Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
IN HIS PREACHING OF CHRIST to the Gentiles St Paul was challenging the heart of Jewish practice in his day: the necessity of observing the Law. What was required, he taught, was faith in Christ.

In writing to the Galatians, St Paul mentioned an objection which he probably heard from critics: “if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin?” (Galatians 2:17) In other words, if a Christian sins, is that the fault of his faith or even of Christ in whom he believes?

St Paul would go on to say that it is a sinner’s heart, rather than his faith which is at fault. He believes in Christ, but does not act consistently with his belief. As one popular expression has it, “He talks the talk, but does not walk the walk.”

The Dark Side of the Church

There are many believers who sincerely wish to follow Christ, but are not able to control their passions in line with their faith. There are others who dismiss the Church’s traditional teachings as outdated, if these teachings contradict their own preferred way of life. Still others simply ignore Christ’s way of life because they have the power to do so. They have been called the dark side of the Church.

Sergei Fudel was a young Russian layman of twenty when he was first arrested for his religious activities in the Soviet Union. He spent the next twenty-five years in prisons, labor camps and internal exile. He witnessed many acts of infidelity on the part of clergy and other Christians, whom he called “the dark double of the Church.” Many people have been hurt in such circumstances. Some have even left the Church as a result.

In response, Fudel echoed the teaching of Moscow priest Valentine Sventitsky: “a sin within the Church is not a sin of the Church, but against the Church.” Evil has always existed within the very enclosure of the Church, Fudel stressed, noting the example of Judas. “We must see this with our eyes open, always remembering that ‘He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me.’” (Matthew 26:23)

“The Church,” Fudel insisted, “is only Christ in His humanity, it is His Body… Breaking away from the Church because of the moral derelictions we see in it is religiously foolish and reflects our inability to think things through. Anything wrong, distorted and impure that we see within the gates of the Church is not the Church.”

God Makes Up for Our Failures

It is the Church’s traditional belief that the whole Church – those in heaven as well as those on earth – are present at its worship. Our liturgical texts are written with this faith in mind. Thus we sing at the Presanctified Liturgy, “Now the Powers of Heaven minister invisibly with us. For, behold, the King of Glory enters.”

From time to time people have been made deeply aware that the whole Church is with us when we worship. The Russian priest-confessor Arseny Streltzoff, held captive in a Soviet prison camp, was singled out for special punishment for trying to stop the beating of another prisoner, a non-believer named Alexei. Both Fr Arseny and Alexei were put in an outdoor steel cell in below freezing weather. They were not expected to survive. Fr Arseny saw this isolation as a chance to pray freely and without restraint. His companion told how the priest’s clothes were transformed as he prayed into brilliant white priestly vestments. “There was no more cell; now they were in a church… Alexei saw with surprise that there were two men assisting Fr Arseny. Both were dressed in the same bright vestments and both shone with an undefinable white light.” Alexei saw the universal Church in his punishment cell. Needless to say, he became a believer.

Fudel tells the following remarkable story that illustrates how God works to preserve holiness in His Church despite our failings. If what we see is the “dark double” at work, the angels and saints supply what is lacking.

“A five-year-old boy was baptized in a parish church. A week later he and his grandmother were walking when they met the priest in the street. ‘Say hello to Father,’ said Granny, ‘he baptized you.’ ‘No,’ answered the boy, ‘he did not baptize me, an angel baptized me and Father was lying on a bench, with his hands tied down.’”

A similar confirmation is attributed to a most unlikely source, the nineteenth-century German romantic poet Clemens Brentano. A frequent visitor to the nun and visionary, Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), Brentano recorded his recollections of their conversations. In one such recollection, she reportedly spoke of a vision:

“I beheld pictures referring to the defects in divine worship and how they are supernaturally repaired…  God receives the honor due Him from a higher order. Among other things I saw that when priests have distractions during the sacred ceremonies, Mass, for instance, they are in reality wherever their thoughts are — and during the interval a saint takes their place at the altar… Sometimes I see a priest leaving the sacristy vested for Mass; but he goes not to the altar. He leaves the church and goes to a tavern, a garden, a hunt, a maiden, a book, to some rendezvous, and I see him now here, now there, according to the bent of his thoughts, as if he were really and personally in those places. It is a most pitiful and shameful sight!  “But it is singularly affecting to behold at this time a holy priest going through the ceremonies of the altar in his stead. I often see the priest returning for a moment during the sacrifice and then suddenly running off again to some forbidden place. Such interruptions frequently last a long time.”

