The Essence of Christianity

Bishop Alexander (Mileant)

 

Content:

The Essence of Christianity

Foreword. Wrong Ideas About Christianity. Salvation is Spiritual Renewal and Becoming Godlike.

On The Island of Lepers.

Following Christ.

Selflessness ó Who Conceived of It? Imitation of Christ. The High Calling.

Works or Faith?

The Two Extremes. An Explanation of Terms. What Should We Strive Towards? Appendix: The Holy Fathers on Good Works.

Overabundant Force. On the Grace of the Holy Spirit

Content: Introduction. The Martyr Nikiphor. A Force not of this World. Real gifts and their surrogates. The Holy Scriptures on the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Conclusion. Introduction. The Martyr Nikiphor. A Force Not of This World. Real Gifts and Their Surrogates. The Holy Scriptures on the Grace of the Holy Spirit. On The Holy Spirit by Photios Kontoglou. The Spiritual World by Photios Kontoglou.

 

 

 

"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father Which

is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48)

Foreword.

Since Christianity has been in existence for two thousand years, one might expect that the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ would have been studied in depth, understood, and thoroughly explained by this time. However, the presence of so many sects of Christianity proves that this is far from being the case. While in most of the exact sciences knowledge has built upon itself, becoming universalized and communicable to those in its common project, it appears that the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ becomes more and more fragmentary and distorted. The reason for this is not so much the difficulty of understanding the truths of Christianity as an unwillingness to grasp and accept what is most important in Christianity: why the Lord Jesus Christ came to earth, and what is the essence of His teaching.

Here, the reader may think that we ourselves are somewhat confused, for even children know that the Lord Jesus Christ came to earth in order to save mankind. His very name, Jesus, tells us this, since it means Saviour. The problem is that the meaning of this salvation cannot be understood outside the context of the Bible's teaching concerning the purpose of the creation of mankind.

Certainly, no one wishes to be condemned to hell. Everyone wants to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It is crucial to understand, however, that the Kingdom of Heaven is not so much a place as a state. When the scribes asked when the Kingdom of Heaven would be revealed, Christ answered: "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here!, or Lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20). Saying so, the Lord showed that salvation is intimately connected with a manís interior state. Salvation is not simply a move from the present conditions of life to different and better conditions; it is something more profound and wonderful. As Scripture says, "If favour is shown to the wicked, he does not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness he deals perversely and does not see the majesty of the Lord" (Isa. 26: 10, RSV). In other words, even when his exterior conditions improve, the wicked man continues to be envious, hateful, and quarrelsome, for he is tormented by a thirst for sensual pleasures; thus, he bears hell in himself. True joy, peace, and blessedness are inner states that come to a man as a result of a relationship with God, which the unrepentant refuse and do not share in. The righteous man, no matter where he is, will always have the delight of communion with God, bearing paradise within himself.

It is very important to understand that the chief purpose of Christ's coming was not to give us living conditions that are better externally, but to restore the lost paradise within us. With this truth one holds the key to understanding Christianity. One will also be able to see for himself how Orthodoxy is superior to other faiths; for everything that the Orthodox Church holds and teaches is directed towards one end: union with God through moral renewal and deification.

In the present work, we shall show that the source of all the errors of heterodox churches is a formal and utilitarian concept of salvation, one separated from the struggle of inner renewal. The Lord is all-powerful; He can create whole worlds by His word alone óbut He cannot save us without our active participation. Good and evil are states chosen by our own free will. You can give a student the most costly and up-to-date tools for learning, as well as the best teachers, but no one can give him knowledge and experience. He must force himself to study. Something similar takes place with many Christians. Despite the abundance of the means of grace offered to them, they do not grow spiritually. Not only do they show no growth, some even dare to alter the teachings of Christ to conform to their own laziness. Since most people prefer the path of least resistance, the doctrines of those who would "simplify" Christianity enjoy much visible success.

Foreseeing these things, the Lord taught believers not to be troubled by being a "little flock" that walks the narrow path, because it is the difficult path of spiritual renewal that leads to eternal life.

Wrong Ideas About Christianity.

Many people are not aware that all contemporary heresies owe their existence to the Roman Catholic Church. The Orthodox Church in the East was continually being subject to oppression from Persians, Arabs, Turks, and other Eastern peoples, and thus compelled to fight off the pressure of heresies; meanwhile, the Western world was living a life of relative security and prosperity. Because of this, the vigorous spirit of the apostolic Christian Church waned gradually, giving way to formalism and ritualism. Salvation was no longer regarded as a path of spiritual renewal, but came to be seen as a reward for good deeds. The Roman Catholic Church came more and more to resemble an earthly institution, with a corresponding love of power, careerism, and intrigue. External acts came to take the place of an internal attitude; all the emphasis was placed on deeds and rites. The more good works a person did, the greater would be his reward. It was thought that the saints had accumulated such a store of good works that they possessed a surplus. The Roman Catholic Church began to preach that these "supererogatory merits" were held in its treasury, and that it could use this wealth and share it with other members of the Church.

Thus there arose the deformed doctrine of indulgences, with all its sad consequences for the Christian world. In order to collect money for the church's coffers, the absolution of sins ó not only those of the past but those of many years in the future ó was eagerly offered for sale. The more you paid, the more sins you would be forgiven. This monstrous deformation of Christianity provoked a reaction in the form of the Protestant Reformation. In heated battle against the Catholic Church, and in measure with its abuses, Luther fell into the opposite extreme: instead of the difficult path of salvation, he declared, "Works are not necessary at all; only believe, and you are saved." The great tragedy of Western Christianity was that neither Luther nor his followers were able to free themselves from the chief error of Catholicism: a formalistic concept of salvation. Replacing good works with faith in no way solved the problem, since the activity of spiritual renewal, the central teaching of Christ, remained lost from sight. The Roman Catholic Church lost the key to the understanding of Christianity, and Protestant theologians never succeeded in finding it. Asserting that anything besides faith is unnecessary for salvation, they locked themselves out from all the means of grace with which the Lord endowed the apostolic Church. The mystery of the sacraments, and thus the priesthood, were declared unnecessary for the renewal and salvation of believing souls.

It is alarming to observe how the non-Orthodox world is going farther and farther away from the Christianity of the apostolic Church, and its key of struggle. Many of the sects and cults of more recent origin go even farther than Roman Catholicism and Protestantism in their "consumeristic" attitude. For example, some Pentecostals and like-minded "charismatics" attach the greatest importance to artificially producing in themselves a state of rapture and ecstasy, or even uncontrollable laughter. They blasphemously call their disorderly shouts and inarticulate sounds "the gift of tongues," and regard their mediumistic trances as the descent of the Holy Spirit. This has the advantage of not requiring any effort to obtain a union with God. Others, aptly called "preachers of the gospel of greed," see Christianity as a means for attaining success in this life. "Just believe," they proclaim, "and your business will prosper, your love life will improve, you will have a wonderful family, and you will always be healthy, happy and full of energy." It is as if we have walked into a fashionable restaurant, so that each person can choose those items from the Scriptures, as from a menu, which appeal to his tastes.

Salvation is Spiritual Renewal and Becoming Godlike.

"Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after

righteousness (dikaiosyn): for they shall be filled " (Matt. 5:6)

Our Saviour's teaching is illuminated by the biblical account of the creation of man. God was pleased to endow man, unlike the animals, with His own image and likeness (Gen. 1:26). "Image" and "likeness" are terms which are not synonymous. Image refers to the abilities or talents which God made part of human nature, including a sense of morality, the voice of conscience, an inclination towards good, a thirst for immortality, and the need to grow and be perfected spiritually. Likeness refers to becoming like God in His perfections. Whereas the image is an inalienable characteristic of our nature, the likeness is only a possibility, a potentiality. God is infinitely wise, good, and just. He desires that we, His children, acquire as much perfection in these qualities as possible. Of course, no one is able to become wise or virtuous in a single moment or by a single leap of the imagination. One must work on himself, be corrected and develop towards perfection. This was man's purpose at his creation, and it remains the same today!

Sin introduced disharmony into our nature. It became an obstacle on the path towards perfection. The poison of sin proved to be so powerful that no mere human being could rid himself of it by his own efforts. It was necessary for the Son of God to enter the world. He not only taught men how to live rightly, but took our nature upon Himself, and infused the decrepit human organism with a fresh stream of divine life; in this way He gave us the means of moral rebirth. Man's participation in the divine life is actualized in the Church. For this reason it is called the "body of Christ" (1 Cor. 6:15; Eph. 4:12).

The path of spiritual renewal begins with the Sacrament of Baptism, when a man is washed and freed from the poison of sin, and united with the grace of God. He is taken out of the world which lies in evil, and brought into the fold of the Church. The Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles always contrasted the Christian life with worldly life, the life of the "world which lieth in evil." "Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is ... [the] will of God," teaches St. Paul the Apostle (Rom. 12:2). The grace-filled power of baptism is so great that one who is baptized becomes, as it were, a new creature. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). Through baptism a Christian dies to all that is sinful. By becoming a partaker of the renewing power of the Saviour's sufferings on the Cross, he dies to sin and begins to live a righteous life. "God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world," wrote the Apostle Paul. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature" (Gal. 6:14-15). From this moment the Christian experiences a complete reevaluation of values. He begins to desire and seek what he used to despise, and to despise what used to enthrall him.

Sacred Scriptures calls this change a"passing from death to life" (cf. John 5:24; 1 John 3: 14) and "being risen with Christ" (cf. Col. 3:1-17). God moves a man out of the realm of darkness into the kingdom of light, where he is illumined by the Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 2:9-10). It is in this context that our Lord Jesus Christ calls upon us to "let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father Which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).

There is nothing in all the world higher than the calling of a Christian. St. Peter the Apostle encourages believers with these words: "Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy" (1 Pet. 2: 9-10). And St. Paul says: "Ye were sometime darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light; (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth)" (Eph. 5:8-9).

Of course, all this presupposes irreproachable morality and a closeness to God. "Be ye holy; for I am holy" (1 Pet. 1:16; Lev. 11:45). Holiness is given by a gift of the Holy Spirit, but each Christian must guard this gift and increase it in his own life. "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14).

The Gospels and the letters of the Apostles are unanimous in calling all to become more and more like God in His moral perfections. "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children" (Eph. 5:1). More concretely, we are required to follow the incarnate Son of God. Our ideal is to become Christlike, or, so to speak, to clothe ourselves in Christ. "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27). Therefore, the Apostle teaches: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5). "He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked" (1 John 2:6). And he writes, "I beseech you, be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ ... For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; 2:16).

The more a Christian struggles and receives grace to become like his divine Prototype, the deeper his mystical union with Him. The Lord Jesus Christ said, "If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him" (John 14:23). The goal is to become "partakers of the Divine Nature" before our death (2 Pet. 1:4).

This goal is such a lofty one that a man is naturally afraid of it at first; he considers it unattainable. Yet God helps him on the path to perfection and gradually leads him up higher and higher, towards Himself. This is why the Sacred Scriptures often compare the Church to a lofty mountain (cf. Ps. 2; Isa. 2:2-3; 11:1-10; 26; Dan. 2:34). When someone becomes a Christian, he starts to climb the foot of the mountain. The rest of his life is one long ascent of a stairway or ladder of perfection. At its very summit is the Lord, surrounded by a multitude of saints. In this context we can understand the meaning of St. Paul's words, when he writes to Christians: "Ye are come ... to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb. 12:22-23). These words are noteworthy, because they provide an assurance that moral perfection is attainable, although dependent upon the capacity of our human nature.

Thus, these and many other passages in the Bible are convincing evidence that salvation is inseparably connected with a process of spiritual renewal. Paradise is, first of all, the state or condition of a soul that has been restored. God in His mercy calls us to His heavenly kingdom; it is up to us to make the effort to reach it. Therefore, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt. 6:33). "For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end" (Heb. 3:14). God has called us to be His children. Truly, He desires that we acquire a likeness to Him, for He has appeared on earth, to restore the God-like image in us that was darkened. Sin led us astray, deep into the path of perdition, but Christ helps us to return continually to the right path, the path that leads to salvation. Therefore, Christianity is not so much a teaching or a theory as it is a path, a way of life.

When one has understood this, one is opened to the logic and wisdom of all that constitutes the distinctive aspect of Orthodoxy: its teachings about asceticism and abstinence; its sacraments, fasts, feasts, and church services; its ecclesiastical architecture, chant and art. All of these things are aids on the path to spiritual perfection. As is said, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21).

Some people ó usually those whose attitude toward Christianity is simplistic and formalistic ó may find what we are saying here to be new and even strange. They may ask, "If you have to strive and struggle to become perfect, what happened to salvation by faith and the grace of Christ?"

Such confusion can be cleared up quite easily. We are in no way lessening the importance of faith or grace; on the contrary, we are making clear the absolute necessity of these things. This may be illustrated by the following example. Suppose a wealthy philanthropist decides to offer a poor barefoot lad from some jungle the opportunity to study at a most prestigious and expensive school. He takes it upon himself to cover all the expenses connected with this endeavour: the cost of tuition, housing, meals, textbooks, computers, laboratory equipment ó anything that is needed. The educational institution boasts the most favourable conditions for learning the student could desire. A splendid career awaits this student after he completes his studies. All he has to do is to take advantage of the philanthropist's kindness and not to be lazy; after all, no one can cram knowledge into his head by force. Without the student's own personal efforts, all the good intentions of the philanthropist will come to nothing, and the idler can only go back to his jungle.

In the same way, the grace of Christ gives us everything necessary for salvation as a free gift, without any merit on our part. God forgives us our sins because Christ suffered for them on the Cross. God renews our souls, heals the wounds of our passions, enlightens our minds, calms our hearts, and spiritually strengthens us. He takes us by the hand and helps us at every step of the way. He cannot, however, without violating our freedom, compel us to be virtuous. For this, our own will and effort are necessary. All the writings of the New Testament serve to explain this concept.

Someone may ask, "What about the Thief? He was saved without any labours; he simply sighed in repentance." It must be understood that God has established for each man his own level of perfection. Even some pagans will be saved, inasmuch as they acted in accordance with what their consciences told them (see Rom. 2:14-16). At the same time, it must not be forgotten that "unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required" (Luke 12:48). If anyone thinks that Christianity is too difficult, let him at least not complain about God's mercy.

Christianity is remarkable for the fact that it opens up to man unlimited spiritual possibilities. Not only does it offer him the privilege of becoming a child of God, it also enables him to grow to resemble his Father. At the same time, it does not dictate that a man follow a particular type of life; it does not demand impossible feats of endurance.

To each person it offers the freedom to grow as much as he wishes. If you think that it is too difficult to obtain a doctoral degree, at least try to get a bachelor's degree. If this seems too hard, then finish high school. Is high school too much for you? Get through elementary school, or at least first grade. Just don't remain idle; don't bury the talent of faith. Even if you are unwilling to make the slightest effort to improve yourself, at least humble yourself before God and tell Him you are sorry for being lazy. There is only one thing I would ask of you: Do not debase the teachings of Christ; do not say that you are already saved and have no need to strive towards perfection ó for struggle is the very essence of Christianity!

In the chapters that follow, we wish, with God's help, to develop the thoughts we have touched upon here. We would like to speak about what constitutes spiritual striving towards perfection, what obstacles a Christian must overcome in order to attain it; what connection there is between God's grace and man's personal efforts, and what is the source of our joys and sorrows along the path to reach the kingdom of heaven.

 

On The Island of Lepers.

 

"Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8)

Our parish school accepts children who are not Orthodox, provided that they are willing to learn the prayers and the catechism along with the rest of the Orthodox children. A few years ago the mother of one pupil telephoned me and angrily declared that she was going to withdraw her girl from our school because we were distorting the Christian faith. To support her contention, she cited the fact that we were requiring children to learn a prayer which reads, "and cleanse us of every impurity" (the prayer "Heavenly King"). "We are Christians," the woman said, " and therefore we are holy and pure. There is no reason to instill in children gloomy feelings of sinfulness and penitence!" It turned out that this woman belonged to some charismatic sect.

Regrettably, such a naive conception of oneís own sinlessness and holiness, along with a failure to understand the essence of Christianity, has characterised Protestant denominations since the time of Martin Luther (the beginning of the 16th century). A prominent Protestant theologian summed up the Protestant understanding of Christianity thus: "The justification of a sinner is an all-embracing act of God. When a believer is justified, all his sins ó past, present and future ó are forgiven. The moment God pronounces him justified, the totality of his sins is pardoned" (William G. T. Shed, Dogmatic Theology, Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1888; emphasis added).

Apparently faith in Jesus Christ automatically guarantees a man, if not sinlessness, at least an absence of guilt for his sins. Such an opinion is not only radically wrong, but also very harmful, because it deprives man of the powerful means of regeneration which our Lord Jesus Christ gave to believers for their spiritual purification and sanctification.

First of all, spiritual illness is substantially different from physical illness. For one thing, spiritual illnesses are inseparable from our ego, free will, subconscious, experiences, habits and preferences. When the Lord Jesus Christ healed people who were suffering from various physical illnesses, He did so instantaneously, so that they were freed from their infirmities once and for all and did not require any further therapy. Unfortunately, spiritual healing, which is the regeneration of a soul damaged by sin, is a slower and more complex process, in which a man himself must play a most active part. This is because sin has become deeply rooted in our nature, and almost entirely intertwined with it.

If we wish to seek examples of Christian holiness, we ought naturally to turn to the Church of the first Christians. In reading the books of the New Testament, however, we are struck by the fact that, although the gifts of grace were abundant and many examples of lofty holiness were encountered among ordinary Christians, there were more than a few instances of a contrary nature. In fact, just a few weeks after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the formation of the first Christian community in Jerusalem, we see the appearance of favouritism and unfairness amongst believers in the matter of the distribution of relief (Acts 6:1). St. Paul the Apostle castigates the Christians of Corinth for envy, vainglory, pride, quarrelsomeness and litigiousness (1 Cor. 3:1-4; 1 Cor. 4:8; 1 Cor. 6:1-9). He also criticises them for having tolerantly, even indulgently, accepted into their midst an adulterer who had taken away his fatherís wife (1 Cor. 5:1-7). Further, he calls upon them to avoid sins of impurity (1 Cor. 6:15-19), and warns them against being puffed up with pride on account of the gift of tongues (1 Cor. 12-14). He accuses the Christians in Galatia of "biting and devouring" one another (Gal. 5:15). The Apostles have to caution Christians against drunkenness and excess at their love-feasts, i.e., liturgies (2 Pet. 2:13; 1 Cor. 11:17-32). St. Paul rebukes Christians for eating food offered to idols and scandalising other Christians (1 Cor. 8). He also mentions the treachery of false brethren. In the letters to the churches of Asia Minor which are found in the beginning of the book of Revelation, there is criticism of lukewarmness, arrogance and pride. In other words, along with Christians of high spiritual standards there were those who were as morally degraded as any ordinary pagan, because they had become negligent after their baptism and overcome by their old passions.

