The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to St. Titus. (3:8-15) and the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (5:14-19)
In today’s epistle we hear some strong words of the Apostle Paul to his spiritual son Titus. Listen to what he says, “I desire you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply themselves to good deeds; these are excellent and profitable to men.”
According to the great apostle, what makes us excellent and profitable as believers is that we believe in God but we do not stop at believing in God, we are also taught to carefully apply ourselves to good deeds. This is echoed in today’s gospel reading as our Lord Jesus teaches,
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven.”
In both the epistle and the gospel, we are directed to look at our own works and deeds. Ultimately, this is the way that we manifest Jesus Christ to others and give them a small vision of the heavenly kingdom. Think about it this way: If the kingdom of God does not dwell richly within us, how can we manifest it to others? And the kingdom of God is meant to dwell richly in each of us, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the comforter. This is why the Lord says “the kingdom of God is within you.” As I told someone recently. It is up to us to cultivate the kingdom within us. Either we will cultivate the kingdom of God or we will cultivate hell within us. When we cultivate the kingdom through humility then the Holy Spirit comes to water us and nourish our souls. He give us divine life! When we cultivate hell, through our pride, our love of sins and our neglect of God, we produce death within ourselves and this spiritual death is spread to those around us.
St. Paul gives us some of the characteristics of those who cultivate such death. He tells Titus to “avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile. As for a man who is factious, (meaning one who causes factions or division) after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self-condemned.”
Sadly this was not only the case at the time of this epistle 2000 years ago, but still to this day. I have warned our own people many times to avoid Orthodox internet forums and facebook groups and the above description is exactly why. When someone desires to learn, they should learn from primary sources such as the writings of Scripture, the fathers and the saints of the Church, and as Orthodox Christians we should do this with guidance from our spiritual father within the life of the Church and not as lone rogue theologians and pseudo-scholars. Our personal opinions regarding the faith are just that: opinions. But the Orthodox faith has been richly revealed to us and doesn’t need to be cheapened and degraded through useless internet chatter. That is not to say that the internet doesn’t serve some great uses, it does and many have come to the Church through this medium, but the fact remains that much more harm than good comes from these forums because it rewards the exact behavior that St. Paul is warning against. It is primarily an exercise in pride and ego, and without the real powerful elements of human relationship. I am not saying this to you to make you feel bad, but out of love for you, because I want you to have a genuine faith and spiritual life and not to be poisoned by fruit that looks good but offers death. If your interest is genuinely in God and in salvation, then leave aside these forums and online groups and take up genuine sources of Christian knowledge.
We should note that these “stupid controversies and dissensions and quarrels over the law” are not limited to the internet. They happen even at the local level. They happen in regards to aspectsof church life, some of which are not fundamental to our faith, but are lifted up to the level of “law.” That is what we call legalism. One subject of such legalism is usually focused on how people dress or their outward appearance, but there are others. We would do well to pay attention not to what our brother or sister are wearing, but to the condition of the garments of our souls.
We should also follow St. Pauls words to “avoid stupid controversies and dissensions” when we entangle ourselves in political talk, conspiracy theories and the like. All of these subjects cause division in the church. People should not look at you and see a Republican or a Democrat, a capitalist or a communist, a conservative or a liberal. They should look at you and see the image and likeness of Christ. I don’t want people to see me, I want them to see my Lord and savior. Christ died for your brother and your sister of the other tribe, the other political party. The Lord desires to save all people, don’t be an obstacle to others growing closer to the life of Christ in the Church. You are responsible for your brother and sister, so take responsibility for your words and your actions. Be a source of healing and unity by reflecting the love of the Lord who brought each of us true healing and fellowship through His death and resurrection. Put aside earthly things and human thoughts that divide and be united to one another in the Lord, because “all are one in Christ.”
Let’s take heed to the words of the Lord Jesus, the words of life! “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven.” Good works, works of love, acts of mercy and charity, acts of service. This is the activity of the saints. This is what marks us as excellent and profitable in the eyes of God and even among our fellow brothers and sisters. May we shine through our good works and may each of our lives give glory to our heavenly Father. AMEN.