St. Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA hosts the 52nd Antiochian Archdiocese Convention in Boston July 19 - 26, 2015. Ancient Faith Radio, in partnership with the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese and with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, is happy to bring you recordings of the convention to help keep you informed about this important meeting of the Church.
Introduction: Your Beatitude, our father in Christ; Your Eminences; and Your Graces; Fathers; Board of Trustees; and all the organizations: what a joy and a blessing together again, in unison, to do his will on earth as it is in heaven! God has blessed us with this unity and with all the blessings in this Archdiocese. We begin our day with God’s mercy and grace, to have a wonderful, fruitful, and productive day. We are called today to do everything in order, in organization, and with love. And the first thing we do today, with a teaching by His Beatitude, our father in Christ, so he’s teaching today about the Christian life and holiness, because this is the year of St. Raphael, so I asked the patriarch, a long time ago to give us teaching on the Christian life in general and on holiness in particular. So let us with joy and with anticipation and with love and with a lot of respect, stand up and welcome His Beatitude, our father in Christ, Patriarch John, to receive his blessing. [Applause]
His Beatitude, John X, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East: My dear in Christ, good morning! [Good morning!] I hope that all of you are well. At the request of Sayidna Joseph, I will speak, I will give you some remarks, let me say, about the Christian life this morning. This is spiritual discussing.
His Beatitude John’s translator: [translating His Beatitude’s Arabic:] St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nyssa, in his book he gave an answer to the word, what it means to be a Christian. In one of the incidents, they used to entertain the crowd; they used to bring a monkey and dress him like a human being and do some acrobatics so that he may entertain the crowd. One of those who was in the crowd did not know that this was a real monkey—[corrected translation:] he knewthat he was a monkey. So he brought some nuts with him, and he showed them to the monkey. Upon seeing those walnuts, he ripped his clothes and came rushing to get the nuts. So St. Gregory says that Christianity is unlike this incident, that Christianity is not an outer appearance, the way the monkey appears to be a human being. For Christianity is not just the paint or the outer appearance, but it is what it is from within the being of that person.
So this incident gives us the understanding of what it means when we say that “I am Christian” and what Christianity means to me. This topic is not confined to a limited number of people, but to all human beings, and everywhere. It applies to all those who live in the United States or in Syria and Lebanon, in Europe, or in every region of the world, especially those who claim to say that they are Christians. And it applies on all ages, men and women, young and old. It applies on everyone: laity and clergy, men and women, bishops, patriarchs, priests, laity, and everybody who says that “I am a Christian.”
And I want to focus today on one aspect of this topic, and that is how we can acquire our journey into holiness. We are reminded in the Scriptures, in the words of our Lord, who tells us: “Be holy, as your Father is holy.” And when we recite the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Our Father, who art in heaven”; it means that we are the children who are patterned after our Father who is in heaven. And when we talk about life in Christ, about holiness, let me emphasize only on one aspect of this life, as revealed in the life of Christ, and that basically means that you, human being, is called to be a master and not a servant: to be a master on your own life, your being, and what you do, and not to be a slave [to] your passions and desires that may control you from within.
Remember your day of baptism. The priest who is officiating, at a certain time of the holy baptism, asks the godparent or the child to be baptized to turn towards the west. And the priest asked the question to the one who is baptized, or his or her sponsor, “Do you renounce Satan, all his works, all his works—all his works and deeds? Do you renounce the devil? Do you deny and renounce all his works and deeds and actions?” We turn to the west because the west represents… it’s a symbol of the sunset, which is darkness, and that is the symbol of the work and the craftiness of the evil one. And the first proclamation that the person who wants to join the membership of the life in Christ responds to that question, the first proclamation he makes is, “Yes, I renounce the devil, his works, and all his deeds.”
In the English translation of the Lord’s Prayer, we conclude that prayer by saying, “...and deliver us from evil.”
His Beatitude John: [corrected translation:] From evil one, not from “evil.” [Applause] It’s a very, very big difference. Very big difference from “evil” in general, “evil,” but this: “evil one.” What is the same word in Greek, in the New Testament? Ponēros. Ponēros: evil one.