Our human condition may be compared to life on an island of lepers, where the inhabitants are in different stages of recovery. The Sacrament of Baptism washes away the leprosy of sin and infuses great spiritual power into a man. The scars of sin, however, do not disappear right away. A certain predisposition to sin remains. There are many factors which threaten a man with the opportunity to fall into sin: external temptations, living in an unfavourable environment, his own sinful habits and weaknesses, spiritual immaturity, fleshliness, inconstancy and feebleness. If one does not fight against little sins and weaknesses and cleanse them by repentance, they can in time form a moral burden which weighs heavily on a Christianís conscience; they can bring him to a spiritual "shipwreck" (1 Tim. 1:19).

It is a sad fact of life that small sins are as unavoidable as dust in the air. Just as it is necessary to wash every day and to clean oneís room, it is equally necessary to repent constantly for oneís daily failings. Who would consider himself holier or more perfect than Christís Apostles? Yet even they did not regard themselves as being sinless. "In many things we offend all," wrote St. James the Apostle (Jas. 3:2). "If we say that we have not sinned, then we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us...If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness," wrote St. John the Apostle (1 John 1:10, 8-9). St. Paul the Apostle is painfully aware of his own unworthiness: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief" (1 Tim. 1:15). Note that he does not say "I was," but "I am," evidently because he continued to repent for having once persecuted believers. Tradition tells us that the Apostle Peterís eyes were always somewhat reddened, for, when he heard roosters crow at night, he would wake up, remember his denial of Christ and begin to weep.

St. John the Apostle teaches Christians to look after their spiritual state in these words: "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world....But if we walk in the light...the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin....And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure" (1 John 2:1-2; 1:7; 3:3). Similarly, St. Paul writes: "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1; cf. Heb. 9:13-14). Clearly, in these passages the Apostles are not summoning pagans to repentance, but Christians, and the words they use, "cleanseth" and "let us cleanse," suggest that moral purity has its gradations, as does sinfulness. For the same reason another scripture says: "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still" (Rev. 22:11).

Thus, moral blamelessness is a goal and an ideal, not a condition already attained. The Gospel parables of the net cast into the sea, and that of the wheat and the tares, tell us that the Church is not made up only of saints, but includes people of various spiritual levels, even sinners. This is what St. Paul the Apostle has to say about the Church: "In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour" (2 Tim. 2:20). Only in reference to the future kingdom of heaven is it said that "there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lambís book of life" (Rev. 21:27).

The origin of our spiritual troubles is that we have been born with a human nature which is damaged by sin. What could be purer and more innocent than a child? Yet even in the most favourable conditions of family life children are sometimes stubborn, cruel and dishonest; they are capable of being deceitful, telling a lie, hitting another child or spitefully breaking another childís toy. Parents often take these things to be childish pranks. They should understand, however, that unless they teach their children to keep watch against their bad tendencies and to fight them, these tendencies may in time become unruly and disordered passions. This is why the Church calls upon children to go to confession starting from the age of seven.

When members of Protestant denominations look upon themselves as sinless saints, simply because they believe in Jesus Christ, they cause themselves great spiritual harm, depriving themselves of those means of grace which the Lord gave us for our spiritual regeneration. Among these means of grace are the frequent and careful examination of oneís conscience, constant repentance, confession of oneís sins before a spiritual father and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion.

Let us suppose that you sincerely believe in Christ and that you try to live a Christian life. You havenít killed anyone; you havenít committed adultery; you havenít stolen anything; you donít get drunk; you live a hard-working and temperate life. Does this mean that you are completely irreproachable? What about impure thoughts and feelings, which arise in us involuntarily? What about idle talk, boasting, feelings of envy or anger in the heart? What about an indifference to the truth and the acceptance of false teachings ó sins which all Protestants are guilty of? What about self-love, vainglory, a feeling of oneís own superiority, pride, suspicion, gloating over the misfortunes of others, faintheartedness, despondency, condemnation of others, spiritual torpor, laziness, wasting time, hypocrisy or the lust of the eyes? What about an attachment to worldly goods and comforts, dreaming of getting rich, or hardheartedness and indifference towards the suffering of others? Is there anyone who can carefully analyse his life, or even one day of it, and declare that he is completely righteous, even holy? If not, then he is impure (cf. Matt. 15:18-20), and ought to repent and ask God for help to amend his life.

It is paradoxical that those who were truly righteous ó such men as St. Seraphim of Sarov, Elder Ambrose of Optina, St. John of Kronstadt, Archbishop John of Shanghai and other like them ó always repented with heartfelt contrition for their sins and faults, whereas some of our contemporary self-styled Christians, who avoid any kind of spiritual struggle, walk around with their heads held high and look down contemptuously on the rest of us sinners. It was to such self-satisfied "saints" that the Lord said: "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot....Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear" (Rev. 3:15-18).

The worst thing about Protestantism is that it has drastically lowered moral standards. Understandably, people can have different ideas about cleanliness. A "slob" is happy as long as there is no food rotting in his room and his sheets donít stick to him, while a "neat freak" suffers from the slightest violation of orderliness.

God does not want us to live by slovenly standards. He desires that each of us strive earnestly toward spiritual perfection. "Ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy" (Lev. 11:45). Note that the beatitude referring to the pure in heart (Matt. 5:8) comes seventh among the other beatitudes. It is preceded by statements about humility (the poor in spirit), repentance (they that mourn), meekness, an ardent striving towards righteousness (they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness) and mercy. In other words, purity of heart is attained by intense effort, and therefore, "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God".

A sad consequence of our damaged, sinful state is the radical conflict which exists between the noble aspirations of our spirit and the disordered desires of our flesh. The problem of this internal dichotomy is so important that the Sacred Scriptures pay the greatest attention to it. They call upon us to compel ourselves to live a spiritual life. We shall cite here only a few of the most striking passages.

"Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would" (Gal. 5:16-17). "To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God....Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (Rom. 8:6-7, 12-13). "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death" (Jas. 1:13-15). "Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God" (1 Pet. 4:1-2).

At times this warfare against temptations can become quite intense, requiring of us great spiritual effort; as St. Paul wrote to some Christians who were downcast in spirit: "Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin" (Heb. 12:4).

As if to sum up the teachings of the Apostles which we have cited here, St. John of Kronstadt says: "Keep firmly in mind that you are a two-sided person. One side is fleshly, old and sick with the passions. This you must mortify, not giving in to its insistent sinful demands. The other side is spiritual, new, seeking Christ, living in Christ and finding in Him its life and repose."

In order to escape enslavement to the disordered desires of the sin-loving flesh, a Christian must always fight with temptations and not allow sins to pile up on his conscience. As St. Seraphim of Sarov teaches,

"He who would be saved must always have a heart that is contrite and inclined to repentance. ĎA sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit; a heart that is broken and humbled God will not despiseí (Ps. 50:17). With such a contrite spirit a man can readily and without harm avoid all the cunning snares of the devil, who directs all his efforts toward disturbing a manís spirit and sowing his tares amidst the disturbance created... Throughout our lifetime we offend Godís majesty by our falls into sin; and therefore we should always ask the Lord humbly for forgiveness of our sins."

It is foolish and destructive to deceive ourselves with the thought that we are no worse than other people, and that God loves us and therefore everything will turn out right. No, sin is a serious moral sickness. In the Sacrament of Baptism the Lord washes away our spiritual leprosy and infuses us with fresh spiritual energy. Still, the scars of our former illness remain with us, as does the danger of a relapse from living amongst the rest of the "lepers."

The Church offers us powerful weapons for the prevention of sin and for doing battle with it. Fasting, asceticism, penitence, confession ó all these things can sound gloomy, especially to a heterodox person who seeks in Christianity only that which is joyful and easy. It must be understood that spiritual perfection, righteousness, holiness, closeness to God, contemplation of God, the kingdom of heaven and eternal blessedness are all various aspects of one quality which occupies a central place among them. This is purity of heart, which is acquired through doing battle with oneís own faults. Here we discover a clear law: The purer the crystal, the more light it conveys; the more polished the diamond, the brighter it shines.

Thus, if we wish to obtain all the blessings promised to us, let us carefully examine our spiritual state and let us sincerely repent even of our smallest sins. The path is narrow, and sometimes steep, but there is no other way!

 

 

Following Christ.

(About Christian Deeds)

 

"For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me" (1 Cor. 4:16).

 

Contents: Selflessness: Who Conceived of It? Imitation of Christ. The High Calling.

 

 

Selflessness ó Who Conceived of It?

In ancient Christian literature there is a remarkable story of an 18-year-old man named Anthony, who lived in the third and fourth centuries at a time when paganism was still a dominant force in the world. His parents were pious Egyptian Christians who raised him well, teaching him the importance of the Christian faith, prayer and Divine services.

On his way to church, Anthony usually meditated on the lives of the apostles ó how they left everything to follow Christ. Upon entering the church one day, Anthony was struck when the deacon read the following words of the Gospel aloud: "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Matthew 19:21), for they seemed to have been spoken directly to him. Anthony soon gave away his inheritance, left home, and went into the desert to serve God in peace and solitude.

