The reading today from the second chapter of the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians concludes with some very strong words. St. Paul has written to the churches of Galatia and to us: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” For many years now, I have taken the first part of that verse as a challenge for how to live my life: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Before preparing this sermon, my understanding of that verse had been, if I suffer in some way that can be a small participation in the crucifixion of Christ. That participation in the suffering of Christ enables me to draw closer to Christ, to look at life through the eyes of Christ and to experience the reality that Christ lives in me. That interpretation is OK; it is not wrong, but it is certainly not the interpretation that St. John Chrysostom offers us in his Homily on Galatians. St. John Chrysostom, the fourth century bishop of Antioch and of Constantinople stresses the last part of that verse: “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
St. John Chrysostom begins with what appears initially to be an outspoken criticism of St. Paul. “What are you doing, Paul,” asks St. John Chrysostom, in those precise words; and I quote, “claiming for yourself what was done on behalf of the whole world?” For St. John points out that St. Paul “says not ‘who loved us’ but ‘who loved me,” that St. Paul “speaks in this highly personal voice” because St. Paul himself is, as St. John phrases it, “burning with desire toward [Christ].” St. John suggests that what St. Paul is saying is that, and I quote, “each of us ought to render as much thanks to Christ as though Christ had come for him [or her] alone. For God would not have withheld this gift from one person. [Christ] has the same love for every individual as for the whole world.”
In recording this interpretation from St. John Chrysostom of Galatians, Chapter 2, Verse 20, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture proposes that this verse is essentially about “making the universal God my own.” Is that possible—that the universal God who created and continues to sustain the universe is concerned about me? Do I have a right to make the universal God my own? How can I do that?
St. John Chrysostom advises us on how to make the universal Christ our own. St. John reflected that, and I quote, “the prophets [of the Old Testament] often make the universal God their own, crying, “My God, my God, I invoke you.” That is a translation of Psalm 63 in the Septuagint. What does it mean to “invoke God”? The dictionary defines “invoke” as “to make an earnest appeal for help, support and inspiration.” That does sound possible—to ask God for help, support and inspiration. Children, Father Gregory is going to talk to us about how we might receive help, support and inspiration from God.
Another powerful translation of the Septuagint translation of Psalm 63 (62) accepted by the Orthodox Church is: “O God, my God, early I approach you: my soul thirsted for you. How many times did my flesh thirst for you? Note that both our souls and our flesh thirst for God. The whole of every human person thirsts to be one with God. This thirst for God is not simply an Orthodox perspective, but a Christian yearning to seek God alone. The New International Version translation of this verse is: “O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You.” The Revised Standard Version translation is similar: “O God, thou art my God, I seek thee, my soul thirsts for thee; my flesh faints for thee.”
The Biblical appeal in all the translations is clear: Seek God with both your soul and your flesh; and seek him early on in your life, early on in facing whatever problem you are facing. We know what to do—to try to find God’s will in our lives, to be at peace with God, to love Him. Yet we often have trouble knowing that God loves each of us—God loves me—with the strength, and the intensity and the commitment with which He created and sustains the universe.
Why do we find it so difficult to accept that God loves me as much as the universe? I think it is because we try to separate our souls from our bodies. We pretend that we have a spiritual side that we call “the soul,” and a fleshly side that we call “the body.” Therefore, it seems OK to bring our spiritual souls to church and then live in our fleshly bodies as we walk out of church. But that approach to life in which we separate our souls from our bodies doesn’t work; and Father Gregory is going to explain why.
Thank you Father Emmanuel. To show that I am going back to the very beginning, to the creation of mankind, to Genesis. Here is what Genesis says about our creation, first in the King James Version. The reference is chapter 2 and verse 7: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” This is a better translation from the Septuagint: “And God formed man, dust from the earth, and breathed into his face a breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The Septuagint, then, and some other translations render the Hebrew word “nephesh” NOT as “soul” but as “living being.”
Whatever the meanings of the words “soul” and “spirit” … which truly exist but are not easily distinguished … the truth from Genesis is that we were and are created as living beings, a unity of body, soul and spirit. When that unity is broken in death the human person suffers loss until, at the resurrection that unity is restored with a resurrection body, a new creation.
In Orthodox Christian teaching, therefore, we are not “invisible stuff” without need of a specific body, nor is the afterlife some sort of dreadful eternal Ghost-land. Our bodies cannot be cast aside in this way. When God creates, saves and re-creates us; it is the whole person He loves, including the body. In this faith we must live, therefore, cherishing our bodies as Temples of the Holy Spirit. Of course, we know that this body will perish on death with our souls surviving, but this is a temporary state before the resurrection. For now and in this life we must treat ourselves as already participating in the risen life of Christ. That means treating the whole person with the utmost respect, body included. This, by the way is why we bury our dead rather than practice cremation.
Father Deacon Emmanuel has drawn our attention this morning to the fact that St. Paul’s application of salvation at a very personal level affirms that Christ came to save us all, because each created person is uniquely loved by God. When we affirm that for ourselves, let us also recall that it is the whole person whom He loves: body, soul and spirit. As the Yorkshire bakers say of the wholegrain loaf: “wi now’t tak’n out!”
And so we ascribe as is justly due all might, majesty, dominion, power and praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Deacon Emmanuel Kahn and Archpriest Gregory Hallam