“Holiness is the act and work of the Holy Spirit, but the human effort is indispensable in this process towards holiness.”

Sunday after Pentecost

June 12th, 2020 | By His Eminence, Metropolitan Basilios | Available in Arabic Metropolitan Basilios

On this day, the Sunday following Pentecost, we celebrate the feast of All Saints who shone forth throughout the entire world. The Gospel reading is from Matthew and consists of two passages – Matthew 10: 32-38 and Matthew 19: 27-30.

The Holy Church chose to dedicate the first Sunday after Pentecost to all the saints as commemoration and recognition of the Holy Spirit, who spilled out over the church on the day of Pentecost, and is the maker of the saints. The Holy Spirit is the one who sanctifies believers and gives them holiness. In the Reseructional Anabathmoi of Matins, we chant: “Through the Holy Spirit is every soul quickened and exalted in purity, and made resplendent by the Triune Unity in mystic holiness,” and also “in the Holy Spirit you witness all holiness and wisdom.”

On this feast day, the Church honours all saints, not only those who have been consecrated, or officially had their holiness proclaimed by the church, those whose names are present in the church calendar and their biographies read from the Synaxarion (the life of Saints), but also the unknown ones, as there are many unknown saints to us, but are known before God.

It is said, “No one was born a saint, but everyone is called to holiness.” This is the teaching of the Church and the Holy Bible. In the Old Testament, we read in the book of Leviticus: “For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44).

Holiness is synonymous with perfection, according to Jesus’ words: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Making holiness a goal as a Christian may seem difficult, or perhaps almost impossible. Some believe it a vocation exclusive to those who are in the priesthood or monasteries, but through the experience and the teaching of the Church, the opposite is true, that this vocation is the supreme goal of every Christian person, and that the invitation to achieve perfection is from God to all; it belongs to everyone.

St. Paul the Apostle explains that God has chosen us “in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love,” (Ephesians 1: 4). And in his letter to the Thessalonians he suggests “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13).

As for the Apostle Peter, he exhorts his spiritual children, saying: “As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

In the Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s letters it is clear to us that the word “saints” was used to denote the brothers who believed in the Lord Jesus (Philippians 4: 21-22) and was used before the disciples were called “Christians” in Antioch (Acts 11:26). In the Acts of the Apostle, the Apostle Ananias addresses the Lord in the vision, speaking of Saul (later Apostle Paul) saying: “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13). In the same spirit, the Apostle Paul calls the believers, that is the children of the Churches that he visited with “saints. “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1). See also (Romans 1: 7, 1Cor 1: 2 and 2Cor 1: 1, Ephesians 1:1 and Philippians 1: 1, Colossians: 1: 1 and 1Tess. 5:37 And Hebrews 1: 3).

In today’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus reveals to His disciples how a disciple can seek holiness through several commandments that must be followed.

The first condition: It is the confession of Jesus “before men”. This is a clear and explicit confession of faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Saviour of the world. This confession is not only expressed verbally, but also in deeds. The Apostle Paul says: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved,” (Romans 9:10).

The second condition is love: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Here, the Lord Jesus sets the scale of love. He asks that He be at the height of our priority. He does not exclude family and relatives from this love, as He does not say love me and hate your father or mother (or your son or daughter), but says: “Whoever loves a father or mother (son or daughter) more than me, he does not deserve me.” The Lord Jesus seeks to possess the full love of the disciple.

And the third condition: “He takes his cross and follows me.” Here, He exhorts followers to bear witness even unto martyrdom. That is, the confession of Him and love for Him will lead to a type of martyrdom.

After this, we continue reading the second part of the evangelical passage from chapter 19 of Matthew, which was added to the first part of the evangelical reading because of the close spiritual link between the two. This section is taken from Jesus’ dialogue with the rich young man who asked Him saying: “What should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied to him with: “If you want to be perfect, go and sell your possessions and give the poor.” Peter’s question to the Lord Jesus, “Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” (19:27) comes after seeing the distraught rich young man. The Apostle Peter, as well as some of the other Apostles, was a fisherman, and some may question the relevance of what he meant when he said to the Lord, “we have forsaken all, and followed thee” as his only possessions were a net and a boat?!

St. John Chrysostom says in his interpretation of this passage “although the Apostle Peter was poor and did not possess much, he left all that he possessed. So, this shows that the invitation is addressed to both the rich and the poor and not only to the rich who have much. Even the poor, those who do not have much, are also called to leave even a little, which is everything, and to follow the Lord”.

The Lord had promised His disciples who followed Him to the end and who had seen his crucifixion, glorious Resurrection and the descending of the Holy Spirit, that they would “condemn the twelve tribes of Israel”.

So that no one would think that what was said applied only to the disciples, Christ broadened the promise to include everyone who does likewise. He says, “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” The Lord Jesus promised His disciples and everyone who follow Him also that if they left everything for His name, they would receive in this life a hundredfold, and then he would inherit eternal life.

In this life, the saints have received the hundredfold as being honoured by all faithful, being asked for their intercessions, and building churches in their name. For two millennia, the Holy Church and the faithful honour the holy Apostles and Saints and take their intercessors for them. In this way, the saints have received their reward and honour in this life, and in the other life have received heavenly rewards.

Today, as we honour this “cloud of witnesses” we are called to commemorate the lives of the saints, imitating their examples and realising that the goal of our lives is not only to be righteous with some good attributes, but rather our goal is “deification- Theosis”, that is, to become “Partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 4: 1) and “Partakers of the heavenly calling” (Hebrews 1: 3). Our life and our path are not complete in this earthly life, but rather “our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 3:20). In a conversation with one of his spiritual sons, St. Seraphim Sarov reveals that “the true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit,” that is, holiness.

Holiness is the act and work of the Holy Spirit, but the human effort is indispensable in this process towards holiness. This is what the Holy Fathers call “Synergy” between human effort and divine grace. We have all received the grace of the Holy Spirit on the day of Baptism and the sacred mystery of Chrism, as well as every time we partake in the holy sacraments, but as for human effort, we present it through works of asceticism and love.

“Come, ye believers, let us today stand in rank and celebrate with true worship; let us exalt with glorifications the memorial of all-honored, all-revered saints, shouting, Rejoice, O glorious Apostles, Prophets, Martyrs and Bishops! Rejoice, O company of the righteous and just! Rejoice, O rank of honored women! Supplicate ye Christ to grant the king victory over the Barbarians, and our souls the Great Mercy.” (Doxasticon for all Saints in Tone six). Amen.