What Should We Do?

Among the Twelve Apostles there was a representative of the dark side – Judas. He was in a distinct minority. At other times representatives of the “dark double” have been in the majority. Think of the years that Arianism and Iconoclasm were supported by many bishops. The existence of the dark double does not render the wider Church unfruitful. It is particularly helpful to keep this wider vision of the Church in mind when we seem to see only the dark double of the Church in our midst.

Believers who are troubled by the presence of the dark double in the Church should keep in mind:

A) The Apostolic Tradition of holiness is always present in the Church. When the words or actions of individual churchmen contradict the Tradition, keep your eyes on the Tradition.

B) Remember that any of us may be distracted in prayer and “wander” to other places, good or bad when we try to pray. Ask the Lord’s help in deepening your ability to focus on the words of your prayer.

Recalling Christ’s parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30), Sergei Fudel reminds us, “Either you or I, or he or she, may be weeds at this moment, and in an hour any one of us may become wheat. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons said: ‘Every man is himself the reason why he sometimes becomes wheat and sometimes straw’ (Against Heresies, Book 4, ch 4).”

Passages from Sergei Fudel’s writings, which appeared in various Samizdat journals during the Soviet era, were published in English as Light in the Darkness by St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY in 1989.
 
IT IS COMMON IN MANY EASTERN CHURCHES to see people touching or kissing the priest’s vestment as he passes in procession. In this way, they express their veneration for Christ in the Gospel book, the Holy Gifts or other sacred object he is carrying. They are doing liturgically what people in Eastern cultures did regularly to express reverence for or dependence upon their religious or ethnic leaders – or even family elders – for centuries.

We read in the Gospels that people would reach out to touch the hem of Christ’s garment in the hope that they would thereby come into contact with holiness and obtain a blessing. On His arrival at Gennesaret, for example, we are told that “When the men of that place recognized Him, they sent out into all that surrounding region, brought to Him all who were sick, and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well” (Matthew 14:35, 36). The woman with the issue of blood in Lk 8 had the same hope.

The “Issue of Blood”

Modern commentators have debated whether this woman suffered from a genetic blood disease such as hemophilia or a menstrual disorder of some kind. This issue is not raised in the Scriptures, which focus on the results rather than the cause of her condition. In Mk 5 we read that she “had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse” (v. 26). Not only had her condition worsened, but she had become impoverished in the process (she “had spent all her livelihood on physicians” – Luke 8:43).

The Gospels, written for Gentile converts, do not mention another effect of her illness which would have been extremely important to Jews. Whatever the origin of the hemorrhaging, it caused the woman to be ritually unclean according to the Torah. “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, other than at the time of her [customary] impurity, or if it runs beyond her [usual time of] impurity, all the days of her unclean discharge shall be as the days of her [customary] impurity. She shall be unclean. Every bed on which she lies all the days of her discharge shall be to her as the bed of her impurity; and whatever she sits on shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her impurity. Whoever [else] touches those things shall be unclean; he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening” (Leviticus 15:25-27}. Bodily discharges of any kind, being “of the earth,” rendered a person or anything they touched unfit for the heavenly action of worship (“defiling the tabernacle” – Leviticus 15:31). Neither this woman nor anyone who had contact with her could observe the Holydays or offer even the daily sacrifices in the temple on any day she suffered this hemorrhage. Some have surmised that, if she had been married, her husband probably would have divorced her as she would have been unable to care for her children or for others without making them all unclean. She was, in effect, as much of an outcast as a leper as far as participation in the life of her people was concerned. Touching Jesus changed all that.

What Did She Touch?

In Luke 8:44 we are told that this woman “came from behind and touched the border of His garment.” The phrase translated here as “the border of His garment” is more properly rendered as “the fringe of His robe.” The ordinary dress of Jewish men in Christ’s day consisted of a tunic over which they wore a mantle large enough to cover them from head to foot. The Torah prescribed than this garment be fringed with tassels (tzitzit); “Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. When you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them” (Numbers 15:38, 39).

Some rabbinic authorities considered blue as the “color of God’s glory”. Covers for the temple vessels were made in this color. Touching the blue-threaded tassel, then, is an attempt to connect with the glory of God.

