(Rom. 13 : 11 – 14 : 4)
Just before the beginning of Great and Holy Lent our mother the Church, through the words of the holy Apostle Paul, reminds us that “now it is high time to awake out of sleep” (Rom. 13:11).
The entire meaning of the fast is to make us sober and rational, in order that we may reexamine our steps, reconsider our scale of values and redirect our lives on the path of virtue. The Apostle bids us to cast away the works of darkness and put on an armor of light. “Let us walk properly, as in the day,” he says, “not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:12-14).
I am going to draw your attention to these words of the Apostle and we will try to reflect a little deeper on his teaching.
But first, let me just mention a phenomenon characteristic of our times. In the olden days white hair and a white beard commanded respect and it was customary to kiss the hands of the elderly as a form of greeting. This was because, in those days, the elderly accepted their share of God-sent humility without complaining. Today, however, the older generation tries to preserve their youth and energy with artificial methods, by the use of powerful drugs, thus igniting lust in their bodies. Then, pumped up with Viagra, they scandalize and shock everyone around them.
And another thing to ponder is this: the Lord our Creator knows exactly how He made us. He knows our deep longing for joy, love, and even physical love, if you will. He does not expect all of us to take up the monastic life. “Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth,” we read from the Holy Scripture, in Book of Proverbs. “Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love” (Prov. 5:18-19). But St. Paul warns us that we should be moderate in everything, even within our marriages.
We see today that these evil times have turned the marriage bed into an arena of (sexual) martial arts. It’s like this: the two of them meet and get married, and even before marriage, they dig and burrow into their sexuality until they become satiated and sick of one another. Then they part ways, becoming like two strangers that could very well have done without the whole encounter. If a marriage, even a lawful one, lacks a spiritual Christian foundation, if it loses its chastity and pureness, if it is only physical, then such a marriage is considered fornication.
God does not want us to go to any extremes. Every one of us should give back to the Lord according to the talents we have received from Him, to the best of our ability. More will be demanded of those to whom the Lord gave more. Our good Father who is in heaven does not ask of us to move mountains, He only asks for our love and that we do not fall away from Him by our evil deeds. In other words, He wants us to be normal and healthy, at peace and well-balanced, and that we strive to the best of our abilities to do His will. If, because of our weaknesses, we happen to fall, He wants us to get up immediately and return to His path.
It is wrong to think that we should neglect our bodies, emaciate them and practice self-flagellation. No, on the contrary – we should take normal care of ourselves. “For no one ever hated his own flesh,” says the holy Apostle, “but nourishes and cherishes it” (Eph. 5:29). The Lord knows that if we were to be weak from hunger, we would not be able to lift a piece of bread and put it on the table, let alone perform all of our tasks.
The Lord wants us to establish a balance in ourselves between the physical and the spiritual and that we pay at least as much attention to our souls as we do to our bodies.
We must admit that this is usually not the case. We take good care of our bodies, thinking and planning how we will feed and clothe them, give them enough sleep, etc., and as for our souls, most of us neglect them to the point of starvation and suffocation.
It happens often that a person calls me and complains of sleeplessness and general feelings of anguish and restlessness. I always tell him to turn his attention to his spiritual life, to come to church, to pray, to nourish his starving soul. I advise him to fast a little, go to confession and take Holy Communion. He promises to be in church the very next Sunday. “We’ll talk then, Father” he says, “and you can give me more detailed instructions about the spiritual life.” Sunday arrives, the faithful gather in church, I look for him, but he is nowhere to be seen. “I will see him in the dark and crowded waiting room of some doctor’s office,” I think sadly.
Everything that the Lord created was good (Gen. 1:10), very good (Gen. 1:31). As a crown of his creative energy, he sculpted the human body (Job. 10:11) and we must know that only good things came out of the Lord’s hands. The Lord also became incarnate and took upon Himself human flesh. “And the Word became flesh” (Jn. 1:14). It was in the flesh that the Lord suffered and it was in the flesh that He was nailed to the Cross, taking with Him all our sins and the sins of our fathers, and washing them away with His blood.
We learn from the Holy Scriptures that the human body has always been treated with the utmost respect and piety. Even the body of a convicted criminal was not allowed to hang on a tree all night, it had to be given a burial (Deut. 21:23). Only the greatest of sinners before God were condemned to having their dishonored bodies left to rot (Jer. 36:30).
Today, at the same time that the soul is neglected to the maximum and the human body is pampered and indulged to the point of idolatry, that same body, God’s creation, is degraded to filth and garbage. In the Serbian “Novine” newspaper there was recently an article about Swedish scientists who are conducting studies on the “ecological” (quotation marks by V.T.) aspect of the burial of the deceased. According to the article, the Swedes have discovered a method for the quick and effective decomposition of human remains into organic matter (i.e. waste, V.T.) which can then be used as a fertilizer. In an ecological burial, the body is soaked in liquid nitrogen, which immediately produces 30 kilograms of top quality organic matter. The remains are then placed in a casket made from biodegradable materials and buried in a shallow hole, near the ground surface. Thus the human remains fertilize the earth in much the same way as autumn leaves!
Just before His death on the cross, our Lord allowed His body to be anointed with very costly fragrance oil from a flask of alabaster, thus preparing it for a proper burial (Mt. 26:6-13). Upon His death, His most pure body was wrapped in clean linen and buried with the utmost care and respect (Mt. 27:57-60).
It is clear now that we must treat our bodies with great responsibility. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you and that you are not your own. For you were bought at a price,” says the holy Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 6:19-20). We must not, therefore, abuse our bodies by sin. “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts; and do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin” (Rom. 6:12-13).
We will give an answer to our Creator as to how we have treated our bodies. Let us not forget that we must all “appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).