October 25, 2012

What is lacking in the afflictions of Christ?

“I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church…” (Col 1:24)

There is something lacking in Christ? And Saint Paul is making up for it? How can this be? This is one of the most inspiring verses in the Bible because it says—shockingly for many—that God is not enough. It says that God actually needs us, our work and our suffering to accomplish his mission, “for the life of the world.”

We Orthodox believe in synergy, working together with God. And the work we do is not just play-acting, it’s not just the kind of pretend make-work one might give a child who wants to help Daddy fix the car. No, what we do matters. As Saint Paul says elsewhere, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58). In every age and place God depends—literally—on faithful people to carry out His work and witness to Him. When that doesn’t happen, the results will show. Yes, of course He can make springs in the desert. But the normal course of his miraculous work is accomplished through weak human beings like you and me. That should give renewed energy to those who are weary in well-doing, whose knees are getting weak and hands are drooping. We need to be useful and to feel useful if we are going to lead satisfying lives. Well, God really does need us. As one of the saints said, “You can do nothing without God, but God will give you nothing unless you work with all your heart.”

A man moved into a home he’d just bought. The backyard was an unkempt tangle of weeds, but with a few years of hard labor the man cleared it and landscaped it beautifully. Fruit trees, flowerbeds, a lush lawn, wildflowers, a vegetable patch. His priest came over one day and looking out into the garden remarked, “What a wonderful work God has done in your garden!” And the man said, “You’re right, but you should have seen it when he was the only one working in it.”


I’ll write tomorrow about OCA Archivist Alexis Liberovsky’s return from Moscow and the advanced course on archives he participated in, but this morning I’m pressed for time. Barbara Bonomi, a long-time parishioner of Saint Sergius Chapel in Syosset, fell asleep in the Lord last Sunday and her funeral is at 9:00 am. Father Basil Summer will serve the funeral. He knew her well and brought her Communion regularly in her months of illness. Father Eric celebrated a memorial service at the local funeral home last night and our little choir sang. It was so moving to see how many people she touched and how warmly her son spoke of her and the family’s life together, a true picture of Christian marriage, children and grandchildren, “olive shoots around your table.” May God comfort her husband Gary and her whole family, and may He give her rest in a place of brightness, a place of repose, where there is no sickness, sighing, or sorrow, but life everlasting. Memory eternal!