(2 Corinthians 1:21-24, 2:1-4)
Apostolic reading warns us and reminds us to keep our promise to God and our oath that we would belong to the Lord. “And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put His seal on us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22) this is what Saint Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians.
When I baptize and set the seal of the oath to the Holy Spirit on the forehead, eyes, cheeks, ears, nose, mouth, chest, arms and legs of the newly enlightened, and when I pray to God that his shield of faith protects him from the enemies, keeps his clothes of incorruptibility clean and pure, that God with his blessing keeps the seal of Spirit unharmed, questions often revolve in my head; does the one that I baptize and those who gathered for the occasion comprehend, and do they deeply enough perceive the sense of what is happening to him at that moment-that he is disowning and that he is promising himself to the Lord and that he is taking upon himself a vow of loyalty and commitment to God.
Generations and generations of Christians have lived with this consciousness of their commitment to God. By virtue of this commitment, by means of their true love for God, Christians were able to understand the Song of Songs and they read that the love of a true and loyal Christian for God, his Lord, is or it should be as strong as the love of a young man and a young women engaged to be married, “as strong as death” (Song of Solomon 8:6). As a result of such understanding, the God-breathing theologians have admitted this, otherwise very sensual hymn of love, to the Canon of the Holy Scripture. Since it is truly hard to find a better and more suitable analogy of the relationship of a Christian to God.
“A Christian is like a young girl asked in marriage,” our Saint Bishop Nikolaj says. A Christian cannot stop thinking of Christ the same way a young girl cannot stop thinking of her groom. Even though her husband-to-be is very far, across ten hills, she conducts herself as if he were always there, with her, along her side. She thinks of him, she sings to him, she talks about him, she dreams about him, and she prepares gifts for him. That is the way a Christian relates to Christ. And as the bride-to-be knows that she needs to leave her home in which she was born so that she can be united with her husband-to-be, a Christian also knows that he cannot be united with Christ completely until the death comes to free his soul from his body, in other words, from his material home, in which his soul lived and grew since birth.”
Christians, as I said, were aware of their commitment to God and they conducted themselves accordingly. Hagiographies are full of beautiful examples of true Christians, martyrs, who did not want to deny their promise to God even when their faith was put on atrocious tests, at the price of their lives under indescribable tortures and sufferings. What is our baptism if not denying the devil, spitting on him and accepting the pledge of the Holy Spirit and our promise to him. “You chose a silent and solitary life and you followed Christ your bridegroom- says the troparion of Saint Paraskevi- you contended against spiritual enemies through fasting, tears and labours, O glorious Paraskevi”
Holy women-martyrs, when they were offered treasures of this world, just to deny Christ, when they were asked in marriage by the kings and aristocrats, they rejected all, aware of their commitment to God, and they willingly surrendered to torture. For that reason, the church celebrates them as the brides of Christ and sings to them the same way they shout with joy to their groom: “You, my groom, I love; you I search and for you I suffer; in your crucifixion I partake; I endure with you so I can reign with you; and I die for you so I can live with you. As an innocent offering accept me the one who burns with love for you.”
True Christians were aware of their commitment to God, as we should be as well. Nowadays, when we are offered – and soon if there is no other way we will be forced – to accept some devil’s signs, symbols and seals on our foreheads and arms, we have to remember that we have already accepted a seal – the seal of the Holy Spirit – at our baptism, and that we promised ourselves to God, and that we cannot break our promise and deny our commitment. Our faith too will be tested through suffering. John the Theologian warns us on time that the time will come when those who do not accept the seal of the devil on their foreheads will be deprived of all their rights, somewhat similar or even worse than the time when in our country in the middle of the past century, the atheists, the agitators deprived their ideological opponents of their civil rights. Awaken Denica, the beast from hell, in his last and the most terrible attack on the faithful people of God, will “cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also it causes all,” – foretells the God’s prophet – “both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he had the mark-the name of the beast or the number of its name.” (The Revelation 13:15-17)
But God treats the saints in a holy manner, and “the faithful in a faithful manner”. On the Judgment day, when God will give the final verdict He will look for our names in His Book of Life and those whose names would not be in God’s Book of Life better watch out. When God settles his accounts with his creation- and most eagerly with us – the crucial witness in our defense or our conviction will be the seal on our foreheads. We will be sentenced to the eternal darkness if God does not recognize us as one of His own. To those who “do not have the seal of God on their foreheads” (The Revelation 9:4), he will let such torments “ like a torment of a scorpion when it stings someone”, “in those days people will seek death, and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.” (The Revelation 9:5-6)
The Lord loves us, and he wants us to keep the seal of the promise unharmed. He is “patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9) and to be saved. “If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us.” (2 Timothy 2:12)
So, let’s make sure that God does not find us in the darkness of our sinful acts and that by our sinning we do not erase God’s sign and seal from our foreheads that we received when baptized.