Holiness in the Orthodox Ecclesia


Petros Theodoros Presbeftes

In the Holy Orthodox Ecclesia, the holiness of the Body of Christ is a prime directive of the Holy Priesthood, and the main property of God's Divine Institution, founded for the salvation of men, is holiness.   Why?  Because, God loves all men and women, and God loves Righteousness, and Holiness.  We, as God's people, are called to holiness, complete holiness.  There is a western hymn which expresses the truths thus given by the foregoing statements.  The hymn speaks of the purpose of the Body of Christ Jesus, namely to cleanse all of us from all our sins.  How is this accomplished?  The hymn tells us:

"There is wonderful power in the Blood of Christ."

So, one may ask: What does the Blood of Christ do for us?  The hymn writer then replies by posing some questions for us: "Would you be free from your burden of sin?  Would you be free from your passion and pride?  Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?  Would you over evil, a victory win? Would you do service for Jesus your King?  Would you live daily His praises to sing?"  Of course, our spirit desires to say "Yes" to each of these questions.  But, by our own efforts, our flesh impedes us from saying "Yes", and, so, we need a power apart from us that can give us the victory and that power is given us when we receive Holy Communion.

What kind of power does the Blood of Jesus give to us?  The hymn writer tells us how the Blood of Christ Jesus has a wonder-working power:

"Come for a cleansing to Calvary's tide.  Sin's stains are lost in its life-giving flow."

So, the hymn writer begins the refrain:  "There is power, power, wonder-working power in the Blood of the Lamb."

Is this hymn truly orthodox in its teaching and in its message for us who are orthodox christians?  Let us inquire.  In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, we hear the following words at one of the most lofty points in the service:

"Take, Eat, This is my Body which is broken for you and for many for the remission of sins."

"Take this Cup, and drink ye all of it, for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins."

An evident truth comes from these words:  The Body and Blood of Christ Jesus causes our sins to go into remission!  In other words, the multitude of our sins becomes less and less until they are no more.  So, both the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus brings us cleansing from all unrighteousness.  Let us now realize this axiomatic truth and internalize it.  From this truth, we may find another truth:  The more we partake of Holy Communion, the more our sins will be abated, will be stopped, will be no more.  We will therefore be dead to sin, ultimately, and attain the property of holiness that God desires each of us to have in imitation of Him.

Conversely, what happens when we take Holy Communion infrequently, perhaps, twice a year, or once a year, or some other infrequent habit? Then, the hymn writer tells us that we cannot receive the victory of cleansing from sin and our bodies will never be fit for God to abide therein in His Holy Temple, which is designed to have God be in you, except sin prevents this beautiful Holy Residence from happening.  I quote to the Canons of our Holy Fathers who have this to say about the practice of taking Holy Communion infrequently:

Canon LXXX of the Sixth Ecumenical Council:  "In case any Bishop, or Priest, or Deacon, or anyone else on the list of the Clergy, or any layman, without any grave necessity or any particular difficulty compelling him to absent himself from his own Ecclesia for a very long time, fails to attend Church on Sundays for three consecutive weeks, while being in the city, if he be of the clergy, let him be deposed from office; but if he be a layman, let him be excommunicated."

The Roman Catholic and Protestant communities that dot our land all around us would use the hymn in question as like opposite ends of a controversy.  While the Romans, like us who are Orthodox, would not give any particular emphasis upon this hymn any more than the rich tapestry of hymns available in our prolific past, the protestants use the hymn as a way of attracting catechumens or learners of the faith to the Life-Saving truths it expresses when we commune with God Almighty and seek to be One with Him.  Of course, the work of the Holy Orthodox Ecclesia (Church) is to attract the unsaved as well as make its members holy.  While it is true that the Blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin, it is equally true that the Body of Christ does likewise cleanse us from all sin.  This is true because it is God's Body and it deifies us (makes us like God as putting on all His Qualities) and nourishes us by its cleansing action.  The hymn, while expressing an axiomatic truth about the Blood of Christ which is meaningful to our faith, lacks a completeness in its teaching, but is adequate to express the Life-Giving Gift that we receive when we go to Holy Communion and partake of the Body and Blood of Christ.  The protestant denominations, in large part, do not adequately understand the proper application of these life-saving words contained in the hymn, although they exclaim brilliantly their ever-lasting truths.

However, only the true Orthodox faithful actually practice what the hymn really points out.  Why?  Well, it's rather simple:  While Orthodox Catholic Christians actually partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, the protestant denominations do not accept the principle that the Holy Spirit must be implored to be sent down upon us and upon these gifts here presented and that He would change the bread into the Very Body of Christ.  Amen.  And then that He would change the wine into the Very Blood of Christ.  Amen.  In this set of petititions, who is "He"?  The "He" mentioned here is the One and Only Genuine Holy Spirit of God Who enables this transformation to take place by His Action.  Amen.  Amen.  Amen.  The Holy Spirit enables what is impossible throughout the entire Ecclesia of Christ: To grant us His saving graces through the mechanism of His Holy Mysteries, which are infinite in number, and which have seven major ones:  Holy Baptism, Holy Chrism, Holy Communion, Holy Confession, Holy Unction, Holy Marriage, and Holy Ordination.  Our job is not to explain these Mysteries, but, instead, our job is merely to believe in their wonder-working power to cleanse us from all unrighteousness and to save each one of us. (The Greek verb for "I Believe" is "Pistevo")  It is our Faith in Christ Jesus that calls us to Holy Illumination, and once illumined, we must keep our light lit for all to see, so that they also may be saved and brought, in turn, into Holy Illumination in Christ Jesus our Lord, Who is the same yesterday, today, and for-ever-more, to the glory of God the Father to Whom is due all  glory, honor, and worship to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and from all ages to all ages.  Amen.