One leaves oneself all over the net - like walking in wet cement. A sermon I preached back then (24 June 2001). The text was as St Paul writes to the Galatians,For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise. (Gal 3:26-29)
I'm wondering today how much I'd still agree with. As I read it and think about where I went, how God moved me in the next year - I was Chrismated into the Orthodox Church 378 days later. Can you hear the beginnings in that sermon? Is it evident yet that the speaker was about to venture so far off the accepted community spectrum that he'd find himself in another community... indeed another state, another religion, another "lifestyle"?
Even more clearly today, St Paul's comments a little further on strike home... "But now after ye have known God, or rather are known by God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements unto which ye desire again to be in bondage?"
Rabbi Sha'ul is, of course asking some in the Galatian community why they want to make Gentiles into Jews before making them Christians. And why some Christians want to revert to older Jewish customs, perhaps abandoning the new Christian traditions - or just in addition to them. He's not talking about moral issues. But the question still holds. To the first Christians, indeed to all the Greco-Roman culture, those divisions were real - ethnic divisions, class divisions were all as very real as the gender divisions. They were ontological realities into which the known world was divided.
Modern liberal readings would add, to Jew/Greek and Slave/Free the whole Gay/Straight division. Thus to imply that we should move beyond those elements that make that division real - and more divisive. Ok. I'll yield that point for a moment - and I'll agree with it: but not in the way you think.
The writer called folks out of their divisions into a new way of life. No, one can not no longer be an ethnic Jew - nor an ethnic Gentile - but both ethnicities are called to live into this new community, this new morality, this new Israel of God. No, one can not no longer be male or female, but one can transcend cultural expectations of those sexes and move in to this new community's teaching, this new morality, this new Family of God. No, one can not stop being a slave or free man, but one can live into the Bondage to Christ - Whose service is perfect freedom.
So when Paul is asking "how turn ye again?" Is he speaking of those elements which, in his readers' eyes are immutable? No. The Christian community is made up of Slave and Free, Male and Female, Jew and Greek. When they walk out of Liturgy on Sunday Morning, they are still those very things. But he does urge them to live as Christians, not as Jews, not as Greeks. And he is in pain that some desire to return to live under the old law (4:21), to return to their old lifestyles. Why do you want to give up what you learned, what you now know to be Truth, in exchange for those half-truths and untruths you used to live?
We all struggle - the Saints look at us and echo Paul - "My little children, over whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you..." We are becoming Christ. Not by bringing all the old things along and refusing to let them go, but rather by becomingChrist, by becoming Christians. It is a path well-trod, followed by Paul and the other Apostles, by the Fathers and Saints. It is the answer to my previous questions about ontology. How does one go from a mis-identitfied personality to a reidentified personality without replicating the misidentifications? If one gives up a life of sin self-identification with the sin, what is left to one? At what cost can one stop being the only man one knows how to be?
St Paul provides the answer. We stop being the gerunds he offers in Romans and become the Personal Noun that he offers in Galatians. We are no longer each, individually, our own selves, but rather, as with Paul we are crucified with Christ, yet we live... Christ is formed in us and so we live "by the faith of the Son of God."