My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE VIRTUES ('Αρετές)
When our Holy Church speaks about spirituality what does she mean? What makes one's life spiritual? The answer is the virtues! What are the virtues?
In addition to the Beatitudes of Jesus, there are many fruits of the Holy Spirit enumerated in the Apostolic Scriptures and referred to in the writings of the Saints of our Holy Church. These fruits of the Holy Spirit are often called the Christian virtues, which literally means those powers and possessions of the mind and the heart which all men should have if they are truly human, fulfilling themselves as created in the image and likeness of God.
Generally speaking, all of the human virtues are attributes of God Himself. They are the characteristics of Jesus Christ, the Divine Son of God in human flesh. They are divine properties which should be in all human persons by the gift of God in creation and salvation through Christ.
Whatever is found in man to be good and beautiful and true, is found there because of God and is from God. This is the case, whether it is realized or not, "for every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights" (St. James 1:17), and it is Christ Himself, the Eternal Son and Logos (Word) of God, Who is the Light and the Life of every man who has ever lived and been enlightened on this earth. (cf. St. John 1:1-10). The Holy Apostle Paul has counseled Christ's faithful:
"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about those things" (Philippians 4:8).
As we "think about those things," we will refer to the teaching of the Holy Apostle himself, and to all of the Holy Apostles and Teachers of Our Holy Orthodox Church who have been enlightened and inspired by God through the Lord Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church.
THE CHRISTIAN VIRTUES ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Faith. The foundation of all Christian virtue and life is faith. Faith is the natural possession of all men who are wise and virtuous. For if a person lacks faith in man's ability to know, to do good and to find meaning in life; if he does not believe that this is possible, profitable and worthy of man's efforts, then nothing wise or virtuous can be achieved. The striking characteristic of all prophets of doom, apostles of despair and preachers of absurdity is the absence of faith in man's capabilities for goodness and truth, and the absence of faith in the meaning and value of life. It is also an absence of faith in God.
Faith in God is the fundamental virtue of all the Saints (cf. Hebrews 1:1). The prototype of the, believer in God is Abraham, the father of Israel.
Faith in Jesus as "the Christ, Son of the Living God," is the center of the Christian life and the foundation of the Church (St. Matthew 16:16). It is the source of all wisdom, power, and virtue. It is the means by which man can know and do all things, for "all things are possible to him who believes" (St. Mark 9:23).
Faith, according to Saint Paul, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). It is confidence in the spiritual capabilities of man and in the goodness and power of God. Faith itself is a "gift of God" given to all and accepted by the poor in spirit and the pure in heart, who are open to the activity of God in their lives (Ephesians 2:8).
Knowledge. Faith and hope go together with knowledge. They are built on knowledge and lead to knowledge. For what is "not seen" is believed and hoped on the basis of what is seen. And the understanding of what is seen depends on belief and hope in the ability to know, to trust his senses, his mind and the revelation of his God, are the foundations of all knowledge.
Man was created to know God; not only to believe in Him and to hope in Him, but to know Him and so to love Him and to serve Him. Knowledge of God is the aim and goal of man's life, the purpose of his creation by God.
Faith, given as a gift by God, results in the knowledge of God. The Lord desires that man would "know the Truth," and so become free from blindness, ignorance and sin. (St. John 8:32). This is the central teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, of the law and the Prophets of the Old Testament and of the Holy Apostles and Holy Fathers of the Church.
Honesty. The wise man who has knowledge lives according to the Truth through a totally honest life. Honesty means first of all, to speak the truth and never to "bear false witness" (Exodus 20:16).
"There are six things which the Lord hates, seven which are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue and hands that make haste to run to do evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and a man who sows discord among brothers" (Prov. 6:16-19; 11:1, 12:17, 17:4, 21:28, 25:14, 18).
This basic Scriptural teaching is also that of the Holy Apostles:
"For we pray to God that you may not do what is wrong...but that you may do what is honest...for we cannot do anything against the Truth, but only for the Truth" (2 Cor. 13:7-8).
Honesty also means to act truly and openly, without pretense, or the presentation of a false image of image of oneself. It means, in a word, not to be a hypocrite. Above all things, Christ the Lord hated and condemned hypocrisy, lying and deceit. He accused the devil himself, first and foremost, of being a deceiver and liar, pretending to be other than he is, presenting himself and his teaching as totally other than the falsehood and wickedness that they actually are (cf. St. John 8:44-47). This is the way of all the false prophets, and of the antichrist himself.
The spiritual person is not a hypocrite. He/she shows himself honestly for what he is, and does not pretend to be what he is not. He reveals himself to all exactly as he actually is. He does not say or do anything that would lead people to have a false impression of he or of anyone or anything. He is utterly honest and pure in all that he things, says and does, knowing that God sees all and judges with righteousness all those who "walk in integrity" (cf. Psalm 26: 1, 11).
Hope. The virtue of hope goes together with the power of faith. The holy Patriarch Abraham "in hope believed against hope that he should be the father of many nations" (Romans 4:18). And hope, life faith, is in that which is not seen.
"For in this hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience" (Romans 8:24-25).
Hope is the assurance of the good outcome of our lives lived by faith in God. Hope is the power of certain conviction that the life built on faith will produce its fruits. Hope is the confidence, that despite all darkness and sin, the Light of the Loving forgiveness of God is upon us to do with us and for us, what we ourselves cannot do.
"Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and shield. Yes our hearts are glad in Him, because we trust in His Holy Name. Let Your steadfast love, O Lord be upon us, even as we hope in You" (Psalm 33:20-22).
The opposite of hope is despondency and despair. According to the spiritual Tradition of Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church, the state of despondency and despair is the most grievous and horrible condition that a person can be in. It is the worst and most harmful of the sinful states possible for the soul.
The loss of hope is the worst possible state because without hope, nothing else is possible; certainly not faith. If a person is faithless, he can be chastised and convinced. If a person is proud, he can be humbled; impure, he can be cleansed; weak, he can be strengthened; wicked, he can be made righteous. But if a person is despondent and despairing, the very condition of his sickness is such that his heart and soul are dead and unresponsive to the grace of God and the support of his brothers.
Wisdom. The virtue of wisdom differs from knowledge in that wisdom is normally understood as the immediate insight into things, the practical understanding and grasping of what is true and right in its living experience and form. The wise man is the one who sees clearly and deeply into the mysteries of God. He is the one who can give concrete advice in the everyday affairs of life, the one who can point out the will of God to man who is confronted by actual problems and decisions. He is the one, who like Jesus, knows not only what is in God, but "what is in man" (cf. St. John 2:25).
Humility. In the Orthodox Tradition, humility has often been called the "mother of all virtues," and pride has been named "the cause of all sin." The wise and honest person is the one who is humble.
"Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor, than to divide the spoils with the proud.
A man's pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will retain honor" (Proverbs 16:18, 16:19, 29:23).
According to the Gospel, in the Son of the Virgin, the Lord scatters the proud in the imagination of their hearts and exalts those who are humble and meek (cf. St. Luke 1:51-52). This is the exact teaching of Jesus:
"For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (St. Luke 14:11, 18:14; Prov. 3:34).
Genuine humility means to see reality as it actually is in God. It means to know oneself and others as known by God-a power, according to Saint Isaac, greater than that of raising the dead! The humble lay aside all vanity an conceit in the service of the least of God's creatures, and to consider no good act as beneath one's dignity and honor. Humility is to know oneself, without the grace of god, a dust, sinful and dead.
Obedience. In speaking of Christ's humility, Saint Paul said that Jesus was obedient to God His Father "unto death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8). In truth, Jesus obeyed God in all that He did.
"For I have come down from heaven, not to do my will, but the will of Him Who sent Me. And this is the will of Him Who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day" (St. John 6:38-39).
There is no degradation in obedience to God, nothing shameful or demeaning. On the contrary, to do the will of God is glory and Life. It is the highest dignity of man, his greatest joy and delight. (cf. Psalm 119). It is the way of perfection for all, even for the man Jesus Himself.
"Although He was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered, and being made perfect He became the source of salvation to all who obey Him. (Hebrews 5:8-9).
In the Orthodox spiritual tradition, obedience is a basic virtue: obedience to the Lord, to the Gospel, to the Church (St. Matthew 18:17), to the leaders of the Church i.e. Bishops, Priests. (Hebrews 13:7), to one's parents and elders, to 'every ordinance of man' (I Peter 2:13, Romans 13:1), "to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 6:21). There is no spiritual life without obedience, no freedom or liberation from sinful passions and lusts. To submit to God's discipline in all of its human forms, is the only way to obtain "the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:21). God disciplines us as His children out of His great love for us. "He disciplines us for our good, that we might share His holiness" (cf. Hebrews 12:3-11). Our obedience to God's commandments and discipline is the exclusive sign of our love for Him and His Son.
"He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. (...) If a man loves Me, he will keep my word, and My Father will love him, and we will come and make our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me" (St. John 14:21-24).
Patience. To be obedient in all things to God requires the virtue of patience. Saint Paul lists this virtue as one of the "fruits of the spirit" (Galatians 5:22). Christ Himself in His humble obedience to God was exceedingly patient.
To be patient literally means to suffer and endure. It means to wait on the Lord through all tribulations and trials with courage and hope. It means to put up with one's self and others, growing gradually in the grace of God through the daily effort to keep His Commandments and to accomplish His will. Only those who are patient, according to Christ, bring forth fruit from the seeds of God's Logos (Word) that are sown in their hearts.
"And as for that in the good soil, they are these who, hearing the Logos (Word), hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience" (St. Luke 8:15).
In times of persecution, when Christians are delivered up to answer for Christ, being "hated by all for my name's sake," the Lord counsels his followers: "in patience, possess ye your souls," which means, "through your endurance you will gain your lives" (St. Luke 21:19).
Too often people who wish to be patient forget that the virtue is a grace of God and a fruit of the Spirit. They think that they can attain patience with themselves and with others by will power alone; by rationalization and human considerations. Such people never find peace for their souls.
The virtue of patience is found in the steadfast endurance given by God. It is the power to "stay on the cross" no matter what, doing only the will of the Lord. Patience is united with faith, hope, love, humility and obedience, which alone brings the strength to go on. It must renewed daily through fasting, prayer, and communion with God in the Church. It is found when one trains oneself to remember God, to abide in Christ and to see all things in the Light of the Kingdom of God. If one wishes to be patient, one must be united with Christ and live by the power of the Spirit. According to the Holy Fathers of the Church, there is no other way. (Source: Orthodox Church In America)
(To be continued)
Please note: The Christian Virtuous life is the True Spiritual life of the Orthodox Christian.
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Glory Be To GOD For All Things!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God