Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Written Code Kills, But the Spirit Gives Life

How frequently we put our emphasis and trust in written documents that proclaim the truth of our faith. We study them and write about them. We try and interpret them, defend them, develop rationales for them. But, wait a minute. Paul tells us that we feel competent to engage in this mental rational dialogue not by our own smartness, but by what God has given us. He writes, "Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent..." So, its not our cleverness that is important, but what?

Paul says further, [God] has made us competent "to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in Spirit." Isn't he saying that the aim of all our rational thinking, our studying, our reading of blogs, is not the end, but what really counts is our acquisition of Spirit?

In the Church we put great emphasis on the creed and the writings of the Apostles and Fathers, on the Catechism and so forth, but Paul is cautioning us about our reliance on such written codes. He proclaims, "God made us o be ministers of a new covenant." What does this mean? This new covenant is based on a relationship with God. He is reminding us that we are to be ministers in helping others, as well as ourselves, build a loving relationship with God. Why, so the Spirit will become active in our activities. It is in this way that we become alive.

He says further "the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life." I think what he is trying to communicate to us is that what is most important is our acquisition of the Holy Spirit living in our hearts actively influencing our decisions. This is what gives us life in Christ. If we put our faith in understanding written documents and do not undertake the training and effort to control our animal passions, allow them and their associated desires govern us, and do not allow the Spirit to guide us, we are "dead."

This should be the main emphasis of an Orthodox Way of LIfe. It requires our personal effort beyond a mental understanding. We begin by studying the Bible and the teachings of the fathers but we must develop an active relationship with God through prayer and learn to discipline our minds so that we allow the Spirit to act in all our choices. We need to continually seek forgiveness for our errors and make efforts to change and perfect our way of being. We need to participate in the liturgical cycle of the church, the services and the fasting called for. Above all we need regular daily prayer life. All of this is part of our training to allow the Spirit to guide us.

We are all imperfect and in need of help to overcome the forces of this worldly life. No one is exempt from this need. Nurturing this need is the role of the Church. It is a spiritual hospital where we can gather in a supportive community to perfect ourselves so we can undertake the work of freeing the Spirit within each of us.

The message? Beware of putting too much emphasis on trying to figure out the Truth and forcing it into some kind of philosophical order. Be sure to put emphasis on prayer, fasting, worship and participation in the sacraments. As Paul so clearly says, "The written code kills but the Spirit gives life."

BRETHREN, such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.

St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians 3:4-6

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