Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou
‘We went through the fire and water; but Thou broughtest us out into a place of refreshment.’
Pentecost completes the cycle of the great feasts of the Dispensation of the Lord. The Holy Spirit came to seal the salvation of mankind wrought by the Lord Jesus. On this day, the Sunday of All Saints, the Church teaches us that the Saints are the fruit of the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost, the Heavenly Father shed the gifts of the Holy Spirit like rain. Wherever these gifts found good earth, they bore the fruit of holy life. Thus, Pentecost is not just the birthday of the Church, but also of all her Saints. The Saints are the fruit of the Spirit of holiness, the foremost light-bearing children of the Church, whose work it is to produce images and likenesses of Christ. For the Church of the Old Testament this work was impossible. It adhered to the letter of the law, unable to conceive within its bowels the Spirit which ‘bloweth where it listeth’. Thus it failed to bring forth the fruit of holiness and was discountenanced by the Lord.
‘The judgement of God must begin at the house of God.’ ‘The house of God’ is Christ above all. The ‘judgement of God’ means the judgement that annuls death and reveals divine love ‘unto the end’. This judgement is made manifest in the unjust death of the Lord Jesus for the sake of the world’s salvation.
Each man who follows the Lord Jesus is the ‘House of God’ and thus the judgement of God has to be repeated in his life. Holy Scripture bears witness that this judgement acts throughout history and perpetuates the grace of salvation for every generation because our God, is the God of our Fathers. The Lord has formed Fathers and children, and the children in their turn become Fathers. Christ is ‘the Father of the age to come’, He is the Author of a new humanity, regenerated through the grace of the Holy Spirit, without any preceding sin. Through His death and Resurrection, Christ gave the grace of rebirth to those who participate in His paternity. ‘But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’
God does not command a natural life, but a life beyond nature. Desiring to give His chosen equal honour with Christ, he subjects them to the chastening unto which He also delivered His Only-begotten and beloved Son. The Lord often leads His chosen to the threshold of death, so as to slay every desire within them, not only their passions, but even the desire for life in this world. Only then is the miracle of spiritual rebirth made possible.
As we can discern in the lives of the Saints, the chastening of the Lord is oftentimes harrowing. ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God’. God allows afflictions, sufferings and trials to come upon His faithful servants, so that the souls of the Saints, already in this life, may abide in the depths of hell. However, within this immense darkness, they encounter the Lord Jesus, Who, in His descent to hell and His ascent above the heavens has ‘filled all things with Himself’. Thus, His faithful servants can unite with Him no matter what the conditions, a fact which abolishes all impasses and gives a new perspective to suffering and tragedy. ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.’
The grace of meeting the Lord leaves ineffaceable marks upon us. Henceforth, the soul lives in the assurance that nothing can separate her from the love of Christ, neither ‘tribulation, or distress, or persecution… nor death nor life …nor any other creature.’ Returning to everyday life, man is dead to every attraction and temptation of the world, because he has known something indescribably greater, indescribably more glorious.
When the Saints passed through periods of trial and chastening so as to enter into the glorious place of God’s presence, they learnt many mysteries of the spiritual life. Perhaps the greatest mystery is that which Saint Silouan referred to as the ‘Great Science’. This science teaches man how to humble his spirit, so as to remain out of reach of the enemy’s attacks and free his heart to love God.
The Saints, the images of Christ, follow the ‘Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’, Who hastens to suffer for man’s salvation. The perspective of the Gospel inverts every aspect of the established order: ‘That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.’ Whosoever embraces the inverted perspective of the Gospel, inevitably crucifies his mind and reason. This crucifixion attracts grace, which works self-hatred in the soul for the ‘abomination of desolation’ hidden within her bosom. This energy, vehement by nature, cuts man from everything created and joins him to the Person of Christ, so that he attains to perfect likeness unto Him.
Following the footsteps of Christ, the Saints of all ages, the Apostles, the martyrs, and the ascetics tasted a voluntary death according to the commandments of God, so as to overcome in their corruptible flesh the involuntary death to which mankind is condemned due to preceding sin. Through perfect obedience and surrendering to the holy will of God, they put to death every trace of self-love. They continually experienced the passage from death to life, and lived only for their Redeemer and Saviour Jesus.
