Tag Archives: Friendship

From Obedience Comes Friendship

Sunday, July 5 (OS June 22), 2020: 4th Sunday after Pentecost. Hieromartyr Eusebius, Bp. of Samosata (380). Martyrs Zeno and his servant Zenas of Philadelphia (304). Martyrs Galacteon, Juliana, and Saturninus of Constantinople. {St. Alban, protomartyr of Britain (c. 305)}

Epistle: Romans 6:18-23

Gospel: Matthew 8:5-13

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Seen from the outside, the Gospel appears as an unbearable imposition on my freedom. An unending list of do’s and don’ts. To use St Paul’s phrase, humanly speaking, that is in my spiritual or emotional immaturity, the Gospel feels to me likes “slavery.”

And yet with time and experience, I begin to realize that far from limiting my freedom it is the Gospel–and specifically my obedience to the Gospel–that makes my freedom not just possible but a treasure to be jealously guarded.

Humanly speaking, St Paul says, the options before me are stark. I can live as a slave “of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness” or as a slave to “righteousness for holiness.” It is the latter, the way of holiness, that is the way of true and lasting freedom. To see this we need only reflect for a moment of what it means to follow the way of uncleanness.

We should first of all admit that there is something undeniably attractive to following this path because it is the way of my own will. Choosing what I want to do based on my desire at the moment seems not just desirable but intoxicating.

But my desires are constantly shifting, pulling me this way and that as different options present themselves to me. And so soon I discover that this is a life of increasing fragmentation.

Think about the sin of vainglory, of pursuing the praise and good opinion of others.

Yes, at first, this might result in my trying to be a better person. Soon though I discover that winning–much less keeping–the good opinion of others is a trap. Even my closest friends will at times disagree with me; even the most generous friend will now and then have no time for me or as much time for me as I want.

As the opinion of others becomes more important to me, I’ll begin to seek out anyone who can affirm me, spend time with me. I do this because I am trying to find the sense of self-worth that can only come from within as the fruit of my relationship with Jesus Christ.

And so the Apostle says the fruit of this way of life is a life of “lawlessness leading to more lawlessness” as I surrender control of my life not to others but to my own desire for their approval.

Living like this doesn’t make any of us happy. How can it? What is more insubstantial, what is more flicked than desire?

Yesterday we celebrated Independence Day. In the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson says that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This last right, the right to pursue happiness, is not (as we are sometimes told) the right to follow every passing whim. It is rather a life that fosters human flourishing, of becoming evermore the persons God has created us to be.

For Jefferson, for St Paul and the Christian tradition as a whole, happiness is found not in doing what I want but doing as I ought. It is in this sense that we can talk about the United States as a Christian nation. Not Christian as the Church is Christian but rather Christian in the sense that in our founding we drew inspiration from the Christian ideal of living not as we want but as we should.

Hearing this needn’t upset us.

This is neither a diminishment of the Gospel nor an unwarranted glorification of America. Rather it is simply seeing for a nation what Jesus sees in the centurion: An epiphany of the Church’s faith outside the Church.

The centurion’s faith was praiseworthy because it freed him from the vain pursuit of the good opinions of others. Because he was free in this way he was able to love his servant.

It was for his servant’s sake that the centurion was willing and able to humble himself before Jesus. Through faith, through obedience to God, master and servant became much more. They became friends.

We are now as a nation suffering all manner of dissension. We are internally divided and are fast becoming not neighbors or even fellow citizens, but enemies. We are suffering this because–on both the Left and the Right–we have abandoned “the pursuit of happiness,” in favor of the pursuit of fickle desire and, above all, power over others as a way to bolster our own frail sense of self-worth.

In a fallen world, we are not friends unless we choose to be so. This choice is not a matter of simply agreeing with each other. Much less is it the fruit of superficial attraction.

It is faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to the will of God that makes yesterday’s enemies into today’s friends. And this happens not because you have changed but I have.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! “From this day forth from this very hour and this very minute,” as St Herman of Alaska said, “let us love love God above all and seek to accomplish His Holy Will.” Let us from this moment commit ourselves more fully to Christ and so make friends of our enemies and show the world how the divisions that afflict us can be healed.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Without Wisdom There Is No Love

Thursday, March 1 (O.S., February 16), 2018: 2nd Thursday of the Great Lent; Martyrs Pamphilus presbyter, Valens deacon, Paul, Seleucus, Porphyrius, Julian, Theodulus, Elias, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Samuel, and Daniel, at Caesarea in Palestine (307-309). St. Macarius, metropolitan of Moscow, the apostle to the Altai (1926). New Hieromartyrs Priests Elias Chetverukhin (1934) of Moscow and Peter Lagov (1931). New Hieromartyr Paul priest (1938). St. Marutha, bishop of Sophene and Martyropolis, and others with him in Mesopotamia (422). New Monk-martyr Romanus of Carpenision, who suffered at Constantinople (1694) (Greek). St. Mary the New of Byzia in Thrace (9th c.). St. Basil Gryaznov of Pavlovo-Posadsky (1869).

