Be an Example to Believers

Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.   (1 Timothy 4:12)

St. Alexander Schmorell (d. 1943AD)

Abba Isaac said: “As a young man I was staying with Abba Cronios and he never told me to do a task even though he was aged and tremulous. Of his own accord he would get up and offer the water bottle to me and likewise to all. After that I stayed with Abba Theodore of Pherme and neither did he ever tell me to do anything. He would lay the table himself and then say: ‘Brother, come and eat if you like.’ I would say to him: ‘Abba, I came to you to reap some benefit; why do you never tell me to do anything?’ The elder said to them: ‘Am I the superior of a coenobium to order him around?’ For the time being I didn’t tell him [to do] anything. He will do what he sees me doing if he wants to.’

So from then on I began anticipating, doing whatever the elder was about to do. For his part, if he was doing anything, he used to do it in silence This taught me to act in silence.” (Give Me a Word: The Alphabetical Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p. 147)

So the Evangelist Luke writes:

A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves.   (Luke 22:24-27)

When Jesus had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.  (John 13:12-17)

Serving Others to Be Human

St. Francis of Assisi is thought by many to be a model of humble service to others. Regis J. Armstrong writes:

“His relationship to God, to the Church, to his brothers and sisters, and to all the elements of creation is a relationship of service. The Admonitions develop the aspect of what it means to be a servant of God. Francis teaches that service is the way of undoing the sin of Adam, and it is the ‘holy manner of working’ that is the Spirit of the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord always points toward the other, and thus the Spirit filled person is the true servant. Therein is the poverty and humility of Saint Francis of Assisi. As a servant of God, entrusted with the Lord’s gifts, Francis gives what he has received. The Word he has conceived in the inspiration of the Spirit is proclaimed in his life and deeds. This is his greatest gift. This work of the Spirit in him identifies him with the suffering and crucified Christ, who breathes forth the Spirit. In the total context of his writings, one can perceive Francis, the servant of God marked with the wounds of the Crucified Christ, breathing forth the Spirit that dwells within him.”Francis and Clare: The Complete Works, p 21)

Be Godlike: Be a Helper

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethzatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”

The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the   Sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me said to me, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk.'” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.  Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.  (John 5:1-15)

Let us consider just one phrase from the Gospel lesson:

The Paralytic tells Jesus,  “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool…” 

Some of you know that throughout Great Lent we sang hymns which describe God as being to us “a helper and a protector.”   The words come from our Scriptures.  God is our helper in life.  We are not alone in the world or when we are in crisis, God the Lord of the universe is also helper to each of us.

The Gospel of the Paralytic brings to mind, what if God is not there to help us?  The Paralytic was lying amid invalids for 38 years the Gospel says, and the paralytic laments that in all this time, there was no one to help him.

In Genesis 2, we know that God created the 2nd human being for a purpose – to be a helper to the first human being.  Adam too had no one to help him, but God decided to fix that situation by creating a 2nd human being to help the first.

Some unfortunately conclude from the creation of the 2nd human being, who also is a woman, that God intended all women to be subservient to men, but the narrative only addresses an issue of being left alone and being a helper.  The next human being is to help those who exist before them.  Each human being comes into existence to be a helper, not just women.  For God in Scripture as we already noted is said to be a helper to us.  We each are created to be God like which implies we too are to help one another. Being a help is not subservient, but being god-like.   No human being should ever truly be left with no one to help them – if we each were being fully human.

After creating the 1st human, God says in Genesis 2:  “It is not good for man to be alone.”

Now I am by nature a true introvert and very shy.  So whenever I read that verse in which God says, “It is not good for man to be alone”…..  I always think, I don’t know God, maybe you should have let that experiment run a little bit longer.  It may be that being alone wasn’t good, but I know where the story is going, and what happens with the creation of the 2nd human being and subsequent human beings does not bring about even more goodness!

 But the aloneness of the first man is the first thing that God ever determines is not good.  In Genesis 1, after everything God created the Scriptures repeats the refrain, And God saw that it was good.”  All this goodness abounding, but then God sees that being alone for a human is not good, and that humans need helpers for one another.  God sees what is not good for humans as well as what is good for us.

So besides God being our helper, God creates for each of us helpers other beings to be just like God.  Our fellow human beings are created so that we each might help one another.  God saw the goodness in this.

God commands us:  “Be fruitful and multiply –  God wishes to have a world full of helpers, of His people whom He loves, all willing to serve and help Him as well as each other.

Our Scriptures totally envision a universe full of helpers.   The Old Testament Scriptures do not envision God living alone in the vastness of any empty heaven.     That idea of a God all alone unto himself is a particular image of a pure and perfect oneness, a monad lost in mental monologues completely detached from His creation comes from the imagination of philosophers.   It is not the God of Scriptures.  For the God of Genesis too digs into the mud of the earth to create humans, as well as trees and everything else.  Our God is not OCD when it comes to messiness!

The Scriptures envision a heaven, God’s Kingdom, full of all kinds of beings – angels, bodiless powers, invisible and spiritual beings, even gods.  All are to be God’s helpers.  The kingdom of Heaven is bustling with the activity and life of a multitude of beings.  God is not alone, dwelling in solitude thinking soliloquies.  God is not an introvert.  Christianity – never envisioned this monad God living within His own oneness and singularity.    Rather in Christianity God is always imaged as a Trinity of Persons.  Perfect relationship, three divine Persons loving not only one another but creating an entire universe with whom to share their divine life and love.

We Christians understand that God created us to be relational beings, sharing in God’s life and love but also sharing life and love with one another.  To be human is to be a helper to others, including to God.

If we think about the Gospel of the Paralytic, we can ask:

Is the paralytic truly alone?  Is there truly no one to help him at all?

How long can a human live without food or water?  Maybe a month.

How long was the man laying with invalids?  38 years.

So someone was giving him food and water.  He has basic bodily functions and needs.  To be there for 38 years means someone was caring for him.  Maybe no one met his expectation of helping him to be healed, but the Gospel surely suggests that there is someone, or maybe several someones who have helped him survive for 38 years. These are all invisible care givers in the narrative.

Today’s Gospel lesson reminds us we are to be helpers to one another.  We are to help each other so that we can live in this world until that day that we meet Christ Jesus our Lord.

And then we have to help each other continue to live. It is not enough just to be opposed to abortion, for example.  We need also to care enough to help people to continue life, to continue living, even if in difficult circumstances.  We have to be the invisible people of the Gospel lesson who helped the Paralytic to live 38 years despite his problems, challenges, illness, differences.  He is not alone.  It is not true that there is no one to help him.  There is us and we are to be helpers to every such person in our lives.

Of course there is a problem in the Gospel lesson:  the paralytic is in basic competition with the rest of the invalids trying to get into those healing waters first when a miracle might occur.   All the others humans at this pool, including all the other helpers have become competition to this one man.  He sees none of them as his helpers, as his fellow human beings.  They are only competitors whom he has dehumanized.

Again, we can think about God’s words in Genesis 2, “It is not good for man to be alone…”        Really?  Wouldn’t this one paralytic be better off if there were no others around him?  No one to compete with him?

And the answer is no, for it is only this great crowd of people which draws Christ to that location, to that one person.  And now God truly becomes the helper to this one human being, not by lifting him up, but by telling him to raise himself up.  Christ does not say to this person, “let me help you up”.  No, rather he shows the person that he is capable of doing things, and so shows him that he is totally capable of helping others.   God turns this man into someone capable of helping others, Christ turns this one person from a pathetic paralytic into a full human being.  Christ totally recreates this one person into a true human being.

And what do you think, did he become a helper to others – to one other at the pool?

The man who complained with such great self-pity, “there is no one to help me”, do you think he simply walked away from that pool and all those suffering people?  Or do you think he became a Christ to even one someone else and ministered to them?

As hear the Gospel proclaimed, we are to think not just about past history, but about who am I in this Gospel lesson?  Am I the paralytic before the encounter with Christ, full of self-pity and always wanting someone else to help me?  Or am I the healed person capable of coming back and helping others?  Am I the invisible helper who works quietly and silently behind the scenes for 38 years, helping even one someone else to survive?