His Beatitude John’s translator: So the first confession is to deny the devil and all his works, which means sin and all the consequences of sin. Then the priest directs the one who is baptized to the east, and the question that is asked is: “Do you accept Christ?” Directing towards the east is another symbol which means that Christ is the light of the world and the sun of the world, and that is the symbol of the east, turning towards the east. And an answer to that question, whether he accepts Christ, the answer would be, “Yes, I do.” So first he denies the darkness, the devil, sin, and all its works, and, directing towards the east, towards Christ, and affirms his acceptance of Christ, and in answer to that he says, “I believe he is my king and my God!” And so he begins or she begins to be belonging to Christ.
So I want again to emphasize what I started originally, to say that you are a master and not a servant. A master in the image and likeness of God. But when you are a slave, then you lose that identity. And in sin, we have been alienated from that image and likeness that God has instilled in us. And so the sacrament of the holy baptism is described as the sacrament of the second birth: the second birth in spirit, the second birth in Christ Jesus. Before baptism, we are under the influence of sin, and through Christ, after baptism we become liberated from the state of sin and become free in Christ. So in Christ, after baptism, you grow in him, and you reach to the measure and the height of Christ.
Sometimes we talk about the situation within spiritual life concerning passions, like anger, passions, desires, selfishness, love of self, and many other vices. These passions control the human person. So passions can take control over the human person and could guide him and direct him away from God. And so, in baptism we become liberated in Jesus Christ. We become free from being directed and controlled by the state of sin and separation from God. So you move from the state of sinfulness and alienation to being in Christ and with him. So this new life is available and offered for all those who go through the baptismal font, whether they are single or unmarried or married people, whether clergy or laity, or monks or nuns in their monastic cells. In this regard, this commandment is available and offered for all human beings, without any separation or discrimination.
St. Paisios of Mt. Athos, who was consecrated as a saint recently, says in one of his sermons; he says that there are those who are married who live a spiritual life that is high and lofty and are consecrated, and that there [are] also those who are married but continue to look for God and are attracted to that desire to be with God in such a way that they move further and further into their spirituality, forming one pious family that are blessed by all the virtues in them, these virtues that will bless their children, that will make them acceptable by God, and will receive ultimately a great reward. So St. Paisios is trying to say that all those who go through the baptismal font are given that opportunity to share in this new life.
In his epistle, St. Paul reminds us and he says to the people, his audience, he says, “Whatever you eat, whatever you drink, you do everything that you do in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I’m saying this because sometimes we get into the understanding of this as though there is some sort of a dualism between spiritual life and our social life and activities. Some people think that in order to live the Christian life and to apply the message of the Gospel, they think that this applies only on religious items such as divorce and fasting and prayers, and other things that are connected with the practice of the holy Church. But when it comes to my own special recreation and activities, the tendency is to think that this is something separate from what I do in the Church, and it is my own individual interests, and that is totally untrue.
In the petitions that we recite in the Church, when we say, “Let us pray to the Lord. [Again and again, let us pray to the Lord,]” we conclude that by saying, “Let us commend ourselves and each other unto Christ our God—our entire life.” My mind belongs to Christ, my heart belongs to Christ, my body belongs to him, my feelings—everything I do, I do it in the name of Christ.
And that is Jesus Christ reminds his disciples, “You are in the world, but you are not out of the world.” We are in this world; we do exactly like any other people do in terms of eating and drinking and other activities, but this is the Christ that you have accepted, and renounced the devil. You are called to bring him into your life and make that change that you seek, so as Christians we are like all other people on the face of the earth. We have eyes, we have ears, we have hands, and do anything that others do. However, when we are reminded again in the words of the Apostle, that if we eat or if we drink—and His Beatitude adds more by saying even if we get married or do anything—let us do it in the name of Christ.
So we become masters of our own life. We become aware and conscious of our own inner being, and, as St. Paul says, everything is convenient and available for me, but not everything is convenient [1 Corinthians 10:23].
I met with the young people yesterday, and I gave them this story, this parable. A young man rushed from a room, and as he left he turned by using the shirt or sweater, but he used it inside-out. His friend saw him. He thought that this was a new custom, and he wanted to do likewise. So you are a master and not a servant. [Applause] Instead of doing what others do, let others do what you are doing. [Applause]
This is Christianity. This is the life of holiness, that you know what is real and what is unreal, but you follow and live the life of Christ. Life in Christ is joy; it is not morbid or pain or any kind of suffering. During fasting, you give up some of the foods by denying that to your own self, so when you do that in the name of Christ, it becomes a source of joy. In his epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes that everything that we do, all institutions and everything that we have, the very purpose of all that is that everything is to be for reconstruction and building.
His Beatitude John: Building and reconstruction for the entire world.
