BROTHERS and SISTERS, we who are strong should bear with the shortcomings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. For Christ did not please Himself, but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insulted You (God the Father) have fallen on Me (Jesus Christ)” (Psalm 69:9). For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by the patience and encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of patience and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one mind and one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed us, for the glory of God.
We do not know much about the Kingdom of God. But we do know that it is a community. As the word "community" implies, everyone in the Kingdom lives as one with God and with each other. It's not just me dwelling with God, it's me dwelling together with my neighbors in the presence of God. Hence Saint Paul gives some pointers on how to deal with our neighbors now, today, so that we would be able to dwell with them in a community in the presence of God, in His Kingdom, for all eternity.
Faith is a personal choice, in that Christ personally chooses us to be His followers (John 15:16). And the rest is our response to Him choosing us. Our response and the living out of this faith is not, however, individual. It's communal. If the Kingdom of God is a community, and that Kingdom is already present here, then to be a Christian means to be part of a Christian community.
As an aside, given the current pandemic situation, some of our non-Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters are projecting that the church will soon be online - that we will not have to leave our house, but will be able to participate in the worship of God from the couch of our living room. If that ever happens, then the church will stop being Christian. An online virtual community may have Christians in it (there are plenty of those on facebook), but in no way can it be called a church. The church is they physical gathering of the faithful.
Let's get back to Saint Paul's advice on how to co-exist with our neighbors today. In short, I should live in such a way as to build up my neighbor. Not just avoid scandalizing others, but actually live in such a way that my neighbor is improved by being around me. "Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor." High task, wouldn't you say?
By pleasing them Saint Paul does not mean "make them happy." Pleasing an addict, for example, by giving him more drugs will not do much for his building up. We should please each other in such a way that we are all edified. Sometimes that might include some tough love. As the Lord Himself did, especially with Pharisees. He was so hard on them not because He did not like them; rather, they were so stubborn and blind that the only way to make them see was to be strict. And we know of at least two who did convert - Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.
In a Christian community we also "bear with the shortcomings of the weak." Raise your hand if you consider yourself strong, be it physically, mentally, or spiritually. If you are, then these words are for you. Be mindful that not everyone is strong, and they require some Christian gentleness "for the good purpose of [their] building up."
Christians "live in harmony with one another," we are like-minded concerning our faith. This is kind of obvious because we can't believe different things and be part of the same community. Please note that this concerns only the Christian faith that we profess, what the Church teaches according to what God has revealed. We do not have to have the same political beliefs, root for the same football team, or like our steak the same way. Why? Because the Christian faith is part of the Kingdom of God, all these other things are not.
Going together with living in harmony and confessing the same faith is glorifying the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice. We confess the same God and we worship Him in the same manner. We are reminded of this like-mindedness in the Liturgy on two occasions - before the singing of the Creed (our confession of faith), when the priest exclaims, "Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess..." and the singers respond, "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: the Trinity one in essence, and undivided." And at the end of the Anaphora, when the Holy Gifts have been consecrated, the priest says, "And grant us, with one voice and one heart, to glorify and praise Your most honorable and majestic Name, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages."
And finally, the model of our relationship with each other is Jesus Christ, "welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed us, for the glory of God." In the Gospels, we see Jesus going out of His way to receive people with whom no one would associate - lepers, cripples, Samaritans - meaning, the weak, the unlikable, the outcast, the hated, the abused, the rejected. We welcome such people only for one purpose - for the glory of God, which leads to the building up of our neighbor.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest