My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
"For none of us lives to himself and no one dies to himself.
For if we live, we live to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live
or die, WE ARE THE LORD’S. For to this end, Christ died
and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the
dead and the living." (Romans 14:7-9)
God’s gift of life to man is a most precious gift that must be appreciated and used wisely by him. The Holy Fathers interpret this biblical passage in the following way. Saint John Chrysostom writes, "This means that we are not free. We have a Master who wants us to live and not die, and to Whom life and death matter more than they do to us… For if we die, we do not die to ourselves alone but to our Master as well. By "death", Paul means apostasy from the faith" (Homilies on Romans 25). Pelagius writes, "No believer lives for himself or dies for himself, because Christ "has died for all so that those who live no longer live for themselves but for Him." Theodore of Mopsuastia states, "If we live, it is Christ’s life that we live; if we die, we die with Him, under His custody."
"Given that so good a Son of so good a Father does not want rational spirits to bend to the obedience of this law by force but waits for them to come voluntarily so that they will seek what is good freely and not of necessity, he persuaded them by teaching them rather than by commanding them and by inviting them rather than by forcing them. Thus he was pleased to go even to the point of death in order to leave an example of NEW LIFE and a way of dying for those who want to die to sin and evil. Christ is, therefore, Lord of both the living and the dead– of the living because He is the head of those who by the example of His resurrection look for a new and heavenly life here on earth, and of the dead because these same people bear the death of Christ about in their bodies and mortify their members which are on earth." (Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans 14:9, by Origen).
The Orthodox Christian believer understands and respects fully what the Holy Fathers say. The Holy Scripture state: "If we live, it is Christ’s life that we live; if we die, we die with Him, under His custody." It is clear indeed that "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). The Christian witness goes beyond the words that come out of our mouths, to the way we live and the way we die: the totality of what we are and do. The holy Apostle Paul anticipates "deliverance", though not necessarily for his ‘body". His "expectation and hope" is of Eternal Life.
It is imperative that the Orthodox Christian believer understand that "not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1:29). Suffering not only bears witness to others but also can serve to strengthen our faith. Suffering is a gift from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as is of course faith: it is participation in His grace. We should recall the Divine words of the Lord to His disciples, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and TAKE UP HIS CROSS, and follow Me" (Mark 8:34). The cost of discipleship is self-denial, carrying one’s cross (A SYMBOL OF SUFFERING), and obedience to our Savior Jesus Christ. The true disciples and followers of Christ must be willing to divorce themselves from their sins and from the inclination of their hearts towards evil, crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires. Saint Paul in his letter to the Galatians makes it perfectly clear that "those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (5:24).
It is understood by the Christian disciples that the life of the Christian is inseperable from the life of the Lord. There can be no other life for the believer. The Gree word σάρξ or σάρκα is translated as "flesh." The word "flesh" used by the holy Apostle Paul does not mean the human body. Flesh (sarka) is a more general term for evil actions, the depraved will, the earthly mind, the slothful and careless soul. This flesh (sarka) is crucified with Christ as indicated by Saint Paul when he writes, "and those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."
In our Holy Orthodox Christian Tradition the Cross has been preached, displayed in our churches, in our homes, venerated, used to bless the faithful, and to constantly identify ourselves as Christians by openly signing ourselves with the Cross in worship of the Holy Trinity and during times of danger, distress, and threat of evil attacks and temptation. "We venerate Thy Cross, O Lord, and we praise and glorify Thy Holy Resurrection." We must remember as Orthodox Christians to live according to His Resurrection and to seek our true life in Christ, awaiting the heavenly and glorious final revelation.
We, as His followers, are guided and enlightened by the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. The "joy of the Holy Spirit" is not an easy emotional high but comes with the struggle proper to spiritual life, including persevering through afflictions and torment. The one who suffers is the one who is comforted. It is assumed that the Orthodox Christian is a person of faith and a life of prayer. Prayer must be always be united with hesychia (quiet) and of course with godly conduct. Our Lord’s command is to pray secretly, not be seen by men (Matthew 6:5) and to pray everywhere. Union with the Almighty God should be sought after by all believers in Christ Jesus and those who persevere in their faith to "the end", not to those who step with a one-time profession of faith. Faith, as we Orthodox Christians, undestand it is inseperable from obedience. Lack of one is lack of the other. Lack of either bars entrace into the perfect, final rest of the Kingdom of Heaven. One understands that a man must labor (work) to enter the rest of God, for rest implies prior work.
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George