The great American Founding Father, Patrick Henry said “This is all the inheritance I give to my dear family. The religion of Christ will give them one which will make them rich indeed.” Henry understood the relative uselessness of temporary material things and the true value of a spiritual inheritance that lasts forever.
But the only way we ever really truly value our spiritual inheritance is by understanding what that inheritance is! If we remain ignorant of our inheritance in Christ; if we remain shallow in our understanding of our precious Orthodox Faith, then you can bet we will never value our Faith enough to appreciate the absolute treasure of the Faith. We will settle for mere nostalgia, or warm sentiment, rather than experience the transformation of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.
Our ability to appreciate what God has done for us presupposes a level of insight many struggle to have. I’m convinced one reason why so many are ungrateful in their lives is that they are deceived into believing that they, in fact, don’t have any blessings. Or their valuing of Orthodoxy remains nothing more than “familiar sounds” or familiar foods. Their gross misinformation tarnishes their ability to see what is already theirs. I’m also convinced this is why many refuse to embrace a life of faith. They don’t know what they don’t know! And what you don’t know surely CAN hurt you!
Look at our lesson today in Ephesians 1:7-17:
BRETHREN, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us. For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory, In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.
This powerful letter, written to the Church at Ephesus by St. Paul, a Greek settlement on the coast of what is now Turkey, is a letter that was probably meant to travel around to several churches that had been started by St. Paul in the area, the Ephesian Church being the first stop for the letter. St. Paul emphasizes the Church as the Body of Christ and he gives specific wisdom in the letter about family relationships, getting along with folks in the parish, lessons on how to use your gifts for God, and how to fight the spiritual battles that keep you focused on the Faith. All good stuff.
But today we see Paul attempt to help the believers by emphasizing just what God has given those who love Him. And all that He has given us is “for the praise of his glory” a phrase Paul repeats in the passage to emphasize the purpose of all these blessings. And then he says that we believers were “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.” Wow, what a sentence.
When someone is baptized and chrismated into the Church, the Church gives each one their personal “Pentecost” when the priest anoints the new believer with the oil specifically set apart to represent the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the Church by Jesus Christ. And what do we say when we chrismate someone? As I anoint the believer on his forehead, eyes, ears, chest, hands, and feet, I say “Sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit” and the congregation replies “Sealed.” This powerful divine mystery is meant to drive home the reality that this new believer now becomes a fellow inheritor of all God gives to His Church, the Body of Christ. Far from this diminishing any of the inheritance we each already possess, this new addition to the Church actually INCREASES the inheritance for us all, as we actively add new converts to the Body of Christ!
St. Phocas, bishop of Sinope ( a town in northern Turkey), was a godly Christian early in the second century AD. He lived such a devout life that the Church made him bishop of his hometown. St. Phocas so valued his Faith that he was an example of Christian holiness. His preaching a living converted many pagans to the Orthodox Christian Faith. During the reign of Emperor Trajan, a great persecution against Christians was pressing through the Empire. The pagan governor of the city of Sinope demanded that St. Phocas renounce Christ and give up the holy books to be burned. When this godly and brave man refused, he was tortured and eventually locked in a local bathhouse which was then set on fire and killed the holy bishop. Can you imagine why this holy man could endure such torture and pain? Because St. Phocas understood what his true inheritance was, and it wasn’t destroyed when he was killed. It was revealed! If you are going to endure the challenges in your life it will be because you’ve done the work necessary to understand what your Orthodox inheritance really is!
So, Today, are you awake to the spiritual inheritance you already possess by being a part of the Church? Perhaps it’s time to start unpacking the spiritual treasures given to you by the Lord and begin to learn how to “count your blessings.” Only then will you ever understand why it’s worth living a Normal Orthodox Life!
P.S. As a sharer of the ways and a successor to the throne of the Apostles, O inspired of God, thou foundest discipline to be a means of ascent to divine vision. Wherefore, having rightly divided the word of truth, thou didst also contest for the Faith even unto blood, O Hieromartyr Phocas. Intercede with Christ our God that our souls be saved.
Thank you to all our new members of our Faith Encouraged Family! Please make sure you sign up at FaithEncouraged.org so you are ready for the changes on Oct. 1!