It is difficult to describe the extent of the hardships he faced as a young struggler in the wild deserts of Egypt. He suffered from hunger and thirst and the extremes of temperature. The worst temptation for him was the grief of longing for his former life. Added to this, many demonic lures and horrors were directed against his soul. At times Anthony became nearly exhausted, and was tempted to return to the world, but with a strong faith in Godís help he conquered these temptations.

After Anthony had lived in seclusion for twenty years, some of his friends found out where he was living and went to visit him. Expecting that he would be very weak, close to death, or mentally ill from such seclusion, they were astonished to find him completely healthy and without a trace of physical exhaustion. A heavenly peace reigned in his soul to the point that it was evident even in his eyes. Calm, reserved, and friendly to everyone, Anthony captivated them with his love, sensitivity and spiritual wisdom. His friends returned home encouraged and spiritually transfigured.

News about the young struggler rapidly spread throughout Egypt. People flocked to him in large numbers, some for help and advice, some to enrich themselves with the grace that radiated from him, and some to become permanent residents, living close to him in imitation of his monastic lifestyle. St. Anthony thus originated a powerful monastic movement, dating to the mid-fourth century, which spread throughout Egypt to the Near East, Byzantium, the West, and ultimately, Russia.

Monasticism had a strong influence on the Orthodox Church, bringing forth volumes of spiritual-ascetic literature, establishing rules for church services (known as the typicon), developing the cycle of services for lent and church feast days, and beautifying church services with glorious prayers and chanting. Second only to the early martyrs, monastics constitute the largest number of saints.

The monastic life is not for everyone, but rather for those who, like St. Anthony the Great, desire to live only for God, abandoning the spiritual emptiness of everyday business and the evil that dominates secular life. Monastics are inwardly called to serve God alone. In essence, the purpose of the monastery is to create the conditions for a profitable spiritual life, so that one may acquire spiritual perfection and unity with God. There, worldly wisdom is put aside, for prayers, spiritual struggles, and Godly matters always come first.

Most of contemporary western society has grown up with an emasculated Christianity (neo-Christianity), or else no contact with Christianity at all. Because of this misconception of what true Christianity is, most do not appraise monastic life fairly. For example, Protestants claim that a person is saved only by faith, and so appraise any spiritual struggle as superfluous. But the aim of Christianity is the spiritual renewal of mankind in order to imitate Christ fully: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17).

The Lord Jesus Christ by his example sanctified all the basic elements of the monastic lifestyle, including voluntary poverty, celibacy, rigorous fasting, continual prayer, and life in the desert (whether actual or allegorical). Indeed, after His baptism in the Jordan "immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness" (Mark 1:12), and there He spent forty days fasting and facing the temptations of Satan. It is important to note that Jesus went into the desert not only of His own will; He was led by the Holy Spirit who descended on Him at the time of His baptism. "Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region" (Luke 4:14). In the austere conditions of strict fasting, solitary prayer and struggle against the temptations of the devil, the human nature of Jesus Christ achieved the highest degree of spiritual steadfastness. To regain this steadfastness, the Lord, during His service among mankind, departed from time to time to solitary places in order to pray through the night. (See Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16.).

 

Imitation of Christ.

"Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witness, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:1-2).

Christ ó the Ideal of Perfection. In the best moments of our life, when we are inspired to live a good life, to love everyone and everything, and to do good deeds, we cannot find a more appropriate example to follow than that of our Lord Jesus Christ. The righteous men of every age ó prophets, apostles, martyrs, ascetics, and other champions of the faith ó all shine with the beauty of their faith to the extent that they imitate Christ. "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27; see also v. 4:19). As raindrops show different colors by reflecting the rays of sunlight, so every faithful Christian should reflect the spiritual beauty of Christ.

Each of us can imitate Christ in the following ways:

For a person who retains strong ties to the world and lacks spiritual understanding, these virtues appear to be beyond oneís strength. If we penetrate deeper, we can see that the essence of the difficulty lies not in the deeds, but rather in our own nature, spoiled by original sin. Indeed, the angels in Heaven live virtuously and carry out all the commandments of God naturally, without struggle and with great gladness. If we were sinless and pure, as God created man in the beginning, it would be easy and pleasing to us to live like this. But sin has destroyed the harmony between the body and the soul, the physical and the spiritual. Our body is ruled by disorderly desires, corrupted and subordinated to the tyrannical governance of our sinful nature over the soul. It is necessary to end the illegitimate rule of our body and to put it into obedience to the soul. This is easier said than done, since mankind has become enslaved by sin and the devil. Only through the Son of God, who accepted our physical nature in order to rescue us, can we be freed from sin and restored within to the likeness of God.

The Lord Jesus Christ Himself followed the difficult path of manís misfortune, leading a hard life and going to His death for our sakes. This path is an example to virtuous seekers struggling to live righteously in an egotistical, sinful and even theomachist society. Yet, He did this to show us the road to salvation and spiritual regeneration. Through His Grace, He helps us on our every step; He encourages us and gives us strength. He takes away our sins, since we cannot escape from sin by ourselves. The obstacle to spiritual regeneration is within us ó we are the main obstacle to our own salvation.

Despite sinfulness, one should not despair. All the saints had their faults and suffered from various temptations; when they fell, they rose again through repentance. It is wonderful that with Godís help, they achieved such advanced spiritual levels, gathering wisdom and experience in order to help others follow them on the road to spiritual regeneration. The Lord Himself proved that they follow the Truth by giving them gifts of miracle-working and the ability to look into the future. Poor, rich, peasants, kings, scholars, and slaves make up this pious multitude of saints, all having one thing in common: the Christian struggle (in Russian: podvig). All followed the "narrow path" created by Christ, all voluntarily abstained from the carnal pleasures offered to them, and all "have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24; see also Romans 6:6).

Let us take, for example, the valuable and encouraging life of the Apostle Paul. Autobiographical notes are scattered throughout St. Paulís writings, giving us an understanding of his inner motivations and struggle. The mission God entrusted to him required complete self-sacrifice. Since the apostle emphasized faith so greatly, it may appear to the unknowing eye that spiritual feats are not necessary. Protestants often use him as scriptural evidence of their teaching that spiritual struggle is unnecessary since, as they erroneously believe, man is saved only by faith. And yet, according to his own words, St. Paul frequently remained "in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakednessÖ" (2 Cor. 11:27). To keep within himself a spiritual awareness, he consistently "trained" himself with spiritual exercises, looking on his life as if he were competing in the Olympic Games. "Do you not know," he writes in his first epistle to the Corinthians, "that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it to subjection, lest when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

Evidently, he lived this way because he considered himself as one not yet having attained the heights of spiritual perfection; yet he knew it was his calling to reach them. "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching toward those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, let us, as many as are mature, have this in mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal this even to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern" (Philippians 3:12-17).

Undoubtedly, the Apostle Paul understood true Christianity far better than many contemporary leaders of sects do today. If he willingly enslaved himself to voluntary struggle, it is because he knew this was necessary for spiritual growth. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1). He wrote often to his Christian contemporaries, calling them to follow his way of life (Phil. 3:17; 2 Thes. 3:7; Hebrews 13:7).

We would be spiritually perfect if we were free from the deficiencies of sin and passion, immune from any temptation, totally committed to the spiritual way of life, full of real love for God and for our neighbor, completely sinless. In this case, spiritual struggle would no longer be necessary, as it is unnecessary for the angels and the saints in the Heavenly Kingdom. In the present situation, it remains our goal to become perfect both with the help of God and personal struggle.

The Apostle Peter summarizes the content of the Christian life this way, "Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God" (1 Peter 4:1). Here the conquest of sin is placed directly together with the voluntary crucifixion of the body with all of its passion and self-will (Gal. 5:24).

It all comes down to this elementary truth: due to the sinful, deteriorated state of our nature, the soul and body remain in a constant battle. When the body is satiated, the spiritual power of man declines and becomes dull, weak, and powerless. When a man voluntarily controls and weakens his body, his spiritual strength increases. The greatest ancient thinkers discovered that spiritual reinforcement and the rejection of physical pleasure immediately increases the spiritual richness within us. The more we lose physically, the more we gain spiritually.

This is why the main thrust of the Holy Scriptures is an encouragement to struggle. The life of a Christian is to imitate Christ by carrying oneís cross and following Him: "And he who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me" (Matthew 10:38). When the disciples asked Christ how many would be saved, the Lord replied, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:24), "...the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matthew 11:12; see also Luke 13:22-30, 14:25-27; Mark 8:34-38; John 12:25-26); "... seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33, 6:19-34). And although this is only in instances, it must be our goal in life. "Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning" (Luke 12:35; Mark 13:33-37); "Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality" (Romans 12:11).

However, when we talk about the necessity of the spiritual struggle, we must remember that in Christianity it is significant that we do not have spiritual life except through the imitation of Christ. Spiritual life may be dull, evil and gloomy ó the "spirituality" of demons. Hinduism with its yoga exercise allows growth in "spirituality" and some abilities of the soul; however the results are completely the opposite of the soul's salvation. Roman Catholicism, separated from apostolic teaching and tradition, has developed its own methods of "scorning the body," but its spiritual feats retain a gloomy rigidity, a life-less discipline, and a legalistic requirement far from the true goal.

Christianity as an imitation of Christ is a religion of joy. Nervousness, austerity, and gloominess contradict the Orthodox understanding of true struggle. In the sermon on the mount, Christ calls men to the kingdom of eternal happiness: "Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . Blessed are they that mourn . . . Blessed are the meek . . " (Matthew 5). The greatest Orthodox ascetics always reflected in themselves a bright and happy mood. By talking with St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. Elder Ambrose of Optina, St. John of Kronstadt, St. Herman of Alaska and others, people felt peace of mind, inner comfort, and happiness. All real hermits were very strict with themselves but very lenient and pleasant to others, as we ought to be.

