Saturday, June 17, 2006

All The Saints

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

On each day of the Church calendar, several particular saints are commemorated to remind us of their lives and contributions to our Christian faith. On this day however, known as All Saint’s Day, the Church pauses to remember all the saints—that “great cloud of witnesses” encompassing us, supporting us by their examples and through their prayers—who encourage us to run the race with endurance and complete it together with them.

The placement of this commemoration on the first Sunday after Pentecost is deliberate, and reminds us that it is the Holy Spirit who makes sainthood possible. The word “saint” means “one who is holy” and no one is made holy except by the Spirit of God.

In the Gospel lesson today [Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30], our Lord shows us that sainthood is born out of placing the love of God above every other love. By coincidence, today is also Father’s Day on the secular calendar, and while this particular scripture may not seem to be the best choice for the occasion (“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me” Oh, and by the way, happy Father’s Day…) in reality it is entirely appropriate, if accidental. Our Lord reminds us that as important as the love of father and mother is to the wholeness and well-being of our humanity, the love of God is of even greater importance and brings healing unto life eternal.

The Christian life could be described as the path to sainthood by the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. Each of us, upon chrismation, is granted the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Throughout our lives we are to grow in the Spirit, cooperating with Him, not grieving Him, but submitting our lives to the Spirit’s leading and acquiring His presence and governance more and more. To acquire the Spirit of God is, according to St. Seraphim of Sarov, the true aim of the Christian life. Everything else that we do is for the single purpose of gaining the fullness of the Holy Spirit in our lives and being transformed by Him into saints or “holy ones” of God.

Think of it this way. Every time you pray or fast or come to church; every time you fight some temptation toward evil; every time you offer a work of charity or mercy; every time you are careful to follow any penance given you by your father-confessor; in short, every time you renounce yourself and take up your own cross, seeking to obey God and please Him, you are opening the door to the Holy Spirit and inviting Him to take a larger role in your life. God does not force Himself upon people; He comes to those who desire Him and long for His presence in their lives and wish to become like Him by grace. Sainthood therefore is a deliberate choice, and a daily one for each and every Christian.

There are many people today who perpetuate a corrupted teaching about sainthood, insisting that no one can be truly holy in this life. Whether or not they call themselves Calvinists, they seem to accept without question his idea of the total depravity of man and therefore relegate sainthood to a kind of honorary title bestowed upon Christians by God. They teach that God “looks upon us as being holy” even though He and we apparently both know that this is far from true. They’ve invented the term “positional righteousness” to distinguish from “actual righteousness” which they see as impossible. They will often quote the scripture, “There are none righteous; no, not even one” as if this somehow nullified the glorification of our humanity in Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Further, they will claim that there is nothing unique about sainthood and that the New Testament calls all believers saints automatically. This, along with the rest of their teaching, is simply not true. As Romans 1:7 says, we are called to be saints. It is a calling, and therefore must be followed to be fulfilled. If the epistles often refer to the early believers as saints, there are at least two reasons for this. One was to remind them of their calling, lest they rest on their halos, and the other was because in their case, the title was appropriate. Because of their fearless devotion to God despite the threat of martyrdom, which gave them the certain knowledge that they were “not of this world”; because they had laid every earthly encumbrance aside awaiting the imminent return of Christ; because of their endless prayer and their selfless acts of charity; because of their basic recognition of the Christian way as transformational, and because they were filled with the Holy Spirit, the early believers became, in the words of H. Tristram Englehart “scary holy”. The title of “saints” in their case was very real and deserved.

Which do you think is better: to imagine that we are merely called saints so that, despite our obviously sinful lives, we can feel better about ourselves knowing that God thinks we are holy; or that we are called to be saints so that we can set upon the path leading to an actual sharing in the holiness of God Himself? I chose the latter, even though it is the more difficult way.

