One of the most difficult realities I’ve had to face as an adult, as a priest, as a husband, and as a father is the waking up to the reality of the complexity of each human person I encounter, including myself. This continuous process of discovery has me regularly seeing places of spiritual progress and immaturity in my heart first of all. All leading to the unmistakable conclusion that the taming of the passions, the disciplines that lead to my desires being my servants rather than my masters, is at the very heart of the wisdom and purpose of the Faith!
And with that eureka comes an issue I’m wrestling with today: Rules or Disciplines? Wisdom or Obligation? What do I do with the paradox of the scriptures that unmistakably teach that we have to Obey AND we are made for Freedom?
Look at our lesson today in Galatians 3:23-29; 4:1-5:
Brethren, before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
So, St. Paul is trying to get these Galatians, most of which were not raised in Jewish homes, to not buy into the heresy that they had to be Jewish before they could be Christian. It’s kind of like the false notion that you have to be Greek, or Russian, or Serbian, or Romanian, or (fill in the blank of your favorite ethnicity) before you can become Orthodox. That notion is, has always, and will forever be, false.
St. Paul refuses to call the Jewish practices of the Law that had actually become second nature to the Jews, bad. In fact St. Paul insists that the Law, the ritual rules and regulations, were our “custodian” until Christ came.
This means that the “rules and regulations” serve a vital purpose in our maturity and development, and always will. There is great benefit in the humble honesty of realizing you need boundaries to not just keep you safe (that’s too small a motivation to produce anything else but slavery) but to train your inner self to recognize the dangers in life when they come. Most of my biggest mistakes in my life have come when I was a sleep to the “cliffs” of my own intoxicated actions devoid of the wisdom of maturity. I bet you can see that in your life as well.
So, the purpose of the “rules and regs” is to train you, to form you, to teach you to recognize when your passions are out of control. They serve as the “custodian” until we grow up enough to value our relationship with Jesus ABOVE our own immediate desires! And that “grown up” place isn’t some “magic moment” when “poof” “I’m saved” as much as it is a day by day choosing from my freedom to realize the treasure the Faith gives me in giving me Jesus! That treasure is nothing less than actually “putting on” Christ at my baptism, becoming “Abraham’s offspring,” and “heirs” of the promise of new life in Christ.
Today, don’t despise or dismiss the wisdom of the rules and regulations.” You do so at your own peril. Embrace them as the valuable tools they are to show you the dangers of undisciplined desires. Then, don’t stop! Keep growing up until you realize the unspeakable joy of being Orthodox on Purpose!