On the first Sunday of the month, we listened to the very beautiful Second Epistle to the Corinthians of St. Paul the Apostle.
“We then, as workers together with Him, also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain (6.1). In other words, we who have received God’s grace are urged not to scatter it. Next, we learn what St. Paul did with the grace received, outlining a portrait of the perfect Christian, of a life beyond nature, of a divine life, but in the world. “For he says: ‘In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation” (6.2). Now is the best time for the work of grace. Not tomorrow, not some other day, but now. Essentially, at any moment, in any place we must work for our salvation, we must multiply the grace we have received. Grace was given to us that we may sanctify ourselves and the world around us. And this is done all the time, but not without effort. St. Paul, speaking of himself, says, “We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed (6.3). That is, he always strived not to scandalize anyone so as not to stop the world’s work for salvation. And it continues: “But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God.” The term minister is good, but the word servant would be more appropriate because the phrase servant of God is full of meaning in the Old Testament, especially with the Holy Prophet Isaiah: the servant is he who does all things according to the will of the master. The Savior Christ is par excellence the Servant of the Lord, because He fully fulfilled the Father’s will. We call ourselves slaves, but we are not—not really—perhaps indulgently may we call ourselves that.
Then St. Paul lays before us his asceticism: “In much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love; by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left (6.4–7). It is beautiful to see the crescendo in this enumeration: it starts with patience; it continues with distresses, beatings, and fastings; and it finally arrives at purity, knowledge, longsuffering, love.
Here are some verses rendered incredible by their juxtaposition: “By honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known [unknown to those to whom they were to preach, but known to those to whom they had already preached]; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (6.8–10). Nothing but paradoxes. All this is found in the Savior. Full of glory, He emptied Himself to speak to men, to draw near to them. Although God, he was dishonored. When he asked the apostles who they thought He was, and they answered that He was the Messiah, He began from thereon to tell them about His Passion. So, it is in this paradoxical state depicted by St. Paul that we grasp the state of the perfect man.
The Paterikon also tells of someone who went to an abba and began to boast that he had learned the New Testament and the psalms by heart. To which the abba replied that he merely filled the air with words. And then he asked him, “Have you considered reproaches as praise? Do you see loss as gain, or strangers as your relatives, or lack as wealth?” Through these, the old man wanted to show the state of the perfect man, a state described and lived by Saint Paul. It is so with God as well. And we, as His servants, must always take these into account.
Therefore, in today’s epistle we have the perfect man and Christian according to the will of God, the servant of the Lord, who does not think about merits but how to serve the Master. So, he is ever well known, but unknown to those he is to serve, praised and slandered equally. All these antinomies crucify the heart and prepare it for a permanent contact with God, always dependent on Him. And that is how He wants us to be. For He says, “Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning” (Luke 12.35). That is, be ever ready for sacrifice and in the working state of salvation. We need to think more about this wonderful epistle that presents the icon of the perfect Christian, our position as servants of God.
May God help us be His faithful servants and work out our salvation with zeal and sincerity in every moment, so that Saint Paul’s state may be born in us as well. For all these—love, kindness, longsuffering—are the fruits of the man who has risen above the flesh.
May the Lord help us!