I fear that the modern misconceptions about sainthood trap many believers into a “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” mentality that takes away any incentive to pursue holiness. I am not trying to foster a “them vs. us” mentality here, but only pointing out that this false theology is very pervasive today and may linger in our thoughts and in our approach to God even long after we convert to the Orthodox faith. Many people feel that whatever they do or however they live, nothing matters to God as long as they believe the right things. This strictly rational, doctrine-based approach to salvation fails to satisfy the human longing for true communion with God and for transformational holiness. Thus we see modern Christians constantly in search of the purpose and power that, ironically, their own reason and doctrine have robbed them of. For the Christian, purpose is found in repentance, that daily taking up of one’s own cross in following Christ and in walking in the works which He has prepared for us beforehand. And power is found in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, not to speak in strange babblings, but for something rather more substantial: to become holy.

On this day that we remember all the saints, let us understand that our lives have real meaning and purpose, and can be joined with power from on high. Sainthood is not some honorary title, but an incredibly high calling granted to us, which is ours to fulfill with the help and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. May His presence be real in each of our lives and in this holy community, as His work of making sinners into saints continues.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

12 Comments:

At 6/20/2006 7:23 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Neo Calvinism"? If so, so what? Rather than drift, solid foundations are the built upon. And a solid rock is appealed to, not what a consensus of some committee thinks, a real and direct God and Man type relationship. did Christ reconcile man to god or did Christ not?

"I crucify my flesh daily"

who said that???

Andros

In Fileo Fr Eremitike of course

 
At 6/21/2006 7:00 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Sorry Andrew/Andros/Fixer/Anonymous, but I must be denser than usual this morning and missed your point...

 
At 6/21/2006 9:31 AM , Anonymous Seraphim said...

Anonymous:

You mention the word "foundation", as in: "solid foundations are built upon". I'm not sure what you mean entirely in your post, but here's an exegesis on the word "foundation":

St. Paul uses the word "foundation" (and other building-architectural metaphors) often [Romans 15:20; 1 Cor. 3:10-12; Eph. 2:20; 1 Tim. 6:19; 2 Tim. 2:19].

In some texts his use of the word "foundation" refers clearly and directly to Christ (we know this by the use of the accusative of the masculine form - not the neuter - in the Greek. So in these texts the "foundation" being built upon is Christ. One could argue that in THIS use of the word "foundation", in these texts, he is referring to "a real and direct God and Man type relationship" (as you state).

In Eph. 2:20, however, he uses the word "foundation" to describe that which was "built upon" the "foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone".

Here his use of the word "foundation" refers to the Church, "the whole building" (v. 21)which "fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord." (v. 21).

So St. Paul's use of the word "foundation" refers BOTH to Christ as the foundation, AND the Church "of the apostles and prophets" as the foundation.

In fact they are inseparable! The historic Church IS the Body of Christ in space and time (Rom. 12:4) for which Christ prays: "that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they my also be one with Us..." (Jn. 17:21).

So I think - if I get your drift - that the idea of "individual" faith and "personal direct relationship with Christ" as somehow being more valid or "biblical" than the "consensus" of the living Body of Christ (IE., The Church) has no basis in either scripture or history.

 
At 6/21/2006 10:19 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 6/21/2006 4:03 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course I disagree, in Eph 2.20 who is being built upon?

"In union with Him" not a Church nor even a classical communion But Christ Himself.

the church and even the offices in a Church are all dedicated to the "Edification of the Saints" not to perpetauating itself.

In Rom 4, Paul speaks about Abraham and God, and how Abraham simply believed God and that was accounted to him as righteousness.

No church in sight.....

(I lost my password Ere :) )

 
At 6/21/2006 4:48 PM , Anonymous Seraphim said...

Anonymous,

I won't beat this horse to death but...the references to "foundation" in St. Paul are used in different ways in various texts.

1 Cor. 3:10: "I laid a foundation as an expert builder and someone else is building on it". The "foundation" referred to here is Christ.

But in Eph. 2:19-20 the text reads:

"Now therefore ye are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God (v. 19); And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone".

Here St. Paul describes his readers ("YE") as "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets...".

Obviously we agree that faith in Christ is the key to entering "the household of God" (v. 19). However, he is clearly speaking of a community here which he goes on to refer to as "the building fitly framed" which grows into a "holy temple in the Lord." (v. 21.

There are two foundations St. Paul speaks of (as pointed out). One is Christ. The other is His Church.