 

The High Calling.

Before us is a great goal--to be a new creation and to imitate and partake of Christ. To achieve it, one must correct oneself and break oneís self-will, moving from pride to meekness; from passion to abstinence; from hot-temperedness to gentleness and hospitality; from self-centeredness and greed to compassion; from suspiciousness and jealousy to being supportive and well-wishing; from light-mindedness to wisdom in God; from cowardice and faint-heartedness to bravery and courage; all things changing for the good.

God helps us in every way; however we ourselves must also actively participate in this noble endeavor. Here lie a multitude of obstacles. Often, our nature and essence contradict and act against the Christian lifestyle. This puts us in a kind of despair which the Holy Fathers called "spiritual despondency." Such temptation to despair comes from the devil. As he tempted Christ when our Lord was near exhaustion, so he tries to tempt us at the weakest moments of our lives. Cunning and insidious dragon! Therefore, "Watch and pray, lest you enter temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41), remembering always that "if indeed we suffer with Him...we may also be glorified together" (Romans 8:17).

Prayer, attending church services, fasting, abstinence, confession, Holy Communion, study of the Holy Scriptures, spiritual reading, thinking about God, works of charity ó all these are necessary means for our internal regeneration and are our footprints in following Christ. However, if we forget the goal, our means yield little benefit and can become dead attributes.

We must treasure the Orthodox Church and our union with her, because she alone preserves the true, original understanding and essence of Christianity, while many so-called denominations threw away from their "Christianity" everything that seemed outwardly difficult and unpleasant. They have deprived themselves and their followers of the regenerative force of the Christian faith, leaving only pleasing external appearances and "inspirational" sayings. For the person looking for the real spiritual life, Orthodoxy alone gives all that is needed ó the Grace in its sacraments and the spiritual experience and wisdom of the Holy Fathers. Though not all are called to be great achievers, through the true Faith the riches of Christ are abundantly available to all. With such riches available to us, it is tragic that many, through misguided beliefs, worldly cares, and passions, are diverted and cut off from spiritual progress and salvation.

"Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees" (Hebrews 12:12), remembering that every good effort brings us closer to Christ, and that each victory over temptation is our victory with Him. We will follow victoriously the One Who said, "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:29-30).

 

 

Works or Faith?

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).

 

 

Content: The two extremes. An explanation of terms. What should we strive towards? The Holy Fathers on good works.

 

 

The Two Extremes.

The age-old dispute still; each of the warring sides has dug itself deeply into its position and will not give even an inch. The Roman Catholic Church asserts that salvation is based on manís merits. Not only can a man make up for his sins by his acts and works, he can even acquire a surplus of merit, which can be used by others. In support of the correctness of their position, Roman Catholics advance those passages of Scripture which speak of the necessity of good works; for example: "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). "I will ... that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men" (Tit. 3:8). And there are other such citations.

Rejecting this doctrine, Protestants teach that all are saved by the merits of the Savior alone. The gifts of forgiveness of sins and eternal life are obtained by faith alone, which is fully sufficient for salvation. There is no need for good works, ascetic labors or moral perfection: Only believe, and you are saved.

To support the correctness of their idea, they cite, among other texts, the following words of the Apostle Paul: "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe; for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay; but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Rom. 3:20-28). Furthermore, "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal. 2:16).

Since both sides find support in Holy Scripture, which is right? It is sad to see that sometimes even Orthodox theologians get caught up in this argument about how man is saved. In their polemics with Catholics they use Protestant arguments, while in polemics with Protestants they use Catholic arguments. This creates the impression that perhaps Orthodoxy does not have its own clear teaching about salvation, and that it stands for something midway between Catholicism and Protestantism. An ordinary Christian who listens to the arguments of both sides might even be led to doubt the truthfulness of Sacred Scripture. He might think that perhaps the Apostles did not fully understand Christís teaching, or that they had been unable to express His teaching with sufficient clarity, or even that the content of the Scriptures had been distorted by later additions made by heretics. Such an opinion was held by Martin Luther and other Protestant theologians, who disputed the authenticity of the Epistle of St. James the Apostle and the Epistle to the Hebrews, on the grounds that they speak more definitely about the necessity of good works than do the other books of the New Testament.

 

An Explanation of Terms.

In reality, there are no contradictions in the Scriptures, nor could there be any. The whole dispute among non-Orthodox theologians rests on a misunderstanding. The question of salvation is reduced from the spiritual and moral sphere to the level of formal juridical categories. Salvation came to be understood not as the renewal of a sinful soul, or as the acquisition of righteousness, but rather as the result of a manís satisfying certain conditions, whether good works (as with the Roman Catholics) or faith (as with the Protestants). Then, if a man violates the required conditions, he cannot be saved.

In fact, the salvation or perdition of a man is the result of the moral state of his soul. Paradise is not simply a place, but also the state or condition of a soul that has been renewed. Christ came to earth not to move us into better living conditions, but rather to give us spiritual rebirth, to heal us of the corruption of sin, to restore to us the beauty of the image of God, and to make us children of God. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" (2 Cor. 5:17).

Since the moral condition of the soul depends on the inclination of the will, a man must use force to fix his heart (cf. Luke 17:20; Matt. 11:12). This is why our doctrine of salvation cannot be considered on the level of what we have done or not done. Salvation has to be regarded as a spiritual process, carried out by the grace of Christ with the active participation of the one who is being saved. In some people this process is completed quite quickly, as with the wise thief who repented on the cross, while in others it takes place slowly and indirectly. Besides, what is spiritually required of one man or another varies with the individual, as does the level of spiritual perfection which he may reach; this is evident from the parables of the seed and the talents (cf. Matt. 13:1-23; 25:14-30).

In order to be convinced that Holy Scripture is free from any internal contradictions, we must first be clear about its terminology: specifically, what it means by works, and what it means by faith.

In those texts concerning justification by faith which are cited by Protestants, the Apostle Paulís words are directed not against good works, as such, but against the works of the law. "The works of the law" is a very specific term, by which St. Paul refers to the ritual and ceremonial aspect of the Mosaic Law: its sabbaths and feasts, circumcision, washing and rites of purification, its scrupulous distinction between clean and unclean food, and finally its whole ponderous structure of ethnic religious customs which had been built up over the ages. Imbibing "the works of the law" with their motherís milk, the Jews regarded their religion not as a force for moral regeneration, but rather as the sum total of all the requirements which had to be strictly observed in order to merit justification in the sight of God. The more one fulfilled the works of the law, the greater his reward, in purely arithmetical proportions. Thus there arose that utilitarian and mercantile mentality against which St. Paul constantly battled.

When it comes to good works as the expression of a lively faith in God, St. Paul not only did not reject them, but positively exhorted Christians to perform them diligently. For example, he writes: "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Rom. 10:10). "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men" (Gal. 6:10). "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). "I will ... that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men" (Tit. 3:8). "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). The Apostle James states it more categorically: "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (Jas. 4:17).

Thus, when we speak about works, we make a very important distinction between good works and the works of the law, which have indeed lost all their importance in Christianity. Good works are not quantities that can be weighed and measured. Their value lies not in their number but in the dedication with which they are done. For example, the small coin of a poor widow was worth more in Godís eyes than the large sums which the wealthy were donating to the treasury of the Temple; "for all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living" (Mark 12:44).

Furthermore, the very same work can be accounted as good or bad, depending on the intention with which it is performed. The Pharisee of the Gospel parable spent much time in fasting and prayer, but he derived no benefit from them, because he acted to show off his good works to others; yet Anna the prophetess acquired the Holy Spirit by her fasting and prayer (cf. Luke 2:36). Those sectarian Protestants who reject the fasts and prayers of the Church as being unnecessary should note the fact that this righteous woman, by her works of abstinence and prayer, obtained Godís grace even at a time when grace was not yet accessible to men, since the Holy Spirit had not yet descended upon the Apostles (cf. John 7:39).

Finally, the worth of good works lies not so much in the deeds themselves as in their manifestation of manís good qualities, his virtues. There is a definite correspondence to be noted here. Every "work" or act that a man does leaves a discernible trace in his soul, whether positive or negative. If these acts are continued more or less consistently, they gradually render a man virtuous or base. Thus, it is important to practice good works in order to acquire good habits (cf. Rom. 12:12; 1 Tim. 4:16). For this reason the Gospel says, "Blessed are they that mourn .... Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness .... Blessed are the merciful .... Blessed are the peacemakers," meaning that happy will be the lot of those who constantly and consistently do good.

Now let us try to clarify the essence of the concept of faith. When the Sacred Scriptures speak of the necessity of faith, they mean by this word not only an abstract, theoretical acknowledgement of certain truths of religion, but the consent of manís will in submitting to God. In other words, faith contains an active element, one of definite, positive actions. In all the places where saving faith is spoken of in the Holy Scriptures, we always encounter definite acts. In our ordinary, everyday life, an engineer is not valued so much for his theoretical knowledge as for his ability to apply that knowledge in practice. In the same way, God expects of us not an abstract faith, but one that is living and active. It is interesting to note that the mere knowledge of religious truth, without a corresponding way of life, not only does not profit a man, but incurs for him even greater condemnation; as Christ said, "That servant which knew his lordís will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes" (Luke 12:47; cf. Rom 2:13).

