November 1, 2019
This Epistle Passage, St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 12:27-31; 13:1-8, is often utilized in non-Orthodox Weddings as the couple wishing to express the height of all virtues: Love. And while they are correct that Love is indeed the highest of all virtues. They miss the heart of this passage. While focusing on:
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1st Corinthians 13:4-8)
We neglect two things. First, we do not look at what comes immediately preceding this passage about love.
Brethren, you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (1st Corinthians 12:27-30)
This passage explains that we are all part of the Body of Christ. We are simultaneously one and yet many. Part of a whole, and yet complete individuals. St. Paul goes on to list the ranks of those who serve God starting first with apostles. This is not an exhaustive list, but given to the people of Corinth to prove a point. Each of us are capable of something special. We are not all the same and thus able to offer something unique unto God and to the body. Fr. Alkiviadis Calivas once gave a sermon to this affect in Holy Cross Chapel while I was in seminary. He asked the students in the chapel if they were part of the Body of Christ, which body part? Some might say they want to be the brain, or the heart, or the right hand. Yet, would anyone say they wanted to be the spleen? The femur? The kidney? While the latter might not be as glamorous as the first listed body parts, they are integral to the healthy function of the body. Each part is needed.
Then, St. Paul takes this concept of ranks and importance and turns it on its head:
But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1st Corinthians 12:31; 13:1-3)
This more excellent way is love. Without love, nothing else matters. Every rank, power, and sacrifice means nothing.
Which brings us to the second point of the misunderstanding. Love in this text is not the love of a husband and wife which would be better seen as έρως/eros. This version of love is the source of the word “erotic” which is not something pernicious or pornographic but rather an infatuation with a singular person that is all-consuming. If you have eros for an individual, you want to be with that person constantly. You want to know everything about this individual. While this is the love reserved for husband and wife, it is also understood that Christ has this eros love for each and every one of us and we are called to love him too.
But it is not έρως/eros that we encounter, but rather αγάπη/agape. Agape is a compound word. First, we encounter the α-. When α- precedes a word, the word becomes its opposite. In this case, the word that becomes opposite is εγώ/ego. This word might look familiar to anyone that has studied psychology and philosophy in the works of Sigmund Freud who broke the self into the Id, the Ego, and the Super-Ego. This essay will not delve into the deeper nuances of his or his students’ interpretations of the human psyche, but what needs to be understood is that Ego means “self.” This word in Greek εγώ/ego means “I” or “Me”
Thus, agape translates best to “not me”, “not I.” Some translate agape to “charity.” The concept of agape is the sort of love that has no concern of the self. Someone with agape cares nothing for recognition or a reward, but seeks to serve and love the “other” without distinction of friend or enemy. This is the heart of Christianity and the root of all the gifts we have been given. Without love, none of these gift matter.
Now, what does this have to do with Stewardship or SS. Kosmas and Damianos? Much. These two saints, the holy Unmercenaries, typify this concept. A mercenary is someone who does what he or she does specifically to be paid, to receive a reward. An unmercenary refuses payment and wants only to help. These two saints, who held incredible knowledge in the fields of science and medicine dedicated their lives to helping those in need, especially those who could not afford medical care, the poor. Is it any wonder that the Philoptochos (which translates to “Friend of the Poor”) sees these two marvelous saints as their Patron?
These two took the words of Jesus Christ, “You received without paying, give without pay” seriously (Matthew 10:8). We must do the same. Now, you may say to me, “Fr. Dimitri, didn’t these two go to university? Didn’t they study hard to receive that knowledge?” They most certainly did. They worked exceptionally hard. However, we must understand a reality of the universe. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This means that without Christ blessing our hard work, we can accomplish nothing of value.
You may also say to me, “But Fr. Dimitri, these two are saints and they worked miracles. I cannot work miracles and am not at their level.” This could be true except that it was not Ss. Kosmas and Damianos who worked the miracles, but our Lord Christ through them. Their chosen vehicle was medicine. Their talent lay here and so they perfected their craft and exercised perfect agape, perfect love.
What is your vehicle to bring people to Christ? What is your vehicle to allow Christ to work miracles through you?
Are you a teacher? Teach for Christ and about Christ. Are you a lawyer? Work for Christ and seek Justice in Christ. Are you a hair stylist? Listen to the words of your clients for Christ and reflect His love. Are you a technician? A plumber? A soldier? A policeman? A fireman? Are you a leader? A baker? A tailor? A realtor? Any and all professions have the ability for us to bring people to Christ through Agape and our personal examples. You do not need to be a priest to pray and work miracles. This is something that all of us were blessed to be able to do.
Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, give the stewardship of your Talent! Whatever God has given you to be, use for His glory!