• Epistle Reading
  • In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the only Biblically recorded letter of Paul that goes to a Christian community that he has not yet visited. And in all of the other Epistles of St. Paul, he writes to the communities (mostly that he founded) to address various problems and difficulties within the community. The letters have a specific purpose. He certainly does some other teaching and sending greetings in those letters, but on the whole they’re sent with a very specific issue that’s being addressed. The Epistle to the Romans is different in that St. Paul is not writing to address any specific issue in the Roman Church. It really gives us a view of St. Paul’s theology, because instead of addressing a particular problem, he writes about the Christian life in general. Romans begins with creation and sin, goes on to the law and Christ, the Jews, baptism, the Church, and finally the last 4 chapters deal specifically with living the Christian life. Last week we looked at an excerpt that discussed how Christians are to work together, and to relate to one another. This week’s reading continues with this message, teaching us how we are to relate to one another in the Body of Christ, and what impact that also has on how we relate to our fellow men and women outside of the Body of Christ. St. John Chrysostom points out very clearly that these verses deal with how Christians treat Christians, but that certainly also has an impact on our relationships with everyone, because we’re all human being, even if we don’t share the same faith. St. Paul begins—“Brethren, we then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” (Romans 15:1) The posited truth is that within the Body of Christ there are members who are stronger in faith, and members who are weaker in faith—whose faith has an infirmity, whose faith is not whole. And it is the duty of the stronger—not a choice or a nice thing to do—but it is an obligation of the stronger to bear the infirmities of the weak. The stronger are to take on themselves, like Christ took on the burden of the sins of mankind, the stronger in the Church are to take on the failings of the weaker. Everyone who is strong was at some time weaker, and by the grace of God and the forbearance of your brothers you became stronger. In fact, all of us are in positions where we could be stronger, and we could be weaker. But it’s the duty of those who are stronger in their life in Christ to help carry the weaker up to a new level. As members of the Body of Christ, we’re all responsible for each other. St. Paul continues, “Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good [for the neighbor’s good] to [his] edification.“ (Romans 15:2) Every one, no matter what strength or weakness of faith we might have, every one of us is called to the edification and building up of our neighbor. And from Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan we know that our neighbor is anyone that we come into contact with that we can offer help. And St. Paul is telling us to please our neighbor, to not worry about what we might want, but to offer ourselves to those around us for their edification—to call them to Christ. And we’re to do this “for even Christ pleased not Himself; but as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproach thee fell on me.” (Romans 15:3) We’re to please our neighbors because it’s what Christ did. We’re to bear the weakness of our brothers, because it’s what Christ did. If we’re to be disciples of Christ, we have only the life and work of Christ as the pattern for our behavior. If it was the will and the way of the Lord, then it’s to be our way, as well. Christ didn’t please himself—He didn’t do whatever He wanted to provide for His own selfish pleasure and satisfaction [in fact He prayed that the cup might pass from Him]—He took on Himself the reproach, the abuse that rightly belonged to us. We also are called to this path; every one of us is called to sacrificially offer ourselves for the salvation of our neighbor. St. Paul continues, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus.” (Romans 15:4-5) Here, St. Paul makes a point that is very important for us modern day Orthodox Christians to hear. He’s been telling us how to live, to bear one another’s burdens, and to always be concerned with the edification of our neighbor. And he points to Christ as our example. But then St. Paul points further back—not only is Christ our supreme example, but the revelation of God to mankind has always been consistent, the message has always been the same. The things written of in the Scriptures, which at the time St. Paul was writing could only refer to the Old Testament, God’s activity with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob was written also for our learning. St. John Chrysostom asks, “Know ye not that the Scriptures were written not for the first of mankind alone, but for our sakes also?” (On the Gospel of St. John, Homily XXX, on 3:34) Not only do we have the life of Christ as our example, but we have the witness of the entire Scriptural Tradition of the people of the True God. In short, St. Paul urges us to read our Bibles. And today we could even add to this—for our profit and spiritual growth we have the Old Testament, the life of Christ, the New Testament, and the witness-through their lives and writings-of the Saints. All of God’s revelation to man calls us to imitate Christ, especially in the way we interact with those around us. Our reading this morning concludes, “That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.” (Romans 15: 6-7) We extend ourselves in love to our neighbor, bearing his burdens in imitation of Christ, so that we can all with one mind and one mouth glorify God. This is reminiscent of the introduction to the Creed coming up in just a little while in the Liturgy—“Let us love one another, that with one accord we may confess.” “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in essence, and undivided.” And then we’ll sing our profession of faith—the Creed. We love one another, we join ourselves together willingly in this Body of Christ, so that we can come together and offer ourselves in worship to God. The Bride of God is the Church—not one of us, not a few of us, not the stronger of us—all members of the Body of Christ together form the Church, and this Church as a whole is the Bride of God. St. Paul exhorts us this morning, as he also did last week, and he will in a slightly different way again next week, St. Paul exhorts us to love one another. To come together as the Body of Christ not only in this temple, and certainly not in name only, but to live our lives as the Body of Christ. Loving one another, caring for one another, watching out for one another, building up one another, living the Christian life in its fullness in the communion of the Church. We can’t call those outside of the Church to the Kingdom of God, if the Kingdom isn’t present in this Church. The early Christians were known by their love for one another. And by obvious extension, their love for all mankind, and St. Isaac the Syrian says, our sacrificial love for all of God’s creation. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!