Brothers and sisters, I, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
Very short, yet strong message from Saint Paul we have for Sunday. Paul wrote his letter to Ephesian Christians from prison, hence "prisoner in the Lord." When he converted from Judaism to Christianity on the road to Damascus, Paul didn't obtain an easier life. He obtained the Truth. And he was called by the Truth to spread it. As we well know, not everyone is fond of the Truth, so Paul found himself imprisoned on more than one occasion.
Paul encouraged the Christians in Ephesus to the life of holiness. After all, that's what Christian life is. Christian life is "a life worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called." Christian life is not easy, but it is a true life (when lived out in holiness, or at least striving for holiness).
What are the characteristics of this life? Glad you asked. Humility, gentleness or meekness, patience, bearing with one another in love (basically, putting up with each other in a loving manner), and unity.
Let's look at each of these closer. Today, humility is mostly seen as a weakness, but sometimes as a strength also. Everyone wants you to be humble, but if you are they are likely to walk all over you. But that's secular perspective. In the Church of Christ humility is a virtue, one of the highest virtues. The Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity humbled Himself for our sake by first becoming incarnate and then suffering and dying on the Cross. Therefore, God Himself not only tells us to be humble, He is humble.
Gentleness or meekness is also sometimes confused with weakness in our world. Gentleness, however, is not about lack of strength, it is about self-control. Anyone who lacks gentleness is not strong, rather they are at the mercy of their passions and temper. In Greek (the language Paul wrote his epistles), word gentleness is also used for animals that have been trained and domesticated. A domesticated or tamed animal no longer runs wild, but it able to keep its strength under control. A Christian who is meek retains all his/her temptations and provocations, holds his/her tongue, and keeps peace in his/her heart.
Patience here for Paul is the refusal to retaliate. Christians are called to endure all things, things that Christ foretold would happen to us, like persecution, humiliation, and suffering. The greatest example of patience is God. He is patient with us through all of our sins and falling away from Him and ignorance. He is patient with us, giving us every opportunity to repent and return. Another example is Christ hanging on the Cross, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). At the time when humanity not only forgot about God, but betrayed and hung Him on the Cross, the Lord is patient.
If the above characteristics seem attainable, this next one might look far fetched - bear with one another in love. What? We not only have to put up with each other, but we have to do it in love? How in the world are we supposed to do it? To do it, we ignore errors, sins, slights, stupidities, and insufficiencies of our relatives, friends, and neighbors, and those whom we hate, dislike, or judge. Why is it so important to put up with others, and do it in love? Because if we can't do it now, we won't be able to do it in the Kingdom of God. We get a little foretaste of this Kingdom already here in this life and on this earth. We do it in the way we live together, in the way we worship, and in the way we co-celebrate or co-suffer together, all before the Lord and for His glory and sharing His grace. That's exactly what we'll be doing in the Kingdom (except for suffering). If we can't do it now (think of this life as a test-run), what makes us think that we'll be able to do it forever?
All of these characteristics of Christian life are needed "to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." This unity is the unity given by the Spirit, as the Lord's absolute and unbreakable gift to His Church (therefore, it's impossible for human beings to break this unity, it is only possible for them to break away from this unity). Unity is one of the marks of the Church: it is One, Holy, Catholic (as in full, complete, with nothing lacking, and universal, all-encompassing. This is not a reference to the Roman Catholic church), and Apostolic. This unity is not something we are expected to produce ourselves. The Church's unity is not man-made. It is not the unity of a social club or group, who have decided to get together and to exist along, at least for a bit. The fallen world, the one that decides to exist apart from God, is characterized by disunity - by wars, factions, quarreling, hatred, and separation. Therefore, salvation comes to us as the restoration of unity. We go from being disunited from each other and from God to united in Him, with Him, and through Him.
The above notes are based on the book by Father Lawrence Farley, "The Prison Epistles," pages 105-109.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest