Becoming A Child of God

“Some Christians relate to God as slaves in the narrowest sense. They accept his will and obey his commandments and do what is required of them out of fear, out of the impending judgment, of the wrath to come (Matt. 3:7-12). But the spiritual life is not managed only through fear. Other Christians enter into the spiritual warfare as hirelings, as laborers or as soldiers in the pay of the king, as people who give themselves to God as for hire, accepting the responsibilities of the Christian life for the sake of reward (Lk. 6:35). Unlike the slave who acts out of fear, the hireling acts out of duty and obligation. He joins the ranks of God’s army to wage battle against the passions, against the evil forces of darkness that are in him and around him in the fallen world, because he is assured of God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promise to pay him just reward (1 Cor. 3:8; 2 John 8).

But greater perfection is expected of us. To be complete one must become, by grace, not only a slave or a hireling but also, and above all, a child of God, a brother – by adoption – and a friend of Christ. As a friend Christians accept God’s call with gladness of heart and act in all things out of love for the Master, who has loved them first (1 John 4:10). Friendship with God is unconditional because God’s love is unreserved, free, and absolute. Friends of Christ enjoy a deep, intimate personal relationship with him and come to know the hidden truths of the Gospel. They obey the commandments out of love, expecting nothing in return. “You are my friends if you do whatever I command you. 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 15:14-15).

(Alkiviadis C. Calivas, Aspects of Orthodox Worship, p. 32)

The Son and the Sons of God

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.  (Galatians 4:4-7)

When St. Paul wrote his epistles, he refers to Jesus as God’s son, and also refers to us Christians as “sons.”  For our modern sensitivities and for the sake of political correctness, we might prefer to refer to Jesus as God’s child and to believers as God’s children so that women and daughters do not feel left out of the Church by the patriarchal language Paul uses.   Yet the differences in our modern understanding and that of St. Paul about sons and daughters can also help us better understand the exact point Paul is trying to make.

St Paul is not making a point that women/daughters are less valued that males/sons, for it is this same St Paul who stresses in this same letter that in Christ “there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).   And our Lord Jesus Himself said,  “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).  Angels have no gender, and Christ seems to imply that in heaven, in the resurrection, gender no longer matters – an ideal which monasticism tried to live out in its celibacy, its desire to live the angelic life in the flesh, and in the stories of the women saints who strove to live as men.

What St Paul is doing with his emphasis on sonship is to take the assumed values of his time to show that the rights and privileges of the son are being extended to all believers.  Sons, in the world that he knew, “sons” had special rights and privileges when it came to inheritance, that daughters did not have.  He is saying the values of the Kingdom of God are different from the values of the world, because in the Kingdom, all those who believe are adopted with the same rights as a son has – all will receive their full inheritance in the Kingdom.

So though our cultural understanding of inheritance is different than his, and we think of sons and daughters both having rights of inheritance, in Paul’s world this was not the case.   He knows what the rights and privileges of a son are in his world and he is making the clear connect that Jesus is the first-born son of the Father with all the rights and privileges that comes with that position, and we each and all, male and female, have been adopted by God with the full rights of sons of the Father.

In the ancient world, there were clear differences regarding inheritance for sons, daughters and slaves.  St. Paul’s exact point is that within that understanding of inheritance, we are being adopted as sons with all the rights of inheritance of sons.  We are not being adopted either as daughters or as slaves with the diminished rights they would have had in Paul’s world.