And so, a Christianís faith must include a sincere desire to become a different and better man. This demands interior effort, self-examination, repentance, a change in oneís way of life, so that our faith may shine like a bright light. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).

 

What Should We Strive Towards?

The question of whether man is saved by faith or by works is framed in the wrong way, because the soulís salvation cannot be separated from its moral and spiritual condition. The Son of God came to earth in order to restore to man a harmony among his thoughts, feelings and acts, and thus to reunite man with Himself. Faith cannot be set up in opposition to works; they should be united, as are the soul and body of a living human being. The more a man practices virtue, the stronger his faith grows, and the stronger his faith, the more virtuous his life will be. The two support each other.

God does not need either the bare acceptance of His existence or the mechanical performance of certain acts. He loves us so much that He offered His Only-begotten Son as a sacrifice for our redemption. What could be greater than such love? It follows that we ought to respond to God not with half-hearted love, but with a whole-hearted love which encompasses our hearts and our lives.

To sum up the essence of Christianity, St. Peter the Apostle writes to believers: "According as His divine power [i.e., Godís grace] hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness ... giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." How can one become temperate without fasting? How can one become kind and charitable without giving aid to the needy? Clearly, to be virtuous in soul requires a life of practicing virtue. As St. Peter further writes, "He that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins" (2 Pet. 1:3, 5-9). This brief instructive passage is noteworthy in that it combines the most important elements of Christianity: personal effort and the assistance of Godís grace, a virtuous life and progressive improvement of the soul.

Of course, all this requires time and patience, as the Apostle Paul teaches: "Let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men" (Gal. 6:9-10). "Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord" (Rom. 12:11, RSV).

In vain have non-Orthodox writers argued about how a man is saved. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love" (Gal. 5:6). Any Christian who does not work to better his soul is wasting the grace which he has received, without any profit. As our Lord said, "He that gathereth not with Me, scattereth abroad" (Matt. 12:30).

St. Paul beautifully summed up the disposition which we should constantly strive to maintain in ourselves. "Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. ... Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known unto God. ... Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you" (Phil. 4:4, 6, 8-9).

 

Appendix:

The Holy Fathers on Good Works.

"Let every good work that we undertake be done for the glory of God, and then it will be for our glory also. The fulfillment of the commandments is holy and pure only when it is done with the Lord in mind, with the fear of God and with love for Him. The enemy of the human race (the devil) tries in every way to lead us away from such a disposition. He uses various earthly lures to make our hearts become attached to the things we consider good in this world, instead of that which is truly good, the love of God. The evil one attempts to defile and disfigure whatever good a man may do; into our fulfillment of the commandments he scatters the seeds of vainglory, doubt, murmuring or something of that sort, to turn our good work into something that is no longer good. A good work becomes truly good only when it is done for God, with humility and diligence. In such a state, all things prescribed by the commandments become easy for us, because our love for God removes all difficulties in keeping His commandments" (St. Ephrem the Syrian).

"Everyone who desires to be saved must not only avoid evil, but must also do good; as it says in the Psalms, ĎTurn away from evil, and do goodí (Ps. 33:14 - LXX). For example, if someone is prone to anger, not only must he stop getting angry, but he must also become meek. If someone is proud, not only must he not be proud, but he must also become humble. Every passion has an opposing virtue: pride ó humility; miserliness ó generosity; lechery ó chastity; faint-heartedness ó patience; wrath ó meekness; hatred ó love" (Abba Dorotheus).

"Not every good deed is reckoned a good work, but only that good deed which is done for God. The external aspects of the deed do not constitute its substance; God looks at the heart. We should be greatly humbled when we see that some passion attaches itself to every good work. What is most profitable is abstinence in moderation. It is better for us to be dishonored and to suffer, but let Godís will be done in everything; you should not give yourself over to afflictions of your own will. That would be a brazen act of pride, and it may turn out that you will not be able to endure what you have taken upon yourself of your own will. A sin which is covered by a mask of goodness stealthily enters and harms the souls of those who do not test themselves against the Gospels. Gospel goodness requires self-renunciation, the renunciation of oneís own will and mind" (Starets Nikon).

 

 

Overabundant Force.

On the Grace of the Holy Spirit

 

 

Content: Introduction. The Martyr Nikiphor. A Force not of this World. Real gifts and their surrogates. The Holy Scriptures on the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Conclusion.

Addendum: On the Holy Spirit. The Spiritual world (two articles of Photios Konstoglou).

 

 

Introduction. The Martyr Nikiphor.

In the days of the Roman emperor Valerian (253-259 A.D.), there lived in Antioch two inseparable friends, Nikiphor and the priest Sapricius. They loved each other to such an extent that people considered them brothers by blood. But the enemy of humanity, the devil, managed to have them quarrel, so that they began to hate each other.

Several years after their falling out, there broke out an overall persecution of Christians, and the priest Sapricius, as a servant of the Church, was one of the first to be arrested. The executioners tried using tortures to make the priest renounce Christ, but he courageously endured all torments.

Upon hearing that his former friend had been arrested and would soon be put to death, Nikiphor felt sorry for having quarreled with him. He rushed to the place of punishment, in order to make amends with the future martyr in Christ. But the priest Sapricius ignored all pleas for forgiveness. In distress, Nikiphor fell on his knees. He began to beg Father Sapricius to forgive him, even if only in Christís name. Instead of answering, the priest haughtily turned away from him. Even the executioners were surprised at his stubbornness, and advised Nikiphor to stop demeaning himself before the proud man.

Sapricius was led to the block with the sword raised above his head, when something unexpected occurred: he was overcome by panic and fear, and, leaping up, began to wave his arms and cry: "Do not kill me! I will bring an offering to the gods immediately!"

The executioners were stunned into immobility. Nikiphor, seeing his former friend, a priest, so basely renounce his faith, cried out for all to hear: "I am a Christian and I scorn your loathsome gods!" The commander who was overseeing the proceedings ordered the priest to be released, and Nikiphor to be put to death in his place.

Thus the crown of martyrdom, prepared for Sapricius, passed to the head of Nikiphor, whose memory is celebrated by the Church on February 9/22.

How can one explain the sudden fear of Sapricius, who had courageously suffered all torments up to that moment? ó Very simply: the Lord Himself had fortified the priest. But when Sapricius willfully plunged into the darkness of malice and hatred, God removed His Grace from him. As most people before the face of forcible death, Sapricius was found to be helpless and pitiful.

In this work, we will discuss that spiritual force, the like of which cannot be found in Nature, which is the Grace of God. We will try to unfold its meaning in the life of a Christian and the methods of its actions, so as to mark the ways to obtain it.

A Force Not of This World.

The Grace of God is that mysterious, spiritual strength or energy, emanating from God, which brings to life, strengthens, and enlightens all rationally moral beings.

It is not necessary to prove to the modern person the necessity of normal physical energy. Let us hypothetically cease, say, the source of oil. Everything stops ó all forms of transportation and production (such as factories), various means of communication. Cities and towns are left without electricity and there is no water in the faucets. Food begins to decay in refrigerators ó in a word, catastrophe strikes. And what would happen to us, if, let us say, the sun suddenly stopped shining? The earth would be completely dark and begin to freeze. The process of photosynthesis would cease; all living things would begin to die from cold and hunger. In a short while, our marvelous planet, overflowing with life, would become a vast cemetery!

Truly, the Grace of God enlightens the thoughts of people so that they see the truth and begin to love it. It heals spiritual illnesses by cleansing the conscience and releasing people from the tyranny of the passions. It changes feelings of grief and anger to feelings of happiness and peace. It stills fleeting thoughts, so that a person sees the aim of his earthly sojourn. It enables a person to see for himself the triviality and waste of earthly pleasures, and the great value of heavenly life. It makes flighty and thoughtless people serious and wise; the fearful, courageous; the stingy, generous; the spiteful, peace-loving. It encourages a person to love God and others, even his enemies, and instills in him the strength and thirst to live for good. In a word, the Grace of God extends to all parts of the internal life of a person and appears as the source of powerful spiritual-moral forces.

From Biblical and church history we can see to what extent the Grace of God works in the rebirth of a soul. Although the Laws of God were known to people before the coming of the Saviour (through the voice of conscience and through the Holy Writings), people were unable to grow morally and come to perfection because "that which is born of the flesh is flesh" (John 3:6). According to the witness of a whole line of writers in the pre-Christian epoch, the heathen world was becoming more and more depraved morally, immersing itself further and further in materialism and vice, while "grace," even among the best representatives of the chosen people of God, mainly came down to the scrupulous observance of religious rituals. Observing this pathetic state of society, the Old Testament prophets bitterly compared it to a waterless desert unable to grow anything except short bitter grasses.

Notwithstanding, with their spiritual vision, the prophets penetrated into that bright future when God would show mercy to sinful humanity and send it His spiritual strength: "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them," exclaimed the prophet Isaiah, "and the desert shall rejoice even with joy and singing... Then (in the times of the Messiah) the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water" (Is. 35:1-7).

The moral rebirth of people ó their reception of the Holy Spirit ó yet awaited the remission of their sins, as explained by the evangelist John the Theologian: "For the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John. 7:39).

And so the merciful Lord, the embodied Son of God, brought the great expiatory sacrifice for the sins of the human race on the Cross. Then, on the 50th day after His glorious Resurrection, the long-awaited Comforter Spirit descended upon the apostles. This miracle manifested itself in the voice of the stormy wind and in tongues of flame. Descending on the heads of the apostles, He vested them with power from on high (Luke 24:49) and lit spiritual fire in their hearts (Luke 12:49). Then was fulfilled that which God promised through the prophet Joel, saying: "I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions" (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2).