The life of the Saints was crowned with martyrdom either external or internal, that is, ‘in secret’. The ascetics poured out tears striving unto blood to cleanse their heart from the passions, to render it comely and give all its space to God to ‘walk and dwell therein’. Throughout their lives they were as those appointed to death, battling against the spirit of pride, because experience taught them the inviolable truth of the revelation of the Lord, that ‘He resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’. They knew that when they humbled their spirit and set themselves below every creature, they received grace, which works the great miracle of the passage from darkness to light and preserves the unbreakable union of man’s heart with the Spirit of God.
Salvation is nothing other than man’s entrance into the communion of the Saints. Certainly, very few from each generation inherit the grace of the Saints, but when man receives their word with trust and follows it faithfully, even if he has not comprehended its depth, he receives a portion of grace, which becomes the key to entering into their sublime assembly. In this way the poor and humble are enriched by the glorious and entirely sanctified members of this communion. Participation in the Mysteries of the Church, and above all in the Divine Liturgy, opens the gate of Paradise, where the faithful enjoy divine bliss in communion with God, the Angels and the Saints and treasure up the grace of salvation.
‘Many are your names and greater are your gifts.’ Despite the general degeneration of the latter days, the Church has not yet lost its ability to produce images of Christ. This is a perceptible grace that cannot be found in any other confession. Even if these ‘images of Christ’ may not work miracles in a manifest way, they work the greatest miracle day by day in their lives, according to Saint Silouan: ‘They love the sinner in his fall.’ Wrought by the grace of the Church, this fact alone disperses every doubt and disbelief which would impede man from surrendering with trust to all the teachings of Christ and His Saints. ‘God is wonderful in His Saints.’
The Saints in this world are ‘a sweet spiritual fragrance’. They are the brightest stars in the noetic firmament of the Church who attest to ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever’ and ‘with us alway, even unto the end of the world’. They give a pattern and an example. Through their voluntary death they prove themselves conquerors of involuntary death. Just as the Jews before their exodus from slavery to the Egyptians ate the Passover ‘in haste’, thus also the saved walk upon the earth and live in this world hastening towards the unshakeable and eternal. Their converse is with heaven; they steadfastly direct the eyes of their soul there, whence they will receive their Saviour and Redeemer. Sometimes they cast a glance to the earth, only to discern the misery and poverty of this transient life, and then they turn with greater longing to the plenitude of Heaven, the only thing that can fill the chasms within the heart. This was already the culture of the Saints during the first Christian centuries, when they all shared the recognition that they were strangers and sojourners in this world. As they had lived the passage ‘from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God’, they knew God not only as Judge and avenger, but as a Father ‘the closest and dearest of fathers’.
‘The soul that has come to know God through the Holy Spirit strains up to Him; the memory of God powerfully raptures her mind, and the world is forgotten. And when the soul remembers the world, her ardent desire is for all men to receive the same grace, and she prays for the whole world. The Holy Spirit Himself moves her to pray that all men may repent and know God, how merciful He is.’
. Ps. 65:12.
. John 3:8.
. Cf. Matt. 21:18-19; Mark 11:12-4 and 20-21.
. 1 Pet. 4:17.
. See Heb. 3:6.
. Cf. Isa. 8:18.
. John 1:12-13.
. Cf. John 3:3.
. Heb. 10:31.
. Cf. Eph. 4:10; Anaphora, Liturgy of Saint Basil.
. Ps. 22:4.
. See Rom. 8:35-39.
. See Rev. 13:8.
. Luke 16:15.
. See Levit. 26:12; 2 Cor. 6:16.
. See Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6.
. See Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), Saint Silouan the Athonite, trans. Rosemary Edmonds, (Tolleshunt Knights, Essex: Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, 1991), p. 346.
. Ps. 67:36.
. Heb. 13:8.
. Matt. 28:20.
. Rom. 8:21.
. Saint Silouan, p. 372.
 See Saint Silouan, p. 331.