Boundaries Are Essential

Boundaries Are Essential

Do you know the difference between a barrier and a threshold? It’s actually quite an important distinction.

There’s actually some really important contemplation to be done here. Boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships BUT those boundaries need thresholds to stay healthy. I can’t tell you how many people have sat in my office talking about troubles with their relationships with family and heard them talk about how they never talk to their relatives anymore because of toxic experiences in the past. And, let’s face it, family relationships can be really traumatic. And there really is a time when something is so toxic you just have to cut off the source of the trauma.

But, we just finished up the Paschal season where we sang regularly “Let us forgive everything by the Resurrection!” So, boundaries are important, and thresholds, openings, in those boundaries are also important. We were meant to heal divides, not merely perpetuate them. But the healing of divides has to be as healthy as possible. How do we do that?

Look at our lesson today in Acts 21:26-32:

IN THOSE DAYS, Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself with them and went into the temple, to give notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for every one of them. When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up all the crowd, and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching men everywhere against the people and the law and this place; moreover he also brought Greeks into the temple, and he has defiled this holy place.” For they had previously seen Trophimos the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. Then all the city was aroused, and the people ran together; they seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And as they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. He at once took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them; and when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

Here, St. Paul is taking the advice of St. James to go through a purification rite of the Jewish faith to put a stop to the slander being made about Paul that he was a destroyer of the Jewish faith. Paul had been a very effective preacher to the whole area and convinced many that Jesus was, in fact, the promised Jewish Messiah and that He had risen from the dead! Of course, those who rejected Jesus as the Messiah saw Paul as someone who was destroying Judaism with his strange doctrines. St. James suggests that St. Paul perform this purification ritual to publicly display that he wasn’t destroying the Faith, but fulfilling it!

Of course, this didn’t work. Even though Paul sincerely and piously does this faithful spiritual labor to show he has no intentions of dismissing thousands of years of pious spiritual labors, his enemies are convinced he’s broken a boundary of Judaism by bringing a “gentile” (a Greek) into the Temple thus violating a sacred boundary.

These enemies of St. Paul don’t, or won’t, realize that God Himself has every intention of bringing “Greeks” into the Faith! God has every intention of healing the divide between the Jews and the Gentiles. And the boundaries between Jews and Gentiles were actually encouraged by God in the Hebrew Scriptures when the Jewish people started mixing paganism i9n with their Jewish Faith. God told them to separate from the Gentile world to preserve the Faith that was meant to heal the very divide later! The previous boundaries were meant to teach, not forever prevent!

And here is where our Faith grants us wisdom in the ambiguities of life. We have to have boundaries if we are going to be able to discern where the dangers are in life. We have to have those warning symbols to say “Be careful, you’re approaching a cliff.” Boundaries, distinctions, canon law, moral principles all serve to teach and inform and protect. That’s their purpose. At the same time, we humans have proven how good we are at making boundaries barriers if we take our eye off the purpose of the boundaries. We start acting as if the boundaries are ends in themselves. And that’s never the case. These enemies of St. Paul had no intentions of ever seeing the Jewish teachings concerning themselves and the Gentiles as anything other than an eternal barrier between these two groups of people. They were wrong, and they were wrong because they misunderstood the purpose of the boundaries in the first place.

That’s why we have thresholds. We need to be open to having openings in our boundaries so that there is always a chance for healing or reconciliation or some other way we can restore and be in communion. We need the mindset that boundaries aren’t immovable. But we don’t pretend that there aren’t unchangeable truths. We just refuse to use those truths as excuses not to love and embrace!

By the way, this scene will see Paul arrested and then taken to the Roman Emperor for trial. He will be killed for his faith.

St. Isac was born in Syria and became a monk of the desert. But during the reign of the emperor Valens (364-378 AD), St. Isaac left the desert to go to Constantinople to assist the Orthodox against the onslaught of the Arian heresies of the day. The Emperor had closed many of the Orthodox churches in Constantinople. During this same time, St. Isaac was attempting to help the Orthodox and the Roman Empire was being attacked by Goth tribal armies to the point these barbarian armies had taken the city of Thrace and were headed to the capital. St. Isaac told the emperor that if he would reopen the Orthodox Churches, he would defeat the invaders. The emperor ignored Isaac and had him thrown into a raven filled with thorns and mud, impossible to escape. But Isaac was preserved and actually escaped his difficult place with the help of three angels and he confronted the emperor again and said if the emperor would reopen the churches, God would help him against the Goths. The emperor and his Arian generals ignored the saint, and they were, in fact, defeated by the barbarian armies. Valens was killed and then a good emperor (Theodosius) came to the throne and honored Isaac as a prophet. Isaac was able to see clearly how to navigate between holding fast to unmovable truths while, at the same time, engaging even those who hated him for their own good!

Today, it’s so easy to go into an automatic pilot when it comes to the wisdom of the Faith. We assume the wisdom of the Faith is meant to exclude people when actually it’s meant to provide spiritual medicine to heal ALL people. We have no human enemies if we’re Orthodox on Purpose.

P.S. The image of God was faithfully preserved in you, O Father. For you took up the Cross and followed Christ. By Your actions, you taught us to look beyond the flesh for it passes, rather to be concerned about the soul which is immortal. Wherefore, O Holy Isaakios, your soul rejoices with the angels.

Summertime is hard on ministries, so we are grateful for your special support at this time of year!

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