We can call to mind the parable Jesus tells of the Prodigal Son  (Luke 15:11-32) who wishes to return to his father’s house with nothing more than the status of a servant.  The Prodigal  knows he is not a son. He has not behaved like a son but disowned his father by claiming his inheritance before his father had died.   However in the parable, his father welcomes him as a son (my son who was dead is alive!).  The father treats the prodigal as a son, not a captured runaway slave.  And this is made even more notable by the reaction of the older brother who wants nothing to do with his prodigal brother.  The father claims the prodigal as a son, but the elder brother rejects him as a brother, though recognizing his brother is the son of his father [“this son of yours” (Luke 15:30)].  What the elder brother is not willing to accept is that his brother has any filial right of inheritance left.  Note the Prodigal son demanded his inheritance as if the father was dead, but the father welcomes the son back as if the son had been dead!  The Father shows how a son is treated and welcomed.  This is what it is to be called God’s sons, even if adopted.  This is Paul’s point in saying we are adopted as sons (and not as daughters of his day, who had few rights of inheritance).  I think St Paul is trying to make this point clearly, he is not commenting on whether treating daughters and sons differently is proper or correct, he is noting clearly that all believers have the same rights as the sons of his culture had.

As many of us as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” – this is quoted by Paul in Galatians 3:27, the same epistle that he speaks about us as being God’s “sons”.  As many as – all of us, females and males have put on the Son of God in order to receive all the rights and blessings of inheritance of sons as understood by Paul’s culture, and also to be treated every bit as good as the Prodigal son was treated by his loving and merciful father.  We sing those words at every baptism and at every feast which was a traditional baptismal feast (such as Christmas and Pascha).  We sing the same words for males and females because all put on Christ, all put on Christ’s sonship.    If we adopted the language of our modern times and said “children” instead of sons, we might miss the very point Paul is trying to make – we received our sonship from and through Christ the only-begotten son of the Father.  We will be received by God, all of us, male and female and even prodigals, with the full rights of sons.  The values of the Kingdom are not the values of this world.

Again we only have to think about the parable of the workers hired at various hours by the master of the house (Matthew 20:1-13).  In the Kingdom, the last are first and all get the same wages, all inherit the full blessings of God, no matter when in their lives they agreed to serve the master.  This is the Kingdom’s fairness.  This is the master’s hospitality and generosity.  This is what Paul wants to emphasize in his epistle.

“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”   (John 14:1-3)

Christ prepares for us, male and female, all things which belong to the children of God.  Our inheritance is the eternal abundance of the Kingdom.  We don’t receive the blessedness of the Kingdom because we are sons (male), nor do we receive the blessings as sons (males).  Rather, whether male or female,  we each and all receive all the blessings the biblical culture sometimes limited to the son.  The Son’s blessings are ours as well.

 

Christmas Greetings (2011)

Dear Friends, Fellow Christians, and All Readers of My Blog,

Christ is born!           Glorify Him!

In the beginning God said, “Let there be…..”    And it all came to be just as He said.

God’s Word is creative, life giving, powerful, and fruitful, causing existence itself and all that is, was or will be.

Christmas, the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, is also about the powerful Word of God.

In Christ, so scripture witnesses, the Word of God, which brought the world into existence, suddenly and unexpectedly further entered into the universe, not as an idea, as wisdom, or as reason, but as a human being.  The word took flesh and dwelt among us (John 1).  It is the new beginning of creation.

At Christmas we celebrate God’s Word taking on new meaning; for the Word of God no longer is merely that which creates the world, or speaks to the world.   Now in the Nativity of God’s Son the Word has become part of the world, and becomes ever more accessible to us.  Christmas is the feast of God recreating His creation through His incarnate Word.

We don’t have to reach into the distant past to hear this voice of God – into Genesis, the beginning of time or even into the prophets.   When the Word became flesh, it also entered into history, into our history and became present for us eternally.  We encounter God’s word in our daily lives as Christians, not just in the bible, or in saints and icons, but in the Bread and Wine become the Body and Blood, and in our fellow Christian; for we are the Church, members of the Body of Christ, the Word become flesh.   The Word of God is not distant in the heavens, but is present in our hearts, in our lives and the lives of our fellow Christians.  This is the incarnation, transfiguring and transforming the entire world and all the people in it.

Wishing you and your families a blessed Christmas celebration.  Peace on earth and goodwill to all.

