His Mark is On Us

Sunday, January 8, 2017: Sunday after Theophany of our Lord; George of Hozeva, Domnica the Righteous of Constantinople, Atticus and Cyrus, Holy Patriarchs of Constantinople, Emilianos the Confessor, Bishop of Cyzikos, Gregory of the Kiev Caves

Epistle: Ephesians 4:7-13

Gospel: Matthew 4:12-17

We each of us have a baptismal vocation, a life calling from God that we receive at Holy Baptism.

Our vocation, whatever it is, won’t be completed in this life but in the life to come. Our vocations find their fulfillment, as the Apostle says, when “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” 

Remembering that the work we do as Christians finds its completion in the life to come is important. Without this awareness, I’m tempted to become discouraged by what often feels to me like partial victories or even complete failures. When I limit my vision to this life and to simply what I can do by my own efforts I forget the eschatological dimension of my vocation. Held captive by my own forgetfulness, it’s hard to escape feeling like a failure or like I’m wasting my time.

If I dwell on these feelings, I will fall into despair. When this happens, I give up the Christian life. How many of our brothers and sisters in Christ have simply drifted away from the Church because they never even knew that there is a larger purpose for their lives than success in this world?

More tragic than those who leave are those that stay in the Church merely going through the motions.

For a variety of reasons, this is an affliction to which clergy are especially prone. We show up, we put on our vestments, lead the service, even preach a sermon that others find comforting and inspiring, all the while being empty inside because we have lost, or maybe never even had, a living sense of our baptismal vocation.  

Simply put, often priests are better at being priests than Christians because we never really took seriously the latter before attempting the former.

Whether we are laity or clergy, we are always tempted to confuse mere conformity to the externals of Holy Tradition with true vocational fidelity. To the degree that we fail to pursue the latter, we encourage the former. Under the guise of obedience, we are often tempted to settle for conformity because, at the risk of sounding cynical, conformity is easier, neater.

If I am faithless and in the grip of despair, focusing on compliance to any of the myriad externals of the faith serves as a buffer, it keeps at bay my own lack of commitment to Christ and the confusion and sorrow that disbelief brings.

Better to conform, I tell myself than to feel the pain of a Christian life without faith in Christ!

So if mere conformity isn’t what is required of us, what is? What is the work we are given at Holy Baptism?

The Apostle tells us that at baptism, we are given the gifts we need to faithful to our vocation. God pours out his gifts in order “that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” 

God doesn’t simply call us, He equips us for the work He gives us to do.

And whatever the particulars of our vocation (and Paul only gives a few examples), they all are meant to help build up the Church in this life. Yes, our work will often feel incomplete. Nevertheless, we need to keep in mind that we are each of us called to help the other fulfill his or her vocation. This what Paul means by “building up the Body of Christ,” that I have been given my gifts to help you fulfill the work to which God has called you.

This is what St Augustine meant when tells the Church at Hippo, “With you a Christian, for you a bishop.”

Together we are Christians—brothers and sisters in Christ. This means we have a responsibility for the well-being in Christ of each other. This requires from each of us a degree of sobriety and seriousness of intent that is often sadly lacking in our parishes. 

As I said a moment ago, conformity is easier. Let me simply do a few “Christian” things. Let me simply offer a few “Christian” words that owe more to human sentimentality than the Gospel. Let me, by all means, avoid my responsibility for you and so avoid hearing Christ’s word to me in the Gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Without repentance, I can’t help your pursue your vocation, much less fulfill my own. 

At its core, our indifference to our vocations and our obligation to help each other be faithful to Christ, are symptomatic of our lack of repentance. Too frequently, we come to the Church not to encounter Christ and to be transformed by His grace but to hear that we are good people who really don’t need to change.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we come here this morning for no other reason than to be transformed! To leave more like Christ than we entered! 

Listen to the kontakion for this morning: “You appeared to the world today, and Your light, O Lord, has left its mark upon us. With fuller understanding we sing to You: ‘You came, You were made manifest, the unapproachable light.'”

To commemorate the Lord’s baptism by John in the Jordan, much less to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and receive our Lord’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion, means that we accept our Lord’s “mark upon us” and commit ourselves, personally and communally, to have a “fuller understanding” of what it means to live as disciples of Christ. 

This great work begins in our prayerful reflection on our own, personal vocations and our free and willing commitment to help each other be faithful to the work to which we have each been called by Christ. Anything less than this is unworthy of who we are, and are called to be, in Christ.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory