This is a guest post from Fr. Anthony St Shenouda – a Coptic Orthodox monk from the monastery of St. Shenouda in Australia (who happens to have a great first name!). Fr. Anthony works with a group called Asaph Tunes – a group that produces contemporary Christian music with Orthodox teaching. And if you too are interested in guest posting on my blog, please visit my Guest Post guidelines for more info.
A young lady once asked if she could take a selfie with me. After agreeing and getting ready for the picture, I noticed she was uncomfortable. I asked if she is ok and she replied “Can we swap sides because this is not my good side?” At first I thought she was joking, but quickly realized she wasn’t!
In the first chapter of St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, he highlights for us the believers, whom he calls saints, our calling in Christ. After he tells us that we have been chosen before the foundation of the world, he continuous in verse 4: “That we should be holy and without blame before him in love.”
So He chose us not for destruction or to send us to hell, but to be “holy and without blame” – that is how He sees us, “holy and without blame”. He doesn’t focus on your faults or sins but He sees you as “holy and without blame”.
The significance of this verse is that we are holy because God made us that way. It is like two students: the first gets 100% most of the time and sometimes he gets 90% or 95%. The second however has never gotten anything over 80%.
Which of them do you think is more enthusiastic to get 100% in their next exam? The first student is because he’s been there and done that. The second student has never tasted such high marks and can’t imagine it.
This is exactly how it is with us. We were created “holy and without blame.” To know that and understand that gives me hope to work towards getting back to my original state – which is holy and without blame.
To understand this point further, consider two points. The first is that when God called us for holiness, He was not oblivious to the fact that we have sins. A few verses later, St. Paul continues “in Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.”
Having forgiveness of sins assumes that we have sinned, and that He knows it, but that sin is not the end of the story. There is redemption of sins and He gives it to us “according to the riches of His grace”.
It is vital that we understand this point well because we often view our spiritual life as merely falling into sin and rising out of it… falling and rising… falling and rising. We make sin a condition to start our spiritual life and live as if we will never stop sinning.
Here St. Paul puts sin in its place in the middle of our relationship with God. Our relationship with God starts with Him choosing us before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blame. Even when he refers to sin, he refers to its forgiveness – not just to its fall. All we need to do is simply get up, confess our sin, and receive forgiveness and then continue on our spiritual journey.
The second point is that the secret behind having all these gifts is in a key phrase that St. Paul uses again and again in this epistle: “IN HIM.” What does it mean to be “in Him”?
When we partake of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the outcome is that “He dwells in me, and I in Him.” When I am baptized, I die with Christ and rise up with Him as well. When we go to Confession, we enter with sins but we come out having new life in Him.
So it is by participating in the sacraments that we become “in Him”.
But not only the sacraments, but also when we fast, do good deeds, reach out to those who are marginalized in society… all these we do because Jesus did them and by doing them we become “in Him”.
If we would simply realize who we are in the eyes of God, there would be no good and bad sides to take a selfie – but only one side, the side that God sees in us.
“You are altogether beautiful, my darling, and there is no blemish in you” (Song of Solomon 4:7).
I’ll end with my favorite line from one of the songs in Asaph Tunes Latest album “Jesus Dwells in me, that’s my selfie, that’s my true self”.