Realizing our life in Christ

We are called to love every person as a child of God made in His very image

If anyone professes that man is created in the very image of God, for men are all “children of the Most High” (Psalm 81:6 LXX), then it follows logically that the essential purpose of man’s life here, his very being, is to unceasingly worship His Creator through all his actions, by his words, and in his very demeanor, countenance and spirit.

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If anyone truly and sincerely claims this divine inheritance, through which we are called to “be perfect even as [our] Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), summoned to be “imitators of God as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1), and exhorted to become “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), then he or she would naturally seek to conform the entirety of their life, the whole of their inner heart and the depths of their noetic mind, to glorify and praise God in all ways and at every moment.

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Even the etymology of the word by which we have been known to the world since the first days after Christ ascended to heaven, ‘Christians’, from the Greek Χριστιανών, means ‘little anointed ones’. How then can a Christian, a little Christ, thus truly be a disciple of the Lord, much less aspire to mystical union with Him through participation in the divine energies, if he or she does not live, show and even breathe Christ in all they do, from the depths of their being? How can we be Christians, how can our lives be a “Christ-like fragrance rising up to God” (2 Corinthians 2:15 NLT) if we do not truly love all those around us?

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The simple answer is the logical one. If the very essence of the Christian life is to worship and glorify the boundless and ineffable grace, mercy and majesty of God, if the core calling for all humanity is to worship Christ the Savior by loving and honoring His image present in each of His children – even the lowliest or ugliest or rudest person – then any person who does not understand this simplest of the Lord’s commandments (John 13:34, Matthew 22:37-40, Deuteronomy 6:5) cannot, in truth, be numbered among His anointed ones (Matthew 25:34-46).

Our highest calling as Christians is to do as St Paul wrote to the Ephesians in Asia Minor, walking “in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling fragrance.” (Ephesians 5:1-2, KJV). Among all those who lovingly honor Christ’s commandments, we know that the Lord “abideth in him, and he in Him. And in this we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us.” (1 John 3:24, Douay-Rheims version).

Certainly, the idea of conforming one’s actions, one’s approach to living and thinking, and even the eye of one’s noetic heart to live chiefly to glorify God runs completely contrary to what “the world” values today, especially in its prevailing secular outlooks of modernism and relativism, which challenge and question the very concept and existence of objective Truth.

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This is why the true heart of the Christian Gospel appears as foolishness to those who live and think and have their being in and of the world, outside of a yearning for God (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). Indeed, St. John the Theologian, beloved apostle of the Lord, reminds us that our love, if truly selfless, is something the world not only often fails to understand, but indeed, because it is selfless, is something the world often despises:

“Wonder not, brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not, abideth in death.” (1 John 3:13-14, Douay-Rheims version).

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Yet if we truly hold to the faith we have received (Jude 1:3, 1 Corinthians 15:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 1 Corinthians 11:2), living out the essential message of the Holy Scriptures and the universal witness of the ancient and holy Fathers and Mothers of the Church, if we rest assured in the vast reservoir of wisdom handed down through centuries of martyrs, confessors, evangelists, teachers and pastors of the revealed Truth, how natural and joyous it is to be a Christian, to take upon ourselves the mantle of Christ crucified for love of the world, even a love it does not want or understand!

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, KJV)

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What a fathomless blessing it is to participate in the divine energies, the very manifestations and grace of God active in the world, indeed, in all who are open to it, through the invisible power and action of the Holy Spirit. It is by our participation in the energies of God that we are motivated, strengthened, and beckoned forth to show the world that we are truly little Christs by our selfless and genuine love for all His children. This love, fired by faith, is the spring, the catalyst in our souls, for our transformation in Christ, our divinization:

“A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13:34-35, Douay-Rheims version).

For just as we remember St. Paul’s admonition that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26), so too do we recall that works done without a loving spirit of real devotion to the other lack the spirit and grace of God. For any works lacking in love is are not true examples of loving kindness by which we truly desire to serve, selflessly, as little Christs unto our brothers and sisters:

“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20, King James Version).

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St John Chrysostom on the necessity of Christian love, a shining lamp to the world

“There is nothing colder than a Christian who is not concerned about the salvation of others . . . . Do not say, ‘I cannot help others’: for if you are truly a Christian it is impossible not to help others.

Natural objects have properties that cannot be denied; the same is true of what I have just said, because it is the nature of a Christian to act in that way. Do not offend God by deception. If you said that the sun cannot shine, you would be committing an offense against God and making a liar of Him.

It is easier for the sinner to shine or give warmth than for a Christian to cease to give light: it is easier for that to happen than for light to become darkness.

Do not say that that is impossible: what is impossible is the contrary . . . If we behave in the correct way, everything else will follow as a natural consequence.

The light of Christians cannot be hidden, a lamp shining so brightly cannot be hidden.’

-St. John Chrysostom (347-407), archbishop and Patriarch of Constantinople

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The Eastern Orthodox and Eastern-rite Catholic Churches venerate St John as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs, while in the Roman Catholic Church he is revered as a great Doctor of the Church. During his tumultuous tenure as Patriarch of Constantinople, he ran afoul of the Empress Eudoxia after criticizing her for her vanity, haughtiness and indifference to the plight of the city’s poor. He offended the imperial capital’s wealthy political elites by turning over their lavish gifts to him to the poor and exhorting them to repent of their dissolute lifestyles. Extremely eloquent and persuasive as a preacher, he earned his epithet meaning “the golden mouthed” from his numerous homilies and his masterful writings as a practiced ascetic and theologian. He is the principal author of the Divine Liturgy which bears his name. The Liturgy of St John Chrysostom is the most widely used liturgical form in the world today following the Novus Ordo ‘ordinary form’ of the Roman Catholic Mass, and among both Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics, this Byzantine liturgical form is the most widely celebrated.

