The Immeasurable Riches of His GraceFr. Barnabas Powell
“All is gift.” This phrase captures both the simple and profound message that embodies the mystery of living a Eucharistic life. You may ask “What does that mean?” And I understand. We moderns are far removed from a world where mystery and wonder and story dominated our human society. And we are impoverished by this reduction of true mystery in our lives.
Although, I will say that our modern world is slowly being re-enchanted because the younger generation is seeing the bankruptcy of mere materialistic life. This means we Orthodox have a window of evangelistic opportunity IF we embrace a normal Orthodox life that is defined by the centrality of the Eucharist. Living a Eucharistic Life is all about not denying the truth that what we don’t see is as real as what we do see! But there must be a warning here as well. This re-enchantment isn’t a neutral good. There is evil in the world that also draws men and women to worship false gods, demons masquerading as gods, to draw us away from Jesus Christ. Just a glance at the Grammy Awards show is a perfect example of a demonic influence on society.
Eucharistic life is a life lived on the firm foundation of true gratitude, a life lived in a thankful way; a life lived free of bitterness, false expectations, and slavery to passions. Interested?
Look at our Lesson today in Ephesians 2:4-10:
BRETHREN, God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God: not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
St. Paul wants to make it clear to the Ephesians that their renewed life of faith and their eternal life is due to God’s mercy and grace. They haven’t “earned” God’s mercy. It’s a gift! And a gift is just that: a gift! You see one of the great threats to the Christian life in the earliest days of the Church was a false notion that you had to obey the law of Moses along with your faith in Christ to receive salvation. The people who taught this false message were called “Judaizers” because they said you had to become Jewish before you could be Christian. These folks were disturbed by all the Gentiles coming to faith in Christ and they wanted to make sure these Gentiles adopted their Jewish practices. St. Paul, a Jew himself and a former teacher of the Law, rejected this message and emphasized that this new life won for us by Jesus was a gift to the whole world; for everyone!
And Paul emphasizes this precisely so that no one could boast that they earned their salvation! Because that leads to one of the most deadly spiritual illnesses that the Fathers called “prelest” or spiritual pride. Over and over again the Fathers warn us against such an illness that deludes us into believing we have somehow “achieved” great spiritual power or strength by our own efforts as if God now is “obligated” to treat us well because we’ve “earned” His favor. The Christian message says with St. Paul “I am the chiefest of sinners” and allows us no place to put our confidence in our own efforts to “get God to be good to us.” God IS good to us even when we are against, or as is more often the case, dismissive of, Him! God loved us even when we were “dead” in our spiritual lives!
So, our motivation to follow Him changes from the narcissistic “what’s in this for me” mentality that leads to prelest, to the loving and grateful Eucharistic motivation of thankfulness that He has given me His salvation. I live as I do from gratitude, not from expectation! And that central motivation of gratitude means I never take the gift for granted. It means I diligently open the gift and explore the gift and value the gift by the way I place my Faith as the central insight of my life and all other aspects of my life are informed and formed by my Faith. That is the natural result of truly being grateful for the GIFT of God’s grace!
And nowhere do we see this better illustrated than in the life of the saint we remember today. St. Theodore was a Commander in the Roman military and a devout Christian. His soldiers under his command respected and loved their commander for his goodness and dedication. Because of his stellar reputation, his being a Christian was reported to the pagan Roman Emperor, Licinius. When the emperor asked Theodore to burn incense to the pagan gods, Theodore asked the emperor to give him the statues of his favorite pagan gods so he could take them home and “properly honor” them. The emperor was thrilled at the thought that he could turn Theodore away from Christ so he gladly gave the saint several gold and silver statues of the gods. When Theodore brought them to his home, he immediately broke the statues up and distributed these precious metals to the area poor. This was Theodore’s way of showing the “proper” respect to false gods! When the emperor heard that a poor man was walking around with the head of the goddess Artemis, he ordered the saint beheaded! Because of the saint’s faithfulness, many became believers through his witness!
Today, what are you doing in your life to keep this new life of Faith at the top of your priorities? Are you constantly aware of His Gift to you? Do you know how to live a Eucharistic life? You have been given all things as a Gift. Don’t take this Gift for granted! Live the Normal Orthodox life of dedication, faithfulness, and devotion to Christ!
P.S. In truth enlisted with the King of the Heavens, you did become for Him a noble commander, O trophy-bearer and Great Martyr Theodore. With the weaponry of faith did you arm yourself wisely and did utterly destroy all the hordes of the demons, as a triumphant athlete of the Lord; wherefore we ever do faithfully call you blest.