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 6:1-12
Vespers: Genesis 5:1-24
Vespers: Proverbs 6:3-20

An ancestor of Christ (Matthew 1:8), King Uzziah began his reign as a young man of 16. Thanks to the prophet Zechariah, the young king “did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 15:3; 2 Chronicles 26:4-5).

As an old man, his pride gets the better of him. and he tried to usurp the prerogatives of the priests and offer incense to the Lord. Afflicted with leprosy, the king spends the last 11 years of his life in “a separate house” and his kingdom ruled by his son Jotham (2 Kings 15:5, 27; 2 Chronicles 26:3).

The immediate context of Isaiah’s encounter with God is one that makes clear the devastation that follows when even God-given authority is devoid of wisdom. Uzziah is a king, not a priest. His authority is divinely circumscribed. There are things he cannot do, places he cannot go. These limits aren’t arbitrary but reflect God’s will for His People.

God calls Isaiah to make clear to people that, like their late king, they have sinned. Uzziah sought to imitate the rules of the Gentiles who held but civil and religious authority as living deities. The Jewish people had allowed this and so God makes their hearts “fat, and their ears heavy.”

God will leave them in their sins “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without men and the land is utterly desolate, and the LORD removes men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.” He does this not out of malice but because it is the way His People will understand the corrupting influence of sin on the heart and the community.

We see also see this corrupting power in Genesis. From Adam to Enoch, as sin takes an ever firmer hold on us, we die at ever younger ages until most of us live only “threescore years and ten” and those who live longer do so in “labour and sorrow” until we are “cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10, KJV).

What then are we to do?

Solomon tells me I need to appraise soberly my situation. I too easily give others responsibility for my life. Like the Jews at the time of Uzziah, I take direction not from God but from other, fallen human beings.

So first I must cultivate detachment from others. I must struggle against vainglory, the tendency to seek the approval of others rather than God.

This a lifelong labor. And so Solomon tells me “Give your eyes no sleep and your eyelids no slumber.” Like the ant, I must labor to cultivate the life of virtue. I must be obedient to God rather than seek the approval of powerful men, “of chief, officer or ruler.”

While never denying the command to love others, Solomon is aware of how easily I can fall into sin when I seek my neighbor’s good opinion of me. Seeking the approval of others will make me a “worthless person, a wicked man.” In time I will become duplicitous and manipulative; a man of “crooked speech” and sly “winks.” I will scrap my feet to avoid work and prayer, and I will be always ready to point an accusing finger at others.

Eventually, my neighbor’s good opinion of me becomes so important that “with perverted heart” I will “devises evil” for others and seek to sow “discord” between my neighbors. Tragically, I will not stop until “calamity” comes upon me and I am ”broken beyond healing.”

As we’ve seen with material wealth, without wisdom I am as prone to corruption by my friend’s love for me as a ruler is by political power. Without wisdom, wealth, love and authority–all good in themselves–become the occasion for my fall.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Friendship and the Willingness to Suffer

Those who claim that their lives should be such as to console no one and to be a burden or the occasion of grief to no one, who derive no joy from others’ success and inflict no bitterness on others with their own perversity, I would call not human beings but beasts. They have only one goal: neither to love nor to be loved by anyone.

Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship (Cistercian Fathers) II.52

Sometimes I fall into thinking that friendship should be without stress or strain; that it should be easy. But as Aelred of Rievaulx points out, the only way to avoid suffering because of another person’s actions or situation is to refuse to love at all. Likewise, and more sobering, the only way I can avoid being the cause of sorrow in another, is to refuse to (as Aelred says) either to love anybody “or be loved by anybody.”

While the fear of suffering shouldn’t cause to refuse friendship, it should make me cautious to start a friendship. The question I must ask is this. Am I able to bear the suffering friendship will bring without becoming indifferent, jaded or bitter? If not, then I’m not ready for the intimacy of friendship.

