In his Epistle to Timothy, his beloved spiritual son, St. Paul admonishes him and us as well, that we watch, that we be diligent in all things, that we endure afflictions, that we do the work of an evangelist, the work of those who spread the Good News of the Gospel throughout the world, that we make full proof of our ministry. Each of us Orthodox Christians as disciples of Him Whom we call Lord and Saviour, has a ministry, a special function that we are to fulfill in our lives. If we are truly evangelists of the Lord, if in our lives we bear witness to Him, we testify to Him, if our lives are living sermons for all people to look at and admire and to know that we are His Disciples, then we deserve the name “Christian”, we maintain the citizenship that is granted us in His Kingdom when we are baptized and when we repent, and when we come to the chalice to receive His precious Body and Blood.
We must always think of how this teaching of St. Paul relates to us since Paul does not require of his student, Timothy, nor of us, anything less than he required of himself. He said “I am now ready to be offered”. The time for Paul to surrender himself to his persecutors had come and he indicates that he is quite ready for this as he always was. Paul was a valiant man and great to be sure, but I feel that he must have felt apprehensive at the knowledge that his mortal end was imminent. Yet he transmitted to Timothy through his faith that special courage which comes from the hope that is given to us by Christ as he says to him: “the time of my departure is at hand, I am content. For I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.” (II Timothy 4:7-8)
Beloved, do you remember the last wedding you attended in this or any other Orthodox Church? Do you remember your own wedding when the Crowns of Blessedness were placed on your head? Some people wonder why the Orthodox Church uses Crowns in this Sacrament of union between a man, a woman and God. In this mystical and eternal marriage which is so significant to us, those crowns indicate exactly what St. Paul is talking about here. Marriage is, as are all Christian and all Sacramental actions, a righteous act and for the righteous deeds we perform, for all the Godworthy actions in which we are involved, crowns of righteousness are stored up for us in heaven. St. Paul bears witness of this to Timothy, that in that last day, no matter how the world may judge us, no matter how our neighbors may judge us, no matter how our friends and families may judge or misjudge us, when we stand before that Righteous Judge those crowns shall be given to us by His Grace.
I don’t know what kind of crowns they are. Paul doesn’t go on to describe them but he makes it clear that whatever the crowns may be they are given not simply to those who merely did “nice” things, not to all those who counted their virtues on their fingers like the Pharisee who stood in Church and said, “I thank Thee God that I am not like other men,” but to all those who love the Lord’s appearing.
Now come on! Let’s be honest with ourselves! When was the last time you thought about the Lord? In your “honest to God” heart, when was the last time? You are the only real evaluator that counts in answering these questions. When was the last time that you even thought about your relationship to Him or spoke with Him in prayer, or sacrificed some convenience because you wanted to be spiritually closer to Him? When was the last time, above all, that you really confessed your sins?
Sin is still a part of the Christian vocabulary! We, as Orthodox Christians, have not expunged that word nor have we substituted anything for it. We can’t call sins merely wrong doings! We can’t call them just mistakes! We can’t simply call them errors. They are basic, fundamental, A-B-C SINS. Each and every time we violate any of the Commandments of , and any time we are anything less than what St. Paul calls, “those who love His appearing.”
In the Gospel of St. Mark, we find an unselfish act of love. John the Baptist, who was sent to announce the coming of the Kingdom and who was surrounded by followers who could easily have made him a demigod, by people who came from all the corners of Judea and from the great city of Jerusalem to be baptized of him and who must have told him all sorts of things that would have normally inflated the ego of any man, is known for his testimony: “There comes One mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.” (St. Mark 1:7) There is another famous line that is attributed to The Baptist contained in the Gospel of St. John, in which he says, as each of us must say if we are to be worthy of Christ, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (St. John 3:30) When that moment comes when we set aside our pride and ego and realize how corrupt with sin we are. . . the sin of greed . . . the sin of envy. . .the sin of anger. . . the sin of impatience with our brothers . . . the sin of failing in almost all things to express the love of Christ; and in that moment when we say honestly, “He must increase, but we must decrease”, we humble ourselves before Him and begin to grow as Christians. Indeed, John baptized with water but Christ baptized with the Holy Spirit, and when the Holy Spirit fills our hearts then we can fulfill the commandment of love given us by Him and pray, “Lord, Crown Me”.
By V. Rev. James C. Meena