In the Liturgy of St. Basil we pray to God saying:

For You, O Lord, are the Helper of the helpless, the Hope of the hopeless, the Savior of the bestormed, the Haven of the voyager, the Physician of the sick. Be all things to all people, O Lord Who knows each of us, and our request, our home and our need.

Indeed, we pray that God will be a helper and a protector to us.  And then we hear Christ say, “love one another as I have loved you.”  We are to become and be that helper to each other.

If You Love Christ: Feed His Sheep

St. John Chrysostom speaking about the Apostle Peter writes:

“That he was deemed deserving of this office by a great grace of God is a strong proof of his virtue. How strong? Listen to the words Christ spoke to Peter after the resurrection. Christ asked him: ‘Peter, do you love me?’ And Peter replied: ‘Lord, you know I love you.’ What did Christ then say? He did not say: ‘Throw away your money. Fast from food. Live the hard life. Raise the dead. Drive out demons.’ Christ  did not bring forward or command any of these things or any other miracle or act of virtue. He passed all these by and said: ‘If you love me, feed my sheep.’ Why did Christ say this? Because he wished to show us not only what is the strongest sign of love for him but also to point out the love which he himself shows for the sheep. So now he makes this the strongest proof which Peter can give of his love for him.

For Christ’s words practically mean: ‘He who loves my sheep loves me.’ And look how many things Christ endured for his flock. He became a man, he took upon himself the form of a servant, he was spat upon, he was slapped in the face, and, finally, he did not refuse to die the most shameful death. For he poured forth his blood on the cross. Therefore, if a man wishes to win esteem in the eyes of Christ, let him show his concern for these sheep, let him seek what is helpful for all, let him be anxious to care for his brothers.  God holds no virtuous act in greater esteem.[…] And so it was that Paul, too, said: ‘Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.’ And how, Paul, did you become an imitator of Christ?  ‘By pleasing all men in every way, by not seeking my own benefit but the benefit of all men, so that they might be saved.’ Again, in another place, Paul said: ‘Christ did not please himself but please many.’ Therefore, nothing could be so great a mark or sign of the man of faith who loves Christ as would be his care for his brothers and his concern for their salvation. ” (St. John Chrysostom on the Incomprehensible Nature of God, pgs. 170-172)

Holy Week: A Lesson in Ministry and Service to Others

While there are many and diverse themes running through the hymns of Holy Week, one theme that may get lost because we focus on the events in Christ’s last week of life on earth leading to His crucifixion is the call to us to imitate Christ in service to others.  While we find emotionally powerful meditating on how Christ’s suffering saves ME, the hymns speak to us about what it means to be a disciple, a Christian, a follower of Christ, namely to love the other.  The crucifixion is not about self love or saving myself, it is about self sacrifice for the salvation of others.   Christ actually said very little to us about forming sentimental or emotional attachments to or fixations on His life or His suffering.  He does however at the Last Supper wrap himself in the towel of a servant, wash His disciple’s feet and then tell us to imitate Him in serving others.  This is a major part of Holy Week, and at one point some considered foot washing to be a sacrament in the Church.  It is a sacrament, which like baptism, is lived out daily far beyond the bounds of the liturgical ritual.

Consider for example the Holy Tuesday Aposticha hymn:

COME, FAITHFUL,

LET US WORK ZEALOUSLY FOR THE MASTER,

FOR HE DISTRIBUTES WEALTH TO HIS SERVANTS.

LET EACH OF US ACCORDING TO HIS ABILITY

INCREASE HIS TALENT OF GRACE:

LET ONE BE ADORNED IN WISDOM THROUGH GOOD WORKS;

LET ANOTHER CELEBRATE A SERVICE IN SPLENDOR.

THE ONE DISTRIBUTES HIS WEALTH TO THE POOR;

THE OTHER COMMUNICATES THE WORD TO THOSE UNTAUGHT.

THUS WE SHALL INCREASE WHAT HAS BEEN ENTRUSTED TO US,

AND, AS FAITHFUL STEWARDS OF GRACE,

WE SHALL BE ACCOUNTED WORTHY OF THE MASTER’S JOY.

MAKE US WORTHY OF THIS, CHRIST OUR GOD,

IN YOUR LOVE FOR MANKIND.

