July 5, 2023

Homily for the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost - Flesh and Spirit (St. Luke of Simferopol)

Homily for the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost

Flesh and Spirit

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

I know that many of you read the Holy Scriptures at home, I also know that you mainly read the Gospels, while you read little of the Epistles and Acts of the Apostles.

Why don't you read more? Because, firstly, you do not know how much high wisdom is contained in these messages, you consider them secondary in comparison with the Gospels.

This is the first reason.

And the second reason is that the epistles of the Apostle Paul, which are the most among the epistles of the apostles, are written in a very difficult language. His thought flows in a very peculiar way, not in the way people usually think.

Even the Apostle Peter said in one of his epistles that there are things difficult to understand in the Pauline epistles.

This is true, for many places in the epistles of the holy Apostle Paul are very difficult to understand.

Without help, without guidance, you will not be able to understand them.

Today I will explain to you one very important passage in the epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Romans:

“For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (Romans 7:15).

“For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:19).

“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death!” (Romans 7:24).

We are all wretched!

Who will deliver us from our body of death?

And in another epistle, in the epistle to the Galatians, Saint Paul says something similar: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:16-17).

That's the whole point, the point is that our spirit resists the flesh, and the flesh resists the spirit.

Our spirit strives to lift our hearts to grief, to the throne of the Most High. Our spirit strives to be imbued with aspirations of a higher order: not base passions, but the highest, deepest spiritual aspirations.

Aspirations of a higher order were permeated within all the saints; they subdued their flesh to their spirit, they lived not by the culture of the body, but by the culture of the spirit: they neglected the flesh, the spirit was everything to them.

They lived only in spirit, they were spiritual people, and not natural people [people of the soul], like most people.

What does natural people mean? This refers to people for whom all desires, all aspirations, all goals of life are always directed towards one thing: to experience as many pleasures as possible in this short life.

They do not want anything that interferes with enjoyment. Insatiably they seek pleasure.

What kind? Only the pleasures of the lower order, the pleasures of the flesh.

They are alien to the striving for the highest blessedness, which gives the striving of our spirit to God.

They do not want to know God, they live without Him, they live by what their outward, natural person aspires to.

What does the word soul mean? Not only people have souls, animals also have souls.

The soul is the totality of all our impressions, all external perceptions.

The soul is made up of our thoughts, desires, aspirations.

Animals also have all this: and they perceive everything that people perceive from the outside. And they have aspirations, desires.

If a person lives mainly by these aspirations, these desires, and not by aspirations of a higher order, then he deserves to be called a person of the soul.

There are unfortunate people who stand at a very low level of spiritual development, they are not much superior to animals; like animals, they seek only the satisfaction of the demands of their flesh.

Animals do not have higher aspirations, they do not have the spirit that is given to us, people, and by which we enter into communion with God Himself in our prayer.

Now, the flesh resists the spirit, and the spirit resists the flesh. They oppose each other, and our life consists in a constant struggle between the aspirations of the spirit and the desires of the flesh.

This struggle was also experienced by such great saints as the apostle Paul. All the saints also experienced this struggle, and this struggle was extremely difficult and cruel for many.

That is why the apostle Paul says: “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.”

After all, he hated everything that the flesh requires, hated all passions, all lusts. But he also struggled with passions and lusts. He strove to do everything good, but often he could not do it: the passions of the flesh outweighed him, he could not do what he wanted, but did what he hated.

“For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.”

What can be said about us, since we are infinitely far from Paul's holiness?! After all, we are constantly in the struggle with lusts and passions, we are constantly overcome by them.

Why is it so easy to do evil and so difficult to do good? Why does our flesh overcome us so easily?

To do evil is much easier than to do good; fasting is much more difficult than insatiably and irresistibly satiating one's belly, chastity is immeasurably more difficult than indulging in fornication. And so it is in everything: such a contradiction exists between the dictates of the body, on the one hand, and the dictates of the spirit, on the other.

Those who serve the flesh are countless, because the service of the flesh, the fulfillment of its dictates and lusts, brings immediate pleasure.

And the joy that those who serve only good receive, that joy that those who fulfill the law of Christ receive, people do not receive immediately, not so obviously, not so clearly, not as directly as the service to lusts is rewarded.

That deep spiritual peace, that closeness to God, which is a reward for the doers of good, does not at all come immediately, does not immediately follow the doing of good.

This is the joy of the Holy Spirit, this is the peace that we receive only when our whole life is filled with doing good.

So, it is very easy to fulfill the dictates of the flesh, to satisfy its lusts and passions, directly after the fulfillment of these sinful impulses and inclinations we receive pleasure.

It is immeasurably more difficult to fulfill the dictates of the spirit than the desires of the flesh, and this service to the spirit must continue for many, many years before the greatest fruit of the spirit is felt - the joy and peace of conscience.

You see, this is exactly what the Apostle Paul is talking about in his epistle to the Romans: “And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being risen from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:13) .

He speaks of the members of his body, and it is not in vain that he speaks, for passions live in all members.

Present yourself to God as risen from the dead.

We must first rise from the dead, and die to sin, we must be crucified with Christ. It is necessary that the world be crucified for us, as for the Apostle Paul.

And only when we present ourselves to God as risen from the dead, only then will we be able to present our members to God, and not to the devil, then we will work for good, and not for evil.

For you know that the same members of ours can serve both good and evil; you know that our hands can be lifted up to God in pure and holy prayer; our hands can give alms, take care of the unfortunate, the destitute, the poor. But they can be stretched to theft, and to fornication, and even to murder.

Feet can be directed to the path of good, feet can lead us to where we need to help the unfortunate, but they can also lead to murder and theft.

Eyes and ears can be directed to see and hear everything good, but they can also be used to perceive with pleasure the sensual, the impure.

So you see that you can direct your members to the service of good and to the service of evil.

Let us therefore be imbued with the desire to serve not the flesh, but the spirit.

Let us do what the holy Apostle Peter commands us to do: “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:11-12).

That all of you, striving to serve not the flesh, but the spirit, will become a light for people living in darkness - here is our goal.

So, let us all serve the spirit, and not the flesh, let us all be at least the smallest lights of God, for we can all shine to people living in darkness with the light of our hearts. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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