Being in the room when my daughters were born was an unforgettable experience. Of course, I was a spectator. It was my wife that was doing all the work! And it wasn’t always a “fun” experience. In fact, I was “invited” to experience some of that pain while holding the hand of my bride during labor. The woman has a very strong grip!
The event of childbirth is such a powerful icon of a particular Orthodox perspective about the ideas of “progress” and “growth.” This perspective even extends to the very creation itself as the whole created order looks forward to fulfillment and true identity. Kind of adds a whole new meaning to “Become Who You Are.”
Look at our lesson today in Romans 8:22-27:
BRETHREN we know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
The whole context of this passage from St. Paul to the Roman Christians is about the reality of the follower of Jesus becoming this “new creature;” this adopted child of God who is transformed into being “like Christ” and who walks “in the Spirit” instead of following the temporary ways of “the flesh.”
Paul wants we Christians to appreciate just WHY doing the hard work of following Christ and being made “like Christ” is worth all this swimming against the tide of a world all going the wrong way! And he does this by comparing our spiritual labors to, well. labor!
Paul says we are “in labor” and, in fact, all of creation is “in labor.” But the question is what are we “pregnant” with in the first place, and Who is the Father?
All the Faith is about seeing the character of Christ developed in your life; to create the “family resemblance” so that, at the awesome judgment seat of Christ, you will be clearly recognizable! But that formation takes focused work. And this work is a “symphonia” between you and the Holy Spirit Who was given to you at your chrismation when you entered the Church. Just like Christ was formed inside the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary, when she offered her free “yes” to the Archangel Gabriel, so too, when we offer our free “yes” to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives Christ is formed within us as well.
And the “groaning” comes from that very difficult place of “already/not yet.” Yes, Christ is being formed in us by our cooperation with the work of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. We really are experiencing His growth within our lives. But we are not yet “ready” to be birthed as what we shall be! In another place, St. John writes “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2) We are “pregnant” with the character of Christ within is. We have God the Father, Who created us to be His eternal companions, ready to stand in the “bright fire” of His Uncreated glory forever and consider that place blessed as we have prepared ourselves through the ascetic life of a purposeful Orthodox lifestyle. We have that “blessed hope” before us to fill us with the powerful motivation to stay faithful, even when the “labor pains” are hard and the temptation to “abort” the process is great. We are groaning in that “in-between” place, but the groanings are actual prayers to the Lord for His mercy!
But we aren’t the only ones who groan with anticipation. All of creation groans as well. The very cosmos is in “labor pains” to birth that “new heaven and new earth” where there will be no more sunset, darkness, death, and suffering. Even creation itself longs to be what it was made to be by a Loving God!
Today, you are intended to have Christ formed inside your life. You are meant to look like Jesus on the Last Day. And all you need to bring this glorious purpose to term is found in the Church. No wonder it’s worth it to be Orthodox on Purpose!