On November 17, on the 21st Sunday after Pentecost we had a beautiful celebration at St. George Church. Our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov served the Divine Liturgy. After the reading from the Gospel he preached a homily:
“Today’s reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians concerns the idea that a newly converted Christians should not retain the rules prescribed by the Old Testament, by the Law of Moses. Some of the Galatians thought that they should follow the Old Testament regulations and preserve Jewish customs. To persuade the Galatians that those old rules are not in effect for the Christian people, St. Paul wrote, “A man is not justified by the works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2, 16).”
“Jesus Christ came into this world and brought the New Testament, the new law. This is the law of God’s love. It is based on the old law, because Jesus Himself said that He came not to destroy the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Mt. 5, 17). For instance, we still have and have to keep Ten Commandments given by God to Moses. However, the Gospel of Christ makes most of the rules of the old law obsolete. God visited His people and offered Himself for them as a sacrifice. Thus the old sacrifices are of no need anymore. God made all things new (Rev. 21, 5).”
“The rules of the Old Testament such as circumcision, observance of Sabbath, dietary restrictions called kosher, all these prescriptions of the Law of Moses had to be abandoned by the new people called Christians. Those rules ceased to mean something important after Christ had come, died for us and was raised from the dead. He fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, therefore, they had to give a way to His new law, the new reality in Christ, in which “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Gal. 6, 15). This is why St. Paul says that now no man can be justified by the works of the law, but we can be justified only by our faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 2, 16).”
“People always had certain rules and laws that determine our behavior, shape the way we act and make us do certain things. We know that we have to stop before the red light, we have to pay taxes. Similarly, the laws make us avoid doing certain things. We don’t assault people, don’t steal. There is nothing bad about the laws (at least, about most of them). However, if we observe the law only for the sake of the law, we miss something. If we don’t steal only because there is a law saying that stealing is prohibited and punishable, we miss the most important point. The point is that a good person would not do something because his conscience will not allow him to do so, and not because it is forbidden by the law. The “new creation”, the new people in Christ observe the law because they feel it should be observed. If we have faith in Christ, then it will not allow us to break the law.”
“The Jewish law had many strict observers. In the time of Jesus and the Apostles there was a great number of Jews called Pharisees who meticulously followed the Law of Moses to every least detail. We learn from the Gospel that Jesus often had problems because of these people. He argued with them a lot. The Pharisees picked on Jesus and criticized Him for healing the sick on Sabbath, or for reaping the wheat in the fields on Sabbath when His disciples were hungry. We also recall the parable about a Pharisee and a publican. That Pharisee was proud of himself exactly because he observed the Law. But Jesus pointed out that such an observance did him no good. On the contrary, the publican who was a sinner, who did not follow all the rules of the Law, left the Temple justified. The publican humbly prayed God to be merciful to him; he had a sincere faith, despite his sinfulness. So, “man is not justified by the works of the law, but through faith…””
“We as Christians are supposed to justify ourselves through faith in Jesus Christ. We still have certain religious laws to observe and rules to follow. They are good and important. They help us to find our way to Christ. But they are not the goal of our religious life. We should not observe them only for the sake of those rules. Then we would become like those Pharisees. In our times some Christians are still mistaken about that. Roman Catholics believe that if they observe religious rules and do good works, they receive certain merits, get certain “points” to get to heaven. They think if they collect merits, they can claim salvation. On the other hand, many Protestants think that they don’t need any rules, don’t need to do any works of the law if they believe in Christ. “Believe in Jesus as your personal Savior, and you will be saved!” say many Protestant preachers. Both those communities are in error. They do not understand the teaching of St. Paul. We are justified by faith in Christ, but this faith has to be shown in our works, the works of faith, the works of mercy, the works of the law. Our good deeds and our observance of the Commandments are supposed to be done not because the law says so, and not because we will be rewarded for this or punished if we do not do this. Our good deeds have to be in our nature as Christians. Doing good things should be like an air we need to breathe. Then we will be justified through faith in Jesus Christ. Such a justification will come not because we do certain things, but because doing them we believe in Christ and strive for the final goal of our existence – to be with Him.”
“Dear brothers and sisters! The law exists to help us. “The Sabbath for made man, and not man for the Sabbath”, said Jesus (Mk. 2, 27). He is the Master of the Sabbath, He is the Giver of the supreme Law. He alone can give a purpose to the laws we follow. Let us believe in Him, follow His commandments and be justified by our faith.”
Following the Divine Liturgy Archpriest Igor Tarasov officiated at the Sacrament of Marriage. Our parishioners Elisej and Anastasia Flora received the Church blessing and were crowned in holy Matrimony. The rite of Crowning was performed very solemnly. Relatives and friends of the groom and bride were present and enjoyed the beauty of our pious liturgical tradition. Upon the dismissal of the office of the Crowning Fr. Igor preached a brief sermon about the meaning of Christian marriage and wished the newlyweds God’s help, divine graces and many happy years.
After the services Elisej and Anastasia were greeted by our parishioners and their relatives and friends. Some refreshments were served and a toast made to the newlyweds.