this is the will of God, even your sanctification" (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Holiness is a mysterious property of God. Neither human, nor
angelic intellect can comprehend the holiness of God. When we speak about
holiness, or sanctity of people, we mean sinlessness, purity, virginity,
righteousness, and moral perfection in general. However, holiness of God, being
inclusive of all virtues, also has an essence that is incomprehensible for us.
It is the prevalent property of God's Nature. Seeing His impregnable holiness,
the angelic beings that are close to God exclaim, "Holy, holy, holy, is
the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isaiah,
All that comes from God, or whatever His
grace-filled power touches, becomes sanctified and sacred. That is why sacred
is the Scripture, which is the Word of God, sacred are God's churches, sacred
are prayers, sacraments and services of the Church. Holy are angels, prophets,
Apostles and other bearers of God's grace. People and things that touch sacred
objects also become sanctified.
In this sense, God's holiness can be compared to
some very precious ointment (Matthew 26:7) that gives its own sweet
fragrance to everything it touches. It should be very clear that there is no
holiness without God. A certain virtue can be one's natural property, or
can be gained through one's effort. Every kind and honest person, even though
he is a pagan, can be said to be virtuous. But only someone sanctified by God
can be saint. That is why holiness and sanctity can also be likened to light,
without which even gold would be as black as charcoal. The degree of one's
holiness is determined by the degree of one's partaking in the holiness of God.
"The will of God, even your
sanctification," wrote Apostle Paul
(1 Thessalonians 4:3). Sanctification of faithful is made in the Church.
"Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might
sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water (baptism) by the word,
That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or
wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without
blemish" (Ephesians 5:25-27). Thus, God made the Church sort of an
exquisite vessel that contains the precious ointment of God's holiness.
The Church is holy due to Her mysterious unity
with God. The Son of God did incarnate in order to unite the faithful with
Himself. The unity with God is accomplished through partaking in the Body and
Blood of Christ. Joining in with God in the Eucharist, the faithful at the same
time merge in one mysterious union — the Church. This union is so powerful and
effective that all faithful become one mysterious body with Jesus Christ as its
Head. Sanctification of the faithful in the Church is completed by the grace of
the Holy Ghost.
The sanctifying power of God acts in the Church
abundantly. The Church sanctifies everything that She engulfs with Her action.
Sanctification of man starts in the Sacrament of Baptism, which washes off any
filth of sin from him. Baptism serves as sort of a doorway to the Church, where
a newly baptized believer receives access to all Her grace-filled sacraments.
The sanctifying power of the Church stretches not only to the Christians who
actively pursue moral perfection, but also to their families. In a word of the
Apostle, "the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife ... else
were your children unclean; but now are they holy" (1 Corinthians
7:14). Members of the Church, who are passive or indifferent to virtue, become
sanctified as well when they — this way or other — come in touch with divine
services and ecclesiastical objects. The Church sanctifies the human mind
through reading of the Word of God, singing of hymns and prayers, and through
sacred images (icons); She sanctifies bodies, houses, food, harvests and
various things through sprinkling of holy water. She cleanses off sins and
heals infirmities in the Sacrament of Confession.
Grace does sanctify not only one's spirit but also
one's physical self. The visible sanctification comes into effect immediately,
and the inner one takes a harder and longer journey because it depends on sensitivity
of a certain person. As fragrance and shine can have different degrees, so
differ the degrees of sanctity. Sanctity may be compared to the
mysterious ladder, seen by the patriarch Jacob (Genesis 28), which stood on the
ground but reached the heaven with its top. In the process of acquiring
sanctity, one's psychology and attitudes must change. There must be an effort
of will, desire, continuity, in order to have man's moral qualities come
nearer to the most perfect properties of All-Holy God. This is why inner
sanctification often walks a thorny and winding path. Rare are the people who,
like St. Seraphim of Sarov, longed for God since their childhood, and
continuously ascended in the way of righteousness until the very old age. The
majority experiences alternate periods of religious inspiration and apathy,
spiritual scarcity and even transgressions. Because of this, in the real life
the Church must not be demanded to contain sinless people only. The Holy
Evangelist John wrote, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive
ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8).
This is exactly the reason why the Lord Jesus
Christ likened the Church to a field where wheat and weeds grow next to each
other, or why in the parable about the ten virgins He mentioned the five who
were foolish whose lamps went out while they were sleeping. Our life is not
some frozen expectation, but a process, growth that takes
different pace with different people. With His grace, God calls everyone to
Himself, without any violence, waiting for one's own wish. Some become cleaner
and better as they reach their old age, others die without repentance. It is
only in the life to come that evil will be completely separated from good.
Speaking about holiness of the Church, we must
remember that Her holiness is not a result of holiness of Her members. God,
not people, is the source of holiness. That is why the Apostles in their
epistles called all Christians saints, despite the fact that among them there
were imperfect and even sinful people (Acts 6:1; 1 Corinthians 3:1-4; 1
Corinthians 4:8; 1 Corinthians 6:1-9; Galatians 5:5; 2 Peter 2:13). It is not
right to think that the Church is constituted only of morally perfect people.
The sanctifying power of the Church is not diminished by the presence of
unworthy members. Everything sinful and worldly that invades the terrain of the
Church would remain alien to Her and would be destined to trashing away and
elimination as though weeds in a field. As time passed, the word 'saint' has
come to mean only the most perfect champions of faith, for example, martyrs for
the sake of Christ and righteous people, glorified by God through wonders and
Yet many heterodox Christians love to call
themselves saints. They join this name with an elevated opinion about their own
virtues. But we have already said that holiness is not a mere result of virtue:
it is partaking in the holiness of God. The name of saints cannot be applied to
sectarians because they alienate themselves from the sanctifying power of the
Church. They have damaged the purity of faith in Christ, denied God-established
priesthood, rejected sacraments, and have got no communion with the Body and
Blood of Christ. In a word, they have cut off all conductors of holiness God
Intellect controls a man's actions, and that’s why
sanctification of soul starts from intellect. That is why the Lord Jesus
Christ prayed for the faithful, asking His Heavenly Father to enlighten their
minds, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."
And to the Apostles, who learned truth, He said, "Now ye are clean
through the word which I have spoken unto you" (John 15:3). This makes
it very important to study the Word of God regularly. Without enlightenment of
intellect, the soul would remain in darkness and separation from God.
In our Church, we, the Orthodox, possess the
wholeness of Christ's truth, all sanctifying sacraments, the entire spiritual
treasure of gifts of the Holy Ghost. We must thank God daily for giving us the
honor of being members of His Church. "Ye are a chosen generation, a
royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth
the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light,"
wrote the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 2:9) to reassure Christians. Let's try to
justify this honorable name in our lives!
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