STOP BEING AFRAID OF THE COMMANDMENT TO BE HOLY
Archpriest Sergiy Baranov
The Holy Trinity Cathedral, Iveron monastery of Orsk
June 18, 2023
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Today we celebrate the day of All Saints who have shown forth in the land of Russia. For ten centuries, Orthodoxy in our land has probably given thousands, or even millions of saints. We venerate all these people for having fulfilled God’s commandment. I will tell you a surprising thing. Well, more than likely you expect that I will tell you that they fulfilled God’s commandment of love. Of course, we know that this is the main commandment of God, “Love one another”. But today I want to tell you something else. They fulfilled God’s commandment to be holy. They fulfilled the commandment of God, Who said, “Be holy, for I am holy and your Heavenly Father is holy.”
Why do I put this commandment first and foremost, and prefer it to the commandment of love? Well, love as a concept can be understood very relatively, indeed, everyone has their own understanding of love. And some people, who are really damaged, may call anything love. Well, why did people become saints? Because they were able to fulfil this commandment, the main one, “Be holy.” And this commandment includes the commandment of love. It is impossible for a man who is not holy to fulfil the commandment of love. Why? Perhaps, this is a very complicated thing that I will say, but I will try to explain and want you to understand it.
When Pontius Pilate before the crucifixion of Jesus asked with slight sarcasm and irony, “What is truth?” And Jesus answered, “I am the Truth.” Thus, He emphasises that the truth is not “what”, but the truth is “Who”, I am the Truth, the Truth is in Me. The whole world, the cosmos, is Christ-centred. Take away this main link – Christ, and everything will collapse.
The same can be said about love. What is love? Love is not “what”, but love is “Who.” God is Love. Christians learned this truth. This truth is very complicated and awkward for many people. But there is no other way. The Holy Gospel gives us this key phrase: God is Love. Love is not a feeling, love is not a state, love is “Who.” God is Love. If we try to find love outside of God, we will keep falling into the perverse understanding of love. I tell you again, now modern people in the West are ready to call love any disgrace, and for them this is also love. It is so because the main truth of love was taken away. Love is not “what”, love is “Who,” God is Love.
The Russian saints fulfilled the commandment to be holy. They managed to do it. They managed to do it because of the main and very important reason. Modern Christians have lost this reason. Therefore, they constantly find themselves in delusion or spiritual disorder. They wish for better things but do the worse. And, well, this word “delusion” has somehow become the main word in Christianity. We use this word most of all. We think about this topic most of all. Even more than about Christ. Even more than about love. Because we can somewhat see such disorder in Christians.
Christians begin to understand holiness as a state, as righteousness. They think that holiness is about being righteous, being positive, and being a good person. And they are mistaken. Holiness is not a state. Holiness is Christ. If you have Him inside you, He will sanctify you. Neither your good behaviour, kind thoughts, nor ascetic feats can make you a saint. Some people, Christians, seek in their prayer, in their spiritual exercises, a state of lightness, peace, some kind of pleasure. And they are confused again, as they are looking not for Christ as the key link of holiness, but they are looking for some state. But Christ for them is somewhere apart.
Forgive me, maybe I am telling you some complicated things. But it is hard to speak about God, isn’t it? God is a very complicated topic to discuss, it is not easy. So sometimes we need to talk. Saint Symeon the New Theologian wrote many volumes of books about God. If we open it, we will say, “But what did he write about here” – well, it was hard for him to explain. I would like to climb a bell-tower and shout to our modern Christians, “Stop being afraid of the commandment about holiness! God created us and endures us for the sake of our holiness.” What is the mistake? When we think that holiness is our achievement, our effort, our so-called good deeds, our kind behaviour, our self-compulsion to love one another. Without Christ, no matter what high moral goals you set, without Christ holiness is impossible. Because He is holy. Holiness is the prerogative of God. We can fulfil the commandments of holiness only in union with Him, through Him, if we let Him enter into us – that is we are in the process of deification.
We have now partaken of Communion, what does it mean? We let Christ enter into us. Of course, we take Him really only if we are sincere, but not if we desecrate Him by our state, our… indifference, our absence of reverence.
When praying, when we keep holding Him inside of us: Jesus, Jesus, – this process can also be considered as taking Christ inside of ourselves. Fulfilling the commandments without Christ is a state of Antichrist. Only with Christ, for the sake of Christ. Christ – everything is Christ-centred. Nothing is possible without Him. That is why we do not experience holiness. We confuse holiness with searching for some states. Even the highest moral virtue, if it is without Christ, will be only kind, light but not holy. It is happening because only Christ is holy, not us, but Christ is holy. Once some people came to me and said, “Our relative died, he was a nice person but he was not faithful.” Well, he died as a nice person and that is it, he did not unite with God, and that is why he did not go to the good eternity because good eternity is Christ, holiness is Christ. And again this word delusion… but what does this mean? It’s essence is when a person looks for holiness outside of Christ but in himself. I am righteous, I am virtuous, I am reverent, I am hard working, I, I, I… There is no, no place for Christ here. Take away the “I” and give this place to Christ, and in an instant some seedlings, green branches will appear, life will begin.
Millions of our predecessors, who became our Russian saints, differ from us not in their zeal, many of us have it also, but the direction of our zeal is wrong. This main notion distinguishes them from us, they sought holiness through Christ, not in themselves – this is a key point here. They became saints, great saints, the greatest saints, who are as different from us as the earth is from Heaven.
Do not be afraid of this commandment. I often say, it is a shame to say this phrase, “I am not holy.” It is a shame to say such a phrase when Christ is hanging on the Cross for you to become holy. We can say it crying, with tears, “unfortunately I am not holy,” – we may say it this way. But if you say it “you know, actually I am not holy,” so this way it sounds rude, insolent, this is disgraceful behaviour. Christ is hanging on the Cross but you stay here and say this, “You know, actually I am not holy.” Why are you not holy? Because you are neglectful, because you are indifferent. You must become a saint. But do it not on your own but through Christ. Everything is in Christ. Glory to Him, always now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.