For He is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Ephesians 2:14-22 (Epistle of the 24th Sunday)
I have been to many sporting events over the years. I have seen many famous athletes from a distance playing on the field. However, I have never been in the locker room, in the dugout, or on the sidelines to hob knob with them. Athletes and fans generally maintain some distance.
In the church, it is not Christ’s intention to put distance between us and Him, or between us and holy people. We shouldn’t feel like strangers, fans, or even guests in the house of God. We are supposed to feel like “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (2:19) Saint Paul is telling us, in his Epistle to the Ephesians that we are all invited to belong.
Now, going back to the sports analogy I used above, let’s say that I was invited to stand on the sideline at a football game, or went into the “inner sanctum” of the locker room, how would I behave? I wouldn’t pick a fight with anyone, or say something offensive, I certainly wouldn’t hit anyone. I would be honored to be there. I would feel so honored that I would be on my “best behavior.”
And THIS is how we are supposed to be, not only in church, but especially when we are out of church. Christ has given us the opportunity to be fellow citizens with the saints. In the Orthodox Church, when we gather to worship, we literally stand with the saints and the angels, as their likenesses adorn the walls of the church. At the moment we receive Communion, we stand in the presence of Christ Himself. We are not treated as strangers or sojourners, but as fellow citizens. Does this impact our behavior when we are not in church? It certainly should. It should also affect our behavior IN church as well. We should be on time and attentive. We should come with a soft heart. And when we leave, we should feel a sense of gratitude and purpose. If we’ve stood with the saints, will we be quick to get involved in sinful activity? Certainly standing with the saints on Sunday morning should give us something to think about the rest of the week.
How do we go from feeling like a “stranger” to Christ and the saints to feeling like we belong? The answer is to seek peace. Peace is the absence of hostility. And peace is not only something we feel for ourselves but something we try to project to others. People of peace seek to bring peace to others as well. This is why our first prayer at every service is for peace—“In peace let us pray to the Lord. For the peace from Above and for the salvation of our souls. . .For peace of the whole world, the stability of the holy churches of God and the unity.” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Trans. by Holy Cross Seminary Press, 2015) Because before we can stand with Christ and the saints, we must do so in peace.
Before the time of Christ, people believed that God resided only in the temple, and that only the priests of the temple had access to Him. This of course led to a lot of abuses by the priest, and despondency of the people. Saint Paul tell us that because Christ came, we “both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” (2:18) This gift of access to the Holy Trinity, as well as all the saints, should give to us a spirit of gratitude and purpose. It should motivate us to be on our “best behavior,” and it should inspire us to seek peace within ourselves as well as to bring peace into the lives of those around us.
Finally, in most buildings, especially churches, it is customary to lay a cornerstone. Our church where I serve is a yellow brick building but the cornerstone is of gray cement. It stands out from the rest of the building. It gives the building its identity. It clearly states that this building is set aside to serve as a church. In our own lives, Christ is supposed to be our cornerstone, “in Whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in Whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (2:21-22) We all live complex lives, and many people live very successful, beautiful lives. However, beneath the layers of success we have built or are building, is there a cornerstone of Christ that defines you as a Christian, that give you your identity, that identifies you to others. The cornerstone that is Christ is a cornerstone that promotes peace, and that welcome us as fellow citizens, with the expectation that we will live a life worthy of this call and this privilege.
In tears, the women bearing sweet spices went in haste to Your sepulcher. And they were saying to each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us?” For You, the King of all, were guarded by soldiers. The Angel of great Counsel has risen, after trampling on death. O Lord almighty, glory to You. (Second Resurrectional Kathisma of the second set, Grave Tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Make sure Christ is the cornerstone of your life and that your life reflects the peace of Christ and the honor He affords us to stand as citizens with the saints and the other members of the household of God.