An Introduction to Vocations, Part One;
Every soldier is a rifleman; every clergyman is a Christian
by Fr. Anthony Perkins
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
I do not know what your background is, whether you are young or old, what kind of of job you have, what you studied in school, or whether you are married or celibate; but I do know this: if you are baptized into Christ and Chrismated with the Holy Spirit, you have full membership in the Body of Christ. This means that you are not to be coddled; you have work to do!
What kind of work? What is the “one thing needful” that Martha neglected in all her busy-ness and Mary embraced? Our personal lives in Christ may lead us in seemingly different direction, but there is one skill that is critical to every vocation, from taper-bearer to patriarch. Learning to imitate Christ is the most important skill we can learn; it is the foundation of every real vocation.
We are to Imitate Christ, but WHO IS HE?
You remember that Jesus asked His disciples who others thought He was, then followed that question up with the more relevant one; “Who do YOU say I am?” He affirmed St. Peter’s answer; “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (St. Matthew 16:16) There is no better answer, but what does it mean? How are we to imitate “The Christ, the Son of the Living God”? One of the most wonderful ways to approach this comes from the Old Testament. When Moses hears of God’s plan for him at the Burning Bush, he asks God whom he should tell the Israelites sent him to them. God said “tell them ‘I AM’ hath sent you.” (Exodus 3:14b)
In his book, Jesus the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible, Fr. Eugen Pentiuc uses this to describe an essential attribute of the Messiah: HE IS… what we need him to be for our salvation. He was God before the ages, due all the honor and glory that the angels and all creation gave Him in His throne room; but He did not consider this something to be hoarded (Philippians 2:6). Instead, He “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:7-8) He did this because it was what we needed to be saved.
Christ’s perfect love leads him to empty Himself and serve (I AM… what you need me to be); His humility, perfection, and skills make Him the perfect servant. This is the beginning and end of the life in Christ: we must learn to love like Him, to humble ourselves like Him, and to serve like Him. We must become what the world needs so that it might be saved. As St. Paul put it; “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”(1 Corinthian 9:22)
A Man got to Ask God how to Live…
You remember that when a young man asked Him how one should live, Christ verified the Two Great Commandments and gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan (St. Luke 10:25-37). You know that lesson and what it means. We are not called to “be perfect as God is perfect” (St. Matthew 5:48) in some abstract way, but by manifesting His perfect love to specific people. The neighbor we have to serve is not the one we choose, but the person the moment has put into our path. This is how God loves and we must imitate Him.
So How can We be the “I AM” to Our Neighbor?
We have to love and serve our neighbor, not with the warm fuzzy feeling that the fallen world calls love, but with genuine charity. In fact, we love and serve him despite our feelings. Love is more like “duty” than a fluffy emotion. As with duty, real love requires discipline and training; discipline to do what is needed despite the return (emotional or otherwise) and training so that our service will be effective. Just as we should not do surgery on someone just because they need it done, we cannot be the I AM to others just because they need our help. We need skill!
How to be Christ to Others: the preparation
There are certain things that every Christian (every human!) needs to do and be in order to thrive in this world. One way of understanding this is through the image of spiritual warfare. I am a retired intelligence warrant officer. As such, I had a lot of specialized and valuable skills to offer to our country; but as with every other soldier no matter what his rank or military occupation specialty (MOS), I was a rifleman first. This meant that there were certain common skills that I had to maintain.
No matter how good soldiers are at their specific MOS, if they forget about their common skills, they could get themselves and others hurt or killed. Don’t just think of the ability to man a checkpoint or guard a convoy in a war zone, what about the ability to don a gas mask quickly during an attack or to render first aid to a soldier who is bleeding out? We cannot go into the tactical combat of spiritual warfare unarmed and untrained. We have to “put on the whole armor of God, that (we) may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11) The Orthodox Way prepares us to do God’s work; it gives us the fullness of the faith we need in order to love others effectively.
The Orthodox Way of Preparation: theosisand becoming Christ to the world
The Orthodox Way is very practical. It is real rules for real people who need them. These rules – think of them as the accumulated wisdom of successful warriors if you like – include prayer, fasting, repentance and purity, tithing, and worship. It is through these disciplines that we are able to become Christ to the world. It is through them that we become a blessing rather than a curse to those in need. The efforts of the old Adam brought forth brambles and thorns (Genesis 3:17-18); the mere presence of the New Adam turned back the Jordan at His baptism (Psalm 113)! If we embrace The Orthodox Way, we will fulfill the prophesy of St. Saraphim of Sarov; “Acquire the Holy Spirt, and thousands around you will be saved!”
Fr. Anthony is the rector of St. Michael Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Woonsocket (YouTube; Facebook), Rhode Island; a professor at St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Seminary in South Bound Brook New Jersey; host of the OrthoAnalytika podcast and blog; and the Director of Vocations for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.