Freedom in Christ
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1)
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
On the 4th of July, America celebrates the Declaration of Independence. We celebrate the day we declared ourselves a new nation and we remember the long and bloody revolutionary war that followed during which many lives were lost so that we could gain our freedom.
We might think of this concept of freedom as pertaining only to our civil rights. Certainly, the constitution was written with the intent to both govern the republic and guarantee life, liberty (freedom) and the pursuit of happiness for all.
But the whole notion of liberty or freedom implies that there must be some kind of imprisonment one is suffering from or at least that there is the threat of losing one’s freedom. We might ask, imprisonment by whom or by what? Or to put it another way, freedom from whom or from what?
The Thirteen Colonies were seeking freedom from the tyrannical rule of the monarchy in Great Britain. But there is another kind of freedom that cannot be gained by declarations, political revolutions and canon fire. And this is the freedom from the tyranny of the devil and of the passions inside us.
In the city of Little Rock, Arkansas, a stone monument of the Ten Commandments was installed near the state capitol. The monument was a privately funded project approved by the state and voters. Less than twenty-four hours after it was installed, it was destroyed by a man who rammed his car straight into it while screaming the word “Freedom.”
The story is ironic because the 10 Commandments were given by God for one purpose: to give mankind freedom. Human beings were created by God to be free and to enjoy life with Him forever. After the Fall of Adam and Eve, however, human beings lost their freedom. We became slaves to the tyranny of the devil, to sin and to death. The Ten Commandments were a kind of declaration of independence given by God to mankind to show us what we must do and not do in order to struggle towards regaining that freedom.
But this declaration wasn’t enough for human beings to truly become free. What was needed was a revolution. And the opening shot of this revolution against the tyranny of the devil was the birth of The Christ. Through Christ, the revolt against this denial of the freedom which we were given by God to enjoy began. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, humanity is able to reclaim its freedom, our dignity, our honor, our value. Through Christ, we are no longer slaves but can become heirs of the kingdom; sons and daughters of the Most High God.
The slave of the faithful centurion is symbolic of humanity. The human race is sick, paralyzed and imprisoned by sin and death. Just as he healed the centurion’s servant, so does Christ heal our souls during the Divine Liturgy through the partaking of Holy Communion with the fear of God with faith and love.
Indeed, all that is required from us is faith. A humble and deep faith like that of the centurion along with our repentance, our love for Christ, remorse for our sins, and a desire to be healed by him, a desire to be freed from the prison of our passions, from the illness and infirmities of our souls.
But how do we attain the kind of faith that the Centurion had? How do we increase our desire and love for Christ? There are so many temptations. So many distractions all around us. So much noise. So much stress. So much anxiety and worry.
Christ came to give us peace, joy and life. How can we accept this gift everyday? We were freed by Christ, how can we stop enslaving ourselves again to sin as St. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:1? The answer is found in two simple words from Psalm 46. “Be still.”
To “be still” means to let go of all the worries, to clear our minds of all the bad thoughts, to acquire peace and joy in our hearts. This can only come about when we communicate with God through personal prayer every day. And it’s not difficult to do. From the moment we awake to the moment when we are falling asleep, while driving in the car, whether walking or sitting down, alone in a quiet place or among a noisy crowd, at all times and places, we can stay in constant connection with God through prayer, by repeating silently or out loud the seven short words of the Jesus Prayer which are: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Constant prayer to God, throughout the day, using the short words of the Jesus Prayer, will cause us to be more aware and discerning of the attacks of the demons. Through the power of the name of Christ, we are given the ability to better guard our mind and heart from the evil that is around us and in us. With this guarding of the mind and heart, we become more and more watchful and aware and therefore more in control over the passions or emotions which are constantly influencing our behavior, passions such as pride, anger, envy, greed, lust, etc. And over time, if we commit ourselves to staying in constant communion, constant connection to Christ through the Jesus Prayer, we receive the rewards of prayer, which are the increase of faith, a deep, unshakable peace, a heavenly joy that nothing on earth could ever give us, the purification of our hearts from all the passions and the sanctification of our souls through the grace of the Holy Spirit.
God has given us everything we need to be victorious in this revolution against sin and death and the tyranny of the devil. We have to fight the good fight through prayer and repentance so that we may enjoy peace and freedom, not simply the kind of freedom that was achieved for a political cause 241 years ago and which we celebrate every year with fireworks and hotdogs, but rather the true and everlasting peace and freedom that can only be experienced with Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven.
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