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 HOLY MYSTERIES (SACRAMENTS)
The Life of the Church in the Holy Spirit
The New Life
The Church is surrounded by the sinful unenlightened world; however, it itself is a new creation, and it creates a new life. And every member of it is called to receive and to create in himself this new life. This new life should be preceded by a break on the part of the future member of the Church of the Church with the life of "the world." However, when one speaks of the break with "the world," this does not mean to go away totally from the life on earth, from the midst of the rest of mankind, which is often unbelieving and corrupt; "for then," writes the Holy Apostle Paul, "must ye needs go out of the world" (1 Corinthians 5:10). However, in order to enter the Church one must depart from the power of the devil and become in this sinful world "strangers and pilgrims" (1 Peter 2:11). One must place a decisive boundary between oneself and "the world," and for this one must openly and straightforwardly renounce the devil; for one cannot serve two masters. One must cleanse in oneself the old leaven, so as to be a new dough (1 Corinthians 5:7).
Therefore, from the deepest Christian antiquity the moment of entrance into the Church has been preceded by a special "renunciation of the devil," after which there follows further the baptism with the cleansing away of sinful defilement. Concerning this we read in detail in the Catechetical Lectures of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem. In these Homilies to the Catechumens we see that the "prayers of exorcisms," signifying the banishment of the devil, which are in the present Orthodox service of baptism, and the very "renunciation of Satan" by the person coming for baptism, are very near in content to the ancient Christian rite. After this there is opened the entrance into the Kingdom of grace, the birth into a new life "by water and the Spirit," concerning which the Savior taught in the conversation with Nicodemus (St. John 3:5-6).
As to how the growth in this new life subsequently occurs, we know this also from the words of the Savior Himself: "So is the Kingdom of God as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth beareth forth fruit; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear" (St. Mark 4:26-28). Thus all this new life--if only it is received inwardly, if a man sincerely desires to remain in it, if on his part he applies efforts to preserve it--acts in him with the "mystical power" of the Holy Spirit, although this invisible process can be almost unfelt by him.
The whole life of the Church is penetrated by the mystical actions of the Holy Spirit. "The cause of all preservation lieth in the Holy Spirit. If He think fit to blow upon a man. He taketh him up above the things of the earth, maketh him grow, and settleth him on high" (Sunday Antiphons from Matins, Sixth Tone). Therefore, every Church prayer, whether public or private, begins with the prayer to the Holy Spirit: "O Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of Life, come and abide in us..." Just as rain and dew, falling upon the earth, vivify and nourish and give growth to every kind of growing thing, so do the powers of the Holy Spirit act in the Church.
In the Apostolic epistles, the actions of the Holy Spirit are called "excellency of power" (II Peter 1:3), or "by the Holy Spirit." But most frequently of all they are signified by the word "grace." Those who enter the Church have entered into the Kingdom of grace, and they are invited to "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16; see also Hebrews ch. 10-14).
The word "grace" is used in Sacred Scripture with various meanings.
Sometimes it signifies in general the mercy of God: God is "the God of all grace" (1 Peter 5:10). In this, its broadest meaning, grace is God's good will to men of worthy life in all ages of humanity, and particularly to the righteous ones of the Old Testament like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, the Prophet Moses, and the later Prophets.
In the more precise meaning, the concept of grace refers to the New Testament. Here in the New Testament we distinguish two fundamental meanings of this concept. First, by the grace of God, the grace of Christ, is to be understood the whole economy of our salvation, performed by the coming of the Son of God to earth, by His earthly life, His death on the Cross, His Resurrection, and His Ascension into heaven: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). Secondly, grace is the name applied to the gifts of the Holy Spirit which have been sent down and are being sent down to the Church of Christ for the sanctification of its members, for their spiritual growth, and for the attainment by them of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In this second New Testament meaning of the word, grace is a power sent down from on high, the power of God which is in the Church of Christ, which gives birth, gives life, perfects, and brings the believing and virtuous Christian to the appropriation of the salvation which has been brought by the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Apostles, therefore, in their writings often used the Greek word charis (Gk. χάρις) "grace," as identical in meaning with the word dynamis (Gk. δύναμις), "power". The term "grace" in the sense of "power" given from above for holy life is found in many places of the Apostolic epistles (II Peter 1:3, Romans 5:2; Romans 16:20; 1 Peter 5:12; II Peter 3:18; II Tim. 2:1; I Cor. 16:23; II Co. 13:14; Gal. 6:18; Eph. 6:24, and other places). The Apostle Paul writes: The Lord "said unto Me, My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness" (II Cor. 12:9).
The distinction between these two meanings of the word "grace," and the predominant understanding of it in the Sacred Scripture of the New Testament as a Divine power, are important to keep in mind, because in Protestantism a teaching has become established about grace only in its general significance of the great work of our Redemption from sin through the Savior's exploit on the Cross, after which--as the Protestants think--a man who has come to believe and has received the remission of sins is already among the saved. However, the Apostles teach us that a Christian, having justification as a gift in accordance with the general grace of redemption, is in this life as an individual only "being saved" (I Cor. 1:18) [Please note: The King James Version of this verse, "unto us which are saved," is imprecise; the Greek text has the present participle: "Who are being saved."], and needs the support of grace-given powers. "We have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand" (Romans 5:2); "we are saved by hope" (Romans 8:24).
How, then, does the saving grace of God act?
Both the spiritual birth and the further spiritual growth of a man occur through the mutual action of two principles. One of these is the grace of the Holy Spirit; the other man's opening of his heart for the reception of it, a thirst for it, the desire to receive it, as the thirsty, dry earth receives the moisture of rain--in other words, personal effort for the reception, preservation, and activity in the soul of the Divine gifts.
Concerning this cooperation of these two principles, the Apostle Peter says: "According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness...(do you) giving all diligence temperance; and do temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins" (II Peter 1:3-9) We read concerning the same thing in the Apostle Paul: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13); that is, you yourselves cooperate (synergy), but remember that everything is given you by the grace of God. "Except the Lord build the house of virtues, we labor in vain" (Hymn of Degrees of Sunday Matins, Tone 3).
In accordance with this sacred teaching the Council of Carthage in the 3rd century decreed: "Whosoever should say that the grace of God, by which a man is justified through Jesus Christ our Lord, avails only for the remission of past sins, and not for assistance against committing sins in the future, let him be anathema. For the grace of Christ gives not only the knowledge of our duty, but also inspires us with a desire that we may be able to accomplish what we know" (Canons 125, also 126 and 127; for English text see Eerdmans Seven Ecumenical Councisl, p. 497- Canons 111 and 112 of the "African Code").
The experience of Orthodox ascetics inspires them to call Christians with all power to the humble acknowledgment of one's own infirmity, so that the saving grace of God might act. Very expressive in this case are the expression of Saint Symeon the New Theologian (10th c.).
"If the thought comes to you, instilled by the devil, that your salvation is accomplished not by the power of your God, but by your own wisdom and your own power, and if your soul agrees with such a thought, grace departs from it. The struggle against such a powerful and most difficult battle which arises in the soul must be undertaken by the soul until our last breath. The soul must, together with the blessed Apostle Paul, call out in a loud voice, in the hearing of Angels and men: "Not I, but the grace of God which is with me." The Apostle and prophets, martyrs and hierarchs, holy monastics and righteous ones--all have confessed this grace of the Holy Spirit, and for the sake of such a confession and with its help they struggled with a good struggle and finished their course" (Homilies of St. Symeon the New Theologian. Homily 4).
He who bears the name of Christian, we read in the same Holy Father, "if he does not bear in his heart the conviction that the grace of God, given for faith, is the mercy of God...if he does not labor with the aim of receiving the grace of God, first of all through Baptism, or if he had it and it departed by reason of his sin, to cause it to return again through repentance, confession, and a self-belittling life, and if, in giving alms, fasting, performing vigils, prayers, and the rest, he thinks that he is performing glorious virtues and good deeds valuable in themselves--then he labors and exhausts himself in vain" (Homily 2).
What, then, is the significance of ascetic struggle? It is a weapon against "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (I John 2:15-16). It is the cleaning of the field of the soul from stones, overgrown weeds, and swampy places, in preparation for a sacred sowing, which will be moistened from above by the grace of God.
THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD AND GRACE
From what has been set forth, it follows that there is a difference between the concepts of God's Providence and grace. Providence is what we call God's power in the world that supports the existence of the world, its life, including the existence and life of mankind and of each man; while grace is the power of the Holy Spirit that penetrates the inward being of man, leading to his spiritual perfection and salvation. (Source: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Father Michael Pomazansky)
(To be continued)
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!"--Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God