"Take the Next Step"
by Archpriest James C. Meena
Having made the First Premise that GOD IS, it becomes necessary for us to go on from there. The fool says in his heart, there is no God.” (Psalm 14:1). The wise acknowledge that GOD IS and then the next step is to understand our relationship to Him.
When God manifested His wishes to a select group of people, the Hebrews, He knew that it was necessary to establish a law by which they could govern their society. Before He could give them a social law He had to establish His Divine relationship with them. As an introduction to the Commandments with which we are so familiar He said: “I am the Lord thy God who brought you out of the house of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2). For the Hebrew people that should have been enough. And for faithful Jews of today, that is enough. They recall this statement throughout the holiest days of their ecclesiastical year.
For Christians this statement establishes the understanding that the God of Israel is our God as well. He is One and the same God and we are inheritors of the same commandments, of the same covenants, of the same relationships that existed between that first chosen people and God. Although that first chosen people lost the grace that had been given them because of their covenant-breaking, sins, corruption and alienation from God, the commandments and the grace that He intended for those who would be obedient to Him have not disappeared but have continued in the logical fulfillment that is the Church of Jesus Christ.
“I am the Lord thy God,” and the first Commandment is, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” When Orthodox Christians baptize, the first physical act that takes place is when the Priest breathes upon the recipient the breath of life, lays his hand upon his head and claims him for God. God will not tolerate a dualism of loyalty. We are either God’s children, His family, His creatures, His obedient servants, or the servants of something else. God insists that we can put nothing before Him.
In ancient times the people of God fell into condemnation and broke the covenants that were established between them and God most especially when they fell into the worship of idols, building statues, burning incense and bowing down before them. Imitating the paganism of the surrounding countries was a popular apostasy. The chosen people of God never really seemed to have had the strength to stand on their own two feet for long and say, “There is but one God, and Him shall we follow.” They had this tendency to follow after the pagan ways of their neighbors because that was the easy way, that was the way of self-gratification, the way of permissiveness.
Does that sound like something you heard recently? We don’t have pagan-gods anymore. Nonetheless, we worship the gods of the people around us, the gods of materialism and secularism and parochialism and transcendentalism and spiritism and satanism. We have a fascination with witchcraft and with conversing with the dead, with astrology and with ESP, with the “exotic” religions of the East and, one way or another, we manage to worship the gods of the people around us rather than the True God, “Who brought us out of the house of Egypt, out of the house of slavery and bondage.”
Despite the fact that man sins time and time again, this God, Who insists that He must be first in our life, loves us so much “that He gave His only Begotten Son that the world through Him might be saved.” The fulfillment of all that which had transpired in the early days of the development of the chosen nation was completed when God manifested Himself as a man, taking on humanity without divesting Himself of His Divine Nature. He took on all the pain, all the suffering, all the feelings and temptations of man, paid the ultimate price in the sacrifice on the Cross and sealed that sacrifice with His Resurrection, in order that we might know how much He loves us.
Then is it any wonder that, after the First Premise of the acknowledgement . . . God is . . the first Commandment is “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,” and that there can be nothing that takes priority in our life over our loyalty to God or our discipleship to Him and to our love for Him?
“Do not follow other gods-the gods of other people around you for Yahweh your God is a jealous God.” (Deut. 6:14)
“Take heed,” says the Lord, “lest you forget the Lord your God, by not keeping His Commandments.” (Deut. 8:11)
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (Deut. 6:4-7)
God will not tolerate a dualism of loyalty. We are either God’s children, His family, His creatures, His obedient servants, or the servants of something else.
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America