It doesn’t reflect poorly on me if I not ready to be a true friend. It just means that I need to mature emotionally and/or spiritually.

The real shame, is not that I’m not ready to be a friend but when I enter into an intimacy I can’t (yet) bear up under. Friendship is work, it makes its own kinds of ascetical demands and I need to be willing and able to meet them.

After all the only thing a friend can reasonable ask of me is that I am willing to be a true friend in return.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

For Consideration: The Friendship of Nature

I thought of you when I read this quote from “Spiritual Friendship (Cistercian Fathers)” by Aelred of Rievaulx, Marsha L. Dutton, Lawrence C. Braceland –

What plot of land or what stream turns up only one stone of a single kind? Or what forest produces only one tree of a single species? Thus among non-sentient beings, a kind of love of companionship comes to light, since not one of them is left alone, but each is created and conserved in a kind of society of its own class. But among sentient creatures, who could easily express how great a mirror of friendship and how great an image of a loving society they reflect?

Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, I.54.

Homily: Friendship

Sunday, September 10, 2017: Sunday before Holy Cross; Menodora, Metrodora, & Nymphodora the Martyrs, Poulcheria the Empress, Afterfeast of the Nativity of the Theotokos

Ukrainian Orthodox Mission of Madison

Epistle: Galatians 6:11-18
Gospel: John 3:13-17

Glory to Jesus Christ!

From the Church’s earliest days, there were Christians who cared more about the opinions of others than the Gospel. St Paul refers to these sad and deluded people in the epistle when he calls out “those who want to make a good showing in the flesh … in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.”

What about me? If those who knew not only the Apostles but Jesus we’re tempted why do I think I’m immune from preferring the good opinions of others to the Cross?

The sin Paul is describing is “vainglory.” Usually we think about vanity as undue or excessive concern for our appearance. While this can be part of vainglory, concern for appearance is more the result of pride–of having an excess view of my own worth.

Vainglory doesn’t cause me to look in the mirror but at my neighbor. At it’s core vainglory is about winning your good opinion of me no matter what the cost to myself. Or, and this is important, in the gripe of vainglory your opinion of me can come to matter so much that to I become willing to degrade and destroy you to win your approval.

In its effect on my relationship with you, vainglory is the opposite of friendship.

While there are different kinds of friends, for Christians friendship includes both emotional intimacy and a willingness to self-sacrifice for the good of my friend.

In the events leading up to His crucifixion and especially on the Cross, Jesus reveals Himself to be not just our Friend but the best of friends. At the Last Supper He tells His disciples that they are no longer His servants but His friends: “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).

Think about this for a moment.

Jesus is telling His disciples, and telling us, that we have the same intimacy with God that He has had from all eternity. The Creator and Judge of the Universe is no longer far away from us. Not only has He drawn close to us, in Jesus Christ we are drawn close to Him. God hasn’t only become your Friend, you are invited to become His.

We call Jesus our Friend as well because of His willingness to suffer and die for us. To free us from the power of Sin and Death, He “gave Himself up” for us. Even more than intimacy, it is the willingness to sacrifice for the good of the beloved that is the basis of all friendship.

And vainglory?

It is the refusal of friendship and a parody of intimacy. And in the place of self-sacrifice for the sake of the other, vainglory sees people as objects to be used and abused; to be forgotten and replaced.

Understanding the difference between vainglory and friendship helps understand importance of St Paul’s words to us this morning.

It isn’t just that there were those in the early Church who downplayed the Cross or compromised the Gospel. Yes, they did these things. But they did something far worse. In denying the Cross they  turned their back on friendship with God.

Sad as it is that there are those, even in the Church, who don’t want to be friends with God, there is something sadder still.They don’t know that friendship with God is possible. 

Aristotle says that a “friend is a second self.” More than that, though, a friend is someone whose very presence in our lives helps us to become more fully ourselves.

What is true of our friendship with each others, is even more the case in our friendship with God.

The more we are aware of God’s love and presence in our lives, the more we come to realize our own value. And, along with this, we come to understand the true, incalculable worth of the people we meet everyday.

St Seraphim of Sarov would greet everyone he met by saying “My joy! Christ is risen!” For the saint every person he meet, every conversation he had, was an experience of the joy and happiness of Pascha.

When I deny the Cross, when I seek the good opinion of others at the cost of friendship with God, I rob myself of joy. This is what St John Chrysostom means when he say “if a man does not injure himself, no one else will be able to harm him.”