This garment, reduced in size, is the prayer shawl worn by observant Jews today at worship. Some Orthodox Jewish men wear a kind of scapular under their street wear. Its tassels often may be seen hanging outside their shirts.

Who Was This Woman?

Although the story of this woman is recounting in Matthew 9 and Mark 5 as well as in Lk, her name is never given and she is not mentioned again. Later writers tried to remedy the “defects” in the Gospels by recounting “life stories” of characters like this woman whom the Scriptures mention only in passing. Thus, in the fourth-century Acts of Pilate this woman, now given a name, is portrayed as trying to give evidence at Jesus’ trial: “And a certain woman named Bernice crying out from afar off said: ‘I had an issue of blood, and I touched the hem of his garment, and the issue of blood which I had had for twelve years was stopped.’ The Jews say: ‘we have a law, that a woman's evidence is not to be received.’”

Another fourth-century attempt to “bolster” the Gospel is found in Eusebius’ Church History. He notes that “They say that the woman with an issue of blood, who, as we learn from the sacred Gospel, received from our Savior deliverance from her affliction, came from this place [Caesarea Philippi], and that her house is shown in the city, and that remarkable memorials of the kindness of the Savior to her remain there.

“For there stands upon an elevated stone, by the gates of her house, a brazen image of a woman kneeling, with her hands stretched out, as if she were praying. Opposite this is another upright image of a man, made of the same material, clothed decently in a double cloak, and extending his hand toward the woman. At his feet, beside the statue itself, is a certain strange plant, which climbs up to the hem of the brazen cloak, and is a remedy for all kinds of diseases.

“They say that this statue is an image of Jesus. It has remained to our day, so that we ourselves also saw it when we were staying in the city” (Book 7.18).

Later Eastern chroniclers such as Sozomen and John Malalas were not as cautious about the story of this statue as was Eusebius. They accept the story as unqualified fact.

Modern historians suggest that the statue originally depicted the submission of Judea to the Emperor Hadrian but was later give a Christian meaning. The statue was destroyed during the reign of Julian the Apostate and a statue of that emperor erected in its place.

A much later legend based on the story of this woman is the legend of “Veronica’s veil”. In the medieval West, it was said that the woman with the issue of blood was called Veronica (the Latin form of Bernice). She was described as having wiped the face of Jesus on the way to His crucifixion. Although there is no mention of this incident in the Scriptures, it became part of the medieval devotion, the “Stations of the Cross.” In fact, the “veronica” (meaning true image) was not a person, but a relic – perhaps the image of Edessa – brought to Rome in the twelfth century.
 
WE CONTINUE READING the Epistle to the Ephesians today, moving on to chapter two. Here St Paul reflects on the new reality in God's plan for the salvation of the world, the Church. The People of God is now more than the people of Israel -- Jews and Gentiles have been brought together by the grace of God. As Paul tells his Gentile readers, “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12-13). In describing this new reality St Paul uses some terms which may seem strange to us today, but which would have made perfect sense to the original readers of this epistle. The first such term comes at the beginning of chapter two.

“The Prince of the Power of the Air”

St Paul uses this term to refer to Satan: “And you He made alive, who were dead in the trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience…” But why is he “the prince of the power of the air”? Modern fundamentalists often point to radio and television or the internet as the power of the airwaves, which corrupt people. These media are therefore satanic, according to this interpretation. While there is much in these media to be avoided, St Paul is certainly not referring to them -- the only airborne media existing in his day would have been smoke signals! Others have pointed to meteorological phenomena as indications that there is a demonic presence in our midst. There is no basis in fact for such an assumption, other than that these phenomena take place “in the air.” Rather, in the understanding of the Jews at that time, there were three regions above the earth. The lowest was described as the air (in Greek, aer), the place of spiritual powers hostile to the human race. Above that were the heavens, or heavenly places, realm of godly spiritual powers, and above that the “heaven of heavens,” the unapproachable dwelling place of God. St Paul identifies the ways of this world as being under the influence of these hostile spirits “of the air.” In other words, the ways of the world, the spirit of the age -- or as we might say “the way the world works” -- are all subject to forces beyond us. Not only the airwaves, if you will, but also the politics, social and cultural movements of a world that does not acknowledge God, are all guided by a malevolent power.

