Saturday, March 22, 2008

Participants of Christ's Suffering

Some denominations have a strict division between what Christ does and what we do. According to them, Christ does everything necessary for our salvation, while we only receive the finished product.

We should recognize that this strict separation arises from a certain humility; that is, not wanting man to have any share in the glory that belongs to Christ. This humility ought to move us deeply, and we should honor it. Yet, from an Orthodox point of view, such a strict separation, by definition, is the very opposite of salvation!

What does Christ Himself say? “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one…” (John 17:22) He wants to share His own glory, the very glory the Father gave Him, with those who are His own!

In Orthodox teaching, salvation = communion with Christ. (The Greek word koinonia is communion, not “fellowship”!) Communion with Christ means we share by grace all that He is by nature; in our flesh thinking His thoughts, speaking His words, and doing His deeds. We let Him live His life in our flesh. “I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me…” (Galatians 2:20. This is too often an aspiration more than current fact.) There is no greater intimacy with someone else than to let Him live His life through our minds and bodies. This is the sense in which we are quite literally His body: His Spirit operates in our flesh. And this glorifies Him. “And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.” (John 17:10)

This communion with Christ is not a means to some other end (such as getting into heaven). We aren’t made one with Christ in order to become eligible to receive eternal life, but the other way around: God bestows eternal life upon us, unworthy though we be, that we may be completely one with Him Who IS life and resurrection, because as long as death lurks in our members, we are incompatible with Him. Christ is the end, the goal, the Alpha and Omega. Yes, He is the Door into heaven, but He also IS heaven. He Himself is our paradise, and we go there for the sake of being with Him (rather than going to Him for the sake of getting there).

Being made one with Him in Holy Baptism means sharing in His life and in His death. (Romans 6:3) It means being “partakers of Christ’s sufferings.” (I Peter 4:13) St. Paul counts everything but loss “that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the communion of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” And in fact, the chief glory of the Christian’s suffering is precisely that it is Christ suffering in him. “For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of [his] good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) Yes, He is still able and willing to suffer for our sake, not in the body that was crucified, but in Christians’ bodies, as St. John Chrysostom says. As Christ Himself put it, ”Inasmuch as ye have done [it] unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done [it] unto me.” And on the road to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus heard Jesus say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:3)

As St. John Chrysostom said, ”Look how He hath knitted us unto Himself.” !!!

That is why everything the Christian does is (supposed to be) a sacrifice to God. We are called to give up living according to the promptings of our own flesh, and instead live according to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to express Himself in our flesh (or rather, to express Christ, for the Spirit always expresses the Son, rather than Himself).

Philippians 2:17 Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.

Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.

And the Holy Communion is where, most of all, we are made participants of Christ’s suffering. NOT that His once-for-all sacrifice was in any way incomplete or deficient! But, for another reason altogether: that, for love's sake, we may join Him in this, too, as in all else. Time and space are transcended as, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we stand at the foot of His cross, eyewitnesses no less than those who were historically present, and participants with Him as we offer with Him His all-sufficient and once-for-all sacrifice and join to it our own sacrifice, of our selves, of our lives, of our deaths, of our love, obedience, thanks, and praise.

Christ wants to have with us not simply communion, but that very communion of mutual indwelling that He has with the Father:

John 17:21-26 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. "Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them."