July 4, 2023

Homily for the Epistle Reading of the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost - Slaves of Sin and Slaves of Righteousness (St. Luke of Simferopol)

Homily for the Epistle Reading of the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost

Romans 6:17-19

Slaves of Sin and Slaves of Righteousness

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on July 22, 1945)
Jesus Christ said: “The one who saves his life will lose it; but he who loses his life for My sake will save it” (Matt. 10:39). To understand these words, you need to know what the human soul is. The soul is nothing but a collection of thoughts, concepts, aspirations. There are good souls, and there are those inclined to evil, full of sinful desires. For most people, the soul is subordinate to the flesh and strives to serve its passions, is inclined to a well-fed, contented life. Such a soul must be destroyed, all its base carnal demands, which defile both the body and the soul itself, must be destroyed.

The Holy Apostle Paul addresses the Romans who believed in Christ, who left their former pagan way of life, full of sin and lewdness, with the following words: “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18).

Before knowing God, they were "filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful” (Rom. 1:29-31).

After a great salvific upheaval in their minds, they became aware of their bondage to sin and became slaves to righteousness. What does it mean to be a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness? Don't you know that bitter drunkards or heavy smokers can't keep up with bad habits and become true slaves of vodka and tobacco? What does it mean to be a slave anyway? It means to be in someone's power, in submission to someone else's will. The slave does not have his own will, but does the will of his master; so are the slaves of sin. As sin is repeated, it becomes a more and more strong habit, takes root in a person, gradually takes possession of his will, feelings, thoughts, keeps him in its power. Little by little, such a person becomes completely captivated by sin. And this means that he becomes a servant of the devil, for the devil is the father of all sin and falsehood.

Among the criminals one can meet many people with a higher education, who previously had a prominent social position, who, having once embarked on the wrong path, then went further and further along it. They ended up in prison, in the camps, and finally released. Then what? Once a sin has been committed, if it remains unrepentant, it begins to take root in the soul of the sinner and inevitably, like a swamp, drags in, entails more and more sins. As an indisputable rule, all such unfortunate people frankly admitted their complete dependence on sin: "I cannot leave a life of crime and begin to work."

The Lord requires us to change our thoughts and dispositions, to uproot the obscene passions that fill our souls and lead us away from Christ. To remove everything impure from the soul means to destroy the soul; whoever destroys his soul in this way will find it and keep it for eternal life, for his soul will become light and freely soar to God. She will find the highest good in fellowship with Him. So, in order to acquire eternal life, one must become a slave of righteousness. Every good deed, every fervent prayer leaves a deep, blessed imprint in the soul of a person, and sanctifies his heart.

And if the words of truth and deeds of mercy are repeated more and more often, then the attraction to good deeds will become stronger and deeper in the soul of a person, and over time the holy habit of goodness and truth will take over. In the end, he will become so accustomed to deeds of love, will so realistically feel in his heart the grace-filled fruits of these holy deeds, that he will become imperceptibly a slave of righteousness.

Were not the great desert fathers or saints the true slaves of righteousness? Or our Holy Father Pitirim, the wonderworker of Tambov? He was completely in captivity of good, as well as the Venerables Seraphim of Sarov, Sergius of Radonezh, Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves, and the whole countless host of Holy Fathers. The need to pray, to purify one's heart, and to multiply love in it became an irresistible need for their holy souls. Forgetting everything, they aspired only to liberation from sin, only to the bondage of righteousness.

Our Lord Jesus Christ spoke about the same thing, addressing His speech to the Jews who believed in Him: “'If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.' They answered him, 'We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?' Jesus replied, 'Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin'" (John 8:31–34).

Being true slaves of sin, the Jews did not understand what slavery to sin was, but only knew that they were free in their origin from Abraham. And among us Christians there are many people who consider themselves free and are proud of their freedom. They do not suspect that they are in fact miserable slaves of sin, just as the ancient Jews, who were offended by the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, did not know this.

“Having been freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness. I speak according to human reasoning, for the sake of the infirmity of your flesh. Just as you gave your members as slaves to uncleanness and lawlessness for lawless works, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holy works” (Rom. 6:18-19). Indeed, many members of our body serve as instruments of sin. Our reasoning mind, which distinguishes us from an unreasoning creature, we can make a slave of lawlessness, if we direct it not to the knowledge of the will of God and His law, but to the invention of deceit and insults to our neighbors. If we direct our eyes to the insatiable contemplation of voluptuous spectacles, if we look at people with malice and contempt, then our eyes, of course, will become an instrument of impurity. If we sharpen our ears to listen to gossip, vain and idle talk, to the flattery of those who crawl before us, then we will make our ears contemptible. Isn't our tongue, which exudes all lies, condemnation, abuse, slander and denunciations, a sharp instrument of wickedness?

And how often our hands stretch out to fraud, theft, and, it is terrible to say, even to murder; nails and teeth are used in fights. The feet of many unfortunate people often run to plunder or hasten "to the counsel of the wicked" (see Ps. 1:1). Bare legs excite lust. We even know how to make our hair an instrument of sin, because women need intricate hairstyles and hair ornaments to seduce and attract men. Thus we destroy our souls by the sinful use of our members.

Is it not known how often people who give up their bodies to voluptuousness fall into fornication and adultery? But the apostle says, “Your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit who dwells in you, whom you have from God” (1 Corinthians 6:19). How can the temple of God be given over to impurity, how can you defile it?

After all, we can direct all our members to Good. Let us direct our minds wholly to the knowledge of the will of God and the law of Christ, to piety in teachings and righteousness from reading the works of the great venerable fathers and saints of God. Let our eyes always mentally look at the terrible Cross of Christ, at the pure beauty of God in nature.

Will not our hands, generously giving alms to the helpless and wretched, alleviating their needs and illnesses in every possible way, be the most natural instrument of righteousness? And our feet can even become beautiful, because “beautiful are the feet of those who announce the good news of peace” (Rom. 10:15).

To betray one's members into the slavery of righteousness means to overcome the base lusts of the flesh, to acquire power over one's members, to keep them from sin. This means to leave the path of iniquity, leave the house of joy and settle in the house of mourning (see Eccl. 7:4), make your heart a true temple of God. And then it will be possible to say about you the words of the apostle: “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death” (Rom. 6:20-21).

In another Epistle, the apostle Paul directly speaks of such works: “The works of the flesh are known; they are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, magic, enmity, strife, envy, wrath, quarells, heresies, hatred, murder, drunkenness, outrage, and the like. The fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, goodness, mercy, faith, meekness, temperance. Against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:19–23).

Can I now say about you, my Tambov flock, that, having freed yourself from the slavery of sin, you have become obedient to the teachings of Christ, which I am trying to teach you? I know that not all have become slaves of righteousness. Let your hearts tremble like mine, let not only my tears be shed about this, but your eyes too should shed tears of repentance, contrition for your uncleanness. If you free your members from sinful shackles and turn to God, then the fruit of this change will be holiness, the end is eternal life, to which may the all-merciful and all-forgiving Christ our God vouchsafe to all penitents. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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