Clinging to Peter and John

Saturday, April 22, 2017: Bright Saturday; Theodore of Sykeon, Nathaniel, Luke, & Clemente the Apostles, Nearchos the Martyr, Gregory Gravanos of Nisyros

Epistle: Apostles 3:11-16
Gospel: John 3:22-33

Christ is Risen!

While not wholly unique to Orthodoxy in America, there is a pronounced temptation among us to imitate the “healed lame man” and cling “to Peter and John.” Let me explain.

The Gospel always comes to us in a particular form or in a particular way. My first encounter with Orthodoxy was as a student traveling in Greece. A few years later, I encountered the Church again this time in its Russian form.

In both cases, my experiences were largely positive.What I need to avoid is assuming that the Greek or Russian expression is exhaustive of the life of the Church. Much less can I see in either an exhaustive expression of the Gospel. The Church is larger than my experience of it because the Gospel is larger than what I can comprehend.

Failure to see that the Gospel is greater than my experience of it is how I succumb to the temptation to cling to something other than the Gospel as the Gospel. Worse still, this is how I come to cling to someone other than Jesus Christ as if that person were Christ.

Put differently, I must always be on guard against preaching another gospel because I serve a different Christ. To be blunt, if St Paul needs to guard against this in himself see 2 Corinthians 11:4 and Galatians 1:8) and if St Peter actually succumbs to it (see Galatians 2:11-21), why would I that I’m exempt from the same temptation?

Like I said, the temptation to preach another Gospel, to serve another Christ, isn’t unique to Orthodox in America. We fall into this sin when, again like the healed lame man, we cling to something–or someone–other than Christ.

So how do we avoid the lame man’s fault?

As disciples of Jesus Christ, our fundamental task is to do as did St John the Baptist. We, I, need to point to Jesus Christ. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

And not just me but everyone and everything that is not Christ must decrease.

St Seraphim of Sarov says that every good work we do is in the service of deepening our communion with Christ. It is this communion which is both the goal and source of our lives as Orthodox Christians.

Without this communion, nothing we do–however good it may be in itself–makes any sense or brings us any spiritual profit.

The late Fr Alexander Schmemann wrote witheringly about how we turn the Church–and specifically the local parish–into an idol. We do things he says for the Church or (more likely) our parish that we would condemn if done for any other reason or purpose. This what I mean when I say we need to cling to Jesus Christ and not to the means by which He saves us.

To follow Christ, I need to root out from my tendency to cling to “Peter and John”– to see the means of salvation as if they were the goal of life in Christ.

The only goal we have is Christ. It is Christ we preach, it is to Christ we cling. Anything other than Christ is unworthy of us because it is unworthy of the great gift He has given us: Himself and His life.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory