Integrity

It isn’t very often that we hear the word “integrity” in the religious language of our Greek Orthodox Church. Yet, if we scratch the surface, we will discover profound meanings that speak directly to the way we are to be and to live our Orthodox Christian life.

We can start with its dictionary meanings. My Greek-English dictionary uses two words to provide the equivalent of the English word “integrity.” And both of them are highly instructive.

In the classical Greek language, the first word is  “akeraios” ( “ah-KEH-reh-ohs”). It was used by ancient Greek writers to express meanings such as “pure,” “unmixed,” “uncontaminated,” “guileless,” “incorruptible,” “without reservation.” Church Fathers used the word to mean, in addition, “soundness,” “simplicity,” and “innocence.”

The second Greek word for integrity is “olokleros” (“oh-LOW-klee-rohs”), pointing in classical Greek to “wholeness,” or “completeness.” Among the Church Fathers, the word came to mean “whole,” “healthy,” and “perfect.”

In the New Testament, “akeraios” is used three times. Jesus says, “be . . . innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). To the Roman Christians St. Paul writes, “I would have you wise as to what is good and guileless as to what is evil” (Romans 16:19). He instructs the Christians of the Greek city of Philippi to be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”

Also, in the New Testament “olokleros” is used two times. Again, St. Paul writing to the Christian believers in Thessalonike, prays, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonias 5:23). The Apostle James (Iakovos) exhorts his readers, “Let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4).

Integrity is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). There, Jesus affirms the Old Testament virtues in the Ten Commandments –but insists that the mere external appearance of following them is not good enough. He is concerned that the inner person, with his or her dispositions, motives, and intents be in harmony with the external moral requirements. He is calling us to spiritual and moral integrity. Thus, as James says, “let your yes be yes and your no be no” (James 5:12),

In the wake of the 1990’s business climate of “greed is good” that led corporate executives to trade integrity for deceit, dishonesty, and self-serving greed, the message is clear. Integrity of character is an essential aspect of human being and living. The business man –and everyone, no matter what his or her occupation- is called to be a person of integrity.

In mathematics, an integer is a whole and complete number. In Christian theology, “salvation” means “wholeness” of our human nature, fulfilling our purpose to be the image and likeness of God. Spiritually, morally, and as individual persons in community, moral and spiritual integrity is essential for being fully and truly human – that is, God-like.

 

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The Rev. Stanley S. Harakas is a priest of the…
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