In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…and on the sixth day, God created humankind and all was pronounced good. God’s creation was called good because it was the work of God’s hands and thus is demonstrative of his character and of his essence. Man and woman were created in God’s image – good and pure. But we know the story, the paradise and the purity didn’t last long. The serpent came and deceived Adam and Eve offering them the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thus mankind fell away from God, the mind of man became corrupt and a wedge was driven between humanity and God. The image of the divine within us, God’s good creation, was corrupted and tainted. We became a shadow of what we were meant to be as our minds and hearts fell into a downward spiral. Death, corruption and sin entered God’s good creation.
Adam and Eve’s sin opened the doors to sin, death, and corruption. The Apostle Paul describes this further in his letter to the Romans. He writes that “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged he truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator… For this reason, God gave them up to dishonorable passions” and “gave them up to a base mind and improper conduct. They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity….” And the list goes on.
After the Fall, human nature was changed such that we were inclined towards sin. As Orthodox Christians, we do not believe in Original Sin in the Augustinian understanding, that is, that we are born under the weight and guilt of sin. Rather we believe that human nature was changed with the Fall such that we inevitably will sin because we are inclined to do so. Thus while we are not born under shall we say, original guilt, we are born such that we inevitably will sin and thus fall under judgment. This is the path all of humanity is on, our frail human nature and weak will lead us down a dark road that ends in destruction. On our own, we are hopeless. Left to our own devices, we fall and continue to fall. We, in the terms of Paul, “gratify the desires of the flesh.”
Now all of humanity by way of our fallen nature is inclined to gratify the flesh. On our own, we are without hope, we have sinned are will come under judgment. But the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ offers hope for our salvation. Through faith in Christ, our baptism and Chrismation, we are given the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is given to aid us on the path of salvation, so that we can, by God’s grace, overcome the fallen spirit within us. This is the gospel message: Christ has died for our sins and offers us life eternal. He offers us the opportunity to overcome our fallen nature by submitting to and cooperating with the Spirit he sends to dwell within us. So that rather than sinking deeper and deeper into judgment by the weight of our sin, we can be placed on the path to life.
And so we finally come to the passage that was read this morning—found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians in chapter 5. Here we are given sign posts for how well we are cooperating with the Spirit and how well we are serving our Master, Jesus Christ. In chapter 5 of Galatians, Paul is not so much commenting on or comparing Christians to non-Christians, he is comparing the responses of Christians to the Spirit within them. Paul contrasts the following the desires of the flesh with what he calls the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit and the desires of the flesh are representative of the two combating natures within us: that of our fallen flesh and that of our new life in Christ. Paul contrasts the fruit of each of these natures and offers us an indicator of our own faithfulness to Christ.
The use of the term fruit by Paul is an interesting word choice. Fruit implies something that grows or springs forth from a plant. In other words it is something that is the product of that plant. In the case of the fruit of the Spirit, the plant or root cause is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Christian and the byproduct of this indwelling is what is commonly called the fruit of the Spirit. One’s fruit is a sign of what is going on within us—our relative health. A healthy tree produces good fruit, an unhealthy tree bad fruit. Thus one’s fruit serves as a sort of internal barometer of the individual. It demarks a temperament, one’s character and thus serves an internal moral compass. Ultimately, our fruit displays for all to see what master we serve or how faithfully we are serving our master.
To express this idea, the apostle compares the good fruit and bad fruit. As we said, the terminology Paul uses for the bad fruit is the “desires of the flesh.” “Flesh,” for Paul—at least in the context of our reading this morning, does not mean our physical bodies; rather it means the mindset and inclinations of fallen humanity. So the flesh is the fallen man—the thoughts and actions that drive us away from God as surely as the forbidden fruit drove a wedge between Adam & Eve’s relationship with God.
In order to compare the two types of fruit, Paul offers us two lists. The products of the worldly life are fornication, impurity, selfishness, anger, jealousy, dissension, envy, strife, drunkenness and the list goes on. Quite simply, the list is a list of sins.
In stark contrast, the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. These are the signs of the Spirit-filled life, a life that is on track and firmly on the road to salvation. They are demonstrative of a transformed life—a life in harmony with the Spirit and in joyful acceptance of the sacrificial gift of Christ Jesus.
According to Paul, the faithful and healthy Christian crucifies the passions and desires of the flesh. This takes hard work. We do not simply sit back waiting to be changed, but we are in a spiritual battle to listen to the Spirit and obey. The two natures within us are competing to be heard and obeyed. We all know that just because we have chosen to follow Christ does not mean that the little voice in our heads tempting us stops working on us—if anything, it gets louder rather than softer. Thus it is hard work to listen and obey the Spirit.
Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “I do not understand my actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very things I hate.” Christ died to free us from our bondage to sin, but we are now at liberty to choose which voice we listen to. Before we were slaves to sin, now we can choose and that choice is between the battling natures within us. The cross offers freedom and life, but notice God’s calling to us is to put to death the passions and desires of the flesh. It is our job to work towards this.