To “glory … in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and “crucified … to the world,” means not only that I stop harming myself. It means I set out on the path to that joy that comes from friendship with God and with you.

So many people, again, both outside and inside the Church, are weary and dejected because they are lonely. They don’t know that God is their friend and that He wants them to be His friend.

And good friend that He is, God not only wants us to be His friend, He wants us to be friends with each other. God, if I may speak in this way, delights not only in our friendship with Him but with each other.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! God has created us in such a way that there “No medicine is more valuable, none more efficacious, none better suited to the cure of all our temporal ills than a friend to whom we may turn for consolation in time of trouble, and with whom we may share our happiness in time of joy” (Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship).

So let us, as we say before the Creed, “Love one another, so that with one heart and mind,” so that we can bear witness to God’s friendship for all!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Friendship in Christ

Sunday, March 5, 2017: Sunday of Orthodoxy; Conon the Gardener, Mark the Ascetic, Righteous Father Mark of Athens, John the Bulgarian, Mark the Faster, Parthenios the New Martyr who contested in Didymoteichos, George the New-Martyr of Rapsani, Eulogios the Martyr, Eulabios the Martyr

Epistle: Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-40
Gospel: John 1:43-51

What do the Scriptures say about the relationship between God and Moses? The “Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11, NKJV). And what was a singular blessing for Moses is something that Christ offers to all the Apostles. “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15, NKJV).

Immediately after this, Jesus tells the disciples that as He has befriended them, they are to befriend each other commanding them “to love one another” (v. 17). So powerful is this command that, as an old man at the end of his life, the Apostle John makes our mutual love the sign of our love for God. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20, NKJV).

In saying this, John adds nothing of his own to the Gospel. He is merely repeating what he heard from the lips of Jesus Himself. “By this, all will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, NKJV).

Turning to the epistle we heard this morning, what else are the saints but, after Christ, our great and true friends?

Those who are “well attested by their faith” now stand before the Throne of the Lamb that was slain. They have welcomed us to their fellowship with Christ. And what do they do for all eternity? They glorify God and intercede on our behalf (see Hebrews 12 and Revelation 5). Thier love for God deepens their love for us.

As God befriends Moses and Jesus befriends the Apostles and the saints befriend us, we are to befriend each other. It is this, our bond of mutual friendship, that both only testifies to our faith and draws others to Christ.

To see this look at the Gospel we’ve just heard.

Immediately after hearing Jesus’ command “Follow me,” what does Philip do? He goes and finds Nathanael!

He goes to find his friend not out of disobedience but as the fruit of his new relationship with Jesus. Like the rest of the disciples, Philip won’t understand until much later what it means to be friends with Jesus. But even its first moments, his friendship with Jesus, or maybe more accurately, Jesus’ friendship with him, begins to change Philip. He wants to introduce Nathanael to the Messiah, to “him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

We need to pause here for a moment and reflect on ourselves.

When people find out I work with college students they ask me, “How do I keep my child in the Church?” The sad fact is that not those raised in the Church and those who become Orthodox later in life, leave in distressingly high numbers.

Though I don’t have the numbers to say for sure, having spent several years looking at the demographic data, I suspect that in America the number of practicing and lapsed Orthodox Christians are—at best—about equal (and if anything, our numbers are better than they are in traditional Orthodox countries).

While there are many reasons why any individual will stay or go, I think one common factor is the quality of the person’s friendships with other Orthodox Christians.

The kind of friendship I mean is not the kind of casual friendship a person might have with a co-worker. While there’s nothing wrong with conversations at coffee hour about football or the weather or politics or television, these conversations aren’t significantly different from what people talk about at work.

No, the kind of conversations—and so the kind of friendships—that helps not just young people but all of us remain faithful Orthodox Christians is what we hear about in the Gospel.

Just as Philip does with Nathanael, we need to invite each other to enter a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. We do this by being willing to talk with each other about our own spiritual lives, our own struggles, and successes, as Orthodox Christian followers of Jesus Christ.

Does this mean we can’t talk about football or the weather or politics or television with each other? No, of course not! These kinds of conversations are a good and proper part of any friendship. If we never talk about our shared, everyday interests, our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ become stilted.

In fact, I suspect one of the reasons we do such a poor job at keeping young people, is precisely because we get so concerned about instructing young people in the faith that we neglect befriending them. And let’s be honest here. None of us wants to stay around people who are always telling us what to think or how to behave. While we all of us understand some of that is necessary, a steady diet of it is off putting.

