(1st Corinthians 8:8-9:2)
The reading from the First Epistle to the Corinthians, which we are hearing today, has the Apostle Paul referring to the disruption created in the Church by the misbehavior of some Christians. This is what was happening: In those days, for worship the idolaters would sacrifice animals in their temples to false gods. The meat would be divided, with some burnt at the altar, some eaten as a sacred meal in the temple, and the rest would be sold to the market for individual consumption. These meats were “things offered to idols.” According to the Decree of the Apostolic Synod, which convened in Jerusalem in 48 AD, it was declared that Christians were forbidden to eat things offered to idols, in order to cut off any connection with their previous religion, idolatry. But in Corinth, there were some Christians who wanted to be “progressive” with their own theory: Since the gods of idols do not exist, then the sacrifices offered to them are worthless. This means that there is no real difference between these meat sacrifices and the regular meat you find on the market. In short, we can eat it! With this reasoning, some of them participated in the public feasts. But other Christians, who saw them eat things offered to the idols were scandalized- What kind of Christians are they, who eat things offered to idols like the idolaters, in clear violation of the Apostolic Synod’s Decision!
The Apostle Paul condemns the behavior of these “progressive” Christians, declaring that their thinking on what is and is not ordinary meat is irrelevant, because they are not thinking about the scandal they are causing to others.
Of course, today we Christians do not worry about such classifications, but we do have to worry about how we behave as Christians, so that we do not scandalize our brothers and sisters.
We must highlight the fact that the Church has chosen this reading about animal sacrifices and scandal for today, Meat-Fare Sunday. From tomorrow and until Easter, we are fasting from meat. This Fasting of Great Lent, like every Wednesday and Friday throughout the year (with exceptions), dates back to the time of the Holy Apostles. Orthodox Christians have to keep the fast, as it is very useful for our spiritual life (Of course, if the spiritual father finds that one cannot fast for serious health reasons, he regulates the way and the time of fasting according to the Holy Rules of our Church).
There are, however, Christians who act just like those of Corinth. They claim that what matters is not what we eat, but a pure heart! Indeed, they misinterpret the words of the Gospel (Matthew 15:11): "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man,” which the Lord said about another case). So you can see them eat meat shamefully and shamelessly, without thinking about the scandal they cause to others. The Apostle Paul answers: "If food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble" (1st Corinthians 8:13).
Of course, it is not only meat that can offend others. If we think a bit, we will remember many other events we have noticed in the lives of others that have scandalized us. Not only that, but also what we ourselves have done that have troubled others, such as obscene dress, misleading words, wicked looks, indifference to the pain of those around us, and many other such acts of sin that have caused some to turn away from the Christian path.
The Apostle Paul adds another dimension to the consequences of our committing such sins against another; he writes: "By sinning in this way against the brothers and wounding their conscience, you sin against Christ Himself" (verse 12) with whom the faithful are united. That is why our Lord Jesus Christ said: "Alas to the man who causes the scandal" (Matthew 18:7). And the Lord reached the point of saying these terrible words: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me, to stumble, it will be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea" (Mark 9:42).
My brothers and sisters, it is obvious how very serious it is to trigger others by our own careless or wrongful behavior. We need to be careful. In our actions, whether they are in the family, at work, or in society, we should not only think about what we like and what is good for us, but also how do we avoid bringing shame to others. Let us ask for the light of the Holy Spirit to guide us.