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Why is “sacrifice” such a common theme in the church? — R.H.
You astutely point out the importance of sacrifice in our life in Christ. Frequently, when moderns hear the word “sacrifice,” the mind conjures images of blood, guts and inconvenience.
These outward things have nothing to do with sacrifice. Contrarily, love, truth and mercy are the things that make sacrifice worthy. In truth, “sacrifice” is a synonym for love and is thus necessary for all Christians.
Since Eden, when persons make sacrifice, they give of their very life to the God they love. “I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God.” Lk 12:2. Sacrifice to God in this way is a simple expression of one’s love for another, expecting nothing in return.
Sacrifice to God is costly. Think of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac (Gen. 22.) Think of the cross. Costly. For Christians the death of Christ on the cross is the final and perfect sacrifice.
Christ lays down his own life for all humanity. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Jn 15:13. As Fr. Thomas Hopko said, “He did it not so that we don’t have to but so that we could do it too.” Thus, as imitators of Christ we strive to lay down our own life for God and neighbor as well, expecting nothing in return.
Finally, sacrifice is not easy — love never is. It is frequently difficult, even painful. It requires us to be less individualistic, less egocentric. But this does not make it bad. On the contrary, it is one of the most wonderful blessings that our God has given for our salvation.
Send questions for this column to firstname.lastname@example.org. Fr. John is priest of St. Dimitri Orthodox Church.