By the way, if The Church weren't important to St. Paul, why do you think he would have gone to the trouble to send these epistles to the churches he (St. Paul) planted? If you want the Gospel without His Church, fine. But that would have been an incomprehensible concept to St. Paul.

 
At 6/21/2006 8:21 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

However the "hoseuhold" spoken of is not a "Household" in the sense of all being in one home.

In Greek (here it comes)the "house" spoken of in Eph is oikeios a relative or oikos a relative. Not a house per se, more a member of an extended family.

Paul wrote the Epistles to dispell bad doctrine that had crept into the various congregations.

I do have to say quoting Greek on a EO blog is fruaght with inherent dangers of wrongness..:)

 
At 6/21/2006 8:59 PM , Blogger Aaron said...

Fixer,

Does it matter to you that your view would be foreign to those early communities of Christians?

 
At 6/22/2006 4:37 AM , Anonymous Bruce said...

Fixer, The wonderful thing about what you articulate is that since Protestants worship God in Sprit and Truth, they need no liturgies and "empty rituals like the EO's and Roman Catholics. You believe in the Bible, but not the Church. How other Christians have done things for thousands of years, and how they came to believe this is no concern for you. Nobody, a bishop or whomever has any special authority over you. No Church Father has any special wisdom for you to listen to. You say you believe the Bible, but most of the time, you make it say what you want to. (28,000 divisions of Protestantism) The coolest thing about your smorgasborg Christianity, is that when the Church you go to goes off the beat theologically, you can just shop a new church. Or even better, you don't even need to go to church at all!!!! You've got a personal relationship with God, and with you as the bishop of your new church, your view of the scriptures is just as valid as Eusebbios History of the Church from the 4th century.

As the desert fathers used to say, "he who chooses himself as his own spiritual guide and leader has chosen a fool and a blind man" Fixer, who is in authority of you? Please don't tell me God alone!!

 
At 6/22/2006 8:26 AM , Anonymous Seraphim said...

Anonymous,

You wrote: (referring to the Gr. for "household" in Eph. 2:19):

"oikeios" is not "a house, per se, more a member of an extended family".

The definition of "oikeios: is: (1) belonging to a house or family; (2) related by blood.
There is no definition of "oikeios" as "an extended family". Sorry!

The Geneva Bible notes comments this way on verse 19: Paul, "describes the excellency of the Church, calling it the city and house of God." Not houses. Not "various congregations", as you state he means.

There WERE NO "various congregations" when St. Paul was writing his epistles. There were only the one Church in the cities where apostles (and St. Paul) had established them.

One can argue there is a lack of clarity on this issue perhaps (one Church versus "various congregations") in the New Testament. After all, the new Testament is not a history of the Church(strictly speaking).

But there are extant texts written at the same time St. Paul's epistles were being distributed(90 A.D.). They are fully recognized by textual critics and historians and speak of how the Church was viewed.

One is by Clement of Rome. His "Epistles to the Corinthians" is probably the earliest Christian document that has come down to us, outside the Canon of the New Testament.

He begins the "Epistle" by writing: "The Church of God which sojourns at Rome, to the Church of God at Corinth". Again: not "various congregations". THE CHURCH AT CORINTH!

He goes on to excoriate THE CHURCH for factionalism and sedition against its apostolic-appointed "presbyters" and speaks clearly of the role, ministry and order of THE CHURCH and its appointed services. He speaks of the Bishop and of the presbyters and deacons. He sees the Church as the continuous institution which from the Apostles' days onward had preserved its unbroken life (JVC Durrell, commenting).

To argue, Anonymous, as you do (Bible only; many churches; personal relationship-only), you have to disregard the historic foundation (no pun!) upon which the New Testament was written. You have to disregard the institution (the Chutch) which canonized it into the form you read today. You have to esentially "create a new Christianity" - one divorced from the Church it grew out of.

By the way: that is the definiton of the word "PROTESTANT".

 
At 6/22/2006 12:20 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Searphim, i must point out that "A member of a family" does not neccesarily mean close family, rather extended family should be inclusive in that term.There is no limit to the definition put forward.

