See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that would compel you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who receive circumcision do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh. But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God. Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.
Galatians 6:11-18 (Epistle of Sunday Before Holy Cross)
From the Sunday of All Saints through Sundays in early September, we read from the Gospel of Matthew. The Sunday Epistles come from Romans and Corinthians. There are special readings for the Sunday before and after the Feast of the Holy Cross (which is September 14). And following the Sunday after the Holy Cross, the Gospel readings will come from Luke, while the Epistles will come from various books.
The Epistle for the Sunday Before Holy Cross comes from Galatians 6. It is the end of St. Paul’s Letter to them, so it ends with the customary blessings he uses to end most of his writings. The main point of the Epistle concerns the Tradition of circumcision. Circumcision was not only a Jewish “Tradition,” but it was a requirement that in order to be a Jew, one had to be circumcised. Because Christ opened the doors to both Jews and Gentiles, there was a controversy about whether the Gentile converts to Christianity would need to undergo the ritual of circumcision.
Saint Paul put this matter to rest in his Epistle to the Galatians, when he wrote “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” (Galatians 6:15) And in Romans 2:29, he wrote, “real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal.” The “Tradition” of circumcision was that God’s people had a mark on them, for males it was a physical mark. For Christians, we have the mark of God on us, but it is indelible, an invisible mark on our hearts that is manifested in our behavior towards one another and our love for God.
In the Orthodox faith, much of how we worship is centered around ritual. However, it is not rituals that save us. Rituals help us to express our faith in worship and lead us to a deeper understanding of the Scriptures. It is putting faith into practice that leads us to salvation. So, it is not the church with the greatest choir or the Christian with the most impressive collection of icons that has the best chance for salvation. Certainly, a good choir aids in worship, and nice icons create a nice prayer space. What is in our hearts is what really counts. The “new creation” that Saint Paul speaks about mirrors Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of heaven, where letting our Light shine, loving God, and serving one another is what matters.
The life-giving Cross of Your goodness, which we the unworthy have from You as a gift, we present to You, O Lord, as an intercessor. Save our leaders and our nation and keep them in peace, through the Theotokos, O only One who love humanity. (Apolytikion of the Fore-Feast of the Holy Cross)
Always remember what really matters in your Christian walk!
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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