The Holy Spirit, descending upon the disciples of Christ, immediately expressed His Divine power through the significant inner changes which He produced in them, and those who in turn were converted by the words of the Apostles (Acts 2). The Apostles, as we know, were people of plain heritage ó unlearned, entirely unable to speak, shy. When the Holy Spirit enriched their spiritual strengths, they were so filled with wisdom and the gift of inspirational speech, that they began successfully to convert to the faith thousands, tens of thousands of people ó not only simple people, but those of noble descent, as well as the scholarly. The Apostle Paul (although he had received a multi-faceted education and spoke extremely well) assigned his success not to his eloquence, but namely to the action of the Holy Spirit, which kindled the faith of people: "And my speech and my preaching," the apostle writes, "was not with enticing words of manís wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Cor. 2:4).

The description of the life of the first Christian community in Jerusalem shows how powerful the spiritual changes produced by the Grace of the Holy Spirit were. "And they that believed," witnesses the Apostle Luke, "were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people...And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common...Neither was there any among them that lacked" (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35).

It is wondrous that this inspired, burning love of the first Christians for God and man could be extinguished neither by persecution, confinement, nor death. Instead of becoming discouraged or mean, faithful Judeans were glad to suffer for Christ (Heb. 10:34. About spiritual happiness produced by the Holy Spirit, see also Is. 12:3; Eze. 36:26-27; Matt. 11:28; John 8:36; John 16:22; Rom. 5:1-5; Rom. 8:37; 2 Cor. 1:4-5; Phil. 4:7; 1 Thes. 1:6; Col. 1:13.)

Besides the bright feelings of faith and happiness, the other distinguishing mark of the Grace of the Holy Spirit is the decisiveness and courage which He bestows upon the faithful (2 Tim. 1:7). The Apostle Peter, for example, feared the servant who accused him at the arrest of the Saviour and with an oath denounced Christ. But he became so courageous after receiving the Holy Spirit that, at the meeting of the Sanhedrin, he accused the Jewish leaders of killing the Messiah to their face, and bravely declared that, no matter what the danger, he would spread the Christian faith everywhere (Acts 4:1-22). It is noteworthy that many years later, when the Apostle Peter was sentenced to hang on the Cross in the Roman Coliseum, he was not afraid of the prospect of dying a torturous death before a gleeful mob. Rather, his concern was that he was unworthy to die as the Saviour of the world had died. For this reason he asked that he be crucified head down, which was accomplished.

For several centuries, an enormous number of Christian martyrs died in that Roman Coliseum. According to witnesses living at that time, many of them received death with happiness and hymns of praise on their lips. Here is the strength of the Grace of God, raising people over their usual weaknesses!

Particular blessed gifts.

Besides the gifts of the Holy Spirit called the general gifts, with which He enriches every believer for his moral rebirth, there exist also those gifts called the extraordinary gifts. These He grants to some so that they may serve the Church. We read about these extraordinary gifts in an epistle of the Apostle Paul: "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man for profit for all. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another diverse kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will...And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues..." (1 Cor. 12:7-11, 12:28)

With time there has been less need for several extraordinary gifts (for example, the gift of tongues and prophecies). Since the times of the apostles, extraordinary gifts began to be given, for the most part, during the sacrament of ordination, when the servants of the Church ó bishops, priests and deacons ó are allotted blessed gifts and responsibilities corresponding to their service. Without doubt, every one wishing to work for the general good receives what help and guidance from God is necessary. And here the abundance of grace in one or another person depends not only on the Giver, "for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him" (John 3:34), but by the purity of heart and "receptivity" of the receiver.

Extraordinary gifts are listed most completely by the prophet Isaiah, who prophesied about the coming Messiah: "And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord" (Is. 11:2). In total, there are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which, according to the fathers of Church, comprise the fullness of spiritual gifts. Christ, as the God-person, combining in Himself the threefold service of prophesy, high priesthood and regality, has the complete fullness of grace. The rest of the servants of God, doing what is in their power to help Him in His work of creating the Kingdom of God among people, are also given the gifts of the Holy Spirit ó according to their service. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit listed by the prophet are arranged in the order of the greatest to the most fundamental:

Real Gifts and Their Surrogates.

Among modern Christian groups, much is said about the necessity to revive and reveal in oneself the different gifts of the Spirit. Such groups have even developed a distinctive "method" for gaining extraordinary gifts. In all this the sense of dissatisfaction with the dryness of merely learning biblical texts, and the spiritlessness of sectarian prayer meetings is clear. The absence of spirituality in Protestantism results mainly from the fact that it thoughtlessly rejected all the guides of the grace of God established by God ó the apostolic succession, the priesthood, the blessed sacraments of the Church and the treasury of the centuries of spiritual life. All was sacrificed to the slogans of a free learning of the Bible and the sufficiency of the justification of faith.

Efforts to revive this lost grace were poured into the practice of the now-popular "charismatic" movement, which arose in the beginning of the 20th century thanks to the Pentecostalists. While in the ancient Church, the grace of God was perceived as a spiritually-enlivening force, necessary for moral growth, the modern charismatics see in the "gifts of the Spirit" a source of acute sensations and visible signs. At their meetings it has become routine for Pentecostalists and charismatics like them, to interrupt each other, shout incomprehensible sounds, and mutter senselessly, while others lose consciousness, go into a frenzy or trance, or begin to laugh uncontrollably. In this chaos some kinds of healing occur, some kinds of prophecies are uttered ó of a very suspect content. Defenders of this movement declare that these are "proofs" that the Holy Spirit is acting among them, and which "verify" their movement. In fact, all these heathen and medium-like exercises are a terrible slander of the Holy Spirit!

Let us take for example the gift of tongues. We know that on the day of Pentecost the apostles received from God the ability to preach in real human tongues, which they previously did not know. They gave an informative sermon, which taught and brought to the faith people who did not understand the Hebrew tongue. The sounds which are blurted out by the sectarians cannot teach anything; they are, in sum, senseless and impossible to interpret. The experience is the result of pathological nervous overstimulation, which is long familiar to mediums and shamans. This "gift of tongues" can be achieved by any person through well-known exercises ó regardless of whatever "god" he may be praying to.

One charismatic "miracle-worker" shared his experience in a private conversation: "Convincing one person of a miracle eye-to-eye ó is very difficult, even impossible. Convincing a crowd ó is very easy!" In other words, what is performed in meetings of the charismatics is mass hypnosis and hysteria ó conditions favorable for the fallen spirit!

The Holy Scriptures on the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

Considering the sorrowful example of the charismatic movement, a son of the Orthodox Church of Christ must be wary of any artificial methods of receiving extraordinary states and acute sensations as he would be of the most potent poison.

The New Testament writings teach quite in depth what particular gifts should be asked of God. In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Gal. 5:22). As we see, all these gifts refer to the spiritual-moral category. Like the prophet Isaiah, the Apostle Paul begins by naming the higher gifts, moving gradually to name those which serve as the ground for the others. It should be noted that the gifts of the Holy Spirit presented here are parallel to the virtues which the Saviour names in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5). It is therefore instructive to compare the one to the other. Following the order of the Apostle Paul, "the fruit of the Spirit is:.."

Besides these, the Holy Scriptures mentions other blessed gifts, which contribute to the spiritual growth of a person. We will mention some of them.

The first effect of the Holy Spirit is to lead people to Christ, instilling faith in Him and in the truth of everything which He taught (John 6:44; Gal. 1:15-16; Eph. 2:8; Neh. 9:20-30; Ez. 36:26-27; John 16:13; 1 John 2:20-27; 1 Cor. 12:3; 2 Cor. 3:3; Eph. 2:18). The gift of faith, in turn, opens up the attainability of the rest of the blessed gifts (Rom. 5:2). Although the Holy Spirit may influence a person to believe in Christ, he does not force anyone's will. Therefore a person is free to accept or reject what the Holy Spirit would instill in him. Nevertheless, he is responsible for his decision before God (John 12:48; Acts 7:51).

Implanting in a person the seeds of faith, the Holy Spirit inclines a person to repentance and correction, softening his hardened heart (Zac. 12:10-13:1; John 19:37; Acts 2:37; Rom. 2:4). He assists prayer (Rom. 8:26) and purifies the conscience of the penitent (1 John 1:7; Heb. 9:9. Acts 2:22-41).

In Baptism, the Holy Spirit engenders a person for a spiritual form of life. He completely regenerates him, changing within him the gradation of values. The Scriptures compare this inner re-birth to the resurrection from the dead, in which the faithful become the new creation of God (John 3:3-6, 8:34; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Col. 2:13; Eph. 2:15).

Upon awakening in a person his spiritual abilities, the Holy Spirit leads him to a spiritual form of life and achievement (Luke 4:1; Gal. 2:20; Tit. 2:11-14). The result of these efforts of repentance and feats of temperance are that the "outer person" (body) "decays," but the "inner person" is renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16).

The Holy Spirit gives a warm feeling of filiality and nearness to God to people living for spiritual interests (1 John 3:1-2; Rom. 8:13-16, 23; Gal. 4:6). He kindles in them a spiritual burning and inclination toward God (Luke 12:49; Phil. 2:13). Along with this He gives them strength, vigor, fortitude and indefatigability (Is. 40:29-31; 1 Cor 15:10; Eph. 6:10; Phillip. 4:13; Eph. 3:20; Rom. 8:26, 37; Gal. 2:20).

