Make Holiness Perfect (2 Cor 7:1)

For I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.  (Leviticus 11:44)

7338684732_1e84d6a122

In any English translation of the New Testament, a host of English words are necessary to capture the full range of basically one Greek word – agios.    We need all of these English words to encompass the various uses of agios in Greek:  holy, holiness, saint, sanctify and sanctification.   In the New Testament, the basic Greek word for holy is used about 260 times.  About 90 times it is used in conjunction with God’s Spirit – the Holy Spirit.  It is used about 120 times to refer in one way or another to humans, God’s people, individuals, prophets, believers.  It is also used in reference to Jesus, God, the temple, a place/city, angels, a kiss, the Law, Scripture and the covenant.   If we take away all of the references to the Holy Spirit, we see that holiness in the New Testament is most often used about people, the believers, the Church members.   Almost never in the New Testament is it used about things – Holy Water, Holy Icon, Holy Chalice, Holy Vestments, etc.   We have the Sunday of All Saints, which is all the people who are holy.  This Sunday follows Pentecost, the giving of the Holy Spirit.   Holiness is about us and our way of life more than about miracles and magic taking hold of things and making them holy.

32036376451_3152aa4114

Holiness in the New Testament is far more a state of being for humans and also the way we live.  The New Testament does not focus on holy things and doesn’t tell believers to do so either.  Holiness is more dynamic and puts us in relationship with God.  Holiness courses through our lives and is expanding the Church in baptism, the Eucharist, our growing in faith and love.   Theosis is our participation in God’s holiness.

Holiness does not get concentrated in things which we stand around to reverence or feel some closeness to God.  In the New Testament we don’t look to things to experience holiness, for holiness is to be present in our daily lives.

15918741456_1b2c1e1a29

We can look at a few passages from the New Testament and we get this sense that holiness is much more about us and what we are and what we are to do.  In each passage below the holiness word is emphasized.

Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth.  (john 17:7)

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:11)

May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess 5:23)

Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  (Heb 12:14)

and make holiness perfect in the fear of God. (2 Cor 7:1)

While God sanctifies us (makes us holy), obviously holiness is also something we can strive and something we can make perfect.  Holiness is not merely something God bestows on us, it is also something we can shape and develop in our own lives.  Holiness is thus a force in our lives, which is both given to us by God and shaped by our own lives and how we follow Christ.  God commands us to be holy!  It is something within our power to do.

Holiness as such is not some magic which makes “things” holy, but rather the very force in our lives which unites us to God.  Holiness is active in our hearts and minds – in our spirit, soul and body.  Holiness is not just for the soul, but it is for our entire being as humans and is to be present in every aspect of our humanity.  We show holiness in our lives not only in worship or in participating in the sacraments but also in stewardship, tithing, generosity, loving, forgiving, asking forgiveness, obeying Christ, being charitable, merciful, peacemakers and in all the ways we practice our discipleship.

34271086233_af180cc504

Orthodox often flock to where they believe holiness is – in an icon, in a monastery, in a church, in the Holy Fire.  The New Testament on the other hand points out that holiness is not so much to be sought out in things, but is to be lived in our hearts, souls, minds and bodies.  We can’t make holiness perfect in things – Holy Icons or Holy Fire – we can only perfect it in ourselves.

Being Orthodox: Spirituality and Membership

“For the Orthodox, spirituality is about moving more and more closely into communion with the source of life, with God, who has been revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is the life of that relationship, which can be lived fully only in the context of the Church. The Holy Spirit was given to the Church as a whole, not to a set of individuals, and it is when the Church gathers that the fullness of Christ’s presence among us can be realized. The self becomes what it truly is only in relationship; this teaching is at the heart of Orthodox trinitarian theology.

However, here it is necessary to say something about the mysterious nature of what ‘membership’ means, when we speak of someone as a ‘member’ of the Church. Membership in a merely social sense is hardly the point. To live truly as an Orthodox means prayer, ascetic struggle, spiritual direction, and liturgical participation. And the participation must involve the whole of self: before we recite the Creed we say, ‘Let us love one another so that with one mind we may confess Father, Son and Holy Spirit…’ Without love and reconciliation, the rest is meaningless.” (John Garvey, Orthodoxy for the Non-Orthodox, pp. 76-77)

Signs of the Holy Spirit

St Gregory of  Sinai (d. 1346) writes about how the Holy Spirit manifests Himself differently in each person.

5255541857_b84d1c1001

“There are several signs that the energy of the Holy Spirit is beginning to be active in those who genuinely aspire for this to happen . . .

In some it appears as awe arising in the heart,

in others as a tremulous sense of jubilation,

in others as joy,

in others as joy mingled with awe,

or as tremulousness mingled with joy,

and sometimes it manifests itself as tears and awe.

