December 1 (OS November 18), 2019: 24th Sunday after Pentecost. Martyr Platon of Ancyra (266); Martyr Romanus the deacon of Caesarea (303). St. Barulas the Youth of Antioch (303). Hieromartyr Zacchaeus the deacon and Alphaeus the reader, of Ceasarea in Palestine (303).
SS Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church
Epistle: Ephesians 2:14-22
Gospel: Luke 12:16-21
Glory to Jesus Christ!
The Apostle Paul tells us that salvation is not simply a matter of our personal faith. Much less is salvation the fruit of our virtues, that is to say, being a morally good person.
To be sure personal faith and morality are both important and have their own role to play in the Christian life. But salvation is first and foremost being incorporated into the Body of Christ, that is the Church, through Baptism. This is why St Paul tells us that we “are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”
The household of God, as he goes on to say, is a visible community “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” with “Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
In the Tradition of the Orthodox Church, salvation is the restoration of communion between God and humanity. The chasm between humanity and God caused by sin is overcome in the Incarnation. In taking on our humanity, the Son re-establishes in His own Person communion between God and the human family.
Again as St Paul tells us Jesus Christ is “Himself is our peace.” He “has broken down the middle wall of separation” that kept us from God and, in so doing, “create[d] in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, … reconciling us] … to God in one body through the cross.”
This is why we believe as Orthodox Christians that salvation is found in being a member of the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ and it is where we “who were afar off” from God discover and make our own what in Philippians (4:7) Paul calls “the peace of God.”
But what then are we to make of personal faith and the life of virtue?
It is a mistake for me to think that having been incorporated into the Church by baptism, nothing more is required of me. Nothing could be further from the truth. The parable Jesus tells me this morning is warning to about the dangers of such self-satisfaction.
The rich man’s great material wealth leads him to believe that he has all that he needs for a happy life. “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’”
What he fails to understand, says St Ambrose of Milan, is that the “things that are of the world remain in the world and whatever riches we gather are bequeathed to our heirs.” And, as he goes on to say, what “we cannon take away with us” when we die are not really ours.
The only thing that I can take with me in death, the saint says, is virtue. “Virtue alone is the companion of the dead, mercy alone follows us.”
Having been united to Christ in baptism we are now “one Body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:5). It is this message of unity, of the human family reconciled both to God and with itself, that we preach.
It is not enough to be reconciled with God alone because sin ruptures not only my relationship with Him but you as well.
This means that our membership in the Church is only the starting point. It is, to be sure, essential. But as Orthodox Christians, we do not believe that salvation is a strictly private affair. Sin separates me not only from God but from you as well and so I must be reconciled to both you and God. It isn’t one or the other but both together and one only with the other.
The life of the Church is often contentious. The reason is that we are called not to like each other, though thank God we do, but to love each other. And not only to love each other but to forgive each other.
Our Lord’s expectation is that there will be times when Christians will hurt each other; we will give offense, we will disagree.
My brothers and sisters in Christ! To say, as we do, that salvation is found in the Church is to say that salvation begins the Church. The life of the Church is not the goal of life in Christ but only the starting point.
So let us begin!