I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
Ephesians 4:1-7 (Epistle of the 25th Sunday)
In the Orthodox sacrament of ordination (of a deacon, priest or bishop), the people in attendance play a very important role in the service. There is a point where the ordaining Bishop presents the candidate, who is ordained deacon, priest or bishop, to the congregation and says “Axios”, which means “Worthy”. The people then “scream” back in response one of two things—they either shout “Axios” (Worthy), or “An-axios” (unworthy). If the faithful respond “Axios”, the service continues and the new deacon, priest or bishop, assumes his proper role in the service. However, if the faithful were to respond “An-axios”, then the candidate would be sent away from the altar, unable to serve as a clergyman.
This Tradition is both beautiful and terrifying. I remember when I got ordained, I looked forward to hearing the cries of “Axios”. But I also wondered “What if someone says “An-axios” because all it takes is one cry of “An-axios” to derail the ordination. I thought to myself “Have I wronged someone in my life, who might actually come to my ordination and scream that I am unworthy, unfit to be a priest?”
As I read over the Epistle for this Sunday, the first thought that came to my mind was the cry of “Axios.” I don’t think of my ordination any more—that is twenty years in the rear-view mirror of my life. Since the overwhelming majority of the Prayer Team is not destined for ordination, I don’t think about this for you either. What I think of for all of us is the day we stand in front of Christ, as I did long ago in front of my ordaining bishop, what will the angels and the saints be saying about my life, as Christ decides whether I enter into heaven or not? What will the angels and saints scream for me? Axios? An-axios?
Saint Paul tells us in his Epistle to the Ephesians that God has called us all to be like Him, to live in Him, to glorify Him, and to inherit His Kingdom. Each of us has that call. Each of us lives out that call in a different way—some are teachers, others doctors, lawyers, architects, air-traffic controllers, priests, etc.—but we all have the same call. Saint Paul implores us to live a life worthy of this call—with lowliness, meekness, patience, and enthusiasm. We are supposed to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3) This means that we are supposed to be unifiers, and not dividers, that we are supposed to be peacemakers and not peace takers. Are we these things—meek, patient, enthusiastic, unifying, peace-making? Thankfully, before my ordination, I never did anything that would cause anyone to say “An-axios” for me. Are we doing anything in our lives that would cause the angels and the saints to shout “An-axios” for us? I certainly hope that there isn’t anything I am doing that would cause the angels and saints to say this for me, or for you as well.
The other thought I take away from the Epistle this morning is about the word “one.” This word is used six times in three verses. “There is one body, and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, on baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (4:4-6) The word “one” denotes supremacy, priority and unity. If we are all called to live in Christ, then we are called to live in unity. We are called to place God as the top figure in our lives. And we are called to make following Christ, being Christians, our priority. And with following Christ, we are called to make loving our neighbor a priority as well. We are called to have one goal (salvation), one purpose (love) and one job (service).
The Epistle concludes with the statement that “grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (4:7) This means that we each have the capacity to reach salvation, God has given this grace to each of us. However, He has given it to each of us in a different way. We are all called to the same thing. We will live out that calling in a different way.
Just as I followed a calling to the priesthood, in order to become a priest, there had to be a declaration not only by a bishop but by the people that I was worthy of my calling. For us as Christians, on a journey to salvation, we are supposed to follow His call, knowing that in between us and salvation is the judgment from Christ of “Axios” or “An-axios.” If the angels and saints stood around the throne of Christ and shouted for you, what would they shout?
The women who were bringing the burial spices heard the voice of an Angel coming from the sepulcher: “Cease from your tears, and instead of sorrow bring joy. Sing praises; cry aloud that Christ the Lord has risen. He is the One who as God was well pleased to save the human race.” (Second Resurrectional Kathisma of the second set, Plagal 4th Tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Strive to be worthy of your call today, and everyday!