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homily for 6/19/11 - P1 All Sts - How to become a saint

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  • Fr David Moser
    Since this is the Sunday of All Saints and today we celebrate the memory of all the saints, it begs the question, “What is a saint?” and the next question
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 19, 2011
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      Since this is the Sunday of All Saints and today we celebrate the memory
      of all the saints, it begs the question, “What is a saint?” and the next
      question that follows, “How does one become a saint?” For some, the
      process of making a saint is what the Church does after a person has
      died that somehow elevates them to a higher status in the afterlife. Its
      about the Church, after the death of someone, investigating the life,
      “proving” the sanctity of the person and then through a special act of
      the bishop (or the synod of bishops) bestowing on that person the status
      of “saint”. But this is not at all what a saint is nor is it how a
      person becomes a saint. In the Orthodox Church we do not “make” a person
      a saint, nor do we bestow a special status upon anyone – rather we
      simply recognize what God has already done and proclaim the glory of
      God. A saint is already a saint long before the Church officially
      recognizes their sainthood (if in fact they ever do officially recognize
      it). In fact there are many saints who are not individually “recognized”
      by the Church, but that does not make them any less a saint. It is for
      this reason, by the way, that we have this feast of All Saints – to
      honor not only all the saints that we know, but also all the saints that
      we don’t know.

      Still we have not answered the question, “What is a saint?” In the
      simplest terms a saint is a person who has entered into a life of full
      and complete union and communion with Jesus Christ. A saint is one who
      has set aside his own life and lives instead the life of Christ. A saint
      is one for whom every moment of every day is one of intimate communion
      with God. This is the purpose and destiny of each one of us. Archbishop
      Averky of blessed memory put it this way: “The human soul, being Divine
      in origin, always aspires towards God. It cannot find full satisfaction
      in anything earthly and, suffering severely in its alienation from God,
      it can find rest only in God.” It is our natural desire and inclination
      to seek this union with God and without it, man is unhappy and
      unfulfilled. The saint is the one who has found this fulfilling rest in
      communion with God. Because this communion with God is the natural
      desire of every human soul, we also realize that it is the calling of
      all mankind, of each and every one of us, to become a saint.

