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2013-01-27 message

posted Jan 30, 2013, 7:39 AM by St. John's Webmaster

Because I started a couple of weeks ago to speak about vices and virtues, and the healing that transforms one into the other, I think it would be useful to briefly discuss the meaning of some of the words used in the Bible and the writings of the Fathers to speak about these matters.

For example, in the epistle reading for this past Thursday we read that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:23). When speaking about this passage we need to remember that, for St. Paul, “flesh” does not simply mean “body,” but rather the fallen impulses that find their expression through our bodily actions.

The words passion and desire are also to be understood in this context. We are not called to become emotionless in our journey towards Christ; to simply remove a troublesome part of ourselves. That would not make us more human (which really means more like Christ), but less. So what we are rather called to in our journey of salvation is to transform and elevate our emotions towards holy purposes. This is why, compressing the process of transformation into just a few words, St. John of Damascus had said that avarice is destroyed by compassion for the poor, worldly dejection by spiritual joy, and all the others.

There is yet a bit more to be said about the word passion in this context. In the spiritual writings of the Orthodox Church, this word is connected to its root meaning of suffering, as in the passion of Christ. A passion, therefore, is something under which we suffer; something which has come to control us. In the progression of sin, it is the final step, the point where our relationship with the sin is very much akin to addiction.

A thought, too, about the term crucifixion. It obviously indicates suffering. And, if we think about all the challenges that are involved in dealing with an addiction (withdrawal symptoms, relapses, emotional struggles) we can certainly understand the suffering aspect. We can never forget, however, that, for Christians, the cross is never the end. Through Christ, there is something beyond the suffering.

The body of Christ following the resurrection is, in some ways, the same as it had been before the crucifixion: the scars are still there. Yet, it is a body that is at times not recognizable to His disciples, a body that enters rooms though the doors are shut. Something similar happens with our spiritual selves as we journey towards Christ. Our emotions remain familiar to us, but we also find them transformed. We long for that which is beautiful, that which is holy. We encounter situations in life where we see the reasons why we could react with anger, hate, curtness, but we find ourselves attracted by compassion, love, and patience.

May our Lord guide us always on this journey.

With love in Christ,
+Fr. Peter