Home Theology and Spirituality Holiness Today: Becoming a Saint in the Modern World | Fr. Theodore

Holiness Today: Becoming a Saint in the Modern World | Fr. Theodore

In this video, Fr. Theodore of Georgia talks about the importance of holiness for every Christian. He explains the teachings of the Holy Gospel, the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer, and what it means to be a temple of God. Learn about the power of unceasing prayer and the ongoing fight against egotism, guiding us toward a life of divine service and sainthood. This inspiring talk offers a deep reflection on our call to holiness in today’s world.

Archpriest Theodore Gignadze is the rector of the Elevation of the Holy Cross Orthodox Church (JC), Tbilisi, Georgia. This sermon was recorded on April 2024 at the Elevation of the Holy Cross Church Complex.

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Fr. Theodore:

Holiness is our obligation. It’s an obligation which we come to understand through the Holy Gospel. And it is through the Holy Gospel that we learn about the will of God, because since God became man, and since He received the human nature and expressed in human language what it is that God wants in relation to us, in this way, the will of God was revealed to us. This doesn’t require much philosophy, we may say, as it is written in black and white. And so, when the apostles (who we may say are the guides of all mankind) ask Him, on behalf of everyone: how should we pray? In other words, what sort of relationship do we need to have with God? The Lord teaches them the prayer – “Our Father”. And one of the most significant parts of this prayer are the words: “hallowed by Thy name”, in other words: “May Your name be holy.”

What do these words mean? Only God is holy. Therefore, when God is holy within me, when my heart, my inner world expresses the willingness and desire for God to be holy within me, I am expressing my agreement to this calling – that I do indeed want to be holy. This is one of the key requirements, one of the key qualities, a divine quality, a quality of God, like humility and freedom, which I need to possess so that I may be called a child of God. To be holy – is an obligation of ours, I repeat, and it is one of the oldest teachings. In the Holy Scriptures, with Apostle Paul, for instance, we see many times that Christians are being referred to as the holy ones. Today, we may say, there are two understandings of the word “holy”. On one hand, holy ones are those who abide in the Kingdom of Heaven, those who have already been saved, those whom we call saints, but at the same time, I repeat, every Christian who has the boldness to call God – Father, every Christian who has the boldness to approach the Most-Holy Mysteries in the Eucharistic Service by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ… If we have this boldness to call God – Father, and if we have the boldness to receive the Most-Holy Body and Blood of Christ and to let the Lord enter our hearts, then this cannot happen without us being holy.

On one hand, a holy person, a saint, is he who is already a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, a person who has already been saved, but on the other hand, a holy person, is also someone walking on the path of salvation, a person who desires to be a child of God, a person who strives to imitate Christ, a person who wants to be in union with Christ through the Mysteries of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, with this being his way of life. When we attend the liturgical service, when the mystery of the consecration of the Holy Things has already taken place, at the end of the Anaphora part of the Eucharistic Service, the consecrated Gifts are raised up by the priest, with the following words: “Holy Things are for the Holy”. The first two words “Holy Things” refer to the Holy Gifts in front of us, but who are these Holy Gifts for? They are for those receiving Holy Communion. And who are those receiving Holy Communion? They are those who are holy. “Holy Things are for the Holy.”

Therefore, indeed, holiness is our obligation. And of course, this raises a question: what do I need to do to become holy? The only way to become holy (there is simply no other way) is for God to abide in me. I was created as a vessel. A human being is a vessel of clay, we may say. If this vessel of clay is devoid of God, then the demonic spirit fills it, because the Lord directly tells us in the Holy Scriptures that the devil regards a human being as his home. And it is very easy for the devil to enter a human being, because man has a fallen nature, and is an heir of the first parents [Adam and Eve], the heart of man is full of pride, egotism, selfishness, anger, envy, lack of love, as well as various animalistic inclinations. And therefore, the devil enters with great ease. And these characteristics that I have just listed are demonic characteristics, demonic qualities, which stem out of pride. These are demonic energies. Where there is a divine energy, there is God, and where there is a demonic energy, there is the devil. Therefore, since the state I’m in is like that of the devil, he enters so easily that I don’t even notice. It doesn’t even cause any discomfort. And therefore, nothing holy remains in me.