For the soul is joyous at God’s visitation and mercy, but at the same time is in awe and trepidation at His presence because it is guilty of so many sins. Again, in some the soul at the outset experiences an unutterable sense of contrition and an indescribable pain, like the woman in Scripture who labors to give birth (cf. Rev. 12:2). For the living and active Logos – that is to say, Jesus – penetrates, as the apostle says, to the point at which soul separates from body, joints from marrow (cf. Heb. 4:12), so as to expel by force every trace of passion from both soul and body.

8187081594_3f99fde7fb

In others it is manifest as an unconquerable love and peace, shown towards all, or as a joyousness that the fathers have often called exultation – a spiritual force and an impulsion of the living heart that is also described as a vibration and sighing of the Spirit who makes wordless intercession for us to God (cf. Rom. 8:26). Isaiah has also called this the ‘waves’ of God’s righteousness (cf. Isa. 48:18), while the great Ephrem calls it ‘spurring’. The Lord Himself describes it as ‘a spring of water welling up for eternal life’ (John 4:14) – He refers to the Spirit as water – a source that leaps up in the heart and erupts through the ebullience of its power.”   (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Location 44476-44502)

4587898584_d0c96a04dc

Not everyone experiences the same thing when the Holy Spirit comes in their life, nor should one judge another’s experience.  As St. Gregory says, some will experience repentance and contrition when the Holy Spirit comes upon them and convicts them of their sins.  But not everyone will experience that.  Others experience love and peace for all or even an overwhelming joy.  One experience is not better than the other, one is not more preferred than the other.  The Spirit moves where it will (John 3:8), and He moves each person as He chooses for the salvation of the world.  Rather than seeking a particular experience of the Holy Spirit, we should allow ourselves to be open to what the Spirit wants to reveal to us.  Whatever experience the Spirit bestows on us, we can give thanks that God comes and abides in us.

The Holy Spirit at Work in Us

“Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . . But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10;  emphases not in the original text)

4191465615_8b0c1303f2

Every baptized Orthodox Christian receives the Holy Spirit in and through the sacraments of baptism, chrismation and the Eucharist.  How do we show that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives?

32674341401_d3757ef8ec

Each Orthodox Christian is called to be part of the holy priesthood.  Priests in general consecrate things – to make them into an offering to God.  In the Church, Bishops consecrate Chrism and men to serve as priests and deacons in the church.  Priest in turn consecrate believers in baptism and also bread and wine to be shown to be the Body and Blood of Christ.   But all believers share in a priesthood in which we each are to consecrate the things in our life – our homes, families, children, jobs, hobbies, meals, friendships, thoughts, words, feelings – everything great and little can be consecrated.  We can make everything we do into a holy offering to God.  The meals we cook, the things we build, or memorize, or sing, or think about – all can be consecrated, offered to God.  If we think we can’t offer it to God, perhaps we shouldn’t be doing it.  But what we choose to do, all of these things we should offer to God, consecrate them to God and for God’s own use so that God will deify them.

32857507711_5cb5752cfa

Everything we have is a gift from God including our lives, our possessions, our blessings, our talents, knowledge, wisdom, the work of our hands.  So what can we offer to God that is truly our own?  What is truly ours are our wills and our decisions.  We can freely opt to co-operate with God.  We can present ourselves to God  in order to serve Him.  Our free wills belong to us and we can work in synergy with God to accomplish God’s will.  Thus every decision, the countless ones we make in our daily lives are each an opportunity for us to serve God – to offer that moment in our lives to God, to direct our energy toward God.  Our choices are a true offering to God –  not something God predetermines in our lives, but what we can freely offer to God.  Our love is something we can choose to offer to God.  It is something God truly values in us and from us.

On Pentecost: What Language Was Heard?

The Epistle for the Feast of Pentecost, Acts 2:1-11, gives to us a description of the events which constitute the basis for the Feast.

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs – we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”

There is a long standing debate about the events of Pentecost, which the Patristic writers engaged in, long before the modern era.  When the disciples were speaking in other languages as described in Acts 2, were they actually speaking in many languages OR was it that the listeners were each able to understand the disciples in the native tongue of the listener?  Is the Holy Spirit changing the speech of the apostles, or changing the hearing of those listening to them? Fr. Alexis Trader writes:

“In the patristic literature, two opinions can be discerned concerning the nature of what was heard. The literal interpretation favored by Saint Gregory the Theologian is that the Apostles were not speaking in Hebrew, but in foreign languages. Saint Gregory of Nyssa on the other hand seems to indicate that they were speaking in Hebrew, but that “every man heard them speak in his own language.” Although both interpretations can be supported by the actual text if one is free with the punctuation, both a practical consideration of the event and an understanding of the primary faculty of the soul involved in the working of grace point to the preferability of Saint Gregory of Nyssa’s intuitions.

