(Rom. 6 : 18–23)
In my many years as a priest I have read the Holy Scriptures many times, but I still am pleasantly surprised by the many new and spiritually profitable things that I learn each time I hear the holy words. Take the words of the Paul’s epistle to the Romans, 6 : 18–23 and reflect on them. The holy Apostle will elevate your spirit and give it strength, for he measures us with a higher measure than the rest of the world, believing that we are different and better than the rest of the world.
The first words of the epistle are, ”Having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:18). Becoming free from sin – what joy that would be…! Yes, by His death on the Cross the Lord freed us from the sin of our forefathers Adam and Eve, but the ones to whom the holy Apostle directed his words really did free themselves from sin by becoming a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Unfortunately, we have not freed ourselves from sin. Many of us are slaves to it and at best, we struggle against it and somehow bear its burden in the hope that the Lord will accept our weak resistance and powerless struggle against sin to our salvation.
Since we have not freed ourselves from sin, then let us at least see what is the calling of a Christian. The entire sixth chapter of Romans is a call to sobriety and the revaluation of all things according to the measure of God. In the first place, we must reevaluate our understanding of the concept of freedom.
As Christians, we should understand the idea of freedom in a different way from non-Christians. If freedom for us is the right to do anything and everything, a green light for indulging in all kinds of unbridled passions, then let us not deceive ourselves – we are not Christians. For a Christian liberty is not freedom to sin but freedom from sin. “How shall we who died to sin live any longer with it? Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:2-4). “Likewise you, also, reckon yourself to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:11).
The Christian concept of freedom tells us that an individual can be shackled in chains and fetters, yet be joyful and free as a bird in the sky. Likewise, a person can be ostensibly free, with a great reputation, he can have all the power of this world and hold the fate of others in his hands and yet be like a slave groaning in the pits of despair with worms and serpents. What good have we if we walk freely, if our conscience envelopes us in darkness and makes us squirm in pain. Such a person would rather trade this so-called freedom for real chains, just to have a clear and easy conscience. This does, in fact, happen in real life: there have been numerous instances of criminals turning themselves in to the authorities many years after they committed their crime.
I repeat: freedom for us Christians is not simple, it is not a freedom of the flesh. It is something much higher and much more elevating. It is what the Lord requires of us. In fact, it is by this calling to a higher form of freedom that He opened the eyes of those who believed in Him. “‘If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.’ They answered Him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, you will be made free?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Most assuredly I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave to sin” (Jn. 8:31-34).
St. Paul tells the Christians of his day, in a world that was divided into slaves and masters, that an individual’s social status is not relevant. “Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave” (1 Cor. 7:20-22). The outer form is secondary. It is what is inside that is important. “You were bought at a price,” says St. Paul. “Do not become slaves to men” (1 Cor. 7:23).
The holy Apostle Peter foresaw the appearance of the so-called “freemen” of today, who so blatantly and arrogantly expose their perverse morbidity for all to see. He compares them to wells without water and clouds carried by a tempest, “for when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh… they promise liberty, yet they themselves are the slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage” (2 Pet. 2:17-19).
No matter how small a sin we allow ourselves to indulge in, it will become our master and we its slave. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Cor. 6:12) says St. Paul of himself. I will not allow myself to be brought under the power of food, because it will enslave me, make me fat and slowly kill me with high sugar and cholesterol. I will not allow spirits to take over me, because under the influence of alcohol I will become a laughing stock in the eyes of my fellow men. I will not allow myself to be brought under the power of tobacco, because I will slowly but surely kill both myself and others around me with the toxic smoke. I will not mention other sins whose poisonous fruits are stronger and more deadly.
The Lord has called us to freedom. “The Lord gives freedom to prisoners” (Ps. 146:7). “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28) says the Lord. “All of you who are heavy laden with the burdens of the sins of this world and the terrors of death, you who feel your own sinfulness and the sinfulness of all people to the utmost exhaustion of your spirit” (St. Father Justin Popovic), “take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Mt. 11:29-30). The lord is calling us and He is saying: “I will take the heavy burdens from your souls, the suicidal burden of sin and the all-dreadful burden of death and I will give your souls all-blessed rest” (St. Father Justin Popovic). “The Lord takes away the yoke of sin from us, but He gives us the yoke of love. The former is heavy but the latter is easy, because God who loves mankind always helps us bear it” (St. Father Justin Popovic).
“Do you want freedom?” says our holy Bishop Nikolai. “Then first free yourself. If you do not conquer yourself, all you will achieve is going from one prison to another, from one cage to another.”
I do think that in these insane times we must be more vigilant and cautious then Christians from earlier times. It seems that today it is up to us to decide: either we are with Christ or the Antichrist. In the past twenty years more Christian commandments have been abolished and trod on than in the entire history of mankind. Only a few years ago we could not have conceived even in our worst nightmares that homosexuals would obtain the legalization of their perverted relationships and, blaspheming on the most basic laws of God on conception and birth, demand the right to adopt children. All that is holy in the hearts of Christians is under attack under the pretext of democracy and human rights. This is precisely the kind of freedom which enslaves man.
Today’s generation has been taught and trained not to respect any limits. St. Father Justin Popovic says: “Man is the measure of all things visible and invisible.” Here we have man going against God’s will and changing God’s laws in a most violent manner. And each and every violent “expansion of the limits of freedom” is backed by “human rights.” Any moral questions and dilemmas on which are brought before the highest institutions of law and justice are scandalous for any baptized person, because these institutions base their juridical procedures on the Charter of Rights, while the Law of God is violated.
It is therefore our Christian duty to always defend the Law of God and our God-given freedom whenever we can, as much as our limited human strength allows us to do. We must endeavor with all our might to limit the power of the Evil One and to postpone his rule. “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Eph. 4:17-18).
It is up to us: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).