The hymn calls to mind Christ’s Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) in which the servants are expected to do something with the gifts, wealth and resources the master gave them.  The hymn also ties in St. Paul’s discussions on the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:11-14).  Thus in the midst of Holy Week, we are reminded of our responsibility as Christians to serve one another, the Church and the world itself. We are not called merely to contemplate the life and work of Christ – we are called to imitate Christ through the work that we do to His glory.  We are called to use the gifts and wealth that God has bestowed upon us in service of others.  That is a lesson of Holy Week that can be lost while we are so busy thinking about what Christ has done for me. (We would do well also to remember Christ’s parable of the Last Judgment which we read as part of our preparation for keeping Lent).   Consider the Holy Thursday Matins hymn known as the IKOS:

Let us all approach the mystical table in fear

and receive the Bread with pure souls;

and let us stay with the Master so that we may see

how He washes His disciples’ feet and wipes them with a towel. 

Let us do as we have seen Him do,

submitting to one another and washing one another’s feet,

for Christ Himself thus commanded His disciples.

But the servant and deceiver Judas did not take heed.

[Take special note:  Judas did not take heed to the lessons being offered by Christ at the Last Supper!  Certainly we are being warned not to  be like or imitate Judas.  We are to imitate our LORD Jesus Christ and be a servant instead of being self-serving.]

The liturgical commemoration of the Mystical Supper and the washing of the disciples’ feet in the hymns does not just focus on the historical events but calls us to imitate Christ in becoming servants one to another.  The hymns remind us not to get lost in the beauty of the services or in contemplating past history, but to learn the lessons offered to us by Christ about being servants and to get up and imitate Him in our relationship to the Church and our fellow Christians.  [Unfortunately, in current Orthodox liturgical practice and in many Orthodox parishes the commemoration of the Mystical supper and the foot washing (done at Holy Thursday Vespers) is given secondary status as the pious focus has become the crucifixion of Christ as commemorated in the Holy Friday Matins service – a piety which seems more Western and Protestant than Orthodox.  It is Western piety, particularly Protestant, which places almost exclusive emphasis on the crucifixion of Christ as being the act of salvation.  This emphasis is true to Western Christian theology’s focus on justification and the substitutionary death of Christ, but totally downplays the incarnation and ignores salvation as the union of God with humanity.  It turns a blind eye and deaf ear to the theology of the incarnation, to sacramental theology and to salvation as deification.  But I digress.]

One final hymn from the Aposticha of Holy Thursday:

INSTRUCTING YOUR DISCIPLES IN THE MYSTERY, LORD,

YOU SAID TO THEM:

MY BELOVED, SEE THAT NO FEAR SEPARATES YOU FROM ME.

THOUGH I SUFFER, IT IS FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORLD.

LET ME NOT BE A CAUSE OF SCANDAL TO YOU.

I CAME, NOT TO BE SERVED, BUT TO SERVE,

TO GIVE MYSELF FOR THE REDEMPTION OF THE WORLD.

IF YOU ARE MY FRIENDS, THEN IMITATE ME.

LET THE FIRST AMONG YOU BE THE LAST.

LET THE MASTER BE LIKE THE SERVANT.

ABIDE IN ME AND BEAR FRUIT, FOR I AM THE VINE OF LIFE.

Christ the True Vine

The hymn calls us to imitate Christ in servant leadership, in humility, in bearing spiritual fruit (see also my blog Hierarchical Power: Self-Appointed Tyranny? Which likewise looks at some hymns from Holy Week).   The hymns do discuss the historical events of Holy Week, but don’t direct our attention to the past, but rather tell us Holy Week teaches us how to live in the present: as imitators of Christ.  Sometimes Orthodox are tempted  always and only to look to the past, or to look to the future Kingdom of Heaven.  But our hymns tell us not to be so heavenly minded so as to be of no earthly good, as Oliver Wendell Holmes quipped.  Rather we are to live the divine presence today in our lives as we related to others.  We are called not just to meditate on Christ’s life, but to imitate it.  Tradition is not a focus on how things were done in the past, but is a living Tradition – it tells us how to live in the present to prepare ourselves for the future.

Serving God Not Just the Parish

Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote: “And the parish as parish, i.e., as Church has no other task, no other purpose but to reveal, to manifest, to announce, this Living God so that men may know Him, love Him and then, find in Him their real vocations and tasks.” He also wrote: “The parish is the means for men of serving God and it itself must serve God and His work and only then is it justified and becomes ‘Church’. And again it is the sacred duty and the real function of the priest not to ‘serve the parish’, but to make the parish serve God – and there is a tremendous difference between those two functions. And for the parish to serve God means, first of all, to help God’s work wherever it is to be helped.” (Robert T. Osborn in St. Vladimir’s Seminary  Quarterly Vol. 9 Number 4, pgs.187-188, 190)

To be Ruled Well is Typical of the Wise Person

St. John Cassian (d. 435AD) wrote:

“Therefore no one is chosen to rule over a community of brothers, unless, before he himself exercises authority, he has learned by obedience how he should command those who will be subject to him and has understood from the institutes of the elders what he should pass on to the young.  For they declare that to rule well and to be ruled well is typical of the wise person.”

St. John was writing about choosing the leader of a monastic community, but in the church his thoughts apply well to the selection of a bishop as well.  Abbots and bishops are commonly thought of as the ordained leaders of Orthodox communities; persons to be obeyed by virtue of their office.

According to Cassian we learn to command through the humble practice of being obedient.  If we haven’t spent years in the church experiencing that humble obedience, we are not prepared to become Christian leaders.  St. John says NO ONE is chosen to rule over a community who has failed to learn by obedience the wisdom of discipleship.  Obviously in the modern age such wisdom is seen as an ideal for indeed men are put in leadership positions – as abbots, priests and bishops – who have not had the years of experiencing learning the wisdom of discipleship.  We ask them to lead when they don’t understand the very people they are to lead – disciples, because they didn’t spend sufficient time in that role.

Cassian’s wisdom is that before someone can be put in a position which demands obedience of others, they must first learn to live in obedience and learn the value of obedience.  A failure in Christian leadership is often the chosen leader has not in fact ever lived for years in obedience learning the wisdom of that life.  Instead they are put in positions of power and demand obedience without any understanding of how obedience is an act of voluntary love and a way to follow Christ – to be His disciple.  The Christian leader is first of all a servant, imitating Christ’s washing the feet of His disciples, and fulfilling the life of self-sacrificial love as well.

Without living for years in obedience as an act of love, no Christian leader will be able to imitate or exhibit the love Jesus had as leader, Master, Messiah, God’s Son.  It seems in America at least monks can start monasteries and live as abbots without ever having spent years voluntarily serving others.  So they have no sense whatsoever about what Christian leadership means because they have never learned what constitutes being a disciple.  Some in fact seem to be self appointed abbots, starting monasteries without having lived in them.

Both ruling well and being ruled well are signs of the wise person say St. John.

Cassian had it right that the wise man knows how to be ruled – knows the importance of the other brothers and sisters in Christ, and as St. Paul says, that person must do whatever they do in love.    For St. Paul at least such love means  taking into account “the weaker ones” no matter how correct the leader might think he is.

St. John Cassian laments that men “declare ourselves abbas before we profess ourselves disciples.”

That is of course the path of unpreparedness for any who want to be bishops.

Before many a man ever lived as a parishioner, he wants to be bishop over parishes.  Before he has learned to be a disciple, he wishes to be master, despot.

Remember the Twelve, they too jockeyed to sit at the right hand of Christ, and debated which of them was the greatest.  Their concerns earned them serious rebuke from the Son of God.

There is a reality about the Church which is sometimes forgotten.  To enter the Kingdom of Christ, we must be Christian.  One can enter the Kingdom without being a bishop.  But in the Kingdom all must be Christians – disciples of the only Master and only Head of the Church, Jesus Christ.    When one shows that he has not learned to be a disciple, has not learned the wisdom of obedience, then not only is he no real bishop, his own salvation is put at risk.  It is far more loving and merciful for the church to take away the title of bishop from someone so that they can learn to be a disciple, than to try to preserve their episcopacy but cause them to lose entrance into God’s Kingdom.