Saint Gregory the Theologian asserts that the phrase “each one heard them speak in his own language” requires punctuation for the best interpretation. He suggests that a comma should be inserted after the word “heard” so that the text would have the sense “they spoke the languages of those who heard them.” What prompts the Theologian to add this punctuation and provide the text with this interpretation is his pious desire to honor the Holy Apostles. He notes that otherwise this aspect of the miracle would refer to the crowds who were listening rather than to the Apostles who were speaking and that the magnitude of the miracle would be decreased.

An alternative interpretation that Saint Gregory the Theologian himself mentions is that “one voice came forth, but they heard many.” Saint Gregory of Nyssa apparently follows this interpretation when he speaks of the “divine power being portioned out into many languages” for the benefit of all. For Saint Gregory of Nyssa, each person received the one “proclamation in his own dialect…comprehending the meaning of what was said by words familiar to him.” Thus, for Saint Gregory of Nyssa, the words uttered by the Apostle and the words heard by each foreigner were not the same. The Holy Spirit “translated” Saint Peter’s words in the hearts of each listener into his own respective language. This is what leads Saint Gregory of Nyssa to exclaim, “we must realize that the Holy Spirit speaks to us in our own words as we have learned from the narration of Acts” (In Peace Let us Prayer to the Lord, pp. 77-80).

This is one of numerous issues on which the church fathers actually disagreed in how to interpret the scriptures.  Specifically when dogma was not at stake, they didn’t always agree on how to interpret a passage or event in Scripture.  They used the gifts of  wisdom and knowledge which the Holy Spirit gave them, but sometimes the Spirit did not give them one answer, but rather inspired them to interpret a passage of Scripture according to the wisdom and knowledge given them.  This led to them sometime disagreeing on issues that were not doctrinal.

Interpreting the Scriptures meant a real engagement with the text itself to make sense of the text and to derive the fullest meaning and purpose of the text.  We see as the Fathers wrestled with the text their willingness to make sense of the text by trying to discern what was the real miracle at work?  Is Pentecost about the Holy Spirit uniquely appearing on the Apostles and changing them?  Or is the greater miracle that the Spirit’s outpouring was not limited to the Apostles but fell even upon those who were listening to the Apostles speak?

 

The Holy Spirit in Our Lives

“The Holy Spirit confers true humility. However intelligent, sensible, and clever a man may be, if he does not possess the Holy Spirit within him, he cannot know himself properly; for without God’s help he cannot see the inner state of his soul. But when the Holy Spirit enters the heart of man, he shows him all his inner poverty and weakness, the corruption of his soul and heart, and his remoteness from God. The Holy Spirit shows a man all the sins that coexist with his virtues and righteousness: his laziness and lack of zeal for salvation and for the good of others, the selfishness that informs what appear to be his most unselfish virtues, the crude self-love that lurks where he nevers suspected it. In brief, the Holy Spirit shows everything in its true aspect. Enlightened by the Holy Spirit, a man begins to experience true humility, distrusting his own powers and virtues and regarding himself as the worst of mankind.

The Holy Spirit teaches true prayer. No one, until he receives the Spirit, can pray in a manner truly pleasing to God. This is so, because anyone who begins to pray without having the Holy Spirit in him, finds that his soul is dispersed in all directions, turning to and for, so that he cannot fix his thoughts on one thing. Moreover he does not properly know either himself, or his own needs; he does not know how or what to ask from God; he does not even know who God is. But a man with the Holy Spirit dwelling in him knows God and sees that He is his Father. He knows how to approach Him, how to ask and what to ask for. His thoughts in prayer or orderly, pure, and directed to one object alone–God; and by his prayer he is truly able to do everything.” (Metropolitan Innocent of Moscow, The Art of Prayer, p. 232)

 

Christ in Me

“Where Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, d. 107AD)

“Where the Church is, there is the Spirit, and where the Spirit is, there is the Church.” (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, d. 202AD)

In the writings of the post-apostolic fathers and early Patristic writers, there is made a close union between Christ the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.  St. Irenaeus describes them as being “the two-hands of God” at work in creation.  In the quote below by St. John Chrysostom, we see how closely he identifies the presence of Christ in us with the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  To have “Christ in me” is to have the Holy Spirit.  Likewise, to have the Holy Spirit abiding in oneself means that Christ is present as well.

St. John Chrysostom writes, ‘You will ask, “What will happen if Christ is within us?”  “If Christ is in you, your body is dead to sin, but your spirit lives unto righteousness” (Rom. 8:10). You see how much evil comes from not having the Holy Spirit within you: death, enmity towards God, the impossibility of pleasing Him by submission to His law, or of belonging to Christ and having Him dwelling in you. Look also how good it is to have the Spirit within you: really to belong to Christ, to have Christ Himself within you, to compete with the angels! For to have a body dead to sin, means to begin to live in eternal life, to carry within you – even here on earth – the pledge of the resurrection and the reassuring power to advance upon the path of virtue.

