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WORK OF FAITH, LABOR OF LOVE, STEADFASTNESS OF HOPE

Today, on the eleventh Sunday of the Feast of the Holy Cross, the topic of our Scriptural reflection is taken from St. Paul’s First Epistle addressed to the Thessalonians (1:2-3), which reads as follows, “We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Those who had the opportunity to read or listen to last Sunday’s Epistle, addressed to the Philippians, will observe immediately the similarity not only of the message, but even word by word, of the vocabulary common between these two passages: “thanksgiving”, and the “constant remembrance in prayers”. This affirms how transparent the Apostle Paul is, and how he shares passionately his inner world: enthusiasm, spiritual experience, and his thoughts with the believers at large.

[This unique relationship between the Apostle and his spiritual children, as he mentions in his first letter to the Thessalonians, that “in Jesus I became your father” (1 Cor 4.15), is indeed exemplary. The Armenian text reflects a more intime relationship by reading, “in the Gospel of Jesus Christ I bore you,” which has Biblical connotation with Psalm 2.7 “I will tell of the decree of the Lord; He said to me, “You are my son, today I have begotten you.” ]

The special relationship which the Apostle Paul establishes with Christians living in different parts of the world is described by him: “In Christ Jesus, I have begotten you through the Gospel” (1 Cor 4.15).  St. Paul regards his mission in the context of a parental relationship with his spiritual children who have been born, not from flesh alone, but through the words of the Gospel message.  He is echoing the sentiment of the Psalmist David “I will declare the decree: the Lord has said to me, ‘You are my son; this day I have begotten you” (Ps 2:7).

As much as the biological relationship has a unique character, the intellectual and spiritual relationships also play decisive roles and may endure for a lifetime. Those who are instructors and teachers in every level of education have surely experienced the tremendous joy when, out of nowhere a young lady or gentleman approaches and addresses them as her/his teacher when in school, and tells them how much she/he cherishes the memories the instruction which that teacher provided at an important time in the young person’s life. In today’s reading we witness the constant care of St. Paul cultivating the faith of his spiritual children from afar. The mission of service is not limited only within the limits of momentary preaching or teaching, but rather goes beyond all boundaries of understanding.

The continuity of communication plays a significant role in the growth and strengthening of our bonds in all directions. It becomes more positive and fruitful when it carries a tone of encouragement. This praiseworthy attitude we see in the second part of this sentence. The Apostle highly commends “the work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” These are the three pillars, the cardinal virtues, which the Apostle highlights in his eloquent treatise offered on the gift of Love (1 Cor 13.1-13). St. Paul does not take evangelization for granted. He takes on the responsibility personally and is zealous for the salvation of his spiritual children just as of his own. He knows that planting should be followed by constant care, of watering, of preserving from alien interferences, but most especially, step by step, of encouraging their achievements and successes.

The Apostle concludes his words by saying that all our virtues and labors are ingrained in our Lord Jesus Christ. This statement prevails in all of the epistles of St. Paul. Our Faith, Hope, Love, our commitments, endeavors, and all our aspirations should be anchored in Christ, as Jesus solemnly announced, “I am the Vine you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit” (Jn 15.5). Apart from Jesus the entire course of our life may deviate from its ultimate destination. In all our physical, intellectual, and spiritual realms it is crucial that we act while being rooted in Christ. We should strive to make the rooting in Jesus as the normal mode of our entire existence. We will witness the positive outcome of this intimate relationship at every step in our earthly life, and moreover, in eternal life. For the Apostle ensures us that our earthly life in all its details is remembered before God, for ”before Him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account (Heb 4.13). With this conscious conviction let us all believe, act and expect the fulfillment of eternal promises, prepared from the beginning of the Creation by the Righteous Judge, and our compassionate and merciful Father, to whom is befitting Glory, Dominion and Honor. Amen.

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