What is needed not only in our relationship with young people but also with each other is to strike a balance. To only talk about the spiritual life with each other is as unwholesome as never talking about our relationship with Jesus Christ.

And again, having spent a fair amount of time looking at the data about why people leave, I would ask you to consider the possibility that where we need to do better is learning how to talk to each other about our relationship, or lack of one, with Jesus Christ. We need to make the effort to speak with each other about what it means to us, personally, as Orthodox Christians to be followers of Jesus Christ.

So how do you do this?

Just begin. Start the conversation today.

Would you like to know what to say?

I can’t tell you because it isn’t for me to say. This is something that only you and your friends can decide for yourselves. And frankly, as long as it doesn’t disrupt the peace of the Church, it’s none of my business what you and your friends talk about.

All I can say is what Philip said to Nathanael. “Come and see.” Come and see what it can mean to speak to each other, face-to-face with each about your own struggles and joys, your hopes and fears, as Orthodox Christian followers of Jesus Christ.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Love is the Vocation, Friendship the Key

The call of the husband is not to fit into a preconceived role of husband, but to enter deeply into a relationship with his wife. We find our fulfillment as husbands (and wives) as we are united with Christ and perfected in Christ, in relation relationship with our spouse. If a man tries to act like a good husband, head, or leader, he will find that his wife, with her faults, will only get in the way. This is a subtly self-centered approach to marriage. If, however, he tries to love his wife with perfect love, he will find that his wife provides plenty of opportunities for him to be an become a true husband, head, and leader.

 Philip Mamalakis, “The High and Holy Calling of Being a Husband,” in David C. Ford, Mary S. Ford and Alfred Kentigern Siewers Eds.),  Glory and Honor: Orthodox Christian Resources on Marriage, (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2016), p. 100.

Vocations are always personal. God calls this or that person to love Him and to love others in a concrete–and so necessarily, personal–way. And just as no one is called to be a husband (or wife!) in general but to be the husband of this woman, no one is called to be a priest in general. The priest is called by God to love a particular community.

Unlike marriage, a priest might–and often is–asked in the course of his priesthood to love different communities. Some he loves for longer, other shorter, time. But whether his time with a community is long or short, easy or hard, the priest is called to love the community in all it’s concreteness.

And so, to borrow from the epigraph, the call of the priest is not to fit into a preconceived role of the priesthood, but to enter deeply into a relationship with his family, his parish, his fellow clergy and his diocese. This is only possible, if the priest is first “united with Christ and perfected in Christ.” It is only in this way that the priest can be “in relation relationship with” those around him.

If, on the other hand, a man tries merely to act like a good priest, head, or leader, he will find that his parish, with its “faults, will only get in the way.” The priest who doesn’t draw close to Christ will, of necessity, limits his ministry to appearance. He may sing well, he may preach well and even be of comfort to his parishioners. But for all he has the appearance of success, he will slowly die inside.

His inner life will wither away not because divine grace is absent but because he is relying simply on himself, on his own abilities, and not on Christ. Often this “subtly self-centered approach” to ministry is overlooked by the parish, the bishop and even the priest’s family until the priest stumbles in some way or other.

If, on the other hand, the priest “tries to love his [parish] with perfect love, he will find that [the community] provides plenty of opportunities for him to be an become a true husband, head, and leader.” But perfect love is only possible in Christ and this requires that the priest cultivate a deep, personal and prayerful relationship with his Lord.

Like marriage, the priesthood is a kind of friendship. And, in both cases, the friendship whether between priest and parishioner, or between husband and wife, is the fruit of a friendship with Jesus Christ.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Love Without Limits

Sunday, September 6, 2015: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost & Fourteenth Sunday of Matthew

Commemoration of Archangel Michael’s miracle in Colossae; Archippos of Hierapolis; Martyrs Eudoxios, Zeno, Romulus and Makarios at Melitene in Armenia

EPISTLE: 2 Corinthians 1:21-2:4
GOSPEL: Matthew 22:2-14

The Apostle Paul was a good man. He was a faithful servant of Christ and loving pastor of souls. He was, however, not always a particularly pleasant man. The epistle for today makes this last point very clearly.