“The Middle Wall of Separation”

Throughout the Mediterranean world of St Paul's day Jews and Gentiles lived side by side. The one place where they could not mingle was in the temple at Jerusalem. Non-Jews who wished to worship the true God could do so -- and did -- in the “court of the Gentiles,” the outermost precinct of the temple. This area was separated from the “court of the Israelites” by a wall called the soreg, beyond which Gentiles could not pass. The Jewish historian Josephus, writing only a few years after St Paul, described it as follows: “There was a partition made of stone all round, whose height was three cubits [i.e. 5½ feet]: its construction was very elegant; upon it stood pillars, at equal distances from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek, and some in Roman letters, that ‘no foreigner should go within that sanctuary' for that second [court of the] temple was called ‘the Sanctuary,' and was ascended to by fourteen steps from the first court” (Jewish Wars 5.5). It is this barrier to which St Paul refers. Portions of this wall and some of the signs posted on the pillars survive to this day. One such inscription, in Greek, is found in the National Archeological Museum in Istanbul. It reads, “No outsider shall enter the protective enclosure around the sanctuary. And whoever is caught will only have him-self to blame for the ensuing death.” St Paul describes this wall of separation as “the law of commandments contained in ordinances” which is abolished in Christ. This refers, not to all commandments of the Torah, but to those directions which set forth the required separation between Jews and Gentiles. Faith in Christ and baptism eliminated the racial divisions between Jews and Gentiles in the Church, but there remained a division in worship still evident in the design of our churches. The Christian equivalent to the “court of the Israelites” is the nave where the baptized gather to worship. The place of catechumens in the early Church was in the narthex, since only those baptized into Christ are part of the new People of God, the Church. In some conservative monasteries and congregations only baptized Orthodox Christians are permitted to enter the nave to this day.

“A Holy Temple in the Lord”

The imagery of the temple continues to figure in this epistle. In vv. 19-22, the temple in question is not a structure in a given place like Jerusalem; rather it is the people who make up the Church, Jew and Gentile alike. “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” St Paul describes all believers -- Jew and Gentile alike -- as the building blocks of this temple erected on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ being the cornerstone. An important aspect of this image is that St Paul does not see the structure as completed. Rather he tells his readers, and us, that we are still in the building process. The foundation is complete, but the structure of this temple, God's People, is still being formed in those who are open to God's work in every age.
Why “the Prince of This World?”
“Further, why does he call the devil the prince of the world? Because nearly the whole human race has surrendered itself to him and all are willingly and by deliberate choice his slaves. Not one so much as gives any heed to Christ, though He promises unnumbered blessings; while all yield themselves to the devil, who promises nothing of the sort, but sends them on to hell. His kingdom then is in this world, and he has, with few exceptions, more subjects and more obedient subjects than God, in consequence of our indolence.”
(St John Chrysostom, Homily 4 on Ephesians)
 
WHEN TODAY'S THEOLOGIANS DISAGREE, it is usually in the pages of some scholarly journal, perhaps as an unflattering review or in a volley of articles. All very professional and civilized. Things were different in the first century AD. When St. Peter came from Jerusalem to Antioch he found that the Christian community included a mixture of native Jews and Greeks, many of whom were probably proselytes. They believed in one God, followed the morality of the Jews, but were not circumcised. Nor did they observe the Torah’s laws about food or ritual purity. At first, Peter ate with these Greek believers, an action which was forbidden to Jews. They could not eat with Gentiles. Rigorous Jews, like the Pharisees, believed that tenacious observance of the Torah assured their identity as God’s chosen people by setting them apart from the Gentiles.. When some Jewish believers came from Jerusalem, St Peter and the Jewish Christians of Antioch stepped back out of fear and would no longer eat with theirGentile fellow-Christians. St. Paul’s reaction, as he describes it in Galatians, was direct: “I withstood him to his face, because he was wrong” (Galations 2:11). St. Paul, the ex-Pharisee, was clear in his reasons for not enforcing Jewish law: we know, he taught, “that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16). The observances of the Law were no longer what identified God’s People: acceptance of Christ was. Paul observed the practices of the Law when among Jews, but only as devout customs. They were not the identifying mark of God’s People and they did not generate holiness (righteousness) in anyone. They did not connect us to God – only Christ did that – and there was no reason to separate from believers who do not observe the Law of Moses.

“Then What About Sin?”

First-century Jews were taught that the way to deal with sin is to offer a sacrifice in the Temple. But to do that, a person had to be ritually pure (eat only kosher food, not mix with Gentiles, etc.). So if Christ’s followers did not keep the Law, how could they offer sacrifice and be free of sin? Paul’s response seems odd to us. When Christians sin, he seems to say, it is not because they are followers of Christ. But – and here is his point – if I try to go back to the Law I am bypassing Christ and in that “I make myself a transgressor” (Galatians 2:18). And here St. Paul is certainly speaking of his own experience: “I died to the Law that I might live to God” (v.19). He had given up his allegiance to the Law of Moses once he realized that the only true Source of divine life was Christ. To go back to the Law would be to deny Christ. Many Jews today observe these laws in order to hasten the Messiah’s coming. St Paul would have something to say on this.

The Consequence: We are United to Christ

The first-century controversy over the place of the Law in Christian life would only be of historical interest today except that it prompted St. Paul to think through the issue with a result that touches our faith today. The result of his thinking is found in the next verse: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). St. Paul teaches, here and elsewhere, that the Christian has an organic union with Christ: “Christ lives in me.” St. Paul was not promoting a sentimental idea of being emotionally close. He was insisting that the believer and Christ were really one. In Romans, 1 Corinthians and Ephesians he would use the image of the body to stress this organic union we have with the Lord and, as a result, with one another, In Colossians, he teaches that, because of this union, we can legitimately hope for eternal union with God: “To [the believers] God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colosians 1:27).

A Union Formed at Baptism

Later in the Epistle to the Galatians St. Paul would provide the Church with an understanding of how the Christian becomes one with Christ. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). With these words – which we sing at every baptism – St Paul describes the beginnings of this union in images we make concrete at every baptism: immersion (baptism) and “putting on” the baptismal garment. In Galatians 2:20 we saw St Paul say “I have been crucified with Christ.” When we read his Epistle to the Romans we see when that happened for him (and for each of us): “do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3). St Paul understood that, with our immersion into the water of baptism, we are joined to Christ who died and was buried for us. We are joined to His resurrection by the way we live. St Paul spoke of having “the Mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16), viewing all things the way Christ would. And he was not alone. We find the same idea in 1 Peter 4:1,2: “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind,  that we no longer should live the rest of our time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” And so what matters for us, according to the apostles, is:
  1. That we are united to Christ, having been joined to Him through baptism;
  2. That we are called to reflect that union in the way we live; and
  3. Doing so connects us to God both in this life and after death.
 “Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance and saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.’  So I said, ‘Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe in You.  And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, consenting to his death and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.  Then He said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.’”
Acts 22:17-21
 
THE GOSPELS RECORD SEVERAL INSTANCES when the Lord Jesus called people to be His followers. At times He called people to leave their homes and livelihoods and follow Him. He called Peter and Andrew, James and John as they were busy fishing “and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him” (Matthew 4:22). Similarly Matthew walked away from his toll booth and followed Jesus (cf., Matthew 9:9); the other disciples whose calls are not recorded in the Gospels did the same. Sometimes the Lord called but was refused. The cost of following Jesus was more than some people could bear. To the rich young man who wanted to be perfect Jesus said, “‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’  When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:21-22). In other instances the Lord raised objections Himself before the would-be follower could discover through failure and discouragement that following Christ meant enduring hardships. Thus “a teacher of the law came to Him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head’” (Matthew 8:19-20). The Lord wanted this teacher of the law to know that following Christ would not provide the comfortable lifestyle he may have been anticipating. To a procrastinator, however, He gave the opposite advice. “Then another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead’” (Matthew 8:21-22). The Lord surely wanted followers but He had a different approach based on the readiness of the person before Him. This passage suggests the hurdles that people in any age will face when they consider following the Lord in a radical way: fear of the unknown, self-concern, pre-occupation and attachment to other things all can hinder us from following Christ.

The Vocation of the Gadarene

The Gadarene whom Jesus healed (cf., Luke 8:27-39) wanted to follow Jesus as well; the Scripture says that he “begged to go with Him,” but the Lord had another plan for him. “Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:38-39). The Gadarenes had made it clear that they wanted Jesus to go away. He would not force Himself on them. At the same time He wanted to leave them with a permanent reminder of His presence: their own fellow countryman whom He had delivered. This man had once been a burden to the townspeople; now he would be a blessing. The apostles were told to go through the world preaching the Gospel; this man’s call was to go home and do the same in his village. Was his call by Christ less of a vocation than that of the apostles? It was different, surely, but it was a vocation nonetheless. Some people in the Church tend to think that “vocation” refers exclusively to the calling of a cleric or monastic. The Lord does call some people in every age to serve the Church as priests, deacons, chanters, etc. He does invite others to serve Him as a monk or nun, or as a member of a religious community. But these are not the only people whom He calls to serve Him.

Our Fundamental Vocation

Every person baptized into Christ has a vocation. The essence of that vocation is perhaps best expressed in the First Epistle of Peter: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). There are three important aspects of our universal vocation expressed in this passage. First, our vocation is to a priesthood: what the Scripture calls a “royal priesthood.” Christ is the true kingly priest and because we have been baptized into Him and sealed in His Holy Spirit we share in His priesthood. Secondly, we share in this priesthood as members of a people, the people of God. We are not individually priests, as are the ministers of the altar, but members of a priesthood because of our common union with Christ the High Priest. This passage also tells us the reason for this priesthood: “that you may declare the praises of” God. Our vocation as members of the royal priesthood is to share in the Church’s call to proclaim the work of God in Christ. Some, like the apostles and evangelizers, are called to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Others, like the Gadarene whom Jesus delivered in the Gospel or the Samaritan Woman, are called to show forth God’s love for mankind in their own corner of the world. Still others – most of us in fact – are called to share in the Church’s common vocation to proclaim Christ.

How Can We “Proclaim?”

When we think about “proclaiming God’s works” we invariably think about speaking or writing. There is a host of other ways by which the Church makes the Good News present in our world. At the Bridegroom Matins on Holy Tuesday we are reminded that the abilities we have received are often the way in which the Lord makes known to us our way of responding to this call:
“Come, O faithful, let us work eagerly for the Master, for He distributes wealth to His servants; and let us increase the talent of grace, each one according to his ability. Let one adorn his wisdom with good deeds. Let another beautify the celebration of the service. Let someone strong in faith communicate the word to the uninitiated, and another dispense his wealth to the poor. Thus, we shall increase what has been loaned to us and, like faithful stewards of grace, shall be worthy of the Master’s joy. O Christ God, make us worthy of that joy, for You are the Lover of Mankind.”
Through each of these ways and countless others believers can take their place in the royal priesthood, joining in the Church’s mission to declare through word or work “the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”
What Happened to the Gadarenes? The Gospels record that the Lord Jesus sent the man He had healed back home to witness to his neighbors. They do not tell us whether he was successful: was this village converted or not? We do know that by the third century AD the village was all but deserted. The crag which overlooked the Sea of Galilee, however, had become a place of pilgrimage for Christians seeking to commemorate the healing of the Gadarene. By the fifth century a large monastery serving the pilgrims had been established there. The monastery was expanded in the sixth century but abandoned after a catastrophic earthquake destroyed much of the area in 749. Ruins of the monastery were excavated in the 1970s by the Israeli department of antiquities and were later incorporated into a national park.
 
WHAT DID ST. PAUL MEAN when he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20)? How was he crucified with Christ? In the sacramental sense, he was “crucified” the same way we were: through baptism. In this mystery the death and resurrection of Christ are mystically represented. We are buried in Christ when we are immersed (buried) in the water. We are resurrected with Him when we are raised up out of the font. This is not simply an attempt to paint a picture of Christ’s burial and resurrection. These events, like the incarnation, the ascension and all the mysteries of Christ’s work for us are neither abstract ideas nor even moments from the past. They are, to be sure, historical events which happened once in time, but which possess all the power of eternity. Their effect exists in “God’s time,” which is not limited to our earthly limitations of space or the passage of days. Through the holy mysteries – especially baptism and the Eucharist – we are able to connect with the saving events of the incarnation. We do not simply think about them as past, we unite with them as ever-present in what they have accomplished: our union with God in Jesus Christ. In Acts 9 we read that Paul was baptized in Damascus by Ananias three days after his life-changing encounter with Christ. His attachment to the Law of Moses died as a result of that encounter. He had always been a religious man, but until that time his religious energy was focused on keeping the precepts of the Torah. Paul’s reliance on the Law died when he encountered Christ. His energy was now focused on preaching Christ crucified and risen as the way to God for all, Jew and Gentile. As he wrote in Galatians 2:19, “For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.”

Dying to Self

But Paul did not simply say, “My reliance on the Law has been crucified” but that “I have been crucified…it is no longer I who live.” In this he seems to be responding to the call of Christ recorded in the Gospels: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). A follower of Christ, then, should be prepared to imitate the Master’s way of life. Paul depicts the Lord’s fundamental act of self-denial, the incarnation, as setting a pattern for our life. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7). Paul lived in imitation of this as he went about the Roman Empire preaching Christ but assuring his own livelihood so that he would not seem to be in the preaching business. Serving others in the spirit of Christ was quickly seen as an important, perhaps the primary, way of letting Christ live in the believer. The image of Christ washing His disciples’ feet was imitated liturgically in Christian history and is practiced in all the apostolic Churches to this day. The head of the community (bishop, abbot, pastor) washes the feet of those he serves as a reminder that all leadership in the Church should be viewed as humble service.

Personal Asceticism

Paul first died to the Law that he might live in Christ. He and, the other apostles and countless servants of the Church through the ages died to themselves to serve the Church after the manner of Christ. But there is also a way in which every believer is called to die to oneself. Further in the Epistle to the Galatians St Paul specifies this death as “death to the flesh”: “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). His list of the passions of the flesh runs from adultery and fornication to contentiousness and jealousies. His definition of “flesh,” then, is not limited to what we might call the physical but also to what we might label as psychological or emotional. The common denominator to Paul’s list is the ego. To be Christ’s, for Christ to live in us, we must deal with the distorted ego of our fallen human nature. The average, well-meaning Christian often envisions the Christian life as attending church services and keeping the commandments as best he can. However the average, well-meaning Christian rarely if ever has an experience of the God whom he worships. Those who have experienced God’s presence in their lives are generally those who have attempted to cleanse their hearts from egotistical desires and passions. According to the nineteenth century Russian theologian St Theophan the Recluse, the spiritual life takes work. “An instantaneous prayer life is impossible. You must make a strong effort to control your thoughts, at least to some degree. Prayer does not come about as you expect—by just wishing for it, and, suddenly, there it is. This does not happen.” In another place he wrote, “The chief reason why so few people attain to full Christian perfection is exactly their reluctance, through self-pity, to force themselves to deny themselves.” He calls our reluctance to take up the cross “self-pity:” It’s too hard to pray and fast regularly, to work on my failings day after day, to put up with so-and-so. What would he have thought of our lifestyle, dedicated to the pursuit of happiness as it is? Dying to one’s self through fasting and humility draws away the curtain of our egos, as it were, and allows us to see the deeper reality of our existence. When we are constantly striving to focus on the image of Christ in us rather than on the cravings of our “flesh,” we awaken to our true nature and realize that God truly does dwell within us. When that happens we appreciate that Paul’s statement, “It is not I who live…” is not mere rhetoric. It is the true meaning of our existence revealed in fact.
A Spiritual Warfare

St John of Kronstadt was a charismatic parish priest in 19th century Russia. He so exemplified the life in Christ that his cathedral – built to hold 5,000 – was packed for Liturgy every day. On the 45th anniversary of his ordination in 1903 he described his taking of the cross:

“Once ordained a priest and pastor, I soon learned through experience …how many infirmities, weaknesses, and sinful passions there were in me, how strong a hold the prince of this world had over me, and how I had to struggle hard with myself, with my sinful inclinations and habits, and conquer them, so as to be as far as possible invulnerable to the arrows of the enemy.

“The spiritual warfare began, and with it watchfulness over oneself, sharpening of spiritual sight, teaching oneself uninterrupted secret prayer and invocation of the all-saving Name of Christ.

“In this warfare I have come to know the immensity of God's long-suffering to us; for He alone knows all the infirmity of our nature… He has surrounded and continued to surround me everyday with the joys of salvation from sin in peace and expansion of the heart. The divine mercy which I have experienced and the perpetual nearness to me of the Lord confirm me in the hope of my eternal salvation and in that of those who follow and hear me.

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