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The Treasure of Holiness.


"For 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, Chapter 6).

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 miracles.

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 had provided.

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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