The Form of This WorldFr. Barnabas Powell
If somebody would have told me my society would undergo the shifts it has gone through in the last few decades, I wouldn’t have believed them. Perhaps it’s a result of my increasing age when we “old folks” look at the world and say “this new generation” is changing everything (after all that’s been going on forever) or perhaps my own mindset has become more “settled” in recent years. However, there is a reason why the Faith values the “grey beards” as a depository of wisdom learned.
But, regardless of the current society’s willingness to hear wisdom, the overall common and expected experience of human history is that ideas and systems and even what one generation values and another generation rejects is always changing. As St. Paul tells the Corinthians today, “the form of this world is passing away.” So, in light of the constant state of flux for human societies, how are we Orthodox to live out a timeless faith?
Look at our lesson today in 1 Corinthians 7:24-35:
BRETHREN, in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God. Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
St. Paul uses the mystery of marriage to encourage the Corinthians to press out what a timeless theology looks like in a world where “the form of this world is passing away.” Do we panic? Do we curse the “darkness?” Do we form political movements to “oppose” the passing away of our world? Or is there a more Orthodox Christian Way of facing the changes in light of eternity?
Paul would suggest yes. And he talks about marriage to do it.
First, in Paul’s day Christians were being rounded up and arrested or killed for their faith. Where do you think godparents came from? The Early Church wanted to make sure children of Christian parents were still raised as Christians even if the parents died. Notice St. Paul insists his advice concerning marriage isn’t “from the Lord” but his own best opinion. He says, given the circumstances of his day, Christians may want to forgo marriage and avoid “worldly troubles.” Now, this is not an exaltation of the single life over the married life since both choices carry their own spiritual work that can lead toward theosis. But it is the principle of avoiding unnecessary entanglements in our lives to face changing societies around us. In other words, keep your focus in the Main Purpose of your life – becoming Like Christ.
Next, that means prioritizing your faith above all other relationships SO THAT all other relationships will serve your faith rather than hinder your faith! And that is accomplished not by abandoning this or that life, but by a perspective shift that sees where you are as the path toward a disciplined life!
Finally, RELAX! A disciplined life leads to a peaceful life. A focused life puts anxiety to rest. And this kind of disciplined, focused, and properly prioritized life leads us to “good order” and an “undivided devotion” to Christ.
Today, are you anxious about life? Is there a lack of order and peace in your day to day living? The Path away from this faith-crushing poverty will be through a choice you make moment by moment to stay Orthodox on Purpose!