The Holy Spirit literally directs every step of the believerís life on Earth to salvation and good (Ps. 143:10; Is. 63:10-14; John 4:13-14; 1 Pet. 1:5), giving him everything necessary for life and piety. (James 1:17; 2 Pet. 1:3-5; 2 Cor. 3:5, 2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Thus, throughout the entire life of a person the Holy Spirit transfigures him, adorns him with moral perfections and likens him to Christ. He sanctifies believers, making them living churches of God (Gal. 3:27; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 1 Thes. 5:23).

Conclusion.

Despite all the power and effectiveness of the blessed gifts, the actual processes of moral rebirth occur gradually, often unnoticed by the person himself (as the Saviour explained in His parable of the unseen growth of the seed, Mark 4:26-29; 2 Pet. 3:18). More than that, the Lord even hides the perceptible side of the gifts which He gives, in order to protect the soul from conceit and weakening.

Yet, though the Grace of God is invisible, it is more necessary than oxygen. Without it a person is barren, morally weak, and empty. He is incapable of any truly worthy act (John 15:5; 2 Cor. 3:5). No matter how talented, bright and charming he may seem, in the spiritual plane he is a dried and shapeless log!

We know that everyday physical energy can be dynamic, i.e., performing work, or that it can be merely potential, as, for example, water collected in a man-made lake. Like an unused lake filled by the streams flowing into it, a person with the sacraments and services of the Church can receive the abundant Grace of God, without, however, doing any good works. When, however, one opens the sluices of an inactive lake, powerful streams of water break out, turbines spin and generators produce electric energy. Just so, each of us may overcome our inertia and begin to live a full-fledged spiritual life. Then, by the words of the Saviour, "out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38).

Help us, O Lord!

 

Addendum

On The Holy Spirit by Photios Kontoglou.

 

By the Holy Spirit, every soul is given life, is exalted through purification, and is made to shine through the Threefold oneness in a hidden manner. By the Holy Spirit the streams of grace flow, watering all of creation and granting it life.

The Holy Spirit is called Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth, and Life-Creating. These names basically reveal the same thing. The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth because it leads us into the truth. As Christ said to his disciples: "When the Paraclete comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth who comes from the Father, He will testify on my behalf" (John 15:26); and, "When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will lead you into all the truth" (John 16:13).

Whosoever, then, is illumined by the Holy Spirit is mystically assured that Christ is the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. And being assured and finding rest in this, he is filled with a great and fiery joy, henceforth becoming invincible to evil and established in the truth uncovered for him. For the Holy Spirit reveals all the secrets which are unknown to other people: "This is the Spirit of Truth, Whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him" (John 14:17). Further on, Christ says: "But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you" (John 14:26).

This meant that whatever things Christ had spoken of to His disciples earlier, that they could now be assured of these same things, mystically revealed through the descent of the Holy Spirit; it also meant that their hearts would be strengthened. This joyful assurance about God's compassion and power allowed the Apostles to overcome suffering, ridicule, persecution, the sword, travails, hunger, nakedness, and every form of spite, and thus to run towards death, as a thirsty deer runs toward water.

Even when the Apostles still had Christ with them in the flesh, they became afraid, abandoned Him, and ran away; nevertheless, after His Crucifixion and His Resurrection, they were all willing to die for His sake. This is why Christ told them to wait until they had received strength from the Holy Spirit, as happened on the day of Pentecost: "But stay in the city of Jerusalem until you have been clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49).

All the martyrs of the faith also showed this same untamable spirit at the time of their suffering, being strengthened by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit. This is why the Spirit is called the Paraclete, which means "comforter," because whoever receives the Holy Spirit passes through a kind of fire which renders him untouchable by human beings and demons alike. All things appear to this person as calm and peaceful, and he finds rest and silence through such a blessed joy.

For this person even jail is no longer frightening, nor do beatings feel harsh, nor are stabbings and other forms of suffering so terrible. Everything is sweetened by the mystical comfort of the Holy Spirit. So the world marveled at how the martyrs did not feel any pain, but instead accepted their suffering with joy and "with burning spirit." People saw women, who used to be frightened by a single loud cry, now standing fearlessly before their executors, who were about to slay their virgin bodies. The grace of the Paraclete tamed even the wild countenance of these hard-hearted men and their cruel weapons.

This sweetness of the Paraclete, that calms everything in the eyes of a Christian and instills in his heart an immortal blessedness, is the treasure that is found in every aspect of our sanctified Orthodox faith. It is found in the behaviour of pious Christians, the venerable clergy and ascetics; in their modest words and dress; in the holy churches; and in the holy icons of Christ, the Theotokos, the angels and saints; in hymns and chants; and in prayers.

If Orthodoxy has experienced sorrow and pain, it nonetheless knows that through this sorrow comes a spiritual joy, according to the words of our Lord: "Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Matt. 5:4). They will be consoled, and they will receive the Paraclete.

Everything in Orthodoxy is covered by a compunction that is filled with peace; all is calm, all is simple, all is humble, because we have the hope of the Gospel and the comfort of the Paraclete. This is why Paul writes to the Galatians: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Gal. 5:22-3). And to the Romans, the Saint writes: "May the God of hope fill you with all Joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 15:13).

The consoling joy of the Holy Spirit is also revealed in the words of the prophet Isaiah, uttered by the lips of Christ himself. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor He has sent me to heal all those who have a broken heart, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind" (Luke 4:18).

The Holy Spirit is also called the Spirit of wisdom, Spirit of sobriety, and Spirit of godly fear. The apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians: "I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know Him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of His great power" (Eph. 1:17-19).

All these profound and saving mysteries are revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. And then we may become entirely filled with light, and fear nothing, because we have the peace and certainty of immortality. I pray that we as sinners also become worthy of these things according to the degree of our humility. Amen.

The Spiritual World by Photios Kontoglou.

Contemporary man has altogether forgotten the world that is within himself and has occupied himself only with the world that is outside himself, the material world. He investigates by means of science, "the outside of the cup and of the platter" (Matt. 23:25).

One world is material, the other, spiritual. One is for the transitory life; the other for the eternal. One is in space and time, while the other is beyond space and time.

Today's man lives materialistically, busying himself with spiritually false things. Only matter interests him, the rather coarse, more tangible aspect of the universe. He cannot experience spiritual reality by means of his bodily senses and does not concern himself with it. He who projects machines made of aluminum into space, he whose brain is full of numbers, screws, springs, and other such things, cannot understand what is hidden behind the material world perceived by means of his physical senses. How can he taste the fruit that is hidden inside the husk of the universe? He can only nourish himself with a husk, for it is the husk that his materialistic science is constantly studying. How can he understand the words of Christ, who says, "The kingdom of God is with us"? Or those of the Apostle Paul, who says: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (1 Cor. 3:16). How can this barbaric and hardhearted people, who are attached to the mud of matter, understand the words of the divinely inspired Paul, who says that carnal men, "worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator?" (Rom. 1:25).

For those who are engrossed with the knowledge of material things, "the mystical gate is closed," and they are not given even a small way into the concept "the holy of holies." Their materialistic minds do not experience any other life besides that of the flesh. They have placed all their hopes in it and are incapable of hearkening to the words of Paul, who says: "if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most miserable" (1 Cor. 15:19). That is, if we believe only in this life, we are the most miserable of all human beings. And elsewhere he calls such materialistic individuals those "who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13).

Indeed, we see that such people are full of anguish, fear, and agitation, because "the wages of sin is death." "For whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap, for he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal. 6:7-8). And elsewhere it is written that "to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace" (Rom. 8:6). In saying "peace," Saint Paul means true peace, whereas only a false peace is found in the external, material world in which the materialists believe.

"What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" asks Christ (Matt. 16:26). But who listens to Him? All of us are striving to gain this unreal world. We do not want to understand those words which used to be sung by a beggar with the wisdom that is possessed by simple men:

I entered into the world naked

And will go out of it naked.

The world is alien,

It belongs to no one.

Therefore, listen again my brother to what Saint Paul says, and try to understand something of the hidden world of mystery that is behind the external world. We investigate with the aid of machines, believing in our learned ignorance that we possess knowledge of the roots of the totality of things.

St. Paul says: "The creature shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption" (Rom. 8:21). The "bondage of corruption" is the slavery of those who live and labor for the corruptible world of matter; those whose thoughts are bad and foolish. Those who are without faith and without love are full of death, since they are preoccupied with the world of corruption which has no hope, but is full of darkness and despair. These individuals are the faithful followers of Satan, who serve him obediently without knowing why.

On the other hand, the faithful ones of God, "the children of God," possess freedom, true freedom, which consists in knowledge of the Truth, that is, of Christ.

Only through this knowledge do the nuptial doors open, from which the soul beholds the wondrous light of the incorruptible essence of the cosmos. The thoughts of these children of God are good, peaceful, and gladdening. "Become peaceful within yourself," says a certain saint, "and heaven and earth will become peaceful. Enter into the chamber that is within you, and from there you will behold the palace of heaven."

Christ has revealed the things that exist in incorruptible heaven. The true things which the soul looks at from the mystical chamber are inside us. They are blessed, peaceful isles in the ocean that extends beyond every material constellation, and are outside the slavery of space and time.

 

 

Missionary Leaflet # E71
Copyright © 2004 Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission

466 Foothill Blvd, Box 397, La Canada, Ca 91011

Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)

(essence_christianity.doc, 04-02-2004)