Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Galatians 3: 23-29; 4:1-5
On December 4, we celebrate the Feastdays of St. Barbara and St. John of Damascus. Saint Barbara lived in the 3rd century, the daughter of a very controlling father who kept her essentially locked away from the world. Secretly she became a Christian. Her father constructed a tower for her to live in which had two windows. She had a third window put in, in honor of the Holy Trinity, while her father was out of town. When he came back and demanded to know why there were three windows, she confessed her faith in Christ. For this he had her tortured and imprisoned. Ultimately, her own father beheaded her, after which he was struck by lightning and died.
Saint John of Damascus, also known as St. John Damascene, was born in the late seventh century and lived until the year 749. He was a priest-monk. He contribution to Orthodoxy was that he was a composer of hymns. In fact, a good percentage of the hymns in our church still being sung today were composed by him, especially the hymns of the funeral and memorial services.
The Epistle lesson for the feast of St. Barbara, which is also read on the feastdays of other virgin-martyrs like St. Katherine (November 25) and St. Paraskevi (July 26), is from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. This passage reminds us that before Christ came, it was the Mosaic Law (the Law given to Moses, based on the Ten Commandments) that guided God’s people. It also confined them. The Law became oppressive to God’s people. There were too many commandments and people could not even learn all of them, let alone follow all of them. Temple officials and Jewish leaders also oppressed the people, abusing the Law, their knowledge of it and their power of the people to enact difficult and expensive rituals which they would benefit from in a financial way and through abuse of power.
With the coming of Christ, we do not live under the yoke of the Law. We live in faith. Faith is not quantified, like the Law. Faith involves love of God and love of neighbor, but not in any set quantity. The “law” of love is not supposed to be oppressive. It is supposed to be liberating. Saint Paul tells us that all of us who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Therefore, there are no “oppressive” classifications of people—no one is to be exalted or oppressed, but Christ is in all and all are one in Christ. Back in Saint Paul’s time and still to this day, we classify people and value certain classifications as better than others. Back then it was Jew versus Greek, slave versus free, male versus female. Today we divide along other lines—educated versus non-educated, above the boulevard versus below the tracks (that describes the areas of my hometown), etc. God does not divide us like this. We are all His children. This is why when we receive Him in Holy Communion, we say only the name we were given at our baptism, when we put on Christ, when we became His children.
It doesn’t always work like this, but when parents have multiple children, and they die, they are supposed to divide their inheritance equally to their children. We are “heirs according to promise.” We are all God’s children and His intention is for each of us to share equally in the inheritance—the Kingdom of God.
We should reflect for a moment on the life of St. John of Damascus. He composed the funeral and memorial services that we still offer today. The funeral is done the same way for each person (with a few nuances for priests, during Bright Week and for young children). Each person, no matter how righteous of a life they’ve lived, still has hymns pleading for God’s mercies sung at the funeral. God’s desire is for all of us to enter the Kingdom of God, but the road to the Kingdom involves our faith and work and then God’s grace and mercy. God gives us each a chance to attain salvation, making His mercy available to each of us in the same amount. He doesn’t offer freely to one person and then tell another that He doesn’t have mercy for them. We are His children. We all have been given the same chance to receive the inheritance.
Let us honor the all-virtuous Saint Barbara; for she broke the snares of the enemy, and she escaped from them like a bird, with the Cross as her help and shield. (Apolytkion of St. Barbara, Trans. By Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Guide of Orthodoxy and a sacred teacher of piety and dignity, luminary of the world and God-inspired jewel of monastics, O wise John, the Spirit’s instrument; by your teachings you enlightened all. Intercede with Christ our God for the salvation of our souls. (Apolytikion of St. John of Damascus, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
We are all of infinite value in the eyes of God—no matter who we are, no matter what we do, no matter where we come from.
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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