See also my blogs:  Adventures in Wonderland and Metropolitan Council: What Were You Discussing?

St. John Chrysostom (C)

This is the 7th blog in this series which began with The Goals of Teaching in the Early Church.  The immediately preceding blog is St. John Chrysostom (B).   This series is a preliminary look into some of the ideas, theory or theology of education that we can glean from the early church fathers.   This is the third blog dealing with St. John Chrysostom.

The basic method of teaching which St. John Chrysostom advocated was the careful and creative use of biblical stories. First the parents take turns telling the child a biblical story on several different occasions. The story can be used to address a specific problem in the child’s life or behavior.  Then the parents tell the story asking the child to fill in details or asking them questions about the story’s details. Then, the child should be asked to tell the complete story in his or her own words. Then the lessons begin to focus on the story’s meanings for daily living.

Beside the use of story and repetition, Chrysostom relentless advocated teaching by example.  He believed that many things that Christ did as a human being were done as an example to us for how we are to behave as humans. Prayer and fasting were not “needed” by the Son of God, but as the perfect man, he shows us the way to perfection.

But, as I was going to say to prevent you from suspecting that Christ had a lowly nature because of the lowliness of what he did, listen to what he said to them after he washed their feet. “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”  Do you see that he did many things so as to give an example.  A teacher who is full of wisdom stammers along with his stammering young students.  But the teacher’s stammering does not come from a lack of learning; it is a sign of the concern he feels toward the children.  In the same way, Christ did not do these things because of the lowliness of his essence.  He did them because he was condescending and accommodating himself to us”   (St. John Chrysostom,  On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, p. 248).

As teachers, we are to imitate Christ and be examples to our students.  As St. Peter wrote to church leaders, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).  This is as true for bishops as for priests, teachers or parents.

Next:  Conclusion

Behaving as a Christian

“This is Paul’s use of the command to ‘be what you are’. Those who are in Christ must behave accordingly. How should they behave towards fellow-Christians? They must remember that they are one body in Christ (Rom. 12:3-8). What kind of behavior is appropriate for Christians? They must ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom.13:14). Should they observe holy days and abstain from certain kinds of food? They should do what they believe to be right, provided what they do brings honor to the Lord who died and rose again (Rom. 14:5-9): for it is because  he had been made Lord that Christians now do everything – living or dying – to him. How should they behave towards those with whom they disagree? They must welcome one another, since they have all been welcomed by God himself (Rom 14:1-3). They must be careful not to injure one another by their behavior, since that would bring destruction on those for whom Christ died (Rom. 14:13-21). On the contrary, the strong should bear the infirmities of those who are weak; they should not please themselves, for Christ did not please himself – indeed, he accepted reproach (Rom. 15:1-3). They must therefore welcome one another, as Christ welcomed them – Christ who, indeed, became a servant for their sakes (Rom. 15:7-12). (Morna D.Hooker, From Adam to Christ: Essays on Paul, pg.58)

Saintliness and Sinlessness

We sometimes imagine – and this really is purely imagination – that the saints were perfect, sinless, infallible, faultless and mistake free.  But to disabuse ourselves of such imaginary saints, we need only think about the real lives of saints as presented in the Scriptures.  God truly loved and favored Abraham, Sarah, Moses, David and St. Paul, but their lives include serious misdeeds and sins.  Sanctity consists not of sinlessness but of a willingness to repent, not of a mistake free existence but of a willingness to serve God.

“A Christianity reduced to morality, to norms, is impossible to practice because not one of Christ’s commandments is fulfilled without love for Christ. ‘If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (John 14:15). There is a kind of moral person with a passion for cleanliness, who runs to confession because for him any little spot is unbearable, just as it is unbearable for any well-dressed man of the world. But this is not repentance; it is closer to a feeling of human decency. But one can’t say about a saint, ‘He was a thoroughly decent person.’ A saint is thirsty not for ‘decency,’ not for cleanliness, and not for absence of sin, but for unity with God. He does not live interested in himself (the introspection of a clean fellow), but in God.”    (Alexander Schmemann, The Journals of Alexander Schmemann, pgs.300-301)