Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Watch ye; stand fast in the Faith; acquit yourselves like men; be strong. Let all your things be done with charity.”
Concluding his First Epistle to his beloved Corinthians, St. Paul quickly wraps up his thoughts just as many of us might do having come to the end of which we haven’t quite gotten everything said that wanted to be said or needed to be said Yet, his words are very wise, good and holy apostolic counsel, not only then but even now as we endure these days of uncertainty and seemingly ever-shifting loyalties. The ground upon which we used to stand is no longer as firm as it once was and feels more like sand. The parable of our Lord of the wise and foolish men who built their homes, one on sand and the other on rock, comes to mind here. When the rains descended, as they surely must do, and the waters began their inevitable rise and the winds picked up, the wise man’s house was able to stand fast and stand firm against the assault of nature because it was built securely on the rock. The foolish man’s house, suffering the same assault, does not fare as well. In fact, it suffers a catastrophic failure, a cataclysmic collapse. “’[A]nd great was the fall of it,’” says our Lord. “’Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of Mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock’” (Mt. 7:24-27; Lk. 6:46-49). And the Rock, as we know elsewhere, is Jesus Christ and His Life-giving words full of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 6:63, 68-69; 1 Cr. 10:4).
So, the first apostolic word to the wise whose foundation is sure upon which we can safely build our lives is this: “Watch ye.” Be vigilant. This is not only St. Paul’s counsel, but we should recognize it as a dominical command of our Lord Himself to His Church: “’Watch therefore, . . . Therefore be ye also ready, . . . Blessed is that servant whom his [L]ord, . . ., shall find so doing’” (Mt. 25:13, 42, 46). Wisdom! Let us attend! A wise and faithful and obedient servant of the Lord takes heed to the words of the Master and pays attention to his surroundings, just as surely as a Navy SEAL Team behind enemy lines. Vigilance of heart and mind is a key spiritual truth and discipline, whether in season or out of season, whether during the holy Fasts of the Church or the days of joyous feasting (2 Tm. 4:2)! It is imperative for our salvation to be ready and prepared. It is incumbent upon us as soldiers of Jesus Christ, not only as “newly enlisted warriors of the Cross,” but as those who have been in the trenches for years to be on our guard, ever ready as sentries keeping careful eye over our souls and the souls of our brethren in Jesus Christ. “Be sober, be vigilant because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion [stalking its prey just outside the glowing campfire], seeking whom he may devour.” When you spot him, sound the alarm in no uncertain or hesitant manner (1 Cr. 14:8)! “Resist him, steadfast in the Faith,” says St. Peter (1 Pe. 5:8-9) which leads us to the second apostolic word of wisdom: “stand fast in the Faith.”
St. Paul reminds us in his writings to the Church in Ephesus that as our Lord’s baptized recruits we do not go this alone. We are not ill provided for, but rather we have been given in the waters of Holy Baptism the garment of God’s salvation, covered with the robe of Jesus’ righteousness (Is. 61:10; Jr. 23:6; 1 Cr. 1:30)! St. Paul says, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ep. 6:10). From whom we draw our strength matters. If left to ourselves we will falter, we will fail, we will flee in the face of the enemy and the fight he brings to us! It is the strength of the Lord God Almighty we must needs have. And where do we get that? From the Holy Spirit bestowed in Holy Baptism, sealed in Holy Chrismation, renewed in the Holy Eucharist. “’”Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” saith the Lord of hosts’” (Zc. 4:6). It is spiritual power and strength that we absolutely need to identify our spiritual enemy and fend them off. “Put on the whole armor of God,” says the Apostle. Not a piece of it; not a part of it. The whole ensemble joined and fitted together for the express purpose of protecting the one soul who dons it. No piece is less valuable in the fight. No piece is to be left behind. This is not like King Saul’s armor that the youth David tried on in order to go up against Goliath but hampered his ability to fight (1 Kg. [1 Sm.] 17:38-39). No, this is tailored to fit us perfectly by the hand of the Lord Himself – God’s whole armor: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes studded with the Gospel, the shield of faith that quenches the fiery darts of the wicked one, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Holy Spirit which is the Word of God. All of this, says the Apostle, we are to put on, leaving no piece off. Why? So that we may be able to stand fast against the onslaught that we must experience from the devil and those spiritual powers aligned with him. For our warfare is not against human beings (though they do get used by these spiritual forces in the fight), but against spiritual vipers and legions that inhabit the space between Heaven and earth. But, lest we think that sufficient, the Apostle reminds us of yet one more crucial factor: we must put on this divine armor with divine prayer, always, “in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance . . . .” So “that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Is. 59:17; Ep. 6:10-18).