Fr. Ted

See and hear A beautiful Arabic Christmas Hymn  (sung in Arabic with English subtitles).

See and hear a wonderful Serbian Christmas Carol (in Serbian):

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,

that whoever believes in him

should not perish but have eternal life”  (John 3:16).

But God proves his love for us in that while we were sinners Christ dies for us (Rom. 5:8): God, on the contrary, shows the extraordinary degree of his love for us in that the death of Christ happened not for righteous people but for sinners.[…]After  all, if while enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more now that we are reconciled shall we be saved by his life (Rom. 5:10): if while adversaries and enemies we were granted such care that he gave over to death the Son for us, how could it be that with reconciliation made we do not have a share in eternal life?”  [Robert Charles Hill  (Tr.), Theodoret Commentary on the Letters of St. Paul   Vol 1, pg.71]

Jesus Christ the God-Man

Jesus said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.  (John 9:5-7)

St. Athanasius of Alexandria  (d. 373 AD)  wrote:

“The very saliva of Christ was divine, healing, and life-giving because the Incarnate Word ‘adopted’ all the properties of the flesh and made them His own. It was He Who both grieved for Lazarus and then resurrected him. God was born in the flesh from the Virgin, and Mary is the Bearer of God. The flesh, which was born from Mary, did not become consubstantial with the Word, and the Word was not joined to it. Mary was chosen so that the Lord could receive ‘from her’ a body that would be ‘similar to ours’ and not consubstantial with the Godhead. ‘From Mary the Word received flesh, and a man was endangered whose nature and substance were the Word of God and whose flesh was from the seed of David, a man from the flesh of Mary.'” (St.Athanasius of Alexandria in The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century: Volume VII, pg. 49)

Resurrection in the Body

“The Son of God, who in His compassion became man, died so far as His body was concerned when His soul was separated from His body; but this body was not separated from His divinity, and so He raised up His body once more and took it with Him to heaven in glory. Similarly, when those who have lived here in a godly manner are separated from their bodies, they are not separated from God, and in the resurrection they will take their bodies with them to God, and in their bodies they will enter with inexpressible joy there where Jesus has preceded us (Heb. 6:20) and in their bodies they will enjoy the glory that will be revealed in Christ (Pet. 5:1). Indeed, they will share not only in resurrection, but also in the Lord’s ascension and in all divine life.” (St. Gregory Palamas [d. 1359AD] in the Philokalia, The Complete Text, Volume 4 compiled by St.Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St.Makarios of Corinth, pg.298)

Adam, the First Human

This blog series began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.

“Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, . . .  the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.”  (Luke 3:23, 38)

If the Gospels were our only source for understanding (interpretation) of the figure of Adam, the first human, we actually would know very little about Adam, and nothing negative.  For the only reference to Adam in the four Gospels is Luke 3:38, and that passage tells us nothing less than that Adam is the son of God, as is Jesus according to the Gospel (Luke 1:32, 35; 3:22).  No mention in the Gospel tradition of Adam’s sin, disobedience, or expulsion from paradise.  Even John who’s Gospel clearly parallels and echoes the Genesis 1 creation story, does not mention Adam.  The silence of the Gospel tradition about Adam, largely reflects the rabbinic Jewish canonical tradition from the end of the first century of Christianity which rejected their Greek Septuagint tradition.  The broader Jewish tradition of biblical commentaries offered a rich interpretation of Adam as is reflected in the Septuagint.  But the Jewish rabbinic tradition apparently in reaction against the growing Christian movement, rejected the Septuagint, and narrowed their canon which is reflected in the much later Masoretic text of the Jewish Scriptures which they use in modern times.