His Beatitude John’s translator: Building and reconstruction for the entire being, the building of the inner person, that you who are being re-generated on the day of your baptism, you grow in that life in Christ so you can reach into adulthood from being a child. And that is done first by the self-knowledge, knowing ourselves from within; reading the Scriptures, the words of God; the reading of the writings of the holy Fathers; practicing prayers; and Eucharist, confession, and the acquisition of virtues, such as love, humility, and the ministry and service.
The Fathers of the Church, they describe this life in Christ [in] three stages. The first stage is described as the state of being slave, that your relationship with God is that of a servant, that is done out of fear because you are simply a slave and he is the Lord. So if the servant does not fulfill what his master says, he could be liable to be punished, and the human person in that kind of spiritual relationship can see that kind of level concerning the relation between the slave and the master.
The second stage is the stage of being a hired servant, a person who may be hired to do any kind of thing that is asked of him to do based on some monetary gift that they receive. And sometimes we even go through that spiritual situation. For instance, to give an example, it’s like students at the time of taking an exam. They light a candle or pray, asking God to help them so that they can make it and pass. Another example could be somebody who was looking for a certain job or a certain thing to do; he would turn to God and pray, asking him to help him and support him so that he may be successful, and in turn he will just come and do some of his obligations towards God. So [whereas] the servant is doing his master’s command because of fear from being punished, but the hired person may do that because he or she has in mind what the reward [is] that he or she will receive. So always we are looking to be members in heaven and not in hell.
The third stage, from the state of servant to a hired, now to a son. I fulfill the commandments of the master, not out of fear and not for a reward like a hired one, so the reason I do what I do is because I am a child and he is God, and I fulfill what God wants me to do. And that is the reason we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father,” because we are his children and he is our God. And so, in baptism, we are re-born in Christ. In baptism, we become Christ-like, and consequently, we have to grow in that life in Christ. From this relationship, we move from the state of fear or servitude to being children of God, and we continue to live in that newness of life. This is the life in Christ Jesus, and this is the life of holiness, and the saints in the Church are those who are liberated from the bondage and the control of the evil one and became, by grace, real children of God. We have to emulate them, and this is the life of holiness that we should pursue while we are on the face of the earth.
I want to conclude my speech. I wanted to share with you about this life in Christ and the life that is offered for us in Christ. The icon that is portrayed for the image of a monk, that is described in the following way. The monk is placed on the cross like his master, crucified, and on the bottom side of that cross, there are the devils with arrows that are pointing at that monk, and on every arrow there is a written word, expression, words that are written on these arrows such as “anger,” “passion,” “hatred,” and “grudges,” and other vices. And upon the cross there is the angel who holds a crown to be placed on the head of the monk, and he gives that crown on top of the head of that monk, because in the middle, on his chest, there is the words from Psalm 50 that says, “A clean heart create in me, O Lord.”
This is the image of a true Christian, that you crucify yourself with the One who was crucified with you. [Applause] And you put to death all such passions—anger, grudges, and other vices—that would attempt to take you down from the cross. But you take the initiative to say that you want to last and preserve your life, for those who persevere will be saved at the end. When you remain on the cross and your symbol is “Create, O Lord, a clean heart,” and remember the words of our Lord, “Blessed are those who are pure in heart, for they shall see God,” and so in the midst of the cross, you receive the crown of your… the crown that comes from God.
May the Lord give us the courage and the power to live this life in Christ, and always witness to the One who was crucified for our sins, for our own salvation, and he is the One who destroyed death by his death.
And I conclude with this following story. From the readings of the monks we read the following. We always enjoy being given praises, and we appreciate and salute others whenever there is an occasion to do that, and if we don’t tell them, “Thank you,” they might be upset. And sometimes it is the impression that is given that when we say, “Thank you,” to them, the others would think that we are showing our respect and appreciation for them.
The Fathers of the Church teach us differently. One time, a person came to a monk and says, “Please, give me an advice concerning the salvation of my soul.” Near that cell, there was a cemetery, a burial place. He told him, “Go to that burial place and give praises to those who are buried, and see what they will respond to you, what they will say to you. And then start to be critical of them and say some hard words against them, and then, at the same time, listen to what they will respond. And come and tell me.” He went and came back, and [the monk] asked him what happened. He said, “I gave them praises and loads of praises, but nobody answered. And I even criticized them and said harsh words against them, but they never responded.” And his answer was: “And you do likewise.” [Laughter and applause]