St Luke the Evangelist
Colossians 4:5-11, 14-18
Today the Church celebrates the memory of the holy, glorious and all-famed apostle and evangelist Luke. As we learn from today’s Epistle reading, Luke was a disciple and companion of the Apostle Paul, and it would primarily have been from Paul that Luke learnt the Gospel message described and proclaimed in his two books, which constitute roughly a quarter of the contents of the New Testament: the Holy Gospel according to Luke, and the Acts of the Apostles, which I would call the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. Luke’s first book, the Gospel, describes the teaching and life of our Lord, while the second book, the Acts, describes how the Holy Spirit worked in the Apostolic Church after the Lord’s Ascension.
We also learn something else from today’s Epistle reading, namely that Luke was a physician, and it is very likely that his ministry in the work of the Apostle Paul would have been both theological and medicinal. And the medicinal ties in very nicely with the message of the Gospel, because Christ came first and foremost to heal us.
Something that distinguishes our Orthodox faith from many other Christian confessions is that we see the Christian life primarily as psychotherapy — not with the modern definition, but with its literal meaning: that is, the healing of the soul.
Sin, according to the Orthodox Church, isn’t a crime in need of punishment, but a sickness in need of healing. The sinful person is ill, and when Christ assumes human nature, he does this to heal it from the wound of sin.
Thus, the Church is often described as a hospital, and its faithful are divided into two categories: those who are undergoing treatment — that is, us here on earth— and those who have already been healed — that, the saints. St Cyril of Jerusalem, for example, explains that the Church is called Catholic (lit. whole or complete) because it heals the human being wholly and completely (καθολικως). We should therefore not be scandalised if we see hypocrisy or sin in the Church; after all, most people in a hospital are sick. This image of the hospital, then, should also give us greater patience to bear with our imperfect brothers and sisters.
But for the Church to operate properly as a hospital of the soul, four things are necessary. First, the right faith — i.e., Orthodoxy. Any method of therapy that isn’t based in scientific reality will not produce good results. The same goes for faith. Second, we need a personal medical diagnosis — that is, self-knowledge, which we gain from prayer, confession, etc. Third, we need the right medication, namely the holy sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Lastly, we need asceticism. A person that doesn’t accept that he is unwell and doesn’t seek help, a person that refuses to take their medication, a person that doesn’t follow doctor’s orders will not get well. However, the one who accepts that he is sick, who does not neglect his treatment, such a one will save his soul and inherit the kingdom of the heavens.
Fr Kristian Akselberg