Rules are Tools
The other day I was at a party and was asked, “Can you eat this today?” It was Friday and the person asking knew I would be fasting on Friday. I replied, “I CAN eat anything I want. I choose not to eat certain things.” That is the essence of fasting. If you think we fast to obey some rule, then you don’t understand God.
Brethren, when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “if you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified.
I’m not suggesting that rules don’t matter in the Church. They most definitely matter. Rules keep order in the Church. They help us understand the duties of each member of the Church. Rules help us keep focused on what ‘really matters’ in our Faith. Rules are tools. When rules become the purpose rather than the tool, we have lost our understanding.
This is the point Saint Paul was trying to make. It isn’t ‘keeping the rules’ that will save us. Christ saves us. Keeping the rules merely keeps our focus on Christ. Take fasting for example. When I choose to fast on a Friday, I’m following a rule that was established by the Holy Apostles. I don’t fast to keep the law. I fast because I know it will help me stay focused on God.
Take another rule that many unfortunately don’t follow. The Holy Apostles told us that we should receive Holy Communion every Sunday. So many of don’t even attend Sunday Liturgy, let alone receive Holy Communion. We clergy are accustomed to saying, “You have to come to Church,” but that ‘rule’ normally falls on deaf ears.
The purpose of Be Transfigured Ministries is to help you understand the purpose behind our rules and traditions. I never want anyone to follow the rules of Orthodoxy merely to check of the rule box. That won’t help save you. If it would, the Pharisees wouldn’t have been condemned. So, let’s look at the ‘go to Church every Sunday rule.’
The only way to receive Holy Communion, if we are not deathly ill, is to attend Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is the ‘service’ of Holy Communion. So, for starters if we want to receive Holy Communion, then we must attend Divine Liturgy. The Holy Apostles knew the only way for us to be alive was to receive Holy Communion, and to receive it often.
How often do you eat food? Three times a day? Six times a day? In fact, many doctors disagree on the frequency of meals, but none disagree on the need for food on a regular basis. Without food, we die. Without Holy Communion we die. Do we eat three meals (or six) a day to follow the rules, or do we follow the rules to remain healthy?
Our spiritual fathers are our spiritual doctors. They understand our soul. They understand the needs we have, to remain spiritually healthy. They established ‘rules’ to help our soul be as healthy as possible. Whether it be fasting, receiving Holy Communion, or any other ‘rule’ of the Church, remember Saint Paul’s words today.
Following the rules won’t justify us. Following the rules just makes us healthier. The rules are tools for our salvation. They are not our salvation.