The Apostle is willing to hurt the feelings of his brothers and sisters in Christ. He does this not out of malice but because “he saw it as the necessary prelude to the joy which would come from their obedience” to Christ (Ambrosiaster, “Commentary on Paul’s Epistle”). Reflecting on the often painful art of the physician St Basil the Great says that in a situation like that which Paul is confronting at Corinth we need to remember the goal of his intervention and so “consider him a benefactor” who causes pain which is “according to God” will (“The Long Rule,” 52) for us and our salvation.

Paul’s behavior flies in the face of what has become for many the expectation of pastors. I want the priest to be likable, a “nice guy,” somebody who likes me and is like me. Within limits this is fair. St John Chrysostom says that after saying that he is “gladdened by their sorrow” the Apostle takes care not to alienate his spiritual children with words that “may have seemed arrogant and harsh.” So “to soften the impact” he tells the Corinthians he knows “if he were happy they would be happy and that if he were sad, they would be sad too.” This is why he delays his visit, not out of “hate or aversion but … exceeding love” (“Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians,” 4.2). Like Paul the spiritual father’s goal isn’t to be liked but neither is it to be disliked. In fact, one of the most dangerous things a spiritual father can do is to try to elicit from his spiritual children a particular feeling (good or ill) for him.

What Paul instead offers is love. He brings to Corinth the abundant love that suffers with those who are suffering and rejoices with those who are rejoicing (Romans 12:15). This is the love that Paul has in his heart not only for the Church but the Jewish people and the whole human family. He doesn’t simply invoke God’s blessing on others but “feel[s] compassion for their pain and sufferings” and for all they “fall into” (St John Chrysostom, “Homilies on Romans,” 2.2). Paul is not a mere “spiritual” technician but a real father in Christ. Even if doing so causes him, and them, pain he loves his spiritual children enough to call them to repentance.

We need to be careful here in how we understand things. Abundant, suffering love for others can—and does—take different forms. Long suffering tolerance of another’s weakness is one form but so too is the firmness—dare I say the intolerance—with which Paul responds to the problems in the Church. Living as we do in a culture that seems at times obsessed with celebrity and personality, we might overlook the fact that what Paul does is not a simply reflection of his personality. Much less does it reflect a character flaw.

No what Paul does, he does because he is moved by the Spirit of God to do so.

14th C icon of MT 22:1-14

Look at this morning’s Gospel. A king holds a great feast to celebrate his son’s wedding. When the honored guest fail to attend, he invites the common folk and the poor. But first he sends his troops to destroy those who those who not only reject his hospitality but murder his servants. Hospitality, or more directly the offer of divine grace, reflects God’s great love for us but I reject His grace at my own peril. We see this second point in the final verses of the Gospel.

The poor man who is not wearing a wedding garment didn’t reject the king’s hospitality but neither does he fully accept it. He was happy to join the celebration but—whether through negligence of indifference—he failed to wear the festive garments that the king provided. This is the situation of the Church in Corinth. They accept some, most even, of the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ but not all of it. They say in effect to God, “We will love you this much but no more.” In response to God’s total and unrestrained self-offering in Christ, they hold back something of themselves. Like Ananias and Sapphira, the Christians in Corinth “agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord” (Acts 5: 9). Like the beggar in the Gospel, the Corinthians wish to enjoy the good things of the feast but only to a point. They greet divine hospitality with an unhospitable heart. Simply put, they would lie to God by placing limits on His grace and in so doing deceive themselves and by their actions preach “another Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:4)

And of course, none of this is just about the beggar or the Church at Corinth. This is also about me. Like Ananias and Sapphira I’m tempted to abuse God’s grace. I’m tempted to use His offer of forgiveness as a justification for my own unwillingness to love sacrificially. Yes I look to God for forgiveness but forgiveness on my terms not His. I’m willing to accept His sacrifice for me but unwilling in return to sacrifice myself for Him.

Simply put, I am all too willing to use God’s forgiveness as a justification for my own sinfulness, His forbearance for my lack of repentance.

The Apostle Paul was not like this, he was not like me. He loved his spiritual children even when love demanded from him that he cause them pain and risk losing their love. Again Paul loves his spiritual children enough to call them to repentance even if doing so causes him, and them, pain. In so doing, he is faithful to the teaching and example of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Above all though, Apostle Paul sets the standard for all of us, clergy and laity alike. We are every bit as much his spiritual children as were the Corinthians and as such he call us to be friends of God and of each other. Such friendship requires that we love God, each other and all we meet without reservation even when doing so causes us pain or loss.

May we all be so faithful to love without limits.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory