September 18, 2012

“For Freedom Christ has Set us Free”

Freedom in Christ, freedom in the Spirit, freedom from the “curse of the law”—Saint Paul is constantly emphasizing the freedom of the new Christian life. But this shouldn’t be confused with license to do whatever we want or freedom from constraints as many in Corinth seemed to misinterpret him. On the contrary, it is a new freedom to be liberated from slavery to my needs, my wants, my goals, my way. In being freed from the tiny world of “my” our eyes are opened to others. In this freedom we can then choose willingly to become “servants of one another” (5:13). And then paradoxically, we at the same time fulfill the deepest commandment of God’s law, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (5:14).

Paul also paints a vivid picture of what happens when we deform true freedom. We end up with a war of everyone against everyone else, spewing the “works of the flesh”, filled with “enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy” (5:20-21). It takes a lot of ascetic effort to fight against these natural inclinations when our will is inevitably thwarted as we live, engage and work with others at home, in school, at work, in church, in the community.  That’s why Saint Paul says that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5:24).

So once again, and however tough it is, “let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another,” (5:26) freely committing ourselves and each other and all our life to Christ our God.

* * *

Yesterday the Gospel lectionary left off reading Mark and switched to Luke. This is the so-called “Lucan Jump,” that occurs on the first weekday after the Sunday following the Elevation of the Cross. It signals a shift in focus, looking in the distance to celebrating Christ’s appearance to the world (Christmas and Epiphany) and its preparation through the preaching of the Forerunner, Saint John the Baptist. 

A Weekend in the Field

Holy Cross, Medford, NJ
Church of the Holy Cross, Medford, NJ

It’s good to get out of the office and see what’s happening in our church “out there.” On Sunday I was invited to serve the Liturgy and substitute for my good friend Father John Shimchick at the Church of the Holy Cross in Medford, New Jersey. I know the parish well because this is where my mother is a parishioner. At 93 she lives not too far away in a seniors apartment complex. She can’t get to church very often anymore—arthritis—but Father John visits her regularly to bring communion. And when she is feeling OK, one of the parishioners faithfully picks her up and drives her. She wasn’t in church this past Sunday but I stopped by and saw her later in the afternoon.

I got a sense of what’s going on in the parish from the prayer list (published weekly) and the bulletin announcements. We were praying by name for the recently departed. For the sick. For a woman expecting a child. For all the parish college students. For the homebound (my mother Alla was on that list). For the parishioners and relatives serving in the armed forces (my nephew Jack will be deployed overseas later this month with the Air National Guard, and he was on the list). The parish is having their Fall Festival this weekend so preparations are in full swing. A night of communal stuffed-cabbage making. Another night to make borscht. Volunteers needed to set up and take down. Others to bring cases of bottled water. And everyone should bring baked goods.

The liturgy was peaceful and well-organized in the altar and beautifully sung by the choir. Lots of people had tasks they were fulfilling well, including the two women holding the communion cloths and announcing each person’s name to me as they came forward.

At coffee-hour (a light lunch), it was announced that they would be having a Q and A session with me, billed as “Stump the Chancellor.” I spent about 20 minutes answering questions about the 17th All-American council, electing a new metropolitan, how I like the new job etc. I had a longer discussion with a few others later about the direction of Orthodox mission in North America, how we relate to other Christians, how we reach out to the wider community and how we look to that wider world.

This is church life on the ground. People praying, working and talking together to build up a parish where the presence of God can be encountered.

I left refreshed.