All of this, says the Apostle, is accomplished in God by standing fast – holding our ground, not yielding to the enemies of Truth, and exposing the darkness of their lies in the Light and with the Light of Jesus Christ our God (Jn.8:12; 12:35-36 ; Ep. 5:11-14). This is, or rather, He is the Armor of Light that St. Paul tells us elsewhere to put on in Baptism. And in so doing, we become by the grace of the Holy Spirit “’sons of the Light’” (Jn. 12:36) and “sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch, and be sober” (1 Th. 5:5-8).
Beloved, we must stand fast or be steadfast “in the Faith.” It is the Faith that will save us and preserve us. “’[Y]ou shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free,’” Jesus promises all who abide in His true Word as His disciples (Jn. 8:31, 32; 14:6). The Truth of our Lord is inseparable from Him Who embodies it and it is inseparable from the saving Faith of the Church which, like our Lord, “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hb. 13:8). This is why Paul’s Pastoral Epistles hammer away at guarding the Faith, preserving the Faith, keeping inviolate, even contending for, the Faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Ju. 1:2)! There is “the spirit of Truth” and there is “the spirit of error,” and we can little afford to halt between these two (3 Kg. [1 Kg.] 18:21; 1 Jn. 4:6). The Church has long known that if we get Who Jesus is wrong, it warps and distorts the Truth of the Faith. This is one of the points of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, if not the point of their deliberations! Our spiritual enemies attack the Faith. They want us in the spirit of tolerance to embrace heresies, suggesting that heresies still get us to Heaven. They assure us that they are just a slightly different way, albeit off of the beaten path, that still runs parallel to the main road though they are dirt roads. But, “the Church of the living God,” says St. Paul, is “the pillar and ground of the Truth” (1 Tm. 3:15). She knows full well that heresy isn’t just a backroad winding its way to Heaven, it is a completely different route leading its adherents away from our Lord and His Church, not to Him. Hence, we must always be catechized and catechizing so that we may know by faith the Truth of Jesus Christ, and having “the full assurance of faith,” we may persevere against the spiritual powers that assail us without remorse. Furthermore, we are then to turn to our brothers and sisters in the Faith and spur them on to love and good works, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the [Last] Day approaching,” says the Apostle (Hb. 10:22, 23, 24-25).
Moving quickly, now: the Apostle commands us to “be brave” or as the KJV has it, “acquit yourselves like men.” Colloquially, we might say, “Put on your big boy pants!” We will need courage to be faithful to Jesus and His Church. Courage, however, isn’t necessarily without fear. However, emboldened by faith, hope, and love it nonetheless pushes on like Pickett’s charge over a mile of wide-open Gettysburg fields under heavy artillery fire with one goal in mind: converge, converge, converge! Such bravery is not limited to men, but is very much enfleshed in our women saints as well who oftentimes lead the way. Remember St. Solomonia, the Maccabean mother whose seven sons were martyred before her eyes. Do you recall what the writer of Second Maccabees says about her? How he sees her and commemorates her? He writes:
But the mother was marvelous above all, and worthy of honorable memory; for when she saw her seven sons slain within the space of one day, she bore it with good courage, because of the hope that she had in the Lord. Yea, she exhorted every one of them in her own language, filled with courageous spirit; . . ., stirring up her womanly thoughts with a manly stomach, . . . . (2 Mc. 7:20-23).
Such can only come from God to the soul who stands fast in the full assurance of the Faith.
Finally, we are counselled to “Let all your things be done with charity” or, if you prefer, “with love.” Love is the hallmark of Orthodox Christians because “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:7-21). Even when we are speaking the Truth in order to expose the darkness, we are nevertheless to do so “in love” (Ep. 4:15) – love for God, love for the Truth, and love for all mankind. Love does not liberate us to ravish and pillage others no matter what! We are to be prepared to love to the extent of the Holy Cross. Love is “the bond of perfection” in Jesus Christ (Co. 3:14). It means that whatever we do, we do in love for God to the glory of God the Father through His Son and Word, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cr. 10:31; Co. 3:17).
“Watch, stand fast in the Faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.”
In these days, beloved, of growing dis-ease in our world, if we are wise, we will build on the Rock!
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
1 Cr. 16:13-24