A Life of Ages in Christ

November 29, 2017 Length:

St Jerome, a fourth century monk who translated the entire Bible into Latin has written: “Those who love Christ follow Him. They are bonded with Him [that is, united with Him] in the ties of love.”


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In the opening verse of the reading today from the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians St Paul urges us to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called.” We are each called to get to know Jesus Christ. We are each called to read the Bible, to attend the Divine Liturgy, to prepare ourselves for and to receive Holy Communion, and to love others, especially the poor and those in need. St Jerome, a fourth century monk who translated the entire Bible into Latin has written of this verse from Ephesians: “Those who love Christ follow Him. They are bonded with Him [that is, united with Him] in the ties of love.”

Now, we all seek in some way to love and follow Christ. A lot of people and churches have been impressed by St Jerome and his Biblical translations and commentaries. He is recognised as a saint or a doctor of the Church by the Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans. There are very few people of whom that can be said. Yet Jerome was not a “goody-goody” kind of person who always did what was right. At different times he got in trouble with a lot of people. But late in the summer of 388 he came to Palestine, and he spent the remaining 34 years of his life, working at a small desk in a cave in Bethlehem—the cave in which Jesus is believed to have been born. There he lived a tough life—a very ascetic life in which he ate little and deprived himself of many pleasures, but still had many friends who visited him.

Some years ago I visited that cave, with a church now built over it. I prayed in the cave for perhaps half an hour. It was very damp and very cold. I remember how happy I was to leave. I thought to myself: “I couldn’t even stay here for an hour, but St Jerome was here for 34 years!” We all have different callings, but we are each called to follow Christ, to learn how to be united to Him in love.
A note on this verse in The Orthodox Study Bible reads: “Paul [urges] his hearers to realise what has been given to them and to be in practice what they are in Christ. So [Paul] turns the focus of his letter from what God does for us to what we are to do in response.” That note in The Orthodox Study Bible concludes: “How you believe must affect how you live; creed must influence conduct.” That’s a good insight: The Nicene Creed that we say together during each Divine Liturgy should “influence [our] conduct” both inside and outside of church, both in our homes and in our work, in our goals and in our hopes. So, how can we be in in practice, in our own lives, what we are in Christ, what we are as Orthodox Christians, with the fullness of faith in Christ and His Church?

I think we each have to ask ourselves “Who am I?” How do I describe myself to myself? We have each been born on a specific day; and that is known as our birth age. We also have a body age that can be measured, as set out on the BBC One website “How to Stay Young.” Some of us have a body age that is younger than our birth age. Others have a body age that is older than their birth age, because our body age is determined by four quite different characteristics: first, our genetic inheritance; second, what and how much we eat; third, how much we exercise; and fourth, how well and how long we sleep.  It’s very popular here in the United Kingdom at the moment to talk about our birth age and how our body age is influenced, for better or worse, by diet, exercise and sleep.

But you know, we also have three other kinds of age: first, an emotional age; second, a mental or intellectual age; and third, a spiritual age. Children, as you grow up, if you do something that a younger child than you would do, your parents might say to you, “Don’t be a baby!” That would be saying, “Grow up! Act the emotional age that is appropriate for your birth age.” Once you go to secondary school or university, your teachers might encourage you to understand more deeply specific ideas and problems that are being discussed by saying: “You’re in high school or university now. Think more deeply.” As adults, we too are at times faced with emotional and intellectual challenges that cause us to become more mature. 

Now, the challenges of physical and emotional and intellectual growth apply to spiritual growth. What is our spiritual age? Are we searching to find the life that God wants for each of us now? The evidence that our spiritual age is rather high might be that we pray and worship and live as we each decide is appropriate for us to serve the Lord. When St Paul opens today’s reading with the words: “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” or as some translations say, “walk worthy of the calling to which you were called,” we are each challenged. We are challenged to become integrated human beings, persons who have, as committed Orthodox Christians, brought together our five ages—birth age, body age, emotional age, intellectual age and spiritual age. We grow up in all five ways, in all five experiences of life.

St Paul continued: “Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing [that is, patient acceptance of] one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the [Holy] Spirit in the bond of peace.” St John Chrysostom offered a beautiful interpretation of this verse. He asked: “How is it possible to ‘walk worthily’ with ‘all lowliness’?” He answered his question with these words: “Meekness is the foundation of all virtue. If you are humble and are aware of your limits and remember how you were saved, you will take this recollection as the motive for … excellent moral behaviour. You will not be excessively impressed with either chains or privileges. You will remember that all is of grace and so walk humbly …. ‘with all lowliness,’ says Paul, not in words only or even in deeds but more so in the very manner and tone of your voice. And not meek toward one person and rude toward another, but humble toward everyone, whether enemy or friend, great or small.”
That’s good advice from a great saint: Be humble and be “aware of your limits and remember how you were saved.” We can rely on Christ to guide us, but we also need to be aware of how our different kinds of age limit us and challenge us. To some extent, our birth age, body age, emotional age and intellectual age, are parameters of our spiritual age. The dictionary states that parameters are “limiting factors that serve to define the scope of a task or project.” So, if our task is to grow spiritually as Orthodox Christians, how old we become spiritually will be guided not only by our prayers and our participation in the worship of the Church, but also by our birth ages, our body ages, our emotional ages and our mental ages. We can all grow up and serve Christ and His Church through our own particular calling.

The reading today from Ephesians concludes that “grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift [to each of us].” St John Chrysostom had urged us to “remember that all is of grace.” Marius Victorinus, a 4th century Roman philosopher who came to Christ at the age of 75 explained, and I quote: “Grace has been given to each of us according to the measure in which Christ grants it. Since therefore different people have different gifts, there is no cause for envy [of others] or refusal [of the grace offered to us]. One should not grieve over [or be jealous of] what another [person] has, nor should any [of us] refuse to give [to others] what grace [they have] received. If therefore Christ grants according to the measure of [personal need] the grace given to each, we should all embrace one another in love, bearing everything with forbearance and patience, with meekness and humility” [end of quote]. We don’t have to live in a cave for 34 years to show we love God. We do have to learn to live with God’s grace—with God’s love for each of us.