Holiness: Man's Supreme Destiny

Saint Leo, First Pope of Rome

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


O Lord, Yours is the day and Yours is the night; You have perfected the light and the sun; You have made all good things of the earth, and we as You: cause Your rich mercies to rise on our lowliness, together with the daylight. Free us from the darkness and the shadow of death and from every evil thought and device of the devil. For Yours it is to have mercy and to save us, O God, and to you we sent up Glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.


On February 18th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Leo the Great, Pope of Rome; Saint Flavian the Confessor, Patriarch of Constantinople.

SAINT LEO THE FIRST, POPE OF ROME. Born in Italy of devout parents, he was first archdeacon with Pope Sixtus the Third, then elected against his own will to the papal throne after Sixtus's death. When Attila the Han drew near to Rome with his Huns and prepared to ravage and burn the city, Saint Leo went out to him in his episcopal vestments, tamed the wrath of the Hun leader and averted the fall of Rome. Attila was willing to be guided by St. Leo both because of his holiness and because of a vision he had of the Apostles Peter and Paul, standing behind St. Leo and threatening Attila with a flaming sword.

Saint Leo not only saved Rome, he also contributed greatly to the safeguarding of Orthodoxy against the heresy of Eftyches (Eutyches) and Dioscoros. This heresy consisted in the merging of the Divine and human natures of Christ into one, and, following from this, the denial of the existence of two wills in the Person of our Lord and Savior. This led the summoning of the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon, at which Saint Leo's Epistle was read--a letter which Saint Leo, after writing it, had placed on the tomb of Saint Peter, and which Saint Peter had corrected. As death drew near, he spent forty days in fasting and prayer by the tomb of the holy Apostle Peter, begging him to tell him if his sins were forgiven. The Apostle appeared to him and assured him that they were, except for his sins in the ordaining of priests (from which it is seen how grave a sin it is to ordain an unworthy man). The Saint fell to prayer again, until he was told that these also were wiped out. Then he gave his soul to the Lord in peace. Saint Leo entered into rest in the year 461 A.D.

SAINT FLAVIAN. He was Patriarch of Constantinople after Saint Proclos, in 446 A.D., and was a contemporary of Pope Leo. He battled firmly against Eutyches and Dioscoros, but did not live to see the triumph of Orthodoxy at the Fourth Ecumenical Council, for, before that, he was so mercilessly thrashed and trampled on at a heretical council in Ephesus that he died there. He was a faithful soldier of Christ and a courageous defender and confessor of the Orthodox faith. He entered into rest in 449 A.D.

Only with the greatest struggle and sacrifice is the chaff of heresy separated from the wheat of Orthodox truth. Heretics have always made use of the lowest means and the meanest people in the undermining of Orthodoxy.


Saint Anthony teaches: "As a man comes forth naked from his mother's womb, so the soul goes forth naked from the body. And one soul is pure and light, a second soiled by sin and a third blackened by many sins. If a body coming forth from an unhealthy womb cannot live, so also a soul, if it has not come to the knowledge of God through good conduct, cannot be saved or be in communion with God. The organ of bodily vision is the eye; the organ of spiritual vision is the mind. As the body is blind without eyes, so is the soul blind without a right mind and a right life." +By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Martyrs, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.


Holy Epistle Lesson: 1 Peter 2:21-25; 3:1-9
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 12:13-17


"Oh how abundant is Thy goodness, which Thou has laid up for those who fear Thee, and wrought for those who take refuge in Thee, in the sight of the sons of men!" (Psalm 31:19).

By Constantine Cavarnos


There are many references to hunger in the New Testament. Some of them are to physical hunger, while others are to spiritual hunger. In the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Chapter 4, verse 2, we read that Christ "fasted forty days and forty nights and afterward He was hungry [epeinase]. The second reference, which appears in the Sermon on the Mount, in Chapter 5, is to spiritual hunger. Christ says: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (5:6).

The nature of these two kinds of hunger, the physical and spiritual, is not explained in the New Testament. For everyone has a vivid experiential knowledge of physical hunger, and has at least an inkling of what is meant by hunger for righteousness.

Spiritual hunger and thirst are purely states of the psyche, the soul. They have nothing to do with the body. They arise in the soul and are directed towards something incorporeal. In the Sermon on the Mount, their object is said to be righteousness (dikaiosyne): something non-physical, spiritual. Saint Gregory of Nyssa, in his treatise Concerning Perfection, identifies righteousness and inner peace with the whole of virtue ("Dia tes dikaiosynes te kai eirenes pasas oimai dein tas aretas ennoein").

