Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once yielded up your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6: 19-23
Good morning Prayer Team!
For You are our sanctification and to You we give glory, to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
There is a service in the Orthodox Church called the “Agiasmos”, or the “Blessing of the Waters.” This service is done on the Feast of Epiphany (January 6) and at the “beginning” of events, like Sunday school classes, or summer camp. The basic building block of the human body is water. Most of our planet is covered with water. And so we bless water and sprinkle it on ourselves and on our spaces (summer camp, Sunday school classes, and at Epiphany, over the whole world) as a way to “sanctify”, or “set apart” ourselves and our spaces, dedicating them to God.
For example, at the beginning of summer camp, we do a blessing of the waters service, and we bless the campers, the cabins, the lake, and all the spaces at the camp, claiming (or reclaiming) them for God. This service is done at the beginning of each session of camp, blessing a new group of campers and blessing again the camp space. To be holy is to be “set apart” from worldly things in order to focus on Godly things. Sanctification, then, is the part of the process of getting towards holiness. Sanctification is the declaration that we wish to be holy.
So, as we near the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, as we are about to step back into the world, the service reinforces concepts for us on the way out the door and one of them is the concept of sanctification. In the Liturgy, we have consecrated the Gifts and have received them, re-sanctifying ourselves in the process. Just like how we sanctify the summer camp each week, blessing the same place and asking God to descend on it, we are being sanctified in the receiving of Holy Communion at each Liturgy, which for many of us is each week. This isn’t just a weekly ritual, or some kind of superstition—i.e. we have to start the week (or the camp) off with some ritual just to make it through. This is a statement of repurposing ourselves each week as children of God, committed to loving Him and one another.
Saint Paul reminds us in Romans 6: 19-23, that where we once yielded ourselves to impurity and iniquity, we should now yield to righteousness in order to be sanctified. Because the end point of a life of iniquity and impurity is death. But the end point of a life of sanctification is eternal life.
Eternal life is the end point. Sanctification is part of the means to that end. The Divine Liturgy reminds us of both the end and the means. It reminds us of the end and gives us the means, sanctification through the Holy Eucharist.
This exclamation of the Liturgy emphasizes “For YOU (God) are our sanctification.” Meaning that YOU, the Lord, are the means to our end, as well as our end itself.
It is important for us as Christians to evaluate both our end and our means to it. It is important for us to reflect on our purpose. If we understand our purpose and our goal to be everlasting life, then we will set up our lives to reflect this purpose. And if this is not our purpose, what is our purpose?
If we set up our lives to reflect everlasting life as our purpose, then what is our means to achieve that purpose? For if sanctification is not the means, then what other means will get us to that end? And if sanctification is our means, WHO is it that is sanctifying us? For ____ are our sanctification. If you are not filling that blank with “the Lord”, what are you filling it with? And if you are filling that blank with “the Lord,” then how does your daily life reflect that.
Yes, there is a lot of meaning in these last lines of the Liturgy. This line reminds us of our purpose, our end, as well as the means to get there. The purpose of our lives is the entrance into everlasting life. And a means to that end is sanctification that comes through the Holy Eucharist which is offered at the Divine Liturgy.
The Divine Liturgy is not the sole means to everlasting life, but is done in concert with prayer, scripture reading, evangelism, and charity. But the Divine Liturgy is a weekly (and even more frequent) opportunity for re-sanctification. And just like we wouldn’t begin a week of summer camp without sanctifying ourselves and our space, we should begin each week by re-sanctifying ourselves through the Divine Liturgy and the receiving of the Holy Eucharist.
In I Peter I: 14-16, we read, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” The Divine Liturgy reminds us that our life pursuit is holiness. The Divine Liturgy is also a means by which we become holy.
O Christ, our God, accept from those who call upon You with all their heart this spiritual sacrifice without the shedding of blood as a sacrifice of praise and true worship. You are the Lamb and Son of God who bears the sins of the world; the blameless calf who does not accept the yoke of sin and who freely sacrificed Yourself for us. You are broken but not divided. You are consumed but never spent. You sanctify those who partake of you. In remembrance of Your voluntary passion and life-giving resurrection on the third day, You have made us partakers of Your ineffable and heavenly and awesome mysteries of Your holy Body and precious Blood. Preserve us, Your servants, those who minister, our leaders, the armed forces, and the people present here, in Your holiness. Grant that we may meditate upon Your righteousness at all times and in every season. Guide us and our actions so that we may do what is pleasing to You, and may You find us worthy to stand at Your right hand when You return to judge the living and the dead. Deliver our brothers and sisters who are in captivity, visit those who are sick, protect those who are in danger at sea, and give rest to the souls of all those who have fallen asleep in the hope of the eternal life where the light of Your face shines. Hear the petitions of all those who beseech You for Your help. For You are the giver of all good things, and to You we give glory, together with Your eternal Father and Your all holy, good, and life giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. (From The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, prayer of the Ambon, offered on January 1)
Always remember your purpose—holiness—and your means to that purpose—sanctification.
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