(Rom. 12: 10)
St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, chapter 6, gives us a most valuable lesson on how to live together, how to coordinate our relationships and how to transcend our many weaknesses, among which pride and envy are the chief.
For us Serbs, one of the instructions of the Apostle has a particularly important meaning. I feel that it somehow applies to us. “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another” (Rom. 12: 9-10).
Why do I feel that this last part, “in honour giving preference to one another” applies to us Serbs most?
Because even we Serbs agree that we always give preference to others and least of all to our own kin. We often respect foreigners more than we do our own countrymen. Anything foreign is endlessly interesting to us. Not only is the grass greener on our neighbour’s lawn, but even our neighbour is better only if he is not a Serb! This must be the reason why scores of Chinese citizens received Serbian citizenship recently. However, try applying for Serbian citizenship if you are a Serb born abroad: a thousand problems and glitches in the system await you, so many that eventually you will give up on trying to obtain your citizenship certificate!
It is also true that we Serbs do not tolerate anyone who tries to rise up above our mediocrity. Should anyone dare raise his head even a little bit above the rest, he is in deep trouble. For here we are, ready to pounce on him and immediately pull him down and, if need be, to make him shorter by his own head!
We have destroyed the best sons of our nation, yet we have allowed a foreigner who had no love nor sympathy for Serbs whatsoever to rule over us in a reign of terror for over forty years. Even today you will find people who will bow down to the memory of this executioner and keep his cult alive.
Christ’s lament that “a prophet is not without honour except in his own country and in his own house” (Mt. 13:57) is particularly applicable to us.
Here, as in every other place on the earth, the best and worthiest among us are the subject of the most notorious intrigue and lies. All over our community, in coffee shops people, especially men, gossip worse than fishwives, spreading rumours and dishonouring those who are better and more successful then they.
Not even the families of their victims are spared.
What dreadful things I have heard about the most honourable people in Toronto! If I hadn’t known better, I would have completely lost my faith in mankind.
In the epistle the holy Apostle Paul bids us to rejoice with those who are joyful and to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). His bidding is seemingly easy to carry out. But let us examine our souls and admit to ourselves how much we are really ready to rejoice in someone else’s joy. It is somewhat easier to sympathize with someone’s sorrow. God forbid anyone should revel in a brother’s misfortune or laugh at his tears.
As I said, weak as we are, we are still able to feel compassion. If someone close to us loses a relative, or some misfortune befalls him, we are deeply touched by his loss and relate to it, often weeping along with our friend or neighbour. If, however, something good happens to our neighbour, such as a business success so that he stands higher on the social scale than ourselves, are we truly able to be happy for him and with him and to experience his joy as our own? Can we forgive him for being better than we are? Do we have the integrity to accept the fact that his child is better and more successful than ours and are we able to celebrate his child’s success in the same way as we would celebrate our own child’s success?
By sincerely answering these questions every one of us can verify his or her place in Christ’s law of love.
This whole discourse is really nothing but a story about love. “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (Jn. 15:12-13).
It is of no consequence what we think about ourselves, we belong to Christ only if we have love. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35) says the Lord.
St. John the Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord gives us a touching example of friendship and faithfulness. At the time the Lord began His public ministry, St. John had already been well-known and widely accepted as a prophet. In fact, he was so well-known that he had a hard time explaining that he was not the long-awaited Messiah, that he was not the Christ. In his humility, he said that he was not worthy to loosen his Master’s sandal strap (Jn. 1:27). And when later the people came to him and said, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” (Jn. 3:26), St. John immediately went to serve Him with joy, without a trace of envy. “Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:29-30).
Almost every day I encounter members of some sect or cult, young men and women in the prime of their youth. I also know people who are members of certain public and secret societies and associations. All of them are convinced that membership in these groups and societies guarantees them solidarity and support from the other members. It’s true – where we as Christians fail, others are ready to reap profit from our negligence.
If we read the Acts of the Apostles, we see that, no matter where they lived, the early Christians felt themselves to be a part of a large family. When a Christian from Corinth went to Rome, he had no need to worry where he would rest his body and soul. Every Christian household was happy to take him in as the closet of kin.
In his epistle St. Paul singles us Christians out and above the society we live in and advises us to behave in a manner worthy of our calling to which we were called, “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:1-2).
When we listen to the readings of the epistles at Holy Liturgy, we must remember that they are not there for decoration, but because they were given to us so that we may live our lives according to them. It is expected of us to grow and be better people from one Epistle or Gospel reading to another. Going home after Holy Liturgy, illumined by the grace that we received at the holy Liturgy, take these words of advice that St. Paul gave us, never doing or saying anything out of spite, envy or greed for power, but always giving honor and preference to one another in humility.