Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified. Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the law shall live by it. But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved. Romans 10:1-10 (Epistle of the Fifth Sunday)
There are people who have a great knowledge of the Christian faith but have no zeal to spread the faith. And there are people who have zeal and enthusiasm but who have no depth to their faith. One of our challenges is to have both depth of faith and zeal to share it.
One of the things I often feel is lacking in the Orthodox Church is zeal. There is no doubt that there is depth to our theology. Our theology has been established for centuries. It does not waver or change as society changes.
However, one of our pitfalls is that we have a tendency to worship “Tradition” and to lose Christ at the center. We have a zeal to build bigger and more ornate churches, and to adorn the walls of our homes with icons. But do we have zeal for Christ? Do we want to seek after a relationship with Him? Do we want to share Him? Is He at the center of our spirituality, or is it the trappings of spirituality that are at the center?
In Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, he writes that his heart’s desire and prayer is that we may be saved. This holds true for the Romans of his day, as well as the people of our times. Saint Paul gives them credit for having a zeal for God, but challenges them that it is not enlightened. I think this describes a lot of Christians today. There is a measure of joy that one can identify himself or herself as a Christian. There is even a joy that most people have for certain aspects of Christianity. But can one have a zeal for all aspects of Christianity, and, just as important, can one have a zeal for Christ Himself, and for sharing Him with others?
I will share with you that I love being a Christian, but there are many areas of my Christian walk that can stand some improvement. I have a great zeal for worship, but I need to do a better job of staying focused in church. I love certain Bible passages but need to be more faithful in studying the Bible regularly. I love praying with others, but praying alone is still a challenge at times. I’m sharing these personal thoughts so that you can know it is possible to have some zeal and still struggle to have the zeal that St. Paul is talking about, to have zeal for God but to need more enlightenment, and more refinement of it.
I would venture to say that my “zeal” is far from complete. It will be a lifelong process of learning and refining. There is a balance in all things. And in the Epistle lesson this Sunday, St. Paul is encouraging us to find balance between “zeal for the trappings” and “zeal for the Lord and spreading His Word.” For we don’t worship the trappings, or even the “Law” (in the sense that Christianity is not just a set of do’s and don’ts). We worship Christ, seeking an authentic relationship with Him, and seeking to share Him with others. The “things” of Christianity – icons, music, worship, etc. – these things enhance and help us to express our faith, but they are not faith itself. And it is the genuine faith and authentic relationship with Jesus Christ that brings us to salvation.
When the women Disciples of the Lord had learned from the Angel the joyful message of the Resurrection and rejected the ancestral decision, they cried aloud to the Apostles triumphantly: Death has been despoiled, Christ God has risen, granting His great mercy to the world. (Resurrectional Apolytikion, Tone Four, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Don’t forget to offer a heartfelt prayer today!