It shouldn’t be surprising to any of us. How we think, what we think, when we think, and when we don’t think, shapes our choices, our priorities, and our actions. It seems that this observation is self-evident, and yet I have to confess that I haven’t really examined how and what I think nearly as often as I should.
That’s why I want to recommend you read the book “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica.” The elder really brings home the wisdom of the Orthodox Faith in shaping how and what I think leads me to become “like” Christ. It finally made sense to me WHY the scriptures say we need to have the “mind of Christ.” If I learn to think like Jesus, I’ll start living like Jesus! After all, that’s WHY the Faith is so important in the first place!
It is also the power of the wisdom of the Faith in telling us to “repent.” The Greek word literally means “Change your mind.” It doesn’t mean “Feel sorry for breaking a rule.” No, the key to salvation in the Orthodox Faith starts by reforming the way you think! And that’s because how you think is the rudder of how you live!
Look at our lesson today in Philippians 2:5-11:
BRETHREN, have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
For years I thought I was supposed to have “the mind of Christ” by myself. Turns out it isn’t possible for one person to have “the mind of Christ” alone. The only way for us to have the “mind of Christ” is in the community of the Church. And what does St. Paul mean when he says “the mind of Christ?” Well, think about it for a minute. To have the “mind of Christ” is to think like Jesus thinks; reason like Jesus reasons, and make decisions like Jesus makes decisions. In other words, St. Paul is telling the Philippian Church and us that we are supposed to be so united with one another that we all help each other think like Jesus – to have the “mind of Christ.”
So, how does Jesus think?
First, Jesus knows Who He is but doesn’t demand What He deserves. Jesus Christ knew He was equal to the Father and that His unity with the Father in the Holy Trinity meant He and the Father were one. But, the Lord’s mission required Him to humble Himself and be obedient to the horrible death of the cross. The Lord knew that this obedience was necessary to set the universe right again and He willingly set His prerogatives aside to serve us. So, if we, in the Church (no one could ever hope to do this by himself) are to think like Jesus, that means we each set aside our demands for the common good of the Church. We “prefer” our brother, as St. Paul tells the Romans to do in Romans 12:10.
Next, Jesus thinks bigger than the temporary. The Lord could only face the pain and the terror of the cross if He was able to see past the pain to gain. His joy at the wonderful outcome of destroying death by death strengthened Him to face His temporary challenges. So, we, as the Church, have to never allow temporary challenges to poison our fellowship. We have to think like Jesus when it comes to problems in the Church, and see past them to the purpose of the Church to make us “like Christ.”
Finally, Jesus enjoys the Father’s favor. The Lord’s obedience and vision mean He recognizes that the glory as the Father’s Son is never diminished by His humility, and, not only that but the Lord’s humility is turned into praise from “heaven and on earth and under the earth.” It’s the sad and divided mentality of everyone always trying to “have it my way” that wars against the whole Church holding the comprehensive and all-consuming “mind of Christ” together and all of us benefit from this sense of unity of purpose, motivation, and humble service.
As we come to the Apodosis (The Leave-Taking) of the Feast of the Dormition, the Church, in calling us to celebrate this feast, invites us to change the way we think about our lives and the very purpose of our lives. This feast that celebrates one of our own, the Theotokos, as one who both experiences death AND the resurrection of the dead because of her intimate communion with her son and Lord. In light of this victory over death a decay, we are invited to allow the Holy Spirit to re-orient our thinking away from the short-sighted selfishness of a life lived only to consume or gather for ourselves, and see that transformation of our life into one that lives based on eternal truth and not mere temporary thinking. This “medicine of immortality” in the Church should so affect our thinking that our everyday lives take on a deeper purpose and meaning.
Today, in your parish, do you help your parish have the “mind of Christ” in your choices, your motivations, and your service? Are you contributing to all of you collectively thinking like Jesus, or do you catch yourself insisting on your own way? If we are ever going to live truly Normal Orthodox lives, then we have to come to grips with the fact that we will never be that by ourselves. We need each other!
P.S. In birth, you preserved your virginity; in death, you did not abandon the world, O Theotokos. As the mother of life, you departed to the source of life, delivering our souls from death by your intercessions.