In our Divine Liturgy book, there are prayers in preparation for communion. In one of the prayers, we say the following: “O Christ Jesus, Wisdom of God and Peace and Power, through the human nature which Thou didst take to Thyself, Thou didst suffer the life-creating and saving passion: the cross, the nails, the spear and death itself. Put to death in me the soul-destroying passions of the body…” and later “Bury in me the evil devices of the devil with good thoughts, and destroy the spirits of evil” and again, “Raise me up who am sunk down in sin and give me the image of repentance.” According to these prayers, God subdues the sinful desires of our flesh, God does the work. Yet in our passage from Galatians, God calls us to this task—thus there is cooperation between us and the Holy Spirit to subdue our passions.
To do this, we work to build good habits— saying no to our sinful desires and saying yes to loving and serving others. We attempt to foster the right temperament by agreeing with the Spirit and this brings forth the good fruit. The longer we obey and cooperate, the more love, peace, patience, joy gentleness and self-control we will have. As Paul says, “if we live by the Spirit, let us walk by the Spirit.”
Walking by the Spirit is not simply waging battles within ourselves, however. It also implies not causing unnecessary battles within our brethren. Paul writes, “Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. If a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The fruit of the Spirit, while representative of an inward transformation, also implies action within our life together as the body of Christ.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, but love towards whom? The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness but towards whom? The fruit of the Spirit is kindness, but towards whom? The answer, of course, is towards the brethren and indeed all of humanity. The fruit is demonstrated in our day to day encounters with other people, but especially among the brethren. Indeed the world will know we are Christians by our love.
Our love is demonstrated not only by helping and serving one another, not only by not provoking one another but by not standing in judgment over one another ignoring our own sin while we point out another’s. As Paul writes, we are to help carry one another’s burdens and when a brother or sister falls, we are to be there to offer healing and forgiveness. This fulfills the law of Christ which is the law of love.
Today we commemorate St. Moses of Ethiopia. St. Moses is a perfect example of what we have looked at this morning. Allow me to read his biography.
St. Moses the Black was a former gang leader, murderer, and thief in ancient Africa. However, he became a model of transformation. His is one of the most inspiring stories among the African saints.
Moses, an escaped slave, was the leader of a group of 75 robbers. He was a large and powerful man, who with his gang terrorized the entire region. Moses was transformed after he and his group attacked a monastery, intending to rob it. He was met by the abbot, whose peaceful and warm manner overwhelmed him. He immediately felt remorse for all his past sins, sincerely repented, and begged to remain at the monastery.
Moses was tortured by his past and for years was tempted to return to his old ways. One day, as he was confessing his sins to St. Macarius, an angel appeared with a tablet full of his sins. As he confessed, the angel began wiping the tablet clean. The more he confessed, the more the angel wiped, until by the end it was completely clean. After meeting St. Macarius and St. Isidore, he completely left his old ways behind him and became a monk.
Later, St. Moses was ordained to the priesthood — a rare honor among the Desert Fathers — and founded a monastery of 75 monks, the same number as his former group of thieves. He was known for his wisdom, humility, love, and non-judgment of others. Once a brother had been caught in a particular sin, and the abbot asked St. Moses to come to the church and render judgment. He came reluctantly, carrying on his back a leaking bag of sand. When he arrived, the brothers asked him why he was carrying such a thing. He simply said, “This sand is my sins which are trailing out behind me, while I go to judge the sins of another.” At that reply, the brothers forgave the offender and returned to focusing on their own salvation rather than the sins of their brother.
Prior to his conversion, St. Moses was certainly on the road to destruction. He was a thief, a murderer, and a gang leader. The biography I read does not offer details of what this man did, but he was a truly an evil character. But he encountered the living gospel in the person of a simple abbot. He repented of his sins and embraced the faith. Guided by the Spirit, the man battled against the temptation to return to a life of sin—and won! He was ordained a priest and provides us with ample example of the fruit of the Spirit in action. When called upon to judge a brother, he carried a leaking bag of sand symbolic of the burden of his sins, a reminder of his own sinfulness as he was called to judge a fallen brother. The result of his actions was that those who had called him to stand in judgment were reminded of their own frailness and sin, and they lovingly restored their brother. The fruit of St. Moses’ conversion was that he was known for wisdom, humility and love. And the fruit of his cooperation with the Spirit was that his person and actions reminded his brethren of their calling to love and forgive their fallen brethren.
Just as St. Moses walked with the Spirit and exhibited the fruit of this walk, let us to seek to battle the fallen nature within us. Let us strive to listen to the Spirit rather than the voice of our fallen nature. Let us remind ourselves of our own sinfulness, repent and seek to foster a spirit of love, humility, patience and self-control within ourselves. Let us love one another, be slow to judge each other but quick to forgive and restore those who in weakness fall. Through the work of the Spirit within us, by God’s grace and the love of Christ Jesus who is our supreme example we too can be and continue to be transformed and contribute to the transformation of our brethren.