If you’ve never read St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians you really should. Paul is addressing something disturbing that he’s heard, that there is someone preaching a different gospel than what was given to them originally, a person who is telling the Galatians they must be circumcised to be actual Christians. It’s a beautiful letter, full wonderful testimony of Paul’s story and his exhortations to the church in Galatia not to fall into the trap of trying to fulfil the Law, but rather to fall into the promise of God, the fulfillment of the Law, that being Christ Jesus. It’s in this Epistle that we learn the fruits of the Spirit and how they differ from the fruits of the flesh. We’re called not to be slaves to the law but a new creation in Christ!ij The passage we read today, which is the closing of the Epistle, says as much.
14 But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
But what we’re missing is St. Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians at the beginning of chapter 6, which is helpful for us even today.
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if any one thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (1-3, 9-10)
First, we’re called to restore the broken
St. Paul here is telling the community on how to help someone in the community. Look around you and think about someone who has maybe fallen away from our community. How were they estranged from us? Or how about people we know who are hurting, even if it’s by their own actions? What could we do to fix it? Sometimes it just takes an honest conversation, but many times all that needs to happen is a loving ear. St. Paul tells his people to restore those who are in trespass with gentleness. But this is also a reminder to us to forgive people who may have done something to us. We who claim to be united to Christ have the greater responsibility to forgive. Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us is what we recite every Sunday during the Lord’s Prayer – who might you be able to restore and forgive this week?
Second, we’re called to bear one another’s burdens
Sometimes life gets stressful, and most of the time that’s life, we’re able to handle life as it comes. But sometimes things get burdensome and more difficult to cope with. As Ringo Starr ‘gets by with a little help from his friends’ so too are we able to cope by the help of someone. And a lot of times it’s not something incredibly difficult to help. It might be something as simple as letting someone vent, or offering to watch someone’s kids for an hour or two so the person can focus on the problems, but again, most of the time sharing in that burden costs you little but has such a great effect on them. I’ve shared this before but St. Porphyrios says that if a good thought comes to you to do, you ought to do it because it’s the urging of the Holy Spirit. Who do you know who has a burden that needs help this week?
Third, we’re called to refrain from boasting
This is an easier one. How many of us have suffered the embarrassment of telling someone how good you are at something only to fail miserably? When I lived in Boston I could speak Greek at about a 7 or 8-year-old level and I got on OK. While I was in Houston I was bragging to the people that I could order our supper in Greek, and, because I don’t speak Greek all that much down here, I failed miserably! It was awful and incredibly embarrassing. This is just a small example, but it reminds me to not boast in anything that I do. As your priest I want to boast about you, I want you all to boast about one another, but we really shouldn’t boast for ourselves; let our actions speak for us. We’re always more forgiving of someone who’s making mistakes and apologetic, but it becomes more difficult from someone who’s cocky or over-confident. Brothers and sisters, let us be humble in our endeavors.
Fourth, we’re called to remain encouraged in good works
St. Paul understood that being a Christian is hard work. It’s not just as the humanists say that we just need to be nice people. It’s not just that we’re called to make people happy. No, as Christians we have a much higher duty, not just to help one another but to seek a deeper relationship in Christ Jesus. That can be hard, even depressing or despair-causing, sometimes. St. Paul tells us to keep encouraged as we’re reaping eternal life!
One thing this reminds me of is the work that the IOCC does, and how it requires, at its most basic point, humility and love. They endure so many different things (stuff being said to them, being impressed upon by either displaced people or the bigger organizations, and having to hear incredibly sad stories) and none of it can be endured without humility and love. We have to adopt this for our own lives and recognize the hurt around us, and with that same humility and love, the light of Christ, help those around us.