Fr. Luke A. Veronis serves as the Director for the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, pastors Sts Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Webster, MA, and teaches as an Adjunct Instructor at both Holy Cross and Hellenic College. He also taught at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (2005-2008). Fr. Luke has been involved in the Orthodox Church’s missionary movement since 1987. Together with his family, he served as a long-term cross-cultural missionary in Albania more than 10 years (1994-2004), and as a short-term missionary in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana for 18 months (1987-91). Since 2010, he teaches a summer missions class which he takes to Albania for two weeks every year. He has led four mission teams from his church to build homes for the desperately poor through Project Mexico. His published books include Go Forth: A Journal of Missions and Resurrection in Albania (2010); Lynette’s Hope: The Witness of Lynette Katherine Hoppe’s Life and Death (2008); and Missionaries, Monks, and Martyrs: Making Disciples of All Nations (1994). Fr. Luke teaches the Preaching course at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, as well as numerous classes in Missiology and World Religions. His weekly sermons since January 2013 can be found at http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/ Fr. Luke is married to Presbytera Faith Veronis, and they have four children.
THE NEW LIFE IN CHRIST
THE DANGER OF BEING WITH THE FATHER BUT NOT LIKE THE FATHER
Becoming a “New Creation” in Christ. What does St. Paul mean when he says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17
To become a new creation implies becoming something that you weren’t before – you are new, better than before, fulfilling the potential that God has given you.
This new life in Christ, becoming a new creation, is a central part of our journey with God. Our Creator has given each of us infinite potential by creating us in His image and likeness. Yet, with this amazing potential, he also gives us freedom to choose our path. Do we want to become more and more like Christ, or will we settle for something much less?
Well, this new life in Christ does not come automatically in our lives. We have to be open to painful change and to radical transformation. A new life in Christ implies crucifying our ego and egocentric ways, and allowing Christ to be formed in us. We must cultivate the “mind of Christ,’ thinking and acting just like Jesus. This is what it means to become a new creation.
I recently read the story of a man who exemplifies this “new life in Christ.” Frank was a child born out of wedlock during a time when this was a scandal. He was a wild teen who became the leader of a gang, getting in plenty of fights with other gangs. He slept around with girls, and eventually got one girl pregnant. Interestingly enough, during all his wild years, he still was connected somewhat to a church. Anyway, he eventually left town and wandered around for some years. Well, somewhere in his wandering journeys, he came to truly know Christ. Not only did he accept Christ into his life, but he became a “new creation.” His entire life changed.
In his new life, he decided to not only call himself a Christian, but strive to live the Christian ideal. And with his new change of heart, he radically changed his life. He began paying support for the child he fathered out of wedlock. He tried to right the wrongs he had made in his life. He tried to daily live a Christ-centered life, eventually marrying a faithful woman, and becoming a good husband, father of three, and even a leader in his local Church.
Later in his life, he wrote a letter to one of his godchildren, “I can say from my own experience how painful life often is when one lives as a “halfway Christian.” It’s more like vegetating than living.” A “halfway Christian” is living with the name of a Christian, but not with the life of Christ. This is how so many of people in the Church live. We don’t allow Christ to truly transform our entire life, including every aspect of our existence.
This halfway Christian life can be seen in the image of the older brother in today’s Gospel story of the Prodigal Son. Remember the story – a Father with two sons, whose younger son demands his inheritance and then squanders it in loose living in a foreign land. There’s much to learn from the younger son’s prodigal actions, yet I want to focus on the older son and his reaction to his brother’s return. What happened when the younger son returned home and the father received him so warmly? Remember?
The father so loving received his lost and dead younger son, giving him the best robe in the house and celebrating his return with a feast. Meanwhile, the older brother was out working in the fields, and when he returned, was surprised about this spontaneous celebration? Then, when he learned that it is a feast for this lost brother’s return, the older brother was furious. He couldn’t understand his father’s expression of mercy and love. “A feast for my good-for-nothing brother who wasted all our father’s money on prostitutes and prodigal living? Where is the justice my brother deserves? My father should give him a beating, not a feast!”
The older son didn’t understand the mercy, love and grace his father showed, because he had never adopted the father’s gracious spirit. It’s interesting, because the older son had always lived with the father, and been the dutiful son, yet didn’t understand the father. The older son obeyed his father out of duty, not out of love. The older son focused more on the rules and regulations of what an older son should do, instead of striving to understand and imitate the Father’s heart, cultivating the same spirit of joy and love which the Father possessed. Although outwardly the older son never rejected his Father and didn’t leave his Father’s house as the young son did, still the older son never became like the father, and thus, couldn’t understand his unconditional love and mercy. And because of his inability or unwillingness to understand, the older son chose to stand outside the feast – angry, jealous, bitter and damningly self-righteous.
The older son represents so many people who call themselves Christians, so many people of the church, who consider themselves Christian, and yet don’t truly struggle to allow Christ to change and transform their lives. Becoming a new creation in Christ means precisely something radically new and different. Christ wants to transform our old insecurities and prejudices, our self-righteous attitude and judgmental spirit. He wants His Spirit to form our understanding of everything in our lives – from our family life, to our way we work, to our politics, to our entertainment. If we are a new creation in Christ, it affects every aspect of our lives!
The young man Frank, who I mentioned earlier, ended up his life suffering in a Nazi concentration camp. Yet at the end of his life, he wrote to his family, “If we hope to reach our goal some day, then we, too, must become heroes of the faith. For as long as we fear men more than God, we will never make the grade… The important thing is that we do not let a single day go by in vain without putting it to good use for eternity.
Put every day to good use for eternity! That is what it means to be a new creation in Christ. We are not to be halfway Christians, but new creations in Christ!
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