On the Veneration of Holy Relics (Part II)

 Icon of the Mother of God of Rzhevsk

Icon of the Mother of God of Rzhevsk

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.

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ON THE VENERATION OF HOLY RELICS (Part II)
(Source: Ukranian Orthodox Church in America)

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware makes six excellent points, these points may help those who have a hard time understanding the notion of deification (theosis) of the body and the cosmic redemption from an Orthodox point of view.

He stresses, first, that theosis (deification) is intended as the ultimate human being, for every True Christian. True, we shall be completely deified (theosis) at the Last Day, but the process of deification (theosis) begins now. It begins at Baptism when one receives the new nature from Christ. From the very moment of Baptism, so long as one struggles to love God and Obey His Commandments, no matter how weak one may be, to some degree he is deified.

Secondly, even if one is deified, it does not make him immune to sin. Deification (theosis) presupposes continuous repentance. No matter how deified a Saint may be, he never loses sight of his sinfulness. "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). "No one can stop sinning simply by deciding that he will no longer do so. Even if a man became 'perfect' through his own efforts, he would risk being very far from God and complacent in his virtue. Proud of his conquest - of his victory over his body, over human nature - he would fall into the sin of pride. Only love and a heart open to God, to His grace and to that Uncreated Light which He gives to us can make us like God" (The Living God, p. 89).

Saint Sisoes the Great, a great man of unceasing prayer, who is commemorated on July 6th, begged the Angels who came to his soul to allow him one more hour to pray, he did this because he was not certain that he repented enough.

He understood that the road to final transfiguration is called, "repentance". That is why either from the pulpit or in some of my previous articles many a time I identified this Holy Mystery with the very "seal" of our salvation. Woe unto those who expunged it from their "Christian" life! I have in mind not only those who do not have this Holy Mystery in their "Christian" denomination but those who are nominal Orthodox Christians, also!

Thirdly, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware points out that, there is no secret about what one must do in order to be deified (theosis). The man who approached Christ with the question: "Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" received the answer: "You know the Commandments..." Yet, this proved not to be enough, because Christ admonished him: "One thing you lack. Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me" (St. Mark 10:17, 19, 21). So, keep the Commandments, and practice your faith, do whatever your faith exhorts you to do, in other words, be a true, not a nominal Orthodox Christian.

Fourthly, in order for one to be deified (theosis), one has to live in a community. Our love of God is made manifest through our love of neighbor. Saint John the Theologian and Evangelist makes this point plainly, straightforwardly, "If some say, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" (I John 20). "Man, made in the image of the Trinity, can only realize the divine likeness if he lives a common life such as the Blessed Trinity lives: as the Three Persons of the Godhead 'dwell' in one another, so a man must 'dwell' in his fellow men, living not for himself alone, but in and for others," writes on Metropolitan Kallistos (The Orthodox Church, p. 24). Theologian Thomas Hopko, of blessed memory, was known to have coined the phrase that the only place one may go alone is called hell. In loving one's neighbor with a Christly love, is the safest way for one to attain deification (theosis).

Fifthly, love of God and love of neighbor must be practical! True, deification (theosis) implies deep mystical experience, but it must be followed by actions to make it "flourish." It was out of their mystical experience that the greatest Saints of the Orthodox calendar did not avoid the sick, the underprivileged and the poor of this world. It is a historical fact that even the great Hermits used to come back to the cities at least once a year to make their mystical experience in the heart of the wilderness flourish. Last but not least, deification (theosis) presupposes life in the Church, it means that one avails oneself of the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments), as divinely established by which the grace of God is poured into our souls. Christ purchased the Church with His own blood to offer us the means by which we may be sanctified to attain to Divine likeness, deification (theosis).

"Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?" asks Saint Paul (1 Corinthians 6:19, see also 2 Corinthians 6:16). He wants his Corinthian disciples to understand that every individual whose nature was renewed by Christ through the bath of baptism is a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Shortly after Baptism, the newly illumined receives his/her personal Pentecost, the Holy Mystery (Sacrament) of Chrismation. The Saints succeeded in perpetuating the Church's Pentecost, and their incorrupt relics are living witness of the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is with deep theological meaning that our bimillenary Orthodox Church celebrates all of the known Saints, but especially those who are known only by God, on the first Sunday after Pentecost, a.k.a. Sunday of All Saints. They attained to God's likeness by allowing God to reign on the only place where God cannot "reign without our consent," on the throne of their own heart. They became by grace what God is by nature, the only goal set for every human being through Christ's incarnation, the only great goal of a true follower of Christ.

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Please note: Orthodox Christians must not continue to be nominal Christians and hope to attain either deification (theosis) or salvation. The holy Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Philippians 2:12 writes, "Therefore, my beloved as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Because of Christ's sacrifice, we are to take hold of what God offers, accepting His grace, and working toward becoming mature in Christ. Note the cooperation (synergy): we work out our own salvation (v. 12) while it is god who works in us to do His will (v. 13).

It is foolish for anyone to believe that one can be saved without any commitment, without faith, without works, without any sacrifice, without carrying once cross, without obedience, without repentance, without love for our neighbor, without living a righteous and virtuous life. Saint James the holy Apostle says, "But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead" (St. James 2:20).

We may inherit a tradition, a culture, an identity, or even a Faith, but it is not enough. We have to make every possible effort to practice it, to retain it, to use it, to convey it and to live it. Pray that Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will guide you and to illumine your heart with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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

+Father George