He really came across as wise. But something just didn’t feel right. For the life of me, I couldn’t put my finger on it. I liked what he was saying but I couldn’t help feeling like I was being manipulated. Man, I hated this!
Here’s the situation. I was a young man listening to this older minister talk to a group of us teenage boys. He seemed to really care about us. He had some good advice for us and he was fun to be around. But I just couldn’t shake this feeling of foreboding and caution. So, I dropped out of the afterschool meetings. It was only later I learned this man had been arrested for some inappropriate behavior. And I knew that the Lord was watching out for me! Thank God!
Look at our lesson in Colossians 2:20-23; 3:1-3
BRETHREN, if with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things which all perish as they are used), according to human precepts and doctrines? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and selfabasement and severity to the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh. If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
Here St. Paul is trying to help the Colossians keep protected from those who would have the “appearance” of wisdom without actually having it! And notice where St. Paul warns them to watch out about the “appearance” of wisdom.” It’s in the area of physical disciplines; being severe with bodily disciplines.
So, is St. Paul saying these kinds of disciplines are bad?
Well, not really. But it will help us to know what was going on at the time so we can really understand what St. Paul is teaching here. You see, in these early days of the Christian Community, most of the believers were from the Jewish past, and the Jews had a very elaborate system of fasting and physical disciplines like fasting and labor rules that all applied to the practice of the Jewish faith. One of the biggest rules was the rule of circumcision. And there were some early Christians who were teaching that you had to keep all the Jewish physical rules to be Christian. Now that Gentiles were coming into the Church, St. Paul warned them not to be carried away with the appearance of wisdom about these physical disciplines.
And the main reason why was because it was so easy to start thinking very highly of yourself by all your rule-keeping, and that always leads to what the Fathers warned as “prelest” or spiritual pride. It’s like being proud of your humility!
So, Paul warns the Colossians not to be taken in by the shallow temptation to spiritual pride by being so committed to physical disciplines that you lose WHY these disciplines were taught in the first place. Once you lose the WHY, you are on the road to reducing the path to the destination. You go around saying “Well, I fasted Wednesday and Friday this week, I DESERVE to go to the Eucharist.” Do you see the danger there. The blessing of communion is something you think you’ve earned by your rule-keeping and that isn’t the case at all! So, is Paul saying not to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays? Of course not. He just wants us to avoid forgetting WHY we fast on Wednesdays and Fridays: We fast to teach us that our passions must be tamed and that our faith comes BEFORE our desires! With that attitude about the fast, then we are truly preparing to receive the Lord’s Body and Blood as a gift and not some trophy we’ve earned by following the rules!
Today, do you find it easy to say “Just give me the rules” and then go off and follow them without ever learning WHY this wisdom is there? Our Orthodox Faith isn’t just a religious system of do’s and dont’s. Our Faith is a way of life meant to tame our desires SO THAT we can learn to receive the whole world as a gift. This is why we call the central act of worship for we Orthodox the Eucharist. The very word itself means “gratitude” and has nothing to do with following the rules to “make God happy.” God is already happy with you. And now He calls you to learn how to be Orthodox on Purpose so that you can be truly happy as well!