My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
STRIVING TO GAIN THE "IMPERISHABLE CROWN"
(" ΄Αφθαρτον Στέφανον") [1 Corinthians 9:25]
Holy Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians who of course were Greek and understood and were most familiar with athletics, the Olympics, and competition the following: "And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but WE FOR AN IMPERISHABLE CROWN" (v. 25). The good and committed athlete is a person of great discipline and prepares himself to compete with the best to win and "to obtain a perishable crown." So, too, the Christian through spiritual discipline and genuine faith prepares himself to gain the "imperishable crown." Every good athlete understands that in order to win he must be willing to make sacrifices and be totally committed to winning the race, the contest before him.
Saint Paul speaks of himself and says, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7). The "race" is the life and work that God gave the Apostle. The comparison of the spiritual life to an athletic contest is made very clear to his listeners. He asks, "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you obtain it" (1 Corinthians 9:24). Using contemporary terms from the sports of running and boxing, Saint Paul very wisely indicates the proper use of ascetic practices in the life of faith. They are valuable not in themselves, but for the sake of the goal of obtaining salvation.
How great of a blessing it is to know and believe that, "… when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive THE CROWN OF GLORY that does not fade away" (1 Peter 5:4). Is this not what the faithful servant of Christ hopes for? Orthodox Christians know that those who remain steadfast in their faith will be persecuted and even suffer and lose their lives for the sake of Christ but Our Lord exhorts us: "Do not fear any of those things which are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I WILL GIVE YOU THE CROWN OF LIFE" (Revelation 2:10).
Our ultimate goal, as Orthodox Christians, is to receive from Our Savior’s Divine hands "the crown of life." The "crown of life" is the reward of eternal life granted to those who conquer and triumph in Christ. Our greatest example of sacrifice, suffering, and martyrdom is Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the Son of God. We are reminded in the letter to Hebrews 12:2, "looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and has set down at the right hand of the Throne of God." We are to rejoice even in temptations. The Holy Apostles James writes: "Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12).
"Temptation" ("Πειρασμός") originates in our sinful desires and passions, which the evil one energizes. Temptation begins with "desires" or lustful thoughts (logismoi). When we entertain these wicked thoughts and delight in them ("when desire has conceived"), we soon end up acting on them ("it gives birth to sin"). We fall to temptation because we allow ourselves to do so. Neither God nor circumstance forces us to yield. Therefore, we must all be vigilant and discerning and not fall prey to these evil temptations.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we ask Him "..And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." We believe that the devil and his angels explore us individually, looking always for our weaknesses. Our adversary and enemy appealing visions to our eyes, music to our ears, to each of our senses setting forth whatever might tempt us to sin. He arouses our tongues to slender others and urges our hands to hurt them. He sets forth profits to be earned by shady and immoral deals. He uses our ego and pride to become conceited, cruel, selfish, and arrogant. To strive to attain honors and prestige to fuel our contempt for others. It is, therefore, imperative that we stay alert, and vigilant to resist him and his machinations and temptations.
We are urged by the holy Apostle Paul, that we "may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck…" (1 Timothy 1:18-19). The authentic Christian wages war against evil unceasingly and deliberately. As a matter of fact, our entire life is committed to spiritual warfare. There is no time that we are not confronting wicked challenges and opportunities. We are truly Christian soldiers armed to defend truth and integrity. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ made the ultimate sacrifice on the Cross to set us free from evil and death.
Our spiritual life must always be united with quiet and godly behavior. A life that reflects the sacred commandments of our Savior Jesus Christ. Orthodox Christianity is not a theory and speculation but LIFE IN CHRIST. Remain close to the Lord and seek His inspiration, wisdom, guidance, and life eternal in His Kingdom.
Father Epiphanios Theodoropoulos was asked "Elder, why does God allow righteous and virtuous people to suffer from dreadful illnesses?" His answer was that "in order to be cleansed even from the least of their passions and to gain a greater crown in heaven. Furthermore, since He allowed His beloved Son to suffer and to die upon the Cross, what can we say for the people, who, no matter how holy they are, have filth and spots from sins?"
Holy Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary save us!
"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