The Epistle reading on 6th Sunday after Pentecost is very beautiful, from the Epistle to the Romans of the Holy Apostle Paul, chapter 12, verses 6-14: “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” How beautiful!
Saint Paul offers us an icon of the Christian and of the Christian community, making reference to the role that each person has in community. And if we look at ourselves, we can easily observe how far we are, and how far the whole world is, from such a life. For example, Saint Silouan the Athonite says: “On earth, everyone has his obedience. One has the obedience to be a king, another a dignitary, another a farmer, another a worker. Everyone must fulfill his obedience in the fear of God.” This is how life in God is. That is why Saint Paul addresses the community, referring to these obediences as gifts. Moreover, right before these words, Saint Paul tells the Romans that the Church is the body of Christ, and we are members of one another (cf. Romans 12.4-5). Therefore, we need to fulfill our specific role. It’s an organic situation, not a discussion of merits or honors, as we see in frictions within communities, which occur when we rebel against our obediences. When we rebel, we don’t understand God’s wisdom or what God’s will is. He wants each of us to understand his calling and gift, and that whatever we do, we do freely for Him. That’s why Saint Paul tells the Corinthians that they are carnal as long as “there are envy, strife, and divisions among you” (1 Corinthians 3.3).
So, he shows us how Christians should be. For this reason, he begins pedagogically with the greatest gift, prophecy, but then continues with an ordinary gift, ministry. This is because each of us has a ministry, a service. Perhaps women complain about this the most because they are more inclined to serve. Yes, but by serving, we are closest to the Lord, because this is who Christ was: the Servant of the Lord, Ebed Yahweh, as Isaiah called Him (cf. Isaiah 53). So, if we want to follow Him, we need to do the same. Thus, He didn’t come to abolish feudalism or slavery, but he came to change our hearts. Saint Paul urged slaves to fulfill their obligations as if for the Lord, not to run away or rebel (cf. Ephesians 6.5-7 and 1 Corinthians 7.20-22). Just as He fulfilled the most odious ministry – which ended in death on the Cross, Christ shows us that even we can fulfill our respective ministries. How? With His grace. He came to give grace to people. And each person, according to his talent and with God’s grace, can serve as if unto God. And this is what God wants from us. Each of us in our own way, depending on what he is called to do.
If we reach a roadblock, then we don’t have grace within us. We don’t need to complain or become unfaithful, but to humble ourselves and beseech God for His help. And we will see how God girds Himself again with the towel and begins to wash our feet (cf. John 13.4), thus teaching us how to serve. God, the Theotokos, and the saints all teach us – because we don’t know and need to be taught. Everything is possible by God’s grace. The important thing is not what is visible, but the fact that we serve God with the talent that we have, together with His grace.
Grace is in abundance; we need only ask for it. May no one spoil our intention. He is wise who knows why and for Whom he does what he does. I am the Lord’s servant. Only to Him do I give an account. Because the devil comes and spoils our intention nonstop, as he did with Adam and Eve, taking them out of their obedience to God. This is what the devil does: he constantly spoils our intention, making a holy and beautiful work appear as if it is exploitation or something else bad. He does everything he can to spoil it. Let us be attentive!
It is good to meditate always upon the icon of true Christians, which Saint Paul places today before our eyes. We have lots of work to do. And how do we know this? In essence, each person’s obedience – king, prophet, priest, farmer, etc. – is extraordinarily difficult if we are to fulfill it in pursuit of God. All are equally difficult! All are as difficult as the obedience of a slave, who needs to serve Christ in good conscience without asking for his emancipation. That’s how difficult salvation is. We see various vocations and we think that some are easier than others, but we don’t know what cross they conceal or how difficult they are. This applies to all vocations from God. If He gave it as an obedience, then it will surely crucify you, but it will also give birth to you spiritually. We choose those which visibly seem more appealing, but we don’t know their hidden difficulties.
Therefore, here in Saint Paul’s word, we have an icon of a Christian community, of each person’s role in community, and of how we should serve within our role. And may we remember the life of slaves who needed to fulfill their role with God’s grace. An example is Saint John the Russian, who was a Russian prisoner captured by the Turks and forced to take care of cows for many years, but who eventually was glorified because he worked miracles. That is who a man of God is. That is who a Christian is. But we run away from these things, from cows, from serving others, from insults and reproaches. But there is no other way if you want to be born into the Kingdom of God. That’s how difficult it is. Salvation for each one of us is as difficult as it is for a slave to give thanks to God while remaining enslaved. Let’s not deceive ourselves. Only outwardly do some obediences appear easier. In essence, they are all equally difficult. And everyone suffers the pains of his or her own birth. It is neither more difficult, nor easier.
This Epistle is very beautiful and it is good to guide our lives by it. Amen!