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Commemorating the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea

Today on the seventh Sunday in the Paschal season, the last Sunday before the Great Feast of Pentecost, the ‘birthday’ of Christ’s Church on earth, the Orthodox Church commemorates the ‘birthday’ of the Nicene Creed and the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council held at the city of Nicaea in the year 325.

Church tradition holds that 318 bishops traveled to Nicaea where the Emperor Constantine I convened the first ecumenical council representing the whole Church. The composite Greek term katholikos, from kata holos (κατά ὅλος), from which we get the word ‘Catholic”, does not refer to the ‘universal’ jurisdiction of the Church, but the unity of its faith and doctrine. Katholikos literally means ‘according to the whole’.

Saint Constantine convened this Council in his role as the Roman Emperor, seeking to end the divisions which the Christological heresy of Arianism was causing in the life of the Church.

An extremely complex character: Honored along with his mother St. Helena as ‘equal to the apostles’ for his role in supporting and protecting the early Church, Constantine ended the period of religious persecution which his predecessors, most notably Diocletian, had waged against Christians. As Emperor of the West, in 313 he and his brother-in-law and co-emperor Licinius (Emperor of the East) issued the Edict of Milan ending the persecutions and declaring religious tolerance throughout their domains. After defeating Licinius for control of the whole empire by 324, Constantine initially spared his life due to his sister Constantia’s pleas, but in 325 he ordered his brother-in-law’s execution. He later commanded the deaths of his empress Fausta, his eldest son Crispus, and his nephew, Constantia’s son Valerius Licinius (Licinius the Younger). Baptized on his deathbed, he likely repented of these horrific sins.

By denying the eternally divine nature of Jesus Christ and His equality with God the Father, Arius falsely taught that the Savior is not consubstantial with the Father, but is a lesser, created being. Prior to the Council he had deceived Eastern bishops into supporting his heretical view of the Savior.

Among the 318 assembled bishops were many confessors who had suffered during the Roman persecutions of the Church before Constantine issued the Edict of Milan legalizing the practice of Christianity throughout his empire. Several great luminaries of the Church, including St Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, St Spyridon, Bishop of Tremithos, Alexander, the nineteenth Patriarch of Alexandria and his deacon St Athanasius (who succeeded Alexander as Patriarch) and others venerated as holy Fathers were also present.

Saint Athanasius (c. 296-373) served as the twentieth Patriarch of Alexandria and is venerated as the “Father of Orthodoxy” due to his stirring and impassioned defense of Orthodox, Catholic Christology against Arius and other heretics in the early Church. Roman Catholics venerate him as a Doctor of the Church, and he is also considered a saint in most Protestant confessions.

Church Tradition holds that St. Nicholas of Myra, in his zeal for the Orthodox faith, slapped Arius across the face in righteous anger.

This fresco depicts St Nicholas (c. 270-343) slapping Arius during the First Council of Nicaea. Nicholas served as the bishop of Myra in modern Turkey and was one of the prominent early Fathers of the Church. Venerated as a saint by the Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans today, Orthodox and Catholic priests share the care for his miraculous and myrrh-streaming relics at his basilica in Bari, Salento. He is the patron saint of Russia, Greece, sailors, fishermen, and all who travel by sea. The saint served as the inspiration for the popular tales of Father Christmas and Santa Klaus.

Despite his persistent efforts to deceive and persuade the bishops to approve his teachings, the Council ultimately condemned Arius as a heretic, excommunicated him, and adapted an orthodox Symbol of Faith, the Nicene Creed, which explicitly repudiated Arius’ teaching that Christ was a created being who was not co-eternal with the Father.

“I believe. . . in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made. . .”

Church Tradition holds that the Emperor St. Constantine personally insisted on adding the term consubstantial to the Symbol of Faith, (Greek: homooúsios, Latin: consubstantialis) usually translated into English as “of one essence”.

This marble Roman bust depicts Constantine (272-337) as Emperor. Half a century before his rule, Emperor Diocletian (who viciously persecuted Christians throughout his reign) initiated a major political transformation by incorporating Eastern components of monarchical veneration of the person of the emperor into court ceremony in the belief that this would strengthen his power and prestige. The illusion of a Principate, the notion that the emperor ruled in conjunction with the wishes of the ancient Senate and that a ‘republic’ still existed, gave way to unparalleled displays of autocratic power, with the Emperor seen as the manifestation of the majesty of Rome itself. This is why Diocletian came to demand that Christians offer incense to his image: he came to believe that as emperor, he was divus, a god. To facilitate administration of his domains, Diocletian divided the empire into East and West, to be governed by two senior emperors with the title of ‘Augustus’ supported by two junior ‘Caesars’ or deputy emperors. This system, called the Dominate, was designed to facilitate administration and military movement throughout the Roman Empire in the wake of invasions. It perpetuated an unstable system of armies proclaiming their generals as emperor. Constantine spent his early reign fighting wars against several rival claimants to the Western throne (based in Rome) after his troops hailed him as Augustus in Roman Britannia in 306. He ultimately established the Greek port of Byzantion as his new capital, renaming it Nova Roma (New Rome, or Nea Roma in Greek) in 330.