It is St. Paul who ties Adam to Christ interpretively; St. Paul uses Adam to understand Christ’s death and resurrection, and Christ to give meaning to Adam who was but a type of the reality which was to be revealed in Christ.  Before St. Paul, the Jewish Septuagint tradition which was accepted as canonical by Jews at that time did give serious consideration to Adam’s role in human history and his effect on all of humanity.   St. Paul certainly follows the Septuagint’s interpretation of Adam, as well as that rabbinic tradition of interpretation which offered volumes of thought on Adam.

Before looking at St. Paul’s own comments on Adam, we can consider a few quotations from the Jewish Septuagint tradition, which was considered canonical by most Jews at the time of Jesus.   First, we will consider a few shorter references to Adam in the Septuagint, and then in the next blog look at the more substantial consideration given Adam in 2 Esdras (all quotes from the New Revised Standard Version of the Septuagint).

“You made Adam, and for him you made his wife Eve as a helper and support.  From the two of them the human race has sprung. You said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; let us make a helper for him like himself.’” (Tobit 8:6) 

Tobit offers a rather benign look at Adam and Eve – it is from them that the human race came into being.  No mention of their sin or of any ill effects their behavior may have had on their descendents.

“Wisdom protected the first-formed father of the world, when he alone had been created; she delivered him from his transgression, and gave him strength to rule all things.”  (Wisdom of Solomon 10:1-2)

The Wisdom of Solomon also has a rather positive view of humanity.  Interestingly, Wisdom is credited with having delivered Adam from transgression and gave him strength to rule all things, which would appear to be in contradiction to the events of Genesis 3 and the Fall of Eve and Adam.

“The first man did not know wisdom fully, nor will the last one fathom her.”   (Sirach 24:28)

Sirach’s first comment about Adam can be read as an explanation for why the first human sinned – the human was immature and didn’t know Wisdom who was to protect him.  Thus the original sin was not due to intentional rejection of God, nor to evil, but rather due to an unpreparedness for or immaturity in dealing with the world.

“Few have ever been created on earth like Enoch, for he was taken up from the earth.  Nor was anyone ever born like Joseph; even his bones were cared for. Shem and Seth and Enosh were honored, but above every other created living being was Adam.”   (Sirach 49:14-16) 

Once again, we see a very positive assessment of Adam in Sirach.  Adam is above every other created living being including Enoch, the Patriarch Joseph, Shem, Seth and Enosh.   Once again, no mention of Adam’s sin or fall.

Like the reference to Adam in Luke’s Gospel, these four references to Adam from the Septuagint have a fairly positive interpretation of Adam.  They make no mention of sin or the Fall.   They also say more about Adam than we find in the rest of the canonical Jewish Scriptures, in which Adam is not really dealt with outside of the first chapters of Genesis.  Despite the huge role Christian tradition has assigned to Adam in understanding the Scriptures, the Jewish canonical texts offer virtually no interpretation of the Adam story found in Genesis 2-3.  Adam seems to have almost no role besides being the first human.  But there was growing interest in the Adam stories among Jewish scholars at the time of Christ.

Christ raising Adam and Eve

St. Paul is in that rabbinic train of thought which does interpret the Adam stories, and he certainly will change the reading of Genesis 2-3, reading and ininterpreting those chapters Christologically.  Adam is understood in Christ, and the Gospel story of Christ and salvation is rooted firmly in the fall of Adam.  Before St. Paul wrote, there are some other references to Adam in Jewish tradition, including  some more extensive interpretation of Adam in 2 Esdras.

Next:   Adam in 2 Esdras (A)

Some Scriptural Thoughts on Death (A)

This is the 2nd Blog in this series reflecting on death.  The 1st Blog is Death: The Last Enemy of God.

God warned Adam that should he disobey God’s command not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he would die (Genesis 2:17).  This was a warning from God, for Adam’s own good, not a punishment. What would make me think so?   We can look at God’s attitude toward death in several other Biblical passages. 

“Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?  …  For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”  (Ezekiel 18:23 … 32)

 “And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?’  Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?”   (Ezekiel 33:10-11)

God could not make it any more clear, that death is not what God hopes for anyone and He finds death to be unacceptable to Him, but He still recognizes it as a human choice.  And in the New Testament, death is described as the last enemy of God.

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”   (1 Corinthians 15:26)

In fact the Good News of God’s Kingdom is that death is being overthrown and no longer has dominion over humanity.  Additionally, in what is a transfiguration of death’s origins, God comes to value His servants who die.

“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.”  (Psalms 116:15)

Here we have in the Psalms a prophecy which will see its fulfillment in the Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ.   For when God allowed the first Adam to die because of his disobedient sin of eating of the forbidden fruit, God the Father already knew what this meant for His Son, the new Adam.  God intended for humans to share in the divine life, but God was willing to share in the human life to make it possible for humans to attain full communion with Him.  Thus death which was the direct result of human sin against God, became part of what God would experience to save humanity from its fallen state and to lift humanity to heaven.  This is God’s plan of salvation.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”   [Philippians 2:5-11 (RSV)]

Unlike the first Adam – in fact, the exact opposite of the first  Adam – who was disobedient unto death, Jesus Christ, the new Adam, is obedient unto death.   The first Adam disobeyed in sin to bring death into the world, Christ the new Adam obeys God and dies in order to give life to the world.

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.”   (Hebrews 2:14-15)

How was it that humans created in God’s image and likeness, created to have dominion over the rest of creation, become subject to death?  How did it happen that all of humanity, created to share in the eternal divine life, became mortal?

“Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned— sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.  Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.”   (Romans 5:12-14)

 It was human sin that brought death to humanity.  The first Adam sinned as did all his descendants until the time of Christ.   Torah given by God for humanity, did not stop sin or death.  

The incarnation of the Word of God (John 1:1-14) was God’s plan for taking on death.  The Word became flesh in order to die in the flesh with the purpose of destroying death.

(see also my Blogs:   Why did God become Human?   and  Job: My redeemer lives!)

Next:  Some Scriptural Thoughts on Death (B)

Jesus: Brother of Sinners

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance,

that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,

of whom I am chief.”    (1 Timothy 1:15)

“I am touching here the mystery that Jesus himself became the prodigal son for our sake.  He left the house of his heavenly Father, came to a foreign country, gave away all that he had, and returned through his cross to his Father’s home. All of this he did, not as a rebellious son, but as the obedient son, sent out to bring home all the lost children of God.  Jesus, who told the story to those who criticized him for associating with sinners, himself lived the long and painful journey he describes.”   

 (Nouwen, Henri JM, The Return of the Prodigal Son:  A Story of Homecoming, pg 55)

Jesus Christ in the Poetry of Melitio of Sardis

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

(Mark 1:1)

St Melitio of Sardis  (d. ca. 180AD) poetically wrote about Jesus Christ:

 “I am your freedom,” Christ declares.

“I am the Passover of salvation,

I am the Lamb slaughtered for you,

I am your ransom,

I am your life,

I am your light,

I am your salvation,

I am your resurrection,

I am your King.

I shall raise you up by my right hand,

I will lead you to the heights of heaven,

There shall I show you the everlasting Father”.

He it is who made the heaven and the earth,

And formed humanity in the beginning,

Who has proclaimed through the law and the prophets,

Who took flesh from a virgin

Who was hung on a tree

Who was buried in the earth,

Who was raised from the dead,

And ascended to heaven,

Who sits at the right hand of the Father,

Who has the power to save all things,

Through whom the Father acted from the beginning and forever.

This is the alpha and omega,

This is the beginning and the end,

The ineffable beginning and the incomprehensible end.

This is the Christ, This is the King, This is Jesus, This is the commander, This is the Lord, This is He who rose from the dead, This is He who sits at the right hand of the Father,

He bears the Father and is borne by him.

To Him be the glory and the might forever!

Amen.

(Breck, John Longing for God, pgs 148-149)