How many of us here look up to someone? Whether it be a famous individual, a family member, a political figure, or a church father, why is that we look up to them? What makes the most sense is that we admire the way that person is; that certain individual has qualities that we either share, or aspire to attain, and that is what makes us love them. We then try to emulate that person, due to our admiration, and thus we become like them and reflect them. Even Saint Paul says, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). But, before we can imitate someone, we must truly love that person. Love is the ground for the most intimate relationship, and through love, we can truly learn to know and understand someone. “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). Do you see that in order to reflect Christ within ourselves, we have to first seek after Him? Then over time, our relationship with Him will grow, and through His grace, He will allow us to understand who He is. Eventually, we will truly be able to love Him and imitate Him, just as Saint Paul did. As Christians (evident through our namesake alone) we are committed to showcasing Christ throughout every aspect of our lives. So how do we do that?
First, we must return to Him through repentance, and believe me, He is waiting, and has been waiting. Christ is willing to accept all who come to Him; this is seen in countless references, but one that comes to mind instantly is in the conclusion of every hour in the Agpeya (The Coptic Prayer Book of the Seven Hours): “Christ our God, the good, the long-suffering, the abundant in mercy, and the great in compassion, who loves the righteous and has mercy on the sinners, of whom I am chief; who does not wish the death of the sinner but rather that he returns and lives.” Even Pope Shenouda confirms this, advising us to “Ask repentance of Him as a good gift, for He Himself promised this, saying: ‘I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you… I shall put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes’ (Ezekiel 36:26-27)” (The Life of Repentance and Purity, page 212). By all means, He is waiting to have a relationship with us, AND He is even granting us what is needed to have that strong relationship with Him. So what is the force that hinders us? The struggle.
Now it is time to struggle in building the relationship. Yes, we’ve all already heard: Read the Bible (cool, next) -> Pray (what’s new). However, we tend to underestimate the power of these Sunday School cliches. Reading the Bible should by no means be a leisurely activity, or something that we do in passing time. It is God’s direct way of speaking to us. What if I told you that individual you admire so much sat in your house all day, waiting to speak to you, and all you did was ask them, “So… how old are you” or “So… what’s your favorite color?” Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but I am ashamed to recall just how many times I have read the Bible to gain a superficial knowledge of God, instead of trying to build a meaningful relationship with Him. We have the words of the One we love with us, and yet, we find ways to fool ourselves to stay away from it. The Wisdom of Sirach says,
“How different is the man who devotes himself
To the study of the law of the Highest.
He will seek out the wisdom of all the ancients
And be occupied with their prophecies…
He will seek out the hidden meanings of proverbs
And be engaged in the riddles of parables…
If the great Lord wills,
He will be filled with the Spirit of understanding.
He will pour forth words of His wisdom,
And in prayer, he will give thanks to the Lord” (Wisdom of Sirach 39:1, 3, 6).
God will fill the person who studies His word with the Spirit of understanding! Even our goal to reflect Him is taken care of by Him. The Holy Spirit will do the work within us. We must put true effort in, and have faith in these words spoken to us.
Prayer was mentioned briefly above, but it deserves equal emphasis. As Christ prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, before His arrest, it is said, “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). If Christ, who was perfect, prayed with such effort and zeal before God the Father, how do we sinners justify praying without vigorous compassion and remorse for what we have done? We must recognize that prayer is truly dynamic; As we get closer to God through prayer and reading His word, He begins to show us all of our shortcomings. However, “Thanks to God’s compassion for us, He does not reveal our every sin and weakness to us all at once, so that we do not feel worthless” (Pope Shenouda). But, as we begin to understand just how weak we were, and are, the Spirit also is able to truly begin His work within us, “for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Origen also says, “He makes Himself known to those who, after doing all that their powers will allow, confess that they need help from Him.” All of this tells us that we must come before God truly understanding just how weak we are, destroying all pride, so that way He will actually be able to fill us. We will feel ourselves change as people, we will feel a fire in our hearts, and we will be filled with expressions and warmth that could not have developed from us alone. Rather, it must be Christ who began to work within us.
So now that we have allowed for a place for God to dwell in us, we must use the grace and gifts He gives us in everything we do. Since everyone possesses different gifts, we will reflect Christ in various ways through these gifts: “And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all… But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” (1 Corinthians 12: 6, 11). To keep these gifts and grace that fill us and reveal the light of God to others, we must continue steadfast in what we have been entrusted with. Through our steadfastness, God will fill us with the fruits of the Spirit, to reassure us we are on the right path. This journey is never-ending, for Christ is unlimited, and so we will continue to grow through the entirety of our lives. This is not only something we should want to do but reflecting Christ is something we have to do as Christians: “We must ensure that in us are seen all the meanings of the name of Christ so that our title (of Christian) is not false and meaningless but is borne out by our lives” (Saint Gregory of Nyssa).