Very significant in Christ's statement is His promise that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness "will find fulfillment" of their hunger and thirst for it: "They shall be filled." This statement preserves the analogy between spiritual and physical hunger and thirst.

The parallelism between physical and spiritual hunger and thirst is vividly exemplified in Saint Nectarios' discussion of the desire for the Supreme Good, that is, for God. In his book Sketch Concerning Man, this great twentieth-century Saint speaks of the emptiness (to kenon) in the heart of man, of the pain (algos) in it, and of the heart's strong desire (epithymia) or thirst to enjoy the Supreme Good. There is, he says, an emptiness in the heart of man, in his emotional center. This emptiness, he explains, can be satisfied neither by material wealth, nor by worldly glory, nor by anything else on earth that is regarded as good. It cannot be satisfied by worldly goods, because the soul, being spiritual in nature and immortal, has infinite spiritual longings. Therefore, "she longs for and seeks, like a thirsty deer, the enjoyment of the Highest Good, God.

Saint Nectarios' statements bring to mind a famous remark which Saint Augustine makes at the beginning of his Confessions. Addressing himself to God, St. Augustine says: "Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it repose in Thee."

That God alone can fill the great emptiness in us, satisfy our spiritual hunger, is taught by the God-Man Christ Himself. In the Gospel according to Saint John, Christ says: "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth in Me shall never thirst" (6:35; cf. 4:14) and Revelation 7:15-16).

Our seeking to fill the great emptiness within us by the awakening in our soul of the hunger and thirst for God is a most important event in our life. it is the beginning of our salvation.

So much regarding the nature of the hunger that is directed towards holiness. Let us now turn to an examination of the concept of holiness itself. In Scripture and in Patristic and other Church writings, God is called Holy (Hagios), Angels are called holy (hagioi), and so are the Righteous. The Church Fathers make it very clear that God alone is Holy by His nature, whereas the Angels and the Righteous--the Saints in general--are holy by participation in the Holiness of God. Participation is effected by the Grace of the Holy Spirit. We see this strikingly in the account of Pentecost given in the New Testament in the Acts of the Apostles. Here we read that the Apostles "were filled with the Holy Spirit," who appeared to them like tongues of fire (2:3-4). We see this also in Saint Paul's Second Epistle to the Thessalonians and in other New Testament texts. Saint Paul says: "God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification [hagiasmos] of the Spirit and belief in the truth" (II Thessalonians 2:13; cf. Romans 15:16, St. Luke 1:35).

The path to holiness is obviously a holistic one, involving the whole man, the soul and the body. It calls for and leads to the purification of both.

The first great stage of attainment in this path is freedom from passions and their resultant vices. It is called "passionless" and "purity."  The notions of inner purification and inner purity appear, often in the New Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount Christ says: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (St. Matthew 5:8). In Chapter 23 of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, addressing the Scribes and the Pharisees, Christ criticizes them for busying themselves with outer purity and failing to strive for inner purity: "Ye make clean," He says, "the outside of the cup and of the patter, but inside they are full of extortion and injustice" (23:25). And He advices them: cleanse first that which is within the cup and the platter" (23:26; cf. St. Luke 11:39-40). Saint Paul also emphasizes the need of our purifying ourselves of all defiling emotions and desires. He says: "Let us cleanse ourselves of all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness" (2 Corinthians 7:1).

What is the "filthiness" of which we must cleanse ourselves and thus "perfect holiness" within us? Christ gives the answer. He cites as examples of things that defile us "evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" (St. Matthew 15:19). In other words, states which the holy Church Fathers call passions and vices.

From the already quoted passage in the Sermon on the Mount, it is evident that passionlessness, or purity from passions and vices, links man to God, The Fount of Holiness: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (St. Matthew 5:8).

Another integral part of holiness is the presence of the virtues in a person. The virtues are excellences, beautiful traits of character, manifested in beautiful practices. The possession of the virtues, which are coexistent with purity, render one a likeness to God. This is aptly expressed by the following statement in the Ladder of Divine Ascent: "The firmament has the stars for its beauty, and freedom from the passions has the virtues for its adornment."

Prominent among the virtues are faith, hope, and love, and the four "most general virtues" of wisdom, courage, temperance and justice. Besides these, often mentioned and emphasized in Holy Scripture and patristic writings, are humility, longsuffering and gentleness.

(to be continued)

Personal remark: As your spiritual father I feel it is necessary for all of you to search deeper into our Holy Orthodox faith and praxis so that you will increase in the knowledge of the Truth and Life. It is no longer enough to be a nominal Christian. However, it will take a great faith, love, trust, courage and commitment to our Lord. The spiritual goal of every true Christian is to strive for holiness in Christ.

May our Lord bless you with enlightenment and sanctification.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George