Reflections on the Orthodox faith and life in this crazy 21st century world by an Orthodox priest and a few of his friends.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Living Before God our Father (1 Peter 1:13-21)
13 Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
St. Peter starts this section with “therefore,” referring back to the great salvation that God has made available to us through Christ. In light of this wonderful divine gift, we now need to “gird up the loins” of our minds. This is a reference to the clothing of the time. In St. Peter’s day, most people wore flowing robes that impeded quick movement. Before anyone did anything that required walking fast or running, they would “gird up their loins,” that is, they would tuck their robes into their belt so that their legs were free to move easily. To say “gird up the loins of your mind,” then, means to get your mind ready, to be prepared. The world and the demons will throw many challenges and temptations our way, and we need to prepare ourselves for them.
The importance of St. Peter’s command to “be sober” cannot be overestimated. As FF writes, “The word rendered be sober is the Greek nepho, which refers not just to physical sobriety (that is, the absence of drunkenness), but to self control, maintaining an inner vigilance and balance. The world can provoke a sense of excitement, of agitation, even of panic, and the Christian must keep his head” (68). Note that the noun form of nepho is nepsis, which means “sobriety,” “watchfulness,” or “vigilance.” This concept figures prominently in the writings of the Fathers, particularly the Fathers of the Philokalia. Like a watchman on an ancient city wall, we must be always on the alert against temptation so that we can nip it in the bud.
But to live the Christian life as God intends, we must not only be watchful and ready, but we must also be hopeful. As usual, FF explains it beautifully and concisely: “…the Christian fixes his hope completely on the favor and glory that Christ will bestow upon him when He comes. Thus, when the world tempts him to sin, he is strengthened to resist as he thinks of the reward his enduring righteousness will win” (68). Conversely, it is also a good idea to be mindful that we could very well forfeit the reward St. Peter speaks of if we turn away from God into a life of sin (more on this in just a bit).
St. Peter then speaks more about how we are to live our lives as Christians. Now that we belong to Christ, we should no longer conform ourselves to our former lusts, that is the lusts that control most of the people in the world. Instead we should live a holy life, in imitation of God, because He is holy. God commanded the people of Israel to be holy (the quote is from Leviticus 11:45), and he expects no less of those of us who are part of the New Israel.
Another attitude we need to develop in order to live the Christian life is fear. The fear that St. Peter speaks of is the fear of God, which in the Scriptures refers not to a servile, cringing timidity, but rather to a deep sense of reverence for and awe of our Creator. Here, St. Peter probably also uses the word fear to refer to a mindfulness of the judgment. Fear of the Day of Judgment can help keep us on the path of salvation. In FF’s words, “they must conduct themselves in fear during the time of their sojourn in this age, for He will show no favoritism to them. If they sin grevoulsy, He will judge and condemn them, both in this age…and at the Last Judgment. Let them therefore fear to sin, and be holy in their daily conduct” (69).
But fear should not be the only thing that motivates us to not sin. We should also do so out of gratitude, for as St. Peter points out, we have not been redeemed with silver or gold or any other corruptible thing, but with the precious blood of Christ. “Christ shed His blood to buy them back for God and bring them to life,” FF writes. “Gratitude for this sacrifice is an even more potent incentive to righteousness than fear of judgment. Christ, the blameless and spotless Lamb, offered his life for them—how can they live in such a way as to nullify that holy sacrifice?” (69).
Finally, note how St. Peter mentions that Christ was foreordained before the foundation of the world. God the Father knew before the world began what he would do through his Son. Christ’s coming was not an afterthought; it was planned all along, since God knew that his beloved children would sin against him and need redemption.