Daily Reflection for September 15, 2020

DAILY REFLECTION  •  SEPTEMBER 15  •  Greatmartyr Nikitas the Goth


God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7). God either punishes the mockers in order to correct them or He converts them into that which they had mocked. Initially, St. Porphyrius was famous among the pagans as a mocker of Christianity. On one occasion, he was mocking the Christian Mystery of Baptism before Emperor Julian the Apostate and his retinue. But something totally unexpected happened. When Porphyrius immersed himself in the water and pronounced the words of baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity, his spirit was suddenly changed, and he became a true Christian. Instead of mocking the Christian Faith, he began to denounce the emperor for his impure idolatry, for which he was tortured and beheaded. A similar thing happened to the comedian Gennesus, probably in Diocletian’s time. This Gennesus parodied the Christian Divine Liturgy before a crowd of pagans, amusing them with his mockeries and witticisms. Suddenly, he changed, and cried out before the people: “I believe, and I desire to be baptized.” At first, the spectators thought his words were a part of his farce, but he repeated his statement of faith in Christ. When Gennesus remained steadfast in his new faith, even when interrogated by the court and the emperor himself, he was tortured and slain. Thus, the mocker of Christ became a martyr for Christ. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

“I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”
            O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain?
            Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? – just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.
(Galatians 2:21-3:7)

I have always been amazed (and I confess, a little tickled) when I read this part of Galatians. This passage, from today’s Church lectionary, begins with the last words of Paul’s confession that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” It is his faith, and not the law, that justifies him before God. If true righteousness came through the law, he says, “then Christ died in vain.” He actually then chastises (you can almost hear him yelling) their foolishness. He lets them have it. The Galatians had received the word of God, the faith which was given by Him through His death and resurrection, and they had forgotten that faith. When he asks them if they are “being made perfect by the flesh” — circumcision — he is saying that the law means nothing without faith, and faith alone in Jesus Christ at that. He ends this passage by stating that only those who are of faith are true sons of Abraham. Men being circumcised to “keep the law” does not make them sons of Abraham. The Galatians had fallen away and rejected ongoing life in Christ, led by the Holy Spirit. They were deluded.

Of course, Paul’s words are spoken to each and every generation since the writing of that letter. All of us in the Church — and we are the descendants of Abraham — have heard the word of God and been baptized and chrismated into the true Faith. But every generation faces the same temptation that the Galatians had to endure. That temptation is to forget the Word and the Spirit and cleave to works. To do it ourselves. We are deluded if we think we can pray enough, fast enough, give enough alms, and repent enough, that our salvation is assured. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact. We must know God, His Word and His Spirit, then all the works begin to be a natural outpouring of Grace in our lives. It is not that we shouldn’t pray, fast, give alms, and repent, but rather that those virtues cease being “works” which are tallied up on a cosmic scoreboard to see who is on the winning team at the end, and become fruits of the Spirit which are enlivened by people who cease being themselves and begin to reflect God. It is what St. Seraphim of Sarov meant when he said, “Acquire the Spirit of peace, and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” Plenty of people “do” good things. Plenty of people talk “about” God. We, the true descendants of Abraham, know God. We must always act like it.