      Now that we know what a saint is, we can address the next question, “How
      does one become a saint?” This process of becoming a saint is the
      essence of our spiritual life. Archbishop Averky goes into great detail
      on this, saying: “Spiritual life is born in man through faith in God and
      in His Revelation. However, ‘faith without works is dead’ (James 2:26)
      and we, as the Apostle Paul testifies, are ‘created in Christ Jesus unto
      good works, which God hath ordained that we should walk in them’
      (Ephesians 2:10). It goes without saying that good works are essential
      for success in the spiritual life, for they demonstrate the presence of
      good will in us, without which there is no moving forward; in turn, good
      works themselves strengthen, develop, and deepen this good will. Good
      will attracts God's grace, without which full and decisive success in
      the spiritual life is unattainable, as a consequence of the profound
      brokenness inflicted on human nature by sin. It follows that the
      striving to perform good works is a necessary undertaking for all who
      desire to live an authentic spiritual life. ‘Not every one that saith
      unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that
      doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 7:21) – to this
      the Lord Jesus Christ Himself testifies. In His farewell discourse with
      His disciples at the Mystical Supper, He decisively stated this
      condition: ‘If ye love Me, keep My commandments’ (John 14:15).
      “Therefore, the fulfillment of the evangelical commandments, or the
      performing of good works, is an essential foundation for the spiritual
      life. One who disregards the fulfillment of the commandments and does
      not perform good works is alien to true spiritual life. However, the
      evil habits and sinful disposition of soul that live in us resist the
      fulfillment of the commandments and the performance of good works. Every
      time we would like to perform some good work we must overcome and
      suppress in ourselves one evil habit or another that protests against
      the good work we would like to accomplish. In this manner a battle
      emerges in the soul between good aspirations and evil habits.
      “Here is what has already long ago been ascertained by experience. The
      greater our good works, and the more often we perform them, the easier
      it becomes to overcome evil habits: they are weakened by the increased
      frequency of our good works and are less able to counteract our good
      will – which, to the contrary, is increasingly strengthened by good
      works. An obvious conclusion can be drawn from this: he who desires
      success in the spiritual life must by all possible means force himself
      to … constantly practice the performance of good works, that is, works
      of love for God and works of love for one's neighbor…
      “Of what specifically does this spiritual training consist? It consists
      of continually forcing oneself to perform good works and to suppress the
      soul's evil habits and aspirations that resist them. This is no easy
      matter, inasmuch as it is accompanied by strenuous efforts and not
      infrequently by a martyric battle that the Holy Fathers and ascetics
      called, not without reason, self-crucifixion, in accordance with the
      words of St. Paul: ‘And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh
      with the affliction and lusts’ (Galatians 5:24). … This eternal duality
      in man came about when his once healthy nature was damaged by sin, which
      introduced disorder and disharmony into it. This constant opposition by
      the law of sin, which lodges in the flesh, makes asceticism necessary.
      The essence of asceticism consists in constantly forcing oneself,
      constantly making oneself to do not that which the sin living in us
      wants to do, but rather that which the law of God, the law of good,
      requires. Without this, it goes without saying, there can be no success
      in the spiritual life …
      “But this is not yet everything … Works alone, as such, are limited.
      Good works do not have power and significance in and of themselves, but
      only as an indication and external expression of a good disposition, a
      good aspiration of the soul a visible affirmation of the presence of
      good will in us. After all, the Pharisee, too, performs good works, but
      they do not flow from a good disposition of soul in him, but from
      hypocrisy; that is, they flow from an evil disposition and,
      consequently, they do not testify to the presence of good aspirations in
      him. … This means that the main thing is not works, but man's inner
      disposition, the good or evil will of his soul and the virtuous or
      depraved condition of his heart, from which good or evil works are born
      naturally. …
      “From this it is evident that the center of gravity in the spiritual
      life is not in works, as such, but in those dispositions of soul and
      that inner state of man from which they result. Therefore, for the true
      ascetic it is far from sufficient only to refrain from evil works and
      only to perform good works: the true ascetic strives to uproot from his
      soul evil dispositions, evil habits, and evil will, and in their place
      to plant and firmly inculcate good dispositions, good habits, and good
      will. … The soul's evil habits do not easily give way to good habits:
      they fight fiercely for their predominance, for their reigning position
      in man's soul. Habits, having taken root through their frequent
      satisfaction, increase in strength, like natural qualities and
      properties of the soul: they are, as it were, innate to the soul. It is
      no wonder that the popular saying goes: ‘habits are a second nature.’
      Depraved habits are like shackles on a man: they deprive him of his
      moral freedom and keep him like a prisoner. The more one satisfies his
      depraved habits, the stronger they grow, making such a person into a
      pitiful, weak-willed slave. … And, to the contrary, when one battles
      against them they weaken more and more until they subside altogether. ‘A
      resolute determination,’ writes our native teacher of asceticism, Bishop
      Ignatius (Brianchaninov), ‘enlightened and strengthened by the grace of
      Christ, can overcome even the most deeply-rooted habits.’ ‘A habit
      initially fiercely resists one who wants to overthrow its yoke, seeming
      invincible at first; but in time, with constant battle against it, and
      with every act of disobedience to it, it grows weaker and weaker’
      (Ibid.). ‘If in the course of battle it should happen to you that, due
      to some unexpected circumstance, you are defeated, do not be troubled,
      do not fall into hopelessness, but begin the battle anew’ (Ibid.) ….
      “The human soul can attain this salvific communion with God only through
      the fulfillment of the commandments of love for God and neighbor. The
      commandments of love for God and neighbor can be fulfilled only through
      the uprooting of the "law of sin" living in us - evil habits and evil
      dispositions of soul - and through the planting in their place of good
      habits and good dispositions of soul. This does not happen without
      fierce battle or struggle. It is precisely this battle or struggle that
      is the essence of asceticism, which makes possible man's success in the
      spiritual life, that is, in drawing near to God and entering into
      communion with God, for which the human spirit longs.”

      From this detailed instruction in the spiritual life given to us by one
      of our great hierarchs of the last generation, we can see that the
      answer to the question “How does one become a saint” is “By ascetic
      labor and spiritual struggle”. We work against the sinful and evil
      habits which grow out of our fallen nature, weakening them by resisting
      them and replacing them with the good works of love for God and
      neighbor. These external works affect our internal condition, producing
      in the soul the good and virtuous condition of love for God by which we
      are united to Him. This is what makes a saint; this is what all the
      saints have done in their lives – and it is what we are all called to do
      in our lives. For God is the lover of mankind and desires that all men
      should be saved, that is that we should all be saints, living in eternal
      union and communion with Him.

      --
      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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