Let us look at what apostle Paul says: “In me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.” However, at the same time, we are called to be temples of God, which means that the devil must be cast out of me, and Christ needs to abide there. For this reason, the hesychasts continuously call us to pray unceasingly, based on the words of apostle Paul and the words of the Lord Himself. Unceasing prayer likens the inner world of a person to a hot iron which the flies are unable to get close to, and we’re trying not to give our inner world even a single second to manifest itself in egotism and pride. The devil doesn’t need time. As soon as I allow the evil one to gain a foothold in me, in other words, as soon as I allow my egotism to manifest itself within me, instantaneously, the evil spirit enters. And so, when a person has a state of unceasing prayer within him, the devil doesn’t even get a single second, and in this way, gradually, the cleansing process of a person begins.

How does this happen? It happens because God begins to abide in me, and this is a job and an obligation of every single person. Apostle Paul tells us imperatively: Do not forget that you are temples of God. What is a temple? A temple is no longer just a vessel, which the evil one uses as his home, a temple is an environment, a vessel – where God lives. And because this vessel is a conscious vessel, this conscious vessel, i.e. a human being, begins offering the divine service within oneself, a divine service takes place inside of a person. The Holy Gospel, the Lord Himself, the Book of Revelation, the letters of Apostle Peter, as well as Apostle Paul, all point to this – since every Christian is a temple of God, where God needs to abide, and divine service ought to be continuously taking place, therefore, every Christian is a priest, a priest not by hierarchal rank, but a priest in the spiritual sense, who offers divine service with his nous enclosed in the heart. This is our obligation.

Therefore, when we ask the question: in the modern world, in this day and age, among lay people even, can one be holy? Is holiness even possible in lay people of today? This is an obligation of ours. There is simply no other Christianity. When the Lord tells us to be the Light of the world, who is this message for? It is for us. He calls us. What does it mean to be the Light? It means that Christ lives in you, and if Christ lives within you, then you are holy. How else can it be? Aren’t we here to be saved? How can you be saved if you’re not holy? But this is holiness not in the sense of someone who has already inherited the Kingdom of Heaven, someone who has already achieved salvation, but in the sense of someone who is walking on this path of salvation. This means that one [continuously] resists the evil will within him. He [continuously] fights for Christ to abide in him, and he makes a personal choice, a personal decision: I will follow Christ; and this personal decision (this baptismal vow) that he will follow Christ and depart from the evil one, he devotes his entire life to fulfilling it. He becomes a warrior, with the mindset of a warrior, who has made the decision and in no possible circumstance does he ever back down.

Apostle Paul also tells us that it is not our way to back down or look back. The Lord tells us that one who puts a hand to the plow doesn’t look back. A Christian needs to have this warrior mindset and with his personal decision, sacrificing himself until the very last breath, he needs to bring his goal to its complete fulfillment and realization. This is a martyric struggle and toil. We the Christians bear witness, with our personal decision and the accompanying struggle, that Jesus Christ is God and that it is worthwhile to live, to struggle, to suffer, to walk on the path of Golgotha, and to die – all for the sake of Christ. The state of this kind of person is such that one is on the path of salvation and this path, this way is Christ Himself. “I am the Way” – Christ says. If a realized saint is at the end of this path, and beyond it has already entered eternal life, a beginner Christian is taking the first steps on this same path, but both the end and the beginning are with Christ, because Christ is this entire path.

And indeed, holiness, in this sense, in the sense of being on the path which is Christ, entails replacing the fallen will with the most-holy will of God and this is our personal decision, our baptismal vow and after this, in our Christian life, we are actualizing this baptismal vow. And this is a state which makes us holy and makes us worthy to have the boldness to receive the Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Therefore, holiness, sainthood, is our obligation.

 

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