And I also should point out that in Temple attendence only happened 3 or 4 times a year in the OT. Not weekly. Paul does say "Forsake not the Assembly of the Saints as some of you have done" I never assmebled with the Saints so to speak, so how could i forsake the assembly if one never assembled in the first place? Aside from baptism, I have atteneded a Church 6 times, all for friends RCC rituals. That could scantly be called "forsaking" if one never joined.

As has been put forward between myself and Ere, if a Bible washed up on a deserted island and the Castaway read it and believed it, would he still be saved? Would he still be adopted by the Father as a Son through His Son?

And i do not find EO rituals to be "meaningless" at all, rather I see know absolute reason why they are completely neccesary for Man's relation to God.

BTW As Paul said in Romans "The Gentiles who have not the law..there consciences alternately convicting and acquitting them"

The Holy Spirit is meant to teach and guide every beleiver.

 
At 6/22/2006 1:26 PM , Anonymous Seraphim said...

Anonymous,

God only knows what will truly save. Our understanding of what "salvation" means is largely dependent on what we have been TAUGHT salvation means.

An example: no early Christian would dare think that all he needed to do to be "saved" was "have faith alone" or "read the Bible alone", or visit somebody else's Church (with a hint of derision I sensed!) six times!!

If that were the case, we wouldn't have the sacred tradition of martyrs we have - why would they have to die for the faith, if "faith alone" saved? They could simply have believed "in their heart" and recanted with their mouth!

Obviously the fact that the martyrs are revered as a "great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews) means they are honored for doing something other than just having "faith"!

Also, the Bible (especially the four Gospels) speaks at great length (much of it in Christ's own words) about what one must DO to be saved. When St. Paul talks about "working out your salvation with fear and trembling"...what's to fear and tremble about, if all you have to do to be saved is say the Sinner's prayer, believe in your heart and you're in!

That line of thinking came fom the modern evangelical movement (not even the early Reformation). The idea of a "personal relationship with Christ" etc....show me where that is in the New Testament text? I'm not saying our relationship with the Lord ISN'T "Personal", or that we don't have one! - don't get me wrong - I'm just saying that it sounds to me like you have been influenced by "a tradition" (IE., no tradition!!!) even if you don't acknowledge it!

The question you ask is the right one: what is saving? How is it appropriated? Obviously, God can save anyone, anyway He chooses. The Thief of the Cross is an example. However, is that the best way to go - to live sinfully and repent at the ladt minute, or have an epiphany at the last minute before death? Why not, if all that is required is to "believe" if even for a minute? Why not then (if the answer is faith alone) live a sinful life, take pleasure in all that the flesh can take pleasure in and then repent late in life...even on your death bed?

The reason is 1. we never know when we will die; 2. we never know when Christ will return; and. 3. that's not all there is to "salvation". Salvation gets confused with conversion, and gets that way due to the notion of forensic justification/positional righteousness, which BTW are innovations to the Faith that came (again) out of the Reformation & that which followed. In short, it states that Christ did it all and transferred His standing with God, His righteousness with God, to you, because you have faith in Him.

What's wrong with that? It's actually a great deal! I wish it would be so! The problem is that it was never believed as the answer to appropriating salvation before the 1600's and it undermines personal effort to struggle aagisnt one's sinful tendencies. We see salvation as "partaking of the nature of Christ" (Heb.3:14), becoming "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4).

I realize that St. Paul distinguishes Abraham's faith accounted as righteousness, from the so-called righteousness of the Jews and their Law. However, was St. Paul saying that all there is to the Christian life is "faith alone"? That's the crux of our difference of understanding.

We believe that God created The Church as His successor, through His Holy Spirit. We know the Holy Spirit dwells in the Church. Is every congregation that proclaims itself to be a "church" an equal purveyor of the holy spirit with the Church founded on the apostles and prophets? That's the question you have to ask. Can one live and grow in this faith to "fullness" on his own, with just his Bible?

Here's my thought: if you are right (faith alone; bible alone; personal relationship alone), then those of us who are part of the Holy Orthodox Church get all the benefits you do. We lose nothing by being part of the historical institution that the Holy Apostles founded after Pentecost. But if I'm right and YOU are wrong, well, then you've made a bad bet, haven't you? Is "salvation" worth gambling?

 

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