The Holy Church continues to celebrate the Holy Theophany and the Baptism of the Lord, which means that every one of us is called to keep our baptismal robes clean after we put them on after our own baptisms, having died for sin and staying alive for God. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. (Romans 6:12). How can we stop being slaves of sin and start to live for God? Apostle Paul provides several wise recommendations. If we follow them, our work shall abide, and we shall receive a reward. (See 1 Cor. 3:14).
It was no accident that the Holy Fathers suggest this apostolic command as the liturgical reading of the Saturday after the Holy Theophany. While we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, we should remember our own Enlightenment, too, and work hard to preserve God’s grace. Apostle Paul invites us to recall our baptismal pledges of allegiance to Christ. We are the soldiers of the Lord’s army. Every soldier must possess strong will, rigorous discipline, reliable armor, and combat skills in order to defeat the principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:12)
1. Stand therefore (Ephesians 6:14). What does it mean? It was especially crucial for ancient soldiers to be able to hold their ranks and stand firm because it was the only way they could win in the battle. They had to prevent the enemy from dissecting their troops. That is why Paul also calls for that quite often. Watch ye, stand fast (1 Cor. 16:13); [S]tand fast in the Lord (Philippians 4:1); and, Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. (1 Cor. 10:12). Only a person who has shrugged off his sinful sloth, taken a spiritual weapon, and is prepared to fight tooth and nail, can begin to engage in the combat with the sin.
2. having your loins girt about with truth (Ephesians 6:14). People used to wear loose clothes in antiquity. When they were about to begin a journey or a battle, they had to gird up their loins, i.e., to tuck the flaps of their garments, and to wear a belt, to which they could attach a weapon. What does it mean for us? The Holy Fathers perceived the loins as a symbol for affections and desires of all kinds. That is why we should gird up our loins, that is, tame and learn to control our desires and attractions, and be persistent in keeping our hearts unscathed by the enemy. It isn’t a leather belt that we should use to gird up our loins. It’s the truth, i.e., knowledge of God’s will and acting in accordance with the commandments of Christ.
3. and having on the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14). Soldiers of yore had to wear heavy breastplates to fend off their enemies’ blows. Likewise, Christians should also wear the breastplate of righteousness. That’s what St. Theophan the Recluse writes, Even if you keep your thoughts under control by vigilance, attention, and wakefulness, they can still sneak in, that was why the Apostle didn’t say that girding up the loins was enough. He orders us to wear a breastplate, that is, implant all kinds of holy thoughts into our hearts, so that, even if ill thoughts sneak in, they would not be able to damage our hearts in any way. Therefore, the breastplate of righteousness means good and holy feelings in one’s heart that prevent us from agreeing to do anything bad.
4. And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15). There have always been plenty of snakes and scorpions ready to sting a careless traveler in the Middle East. Similarly, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).
Blessed Theophylact of Ohrid says that feet are a symbol of life, that is why the Apostle warn us to walk circumspectly (Ephesians 5:15). The preparation of the gospel of peace symbolizes good deeds, which even the Lord pays attention to. A Christian’s entire life must reflect his belief in the Gospel, regardless of his rank and status. Therefore, we must bring people love, joy, and knowledge of the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Every Christian must be an apostle in a way.
5. Above all, taking the shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16). If you fight without a shield, you’re in danger. Likewise, a Christian cannot do without protection in spiritual life. Saint Maximus the Confessor says that our shield is the dying of Jesus Christ – Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. (See 2 Cor. 4:10). For “a shield made of wood and leather makes us think about the mystery of the Cross and the dying of the body; hence, if someone possesses it, it becomes a shield of faith for him.” Therefore, if we want to receive the shield of faith, we have to crucify ourselves to the world, in the apostle’s words.
6. And take the helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6:17). Soldiers of all times used helmets hoping that they would cushion the blows of their enemies and save their lives. Apostle Paul orders us to take helmets of salvation, which is hope of God. St. Maximus the Confessor tells us that “due to the fact that the physical helmet is an armor made of copper, which is a durable material that reflects light and isn’t susceptible to corrosion, and also knowing that the head symbolizes our faith, we can conclude that the armor that covers our faith is hope, because hope, being unfaltering and firm, doesn’t let us disregard faith.” No matter how mighty the blows of our adversary are, we must never lose hope for God’s mercy and forgiveness.
7. And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Finally, after making sure that we stand firm, with the belt of truth on our loins and the breastplate of righteousness on our bodies, with shoes on our feet, equipped with the shield of faith and helmets of salvation, Apostle Paul gives us the spiritual sword that every Christian must carry. We need defense from the enemy and a weapon to attack him, too. That weapon, according to Blessed Theophylact of Ohrid, is the Holy Spirit himself. If we acquire him, we can break the skull of the serpent. That is why prayerful reading of the Word of God, the divinely inspired Scripture, and putting it to practice must occupy our minds and hearts all the time so that the Holy Spirit could dwell in us.
Only if we follow the apostle’s advice, will we be able to remain faithful to Jesus Christ and preserve the shining robes that we received at our baptism. That is how we can glorify the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages!