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 LIFE OF THE CHURCH IN THE HOLY SPIRIT (PART II)
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), 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). [Note: The King James Version translation of this verse, "unto us which are saved," is imprecise; the Greek text has the present participle: "Who are being saved."]
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 of the soul in 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, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly godliness 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, 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).
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 expressions of Saint Symeon the New Theologian (10th century):
"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 Saint 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 in faith, is the mercy of God...if he does not labor with the aim of receiving the grace of God, firs 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 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 2nd).
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 concept 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).
Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos writes: "The feast of Pentecost is a feast of the Holy Spirit, because we learn from the descent of the Holy Spirit that God is Three-fold. Previously too, both obscurely in the Old Testament and in Christ's teaching, people were learning the Trinitarian character of God, but at Pentecost they acquired practical experience of His threefold hypostasis. Thus Pentecost is a feast of orthodox theology.
"...on the day of Pentecost we express theology in an orthodox way, because we understand that God is threefold, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. According to the Orthodox teaching of revelation, the Father is without beginning, without cause and ungenerated, that is to say He has no cause for His existence from anyone, the Son comes from the Father by generation, and the Holy Spirit comes from the Father by procession. These terms: ungenerated, generation, and procession were revealed to us Christ, and we cannot understand them rationally, so they remain a mystery. The fact is that the Son and the Spirit come from the Father in different ways, each having a particular hypostatic character, or way of being, but they both have the same essence as He...
"...The Apostle Paul is clear when he says: "those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Romans 8:14). Not all people who were created by God are children of God, but only those who are led by the Holy Spirit. Sonship is connected with inner noetic prayer: "And by him we cry , 'Abba, Father'" (Romans 8:15). The spirit of God which will be present in the heart of man "testifies with our spirit that we are God's children" (Romans 8:16). He himself a son of God who has the Holy Spirit within him, which testifies with our spirit and confirms that the man is a child of God. However, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our heart is confirmed by the inner prayer of the heart which comes with a cry.
If anyone does not have the Spirit of God in him, he does not belong to Christ, which means that he is not a living member of the body of Christ. Even if he has been baptized at some time, the grace of Baptism remains inactive, and this man is a dead member of the Church. This is said by the Apostle Paul in an important and revealing passage: "And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (Romans 8:9). No one belongs to Christ if he does not have the Holy Spirit, with the precondition which we have seen before. By contrast, if anyone has in him the Holy Spirit, he is really a member of the Body of Christ, since he is not "controlled by the sinful nature but by the Spirit" (Romans 8:8-9). (Source: The feasts of the Lord: An Introduction to the twelve feasts and Orthodox Christology).
PLEASE BE ADVISED THAT THERE IS NO FASTING THE ENTIRE WEEK
FOLLOWING THE FEAST OF PENTECOST.
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