‘Til Christ Be Formed in You

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Writing to the Galatians, St. Paul utters the cry of a spiritual father:

My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you…(Galatians 4:19)

Though, interestingly, the imagery he uses is that of a mother and her children…

But it is a groaning parents have for their own children as they await their maturation. I can recall with each of my children the first significant (by which I mean, more or less, “adult”) spiritual conversation. It always came as a surprise. There are years of Sunday School questions – mostly information or explaining a word or a phrase. Priests’ children hear a lot of stuff…

But there comes a moment, completely unexpected, when the conversation moves from the interrogative mood to the indicative. There may be questions that lurk within things, but you realize you are speaking with another adult – someone who knows Christ and will know Him even if you cease to exist the next instant. They are no longer having a vicarious spiritual experience but are evidencing “Christ formed in them.”

These things go on for a lifetime. They move from child to parishioner, to spiritual child, to other relationships. Sometimes you find yourself on one side sometimes on the other.

One of the deepest and most reassuring aspects of such conversations is that you know the other with whom you speak knows something (or Someone) whom you know and is not conversing in a merely derivative manner. They know Christ and speak with an authority that can only come from within that knowledge. Such conversations are deeply powerful moments no matter with whom they occur. They are affirmations that Christ is not a derivative but the One from whom we derive our life and knowledge.

I am certain in the history of the Orthodox Church, various “mother Churches” have brooded over the offspring in the same manner. For as there is a formation of Christ within each person, so there is also a formation of Christ within each local Church (“local” in Orthodoxy would mean, Russia, America, Greece, Romania, England, etc.). There is a maturing in ministry, an ability to replicate itself across generations, to discipline, to survive persecution and temptation – many things.

The Church in America, though 200 years old, is still very much an infant. It has not been living 200 years in the same culture. In some ways the Church in America is much younger, the modern culture itself have fallen upon us in more recent times. I suppose the Church may be fairly young in many places as we all face a challenge from a culture that is new and foreign (modernity). But in every case, Christ Himself must brood, like St. Paul, “’til Christ be formed in us.”

Every challenge we face, in our own personal lives, in our parish lives, in the life of a diocese or even jurisdictions, asks the question: “Has Christ been formed in you?” And only time can tell. But the signs of that formation are unmistakeable, for the outlines and behaviors of a Church that bear proper resemblance to the Church in every other place that has reached such maturation become visible.

I rejoice in each of my children and their formation in Christ. I pray for my Church, parochial and local, that we show forth the visible signs of such formation. Priests must behave as priests. Bishops as bishops. The children of God as the children of God. Love must conquer all and the overwhelming mercy of Christ cover everything. The Cross must be taken up and carried and called by its right name. And all of this to endless ages “’til we all come to the fullness of the stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

4 comments:

  1. Father Stephen:

    It is good to hear your thoughts on the joy in nursing along spiritual growth. You might also appreciate some thoughts of Fr. David Baumann (you may know him) on the pain in fostering spiritual maturity. You can access his reflections here:

    http://johnonefive.blogspot.com/2007/02/hardest-part-of-pastoring.html

    Your post reminded me of his words, which are a kind of minor key transposition of yours:

    “Years later, when I became an experienced priest and pastor, it helped me to understand when situations like this happened to me in real life. Several times over the years I have spent many, many hours with certain individuals to bring them out of terrible life situations into a place of healing, and then seen them move from gratitude and devotion to distance and finally rudeness and even contempt for me before they disappeared without a word. Yet I knew that I was the one who had changed their lives dramatically. (I know, of course, that it was God working through me, but there was still a lot of “me” that was spent in the process. This is how God works). Such endings to pastoral ministry are by no means inevitable. They happen only rarely, but when they do they are always very hard on me. I must remember that I am not truly called to be a “friend” in the commonly understood sense to the people whom I help. For a few people, for their healing to be complete, they need me to be gone from their lives.
    Still, I am greatly moved by God’s own anguish over this reality. The first time I read these words from Hosea, I was moved to tears: “The more I called them, the more they went from me. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them” (Hosea 11:2-3). To be sure, in this case it is rebellion, not growth into independence, but the impact on the one who is rejected must be about the same.”

    Glory be to God for (more than) dappled things . . .

  2. This is a great article, father. I’m sitting in a restaurant in Redding, California reading and replying from my iPhone. It amazes me how, when and what God uses to speak into our lives.

    Again, thanks.

  3. I pray that all my children will experience the reality of Christ being formed in them.

    As for the Church in America needing to grow up, it may take a period of great testing before we see that happen.

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