metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

St. Paul: two laws at war

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. How can a man who appears to us so supremely free like Saint Paul, call himself a prisoner? He says to us in more than one Epistle that Christ had set him free, free from the Law, free from all desire of evil: how can a free man consider himself as a prisoner?

I think it is worth thinking about it, because more than to him, such words apply to us. Somewhere in One of his Epistles, he says that the good he wishes to do, he does not do, and the evil he hates he does, by compulsion. He says also that there are in him, as he perceived them, two laws at war: the law of the spirit and the law of the flesh. And this is, I think, where we can find a power to this word of Paul that he, a free man of Christ, is at the same time a prisoner, a bondsman of the Lord.

On the one hand, Christ has set him free; he is no longer a slave of Satan because he has renounced Satan, all his angels, all his service, all his work, all his temptations; knowingly, with deep understanding, with fierce determination he has renounced everything which is not Christ, and he feels that all that life is, is Christ, Christ at work in him, and Christ as his Master, his Lord, his Guide, his God, his Saviour.

On the other hand, he knows within his soul a dividedness: the old manners, the old habits, the imaginations of the heart, the uncertainties of the will, the lack of clarity in his vision – all that is a twilight world in which he can become, although he is a free man, he can become enslaved. Because it is not enough to be born free; we can be born free, but at the same time, if we do not protect our freedom through a determined struggle against all weakness, all hesitations of the flesh, all hesitations and waverings of the will, all that darkens our mind, all that darkens our soul and heart, if we allow this to happen, free outwardly, free by right we become prisoners again; free man who are prisoners at the same time: a condition more dramatic, more tragic than that of the slave who knows no other life, no other condition.

And he understands that the only way in which he can overcome in him the law of death, the law of destruction is by freely choosing to be obedient to God in all things, even when his will may waver, even when he doesn’t understand, even when there is something in him that says NO – because who can with a peaceful mind accept all that befell the Apostles: the beatings, and the persecution, and the hatred – all that is described by him twice in the two Epistles to the Corinthians? Who can without shudder face all this?

And in order to be able to face all this, one must submit to a training, to a training which is obedience, to a training which consists in listening to Christ, to every word of His – and do it, do what Christ says, whatever we feel about it, whatever our fears, whatever our hesitations, do it in order to remain faithful to Him Who has set us free, [to] Who has set all free.

To be a disciple means to be one who listens with all his heart, with all his mind, all his will and longing, all his determination to what his master says in order to do, and to outgrow his own limitations, to reach the stature of his master. It may be an earthly master, ultimately it is the Lord, Jesus Christ, the only One Whom we can call fully our Master and our Lord, the only One Who is true man and Who can reveal in Himself to us what it means to be a Human Being fulfilled.

And that means at times to act against one’s desire, against one’s longings, against one’s will, in faithfulness and obedience. And this is why Paul could call himself a prisoner. On the one hand, he was free; on the other hand, to preserve this freedom, to make it into his very nature, to make it into his whole life he had to submit to Him Whom he had chosen to be his Master, his Lord, His God, because He had been his Saviour and his Liberator.

Let us look at ourselves then, and ask ourselves: Don’t we feel that within us there are these two laws at war? A war that goes between what kills, what destroys us – and what makes us into truly human beings, leads gradually to grow into what Saint Paul calls ‘the full measure of the stature of Christ’… Let us ask ourselves: How much there is within us of the power, and law, and inspiration of life – and we will understand that although we have been set free by the life, by the teaching, by the death, by the resurrection, by the ascension, by the victory of Christ, in spite of it all we have got ourselves, within the power of Christ, to win this victory which is His, to make it our own,  and in the process – to submit, to follow His commandments, to obey His will, to be remoulded [remodeled], reshaped, made new.

And indeed, the same Paul tells us that the power of God deploys itself in our weakness, and that we can hope in all things, because all things, he says, are possible unto Him and therefore also to us in the power of Christ that sustains us.

Let us than choose to be prisoners of Christ, obedient, faithful, heroically obedient and faithful if it’s necessary – but with the certainty that the strength is God’s, the victory is already won – it is only a matter of receiving what is already our rightful possession as children of the Kingdom. Amen!