March 22, 2014

Five Spiritual Exercises to Achieve Holiness

By His Eminence Metropolitan Jeremiah
of Gortynos and Megalopolis

1. All baptized Orthodox Christians are, my beloved, one sacred and holy family, called the Church. The Church is ONE and not many. And this One Church is the Orthodox. The Church is a sacred body, that has as its head Jesus Christ. And because the head, our Christ, is holy, us Christians, the members of the Church, must strive to become saints.

The means and method to achieve our holiness is given by the Church.

The purpose of the Church, my brethren, is not simply to make "good" people, like the students of Plato and Aristotle, but the purpose of the Church is to make people holy and God-bearing. The Church is not a good philanthropic institution or a cultural club, but it is a divine foundation, that has our God living and abiding within it, namely the Holy Trinity, our Lady the Panagia, the angels and all the saints and all baptized Christians. Since then as baptized Christians we belong to this Church, we must and we are required to tread the path towards holiness, to struggle to become saints. In my sermon today I will tell you the means available to the Church to achieve our sanctification.

First of all, the Church has Her sacred Mysteries by which She gives us the Grace of God, because without the Grace of God we cannot achieve anything. But the Church also teaches us the divine-human means, the virtues, by which we can conquer our sinful passions and achieve our sanctification. In regards to these virtues and spiritual exercises I will speak with you today in a few words, my Christian brethren.

2. (a) The first exercise and virtue is faith. To have faith means to surrender wholeheartedly to our beloved Jesus Christ and to be ready to do anything for His love. "Faith" means to completely trust in our God. Let us often say our prayer: "My Christ, establish me in my faith and in my love for You. Whatever happens in my life, may I never depart from You and never deny You!"

(b) The second exercise and divine-human virtue is prayer and fasting. These virtues must become a method of life, a way of life for Orthodox Christians. These two means, prayer and fasting, are necessary for our sanctification, given by our Lord Jesus Christ, and this is why I call these virtues "divine-human". Prayer and fasting, my brethren, bring the Grace of God to the soul and they stimulate her and innervate her to be strong so she can fight against the devil.

(c) Another divine-human virtue, that we must have by all means, is love. Love, my brethren, should not have limits. Love does not ask who is a good person and who is not, who loves me and who hates me. The good Christian loves everyone: they love friends and enemies, they love sinners and criminals, without however loving their sins and crimes. Such love is a gift of God, and this is why we must ask for it from God in our prayers. Let us say in our prayers: "Lord Jesus Christ, God of love, give me Your love, that I may give it to everyone!"

(d) The fourth virtue is meekness and humility. Only the meek in heart can soothe the savage and rebellious hearts. Only the humble in heart can humble the proud and arrogant souls. My Christians! In order to become meek and humble in heart we must put in it the only true "meek and humble in heart" (Matt. 11:29), that is, our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Christ humbled Himself, in the ultimate humiliation, so that He was crucified for us.

(e) And the other virtue, divine-human virtue, because it was given by our Christ, is the virtue of patience. in other words, to endure evil, to endure the slander and woundings of others, and to not want to repay evil for evil. Let us know, my brethren, that the world, the sinful world, cannot suffer the people of God, just like it did not suffer our Christ. Martyrdom accompanies the true Christian. But the Christian must endure the martyrdom of the ridicule of the world and not be angry.

3. These virtues and spiritual exercises that I told you about, my brethren, were given to us by Saint Paraskevi, by Saint Anthony, by Saint Gregory Palamas, by Saint Gregory V our Patriarch from Dimitsana, and all the saints. We should also apply these, that we may be sanctified. The method of exercising these virtues is only taught correctly within the Orthodox Church, and this is why only the Orthodox Church can sanctify someone. Outside of Her, holiness does not exist.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.