Note that the Apostle said not only, “the body is dead”, but added, “to sin”, so that you should understand that it is the sins of the flesh, and not the body itself, that is mortified. It is not of the body as such that the Apostle speaks; on the contrary he wants the body, although dead, still to remain alive.  When our bodies, in so far as carnal reactions are concerned, do not differ from those that lie in the grave, this is a sign that we have the Son within us, and that in us dwells the Spirit.’ As darkness cannot stand before the light, so all that is carnal, passionate or sinful cannot stand before our Lord Christ and His Spirit.

But as the existence of the sun does not abolish the fact of darkness, so the presence within us of the Son and Spirit does not abolish the existence within us of something that is sinful and passionate, but only takes away its power. As soon as an occasion arises, the passionate and sinful elements step forward and offer themselves to our consciousness and will. If our consciousness pays attention and occupies itself with them, then our will may also turn towards them. But if, at that moment, our consciousness and will pass over to the side of the spirit and turn to our Lord Christ and His Spirit, then all that is carnal and passionate will disappear immediately like smoke before a breath of wind. This means that the flesh is dead, powerless. Such is the general rule of life for true Christians; but they are at different stages.

When someone remains steadfastly with his consciousness and will on the side of the Spirit, in living and tangible union with Christ our Lord in His Spirit, then at that time nothing carnal or passionate can so much as show itself, any more than darkness before the sun or cold before flames. In such a case, the flesh is quite dead and immobile.”   (Theophan the Recluse in The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, pp 176-177)

Resisting Self-Indulgent Passions

The Triumph of Dionysus

Self-Indulgent: What is meant is the appetites of the self, an unhealthy individualism that serves evil and leads to idolatry (Gal. 5.9). When self-indulgence is at work the results are obvious:

fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility; idolatry and sorcery; feuds and wrangling, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels, disagreements, factions, envy, murders, drunkenness and similar things (Col. 3.5 adds evil desires and greed, spitefulness, abusive language, dirty talk and lies).

What the Spirit brings is the opposite of self-indulgent (Gal. 5.22). By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self control….

If the Spirit is the source of our life, let the Spirit also direct its course. We must stop being conceited, provocative and envious (1 Cor. 2:21-3:3).”

(The Divine Liturgy of the Great Church annotated by Paul N. Harrilchak, p 58)

The Fire Which is the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is Light and Life,

a living Fountain of spiritual gifts,

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

all-knowing, upright and good–

He leads us and washes away our sins.

He is God, and He makes us gods;

He is Fire proceeding from Fire,

speaking and acting and distributing gifts.

Through Him all the Prophets, Martyrs and Apostles of God are crowned.

Strange account, strange and wonderful sight:

fire is divided for distributing gifts.

(Pentecost Hymn)

Same Spirit, New Dispensation

On the Thursday after Pentecost, the Matins hymns offer us insight into what the Feast of Pentecost means for believers and how we experience the new dispensation of God’s salvation.

The Holy Spirit, the giver of grace has come down upon earth,

Not as in the days of old:

Through the shadow of the law or the dawn of the prophets.

Rather, now He is given to us in person,

Through the mediation of Christ.

Let us cleanse our hearts by the practice of virtue,

That we may receive his illumination,

For He enlightens us in a Holy Mystery.

In the Old Covenant, the Holy Spirit came down upon some of God’s people, such as the prophets, and they spoke the Word of the Lord to God’s people.  At Pentecost, we celebrate that no longer do we receive the Holy Spirit only through the inspired Scriptures:  now we receive from God our Father His Holy Spirit, as gift.  The person of the Holy Spirit is revealed to us and given to us.  The Holy Spirit abides in us – not just the gifts of the spirit, or the Spirit’s power or effects, but the Spirit Himself comes upon  us and lives in us!  We, God’s people, are to live that changed life which allows God’s Holy Spirit to abide in us.

Moses said … “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit upon them!”  (Numbers 11:29)

Not only are the prophecies fulfilled, but the Holy Spirit abides in all of us who are baptized into Christ.  Prophecy is changed into reality and we enter into the hoped for time of the Lord.

Behold, the oracles of the prophets are fulfilled!

He who discloses Himself dimly to them

Now plainly reveals Himself as God the Paraclete!

He is fully poured out upon the apostles.

Through them the faithful have come to worship the uncreated Trinity!

The Spirit of God which inspired the prophets, now comes to inspire all of us who listen to their words, coming to abide in us so that we might be with Christ forever.