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Thursday, March 22, 2012
Is Baptism Sufficient? A teaching of Saint Gregory Palamas
Observe All Things
Christ died and was resurrected showing that death is no longer the end. He told His disciples that he would come again to judge the whole world. He said he would take up to heaven and bestow the kingdom of heaven on those who are justified. Christ then instructed His disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and go and make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:19, 20). There was more than Baptism. Jesus expected those who were baptized to teach others and also to do what He commanded, "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:20). Apostle James tells us, "whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offended in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10). So we are not at liberty to choose what is virtue. We are to do everything He commanded. A little bit, or even most of what He asks us to do is not enough. We must "do everything He commanded."
Always Strive to Keep Our Freedom
St. Gregory Palamas tells us "if we do not strive through blameless deeds and words to guard our freedom to the end, or when it slips away, to summon it back through repentance, we shall be condemned by that liberating law itself for failing to keep the freedom given to us." The freedom we must guard is that which we gain through Baptism, where we are freed of the law of sin and death. With this freedom we now live in hope of eternal life in God's kingdom. But, we have much work to do.
When we do fall short of the mark (sin), and we undoubtably will, then we must immediately repent. This is obtained through the power of the Sacraments of His Church. While it is only God who saves us, this also requires our effort. When we are striving for our salvation continually with continual repentance, we find we have a merciful God who gives us His grace abundantly to aid us in our struggle.
Even Paul Struggled
Emphasizing that Baptism is not enough but our works are necessary, Saint Gregory points out that Apostle Paul is well aware that to "strive through blameless deeds" is a great undertaking and hard work. He communicates this to us by sharing how Paul, although an Apostle, always struggled. He basis this on what Saint Paul says about Himself: "Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainly. Thus I fight I, not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body, and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified." (1Cor 9:26-27). Paul fights and struggles to gain the "imperishable crown" of salvation. He suffers sickness, imprisonment, persecution, and temptations of the flesh.
Demands Our Full Effort
Paul encourages his followers to maintain their zeal for Christ and to give their full effort to do as He Himself does and to follow Christ's example. He says, "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receives the prize?" (1Cor 9:24) He does not mean that only one person will win the race and achieve salvation, but to be like those who make an all out effort like a runner who tries to win a race. The winners are those who win the prize of salvation. We must strive to be perfect as Christ with the intention that we will give our full effort to perfect ourselves. Saint Gregory points out that Paul also tells us the "prize of the high calling" is inexhaustible and sufficient to be shared with everyone without diminishing. There is not a single winner, but we can all win this race.
Paul shows us how to run this race. he says, Everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. (1Cor 9:25).
Lessons From the Ancients
Paul then draws on the experience of the ancients, those who followed Moses. Gregory Palamas uses this to show that it is not by faith alone that we are saved but by our works. Paul was making the same point with the Corinthians who had been baptized and regularly partook of the Divine Gifts of the Blood and Body of Christ.
"Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness." (1Cor 10:1-5)
Moses was under the cloud of the Holy Spirit. His followers were baptized in their crossing of the Red Sea. Like the Corinthians they ate of Spiritual manna given by God. They also had spiritual water that came from the Rock like the Corinthians drank from the Cup. The rock is like Christ who endlessly provides us with spiritual food. Like the Corinthians the followers of Moses were disobedient and "were scattered in the wilderness."
Saint Gregory Palamas explains it this way:
"What he [Paul] is saying is that once they had gone astray after evil Desiree's, the symbols of the mysteries which had been granted to them we're of no benefit to them, and did not exempt them from being abandoned by God... If we choose to live sinfully, holy baptism and the divine sacraments that follow it will not save us from eternal condemnation, but we will lose the heavenly inheritance just as they [Moses's followers] lost the promised land, with our impertinent behavior and disobedience to God's commandments. That is why Paul goes on to say to us, " Let us not be disobedient, brethren, nor let us harden our heart, as they did in the day of temptation in the wilderness (Heb 3:8).
We Cannot be Complacent
Do we not see the same issue today? Those who have been Baptized and participate in the Holy Sacraments are frequent sinners and think they are saved. We live in a world filled with greed and self gratification and we tend to fit in with the predominant culture unawares of our true unbelief in the teachings of Christ and our disobedience in following what He has commanded us to do.
Saint Gregory concludes,
"Let us not do evil, that evil may not befall us, but let us learn to do good. And let us throw off our vices through confession and appropriate repentance. If we are unable to to take full possession of the virtues, then, by being humble towards God, sharing what we have plenty of with the poor, and having a forbearing attitude towards those who fall, let us win forgiveness from on high, and fill up what is lacking in our good works with God's love for mankind, that the Lord may be constantly with us, according to His promise (Matt 28:20)."
Reference: Saint Gregory Palamas The Homilies edited and trans. By Christopher Veniamin, Homily 38, pp 301 - 304