As we celebrate the glorious resurrection of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ we can reflect on our spiritual growth and the progress we made in our repentance and sanctification during Great Lent. How did we respond to the time given us by the Church to dedicate ourselves more to prayer, fasting and good works? Each of us must ask that question and answer it honestly. But let us not despair if we feel that we didn’t respond as best as we could have. Because the Orthodox life is something that is dynamic and ongoing and the discipline of prayer, fasting and good works are always available for us to undertake. Repentance can happen in a single moment and the peace, joy and love we feel from Christ at that moment is what motivates us to continual repentance, not out of fear of hell but out of love for Christ, saying with St. Paul that, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Great Lent offered us an opportunity to reflect on what really matters in life. In his epistles, St. Paul speak to us, reminding us of how we as Christians are to live in the world, how we are to understand the world, how we must change and who we must become, every day in our lives.
He points out that there are two opposing forces that compete for our lives, our hearts, our minds and our souls. These are the fallen world and the risen Christ. The fallen world drags human beings down to its fallen level. It is a world full of darkness, where the Devil and the demons continually influence human beings to be hateful, prideful, violent and greedy. In the fallen world, human beings are always feverishly trying to achieve what they call “progress” and “freedom” and “rights.” They reject God’s existence, his authority and his divine and natural law. They promote ideologies which lead to unnatural, dangerous and absolutely deranged social experiments that are forcefully imposed on everyone else and punish those who fail to comply. Consider the insane law recently passed which allows a grown man to enter bathrooms and changing rooms designated for young girls and women if he happens to “identify” as a woman that day. Or the madness and evil of a law recently passed in New York which permits late-term abortions even up to birth. This is the ideology of the fallen world in all its brokenness and confusion and, worst of all, it is being taught to our children in public schools.
Then there is the risen Christ. And those who belong to Christ are able to see this fallen world for what it is. They are able to keep themselves and their children and family from its seductive powers. They are able to remain vigilant and protect themselves and their children from its dangers. They are able to live in the world but not be of the world. Those who truly belong to Christ remain loyal to him and to His Church and her teachings not only on the Orthodox worldview, doctrine, theology and spirituality but also on the Church’s teachings on morality, sexuality, marriage and the sanctity of life. St. Paul goes on to say:
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Paul is reminding us of who we are and what we received at our baptism. We were united to Christ and we received his life, the Holy Spirit and His grace which made our salvation possible. We died when we entered the waters of baptism; our former nature died and we were resurrected from this death when we came out of the water. And at that moment, our bodies and souls were consecrated to Christ. We became temples of the Holy Spirit and our bodies no longer belong to us, because we are now all members of that One, resurrected body of Christ.
This is why Paul says that if we have received such a great gift through our baptism and faith in Christ, how absolutely tragic and sinful it is for us to turn our backs to Christ and live the life of our former, fallen nature which is of the fallen world and which died in the waters of baptism.
Further on in this same chapter, St. Paul elaborate on this point and tells us what really matters ultimately and how we as Christians are to live in the world, how we are to understand the world, how we must change and who we must become, each and every day in our lives. He writes:
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
As we celebrate this glorious Paschal season, let us not simply commemorate a historic event which happened two thousand years ago and think we have satisfactorily fulfilled our religious obligation. God is not impressed. Instead, let us like Adam and Eve in the icon of the resurrection, reach out and hold on to the hands of the risen Christ, that he may pull us out of the fallen world and that he may help us cling to our Christian identity and Orthodox way of life even more deeply, no matter what comes our way, whether sadness or joy, struggle or blessings, life or death. Let us remember how precious each day is, how loved we are by Christ and how valuable each person is in the eyes of God.
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!
With love in our risen Lord