On September 22, on Sunday before the Exaltation of the Cross, Archpriest Igor Tarasov celebrated the Divine Liturgy at St. George Church. After the readings from the Sacred Scripture our Rector preached a sermon interpreting today’s Epistle lesson.
Fr. Igor said, “On a Sunday preceding the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross we are given a separate set of readings from the Sacred Scripture. The Church does so to make us aware of the special meaning of the Cross of Christ. Today’s Epistle lesson from the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians concerns with the issue the first Christians had, the issue whether they should keep the Jewish customs and retain circumcision or not. St. Paul says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Gal. 6, 15). It does not really matter whether we are circumcised or not, but we have to be the new people in Jesus Christ.
“St. Paul is teaching that it is not something external on our bodies that distinguishes us as Christians. It is something internal, spiritual. Through Christ, through Baptism, through repentance and the Holy Spirit we have become new people, a new creation. Jesus Himself said, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21, 5). In Christ we are a new creation. He established the New Testament, thus the followers of that New Covenant have to be the new people, people who put off the old Adam and put on the new. “Put off… the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts… and put on the new man which was created according to God”, says St. Paul in another Epistle (Eph. 4, 22-24). Thus, we have to be a new creation.
“Unfortunately the task of becoming the new people in Christ is still very difficult. Sometimes we do not see a difference between believers and unbelievers, between Christians and non-Christians… If we look at the human history, we see that man’s external environment has changed very much, especially recently, with the great achievements in science and technology. However, human nature did not change. Some wise man said, “Man has exalted change in everything but himself”. Man can change his appearance and the way he lives, but the most important change he does not make, a change inside of his soul. Unless man changes inside, unless he is born again, all the changes in science, technology or in our environment will be of no avail.”
“A wise man of the Old Testament said, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1, 9). At that time, centuries before Christ he could not see anything new. But today we know that the only new thing under the sun is the life in Christ. We know how unstable Simon became Peter, the Rock, greatest Apostle of Christ. We know how Saul, one of the worst enemies of Christ became Paul, the Apostle of nations, the author of the Epistles we now discuss. They became totally new creation in Christ!”
“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us really build our lives the way we may be seen as the new people, people distinguished from the unbelievers. Let us be that new creation. Not circumcision or other external sign should distinguish us, but the sign of the Cross. And not just a visible sign, a cross we make or a cross we wear on our chests. Let us imitate the Lord crucified in our way of life, so we may say as St. Paul said in today’s Epistle lesson, “I bear in my body the marks of Lord Jesus” (Gal. 6, 17). For Paul these were the real marks. He was suffering for Christ and could have visible marks of those sufferings. But he also had spiritual marks of the Holy Cross of Christ, because he crucified his flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5, 24). By Christ the world has been crucified to Paul, and Paul was crucified to the world. (Gal. 6, 14). If we also crucify our flesh, our passions and sinful desires, then we may become the new people in Christ. If we also make the world crucified to us and become crucified to the world, we may bear the marks of Lord Jesus crucified. These marks won’t be seen, but they will be in our hearts. These marks won’t be external, but internal. They would make us the true members of the Body of Christ, where “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Gal. 6, 15).