The word of the day is “mystery.” In our reading of Colossians 1:24-29, St. Paul speaks about the desire to know the secrets of the universe. The Orthodox Study Bible notes that the Colossian heretics wanted to know such hidden knowledge (OSB fn. on 2:3). But Paul answers this desire by pointing to the “mystery hidden from the ages, now revealed” (vs. 25).
Paul’s remarks suggest that the heresy that threatened to mislead the congregation at Colossae has some characteristics of “mystery cults” along with features of Gnosticism (See Tuesday, October 27). At the time in the Roman Empire, various secret societies taught obscure myths of the cosmic cycles of birth, life, death, and rebirth. Clandestine rituals initiated converts into the esoteric knowledge of these cosmic patterns and into the experience of rebirth to a higher level of consciousness.
Not Based on Fantastic Speculations
Scholars have noted some similarities between these cults and Christianity. But note that Paul emphasizes that fantastic speculations are not the foundation of Christianity. The historical person of Jesus Christ and the actual events of His life, death, and resurrection are its basis. As the Apostle adds in 2 Peter, “We did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:16).
Paul insists that he and his co-workers proclaim Christ, not some abstract principles. He did it openly, “warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom (vs. 28). It is not that there is no mystery in the Christian faith. But the difference is that Paul publicly proclaims it, making known what are the “riches” of this mystery (vs. 27).
Made Known Among the Gentiles
Paul writes that what he teaches had been hidden throughout the ages. But now God has chosen to make it known among the Gentiles. Why the Gentiles? Paul says that it “has been revealed to His [God’s] saints” (vs. 26). However, St. John Chrysostom notes that it is most remarkable that it is known to the Gentiles who were once pagan (NfPf1:13).
And the revelation now disclosed? It is that the Son of God who became Incarnate of the Mother of God, and lived, suffered, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven–this Christ is “in you” (vs. 27). The Risen Christ dwells, abides, and lives in those who believe and are baptized into Him. It is no human-made myth. It is the Word of the Lord Himself. He prayed for those who would believe in Him, “…that they may be one just as We are one: I in them and You in me that they may be made perfect in one…” (John 17:9).
The Riches of the Glory of the Mystery
Paul emphasizes that in the indwelling Christ, the Colossians can find all the glorious riches of supposed knowledge and understanding that the mystery cults falsely promise. In the teaching of Christ is “all wisdom” (vs. 28). It is also the way to become “perfect” (vs. 28), that is, to become fully mature and complete in virtue (Strong’s #5046, 248). And indeed, the dwelling of Christ in us is the hope of glory (vs. 27). For if Christ lives in us, then His eternal life and resides in us.
The mystery of “Christ in us, the hope of Glory!” contains all that we might hope for. St. Porphyrios writes: “When you find Christ, you are satisfied, you desire nothing else, you find peace. You become a different person. You live everywhere, wherever Christ is. You live in the stars, in infinity, in heaven, with the angels, with the saints on earth, with people, with animals, with everyone and everything. When there is love for Christ, loneliness disappears. You are peaceable, joyous, full…Christ is in all your thoughts, in all your actions. You have grace, and you can endure everything for Christ” (Porphyrios 2005, 99)
Porphyrios, St. 2005. Wounded by Love: the Life and the Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios. Translated by John Raffan. Limni, Evia, Greece: Denise Harvey, Publisher.