Straightening the hunchbacked human nature

The Epistle reading on the 27th Sunday after Pentecost is from the Holy Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians and strengthens the idea that our nature, which is hunched over like the woman in the Gospel of the day, can be straightened by God through our synergy with Him: “My brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (6:10-12). And this isn’t easy, because after all the devil is named ‘the evil one’. “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (6:13-17).

It is interesting that the first weapon mentioned is ‘truth’. It seems unnoteworthy and we don’t realize just what a weapon the truth is for us. Because the hostile devil always, when he attacks, begins with a lie, meaning he modifies the reality. He has an immense capability to modify reality. You don’t even know what happened, you wake up in a different reality, and you don’t even know what’s wrong with you. That’s how great a capability he has to modify our perceptions. Therefore, to remain in truth is extremely important, and to know what the truth is. Our great weakness is that we are very easily tricked by our pleasures.  If we hear some news that suits us, we believe it. We don’t even care who said it, where it came from, yet we believe it. We have an incredible capability of deceiving ourselves. That’s why the enemy also tricks us so easily, drawing near to us through thoughts that we like to hear, and then injects his poison. Thus, we need to be deeply grounded in the truth, in reality, knowing what is good and what is evil. And the Holy Apostle Paul shows us how, “having girded your waist with truth.” In other words, we need to immerse ourselves every day in the truth: the words of Scripture and of the Holy Fathers. Because in society, in the media, in ourselves, there is much falsehood, which the enemy sustains.

Consequently, our first weapon is the truth and we need to be strong in it. The Jewish people in the past knew Scripture by heart, they memorized it, because books didn’t exist. They had everything memorized. Just like Elder Cleopa had the Psalter memorized, and other fathers as well. But we lost this. We read the Bible once and we thing we know it. But we don’t. Because, just as in our youth we sang songs from memory, that’s how we should sing and absorb the Holy Scriptures, which is the written repository of truth. This is how girding our waist with truth looks like in practice, to be imbibed with it. Saint Gabriel of Georgia put it like this: “In the end times, when there will be hunger or other adversities, don’t give in to the temptation to steal or do something evil, because in this way, you partake in the works of darkness. You’ll fall from righteousness and become easy prey for the evil one.” We shouldn’t use the evil one’s weapons.

The Holy Fathers point out that arrows fly towards us every day, the enemy launches them at us when we don’t expect them. Yet faith (“the shield of faith”) and truth become powerful weapons, as long as we make them powerful. For example, we ought to read Scripture not only once in a while, but every day. Like professionals. If we’re professionals, we empower the weapons enumerated by the Apostle. If you have faith, your faith permits you to be healed, to pass through everything.

Then he says, “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” As Elder Zacharias Zacharou says, “The word of God should become our word. We should speak to God using the words of Scripture.” That’s how we learn the language of God and then we will abide in truth, and this will be a very strong weapon.

Alongside these weapons, the image I’d like to highlight is the way our Lord straightens the hunched-over nature of mankind, and this is accomplished primarily by strengthening them to conquer suffering. As Elder Arsenie Papacioc says: “Christ brought us more than what Adam lost. He brought us the power of discernment, the power to conquer evil, to accept suffering and to love our enemies, and the capability of becoming gods by grace… I don’t encourage you to seek out suffering, but when it comes, don’t run from it like a coward. Conquer it!”

In other words, Christ is beside us, giving us the strength to conquer suffering. This is the attitude that leads to salvation. And that’s how we find healing, how we are straightened after being hunched over. It’s as if He concluded a pact with us: “When you’ll be in suffering, I’ll be with you!” No questions asked. And He gives us strength. It’s not that we won’t feel the suffering. We’ll feel it, but we’ll have the strength to pass through it. This is the way, and there’s no shortcut. Adam thought there might be a shortcut, but there isn’t. This is the road. By bearing our suffering with Christ, Who is with us in unmediated fashion.

The second Epistle, which was read for the Holy Martyr Barbara, speaks exactly of this: “Brethren, for as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.” If we don’t suffer with Christ, we cannot ascend with Him in glory. Our Lord gave us strength to suffer with Him; and this is the straightening of our nature. “In whatever man proposes, he succeeds with God’s help,” as Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra would say. Amen!