospel among the Gentiles. The Sun of Righteousness shone His light over the darkness of idolatry and eclipsed it. To this day we proclaim this in the troparion of the Nativity, speaking of the Persian magi, “through it [Christ’s birth] those who worshipped stars were taught by a star to worship You, the Sun of Righteousness.” And so we hear Christ proclaimed today as the fulfillment of the Messianic hopes of the Jewish people and the One who shines the light of true righteousness among the Gentiles. He is, as we sing so often in the Canticle of Simeon, “Light to the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory of Your people, Israel.”
JUNE 24 – NATIVITY OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST
Before the Light comes the lamp-stand, the reflection of the Sun of Righteousness, the ray which announces His coming for the renewal of all and the salvation of our souls.
From a Vespers Sticheron

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