When St. Paul was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel in Philippi, St. Luke tells us he and his companion Silas sang hymns of praise to God (Acts 16:15). Later, St. Paul instructed the early Church to
….be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts (Eph. 5:19)
The Orthodox Church worships this way to this very day (even if right now only by Zoom!). We can learn about our faith every bit as much, if not more, by attending to the prayers and hymns of the liturgy as we can in a classroom. Our ‘spiritual songs’ make a ‘melody of theology.’
Since we are in continuity with the early Church, it is worth our while to attend to their liturgical hymns. We can find some of them embedded in the epistles of St. Paul, along with early creeds and other confessions of the faith.
One of the most vital and moving expressions of the meaning of Christ in our lives is a hymn found in St. Paul’s epistle to the Philippians. Let’s carefully consider its words for our spiritual and moral edification.
First, we must know the context for this hymn. Paul is again in prison, this time in Rome, and separated from his beloved Philippians, who have always been supportive of his ministry. It is a letter expressing a strong feeling ofkoinonia, or fellowship. Friends, the ancients said, have all things in common. One soul, and one mind. What is this mind Paul wants to have in common?
‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,’ he urges them. It is the mind of Christ that can help the community — help all of us — to overcome external threats and inner turmoil. And what is this mind? It is one of selfless humility.