I am taking a detour for one post before getting back to the continuation of the article concerning the Orthodox and the Coptic Christians. What follows is a sermon for the Sunday of “All Saints”.
On this Sunday which follows the feast of Pentecost we celebrate and venerate all the saints. This is because sainthood is the result of the grace of the Holy Spirit given on that day and which continues to be given in the Sacraments of the Church. So today we venerate all those who have reached a state of holiness. Sometimes, however, we may run into Christians who misunderstand our veneration of the saints and say that according to the Apostle Paul we are all saints. We are indeed all given grace and we are all called to be saints. When the Apostle Paul in his letters addresses the Christians in the various cities to which he writes he either calls them saints, or sometimes he says they are called to be saints. So let us take a brief look at this.
When he addresses the Christians as those called to be saints he reminds them of the gift that has been deposited within them, that is, the grace of the Holy Spirit, and the responsibility to nurture it. When he calls all the faithful saints he makes a distinction between those who have accepted the Christian faith and have been baptized and those of this world who have not received this grace. In this way he shows reverence for this grace given in Holy Baptism. This grace puts one in another class of people who are no longer “of this world”. (John 8:23)
So today I will talk a little about this one aspect of sainthood and that is to be “not of this world”. I will primarily refer to St. Ignatius Brianchaninov who has a chapter (Chapter 41) in his book “The Arena” on the meaning of the term “the world”.
St. Ignatius begins:
The word world has two special meanings in Holy Scripture. (1) It signifies all mankind in the following and similar passages of Scripture: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:16-7) (“ The Arena” p. 166)
And concerning the second meaning he states:
(2) By the term world is meant those people who lead a sinful life opposed to the will of God, who live for time and not for eternity. Thus we must understand the word world in the following and similar passages: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (John 15:18-9) (p. 166)
St. Ignatius goes on to quote St. Theophylact of Bulgaria who thus defines world:
It is usual for Scripture to call the world the life of sinful people of carnal outlook living in it. That is why Christ said to His disciples: “Ye are not of the world”. They formed a part of the people living in the world, but as they did not live in sin, they did not belong to the world. (pp. 166-7)
In moving on, this now leads us to St. John the Theologian, who introduces us to yet another facet of the meaning of the term world. He writes: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” (I John 2:15-7)
For a more detailed explanation let us turn to St. Isaac of Syria as he is quoted by St. Ignatius in the same chapter I have already mentioned:
The world is the general term for all the passions. If a man has not first learned what the world is, he cannot understand by how many members he is detached from it and by how many he is tied to it. There are many who think themselves free from the world in their life because in two or three respects they refrain from it and have renounced contact with it. This is because they have not understood or perceived with discernment that they are dead to the world only in one or two members, while the rest of their members are living within the carnal mind and belong to the world. Therefore they are not even aware of their passions; and since they are not aware of them, they are not anxious to be cured of them. According to the research in spiritual science, the term world is used as a common name that embraces separate passions. When we wish to call the passions by a common name, we call them the world. But when we want to distinguish them by their separate names, we call them passions. Each passion is particular activity of the “elemental spirits of the world.” (Col. 2:8) Where the passions have ceased to act, there the elemental spirits of the world are inactive. The passions are the following: love of riches, desire for possessions, bodily pleasure from which comes sexual passion, love of honor which gives rise to envy, lust for power, arrogance and pride of position, the craving to adorn oneself with luxurious clothes and vain ornaments, the itch for human glory which is the source of rancor and resentment, and physical fear. Where these passions cease to be active, there the world is dead. In so far as some of these passions are forsaken, just so far does the ascetic live outside the world which to that extent is destroyed through being deprived of its parts. Someone has said of the saints that while alive they were dead; for though living in the flesh, they did not life for the flesh. See for which of these passions you are alive. Then you will know how far you are alive to the world, and how far you are dead to it. When you understand what the world is, then you will understand these distinctions, and how far you are tied to the world, and how far you are detached from it. In brief, the world is the carnal life and the carnal mind. (pp. 169-170)
The saints are those who have been victorious over the world as it has just been described. They overcame the world and shone with the grace of the Holy Spirit—this is our Orthodox understanding of who the saints are. So let me repeat that very first sentence with which I began: On this Sunday which follows the feast of Pentecost we celebrate and venerate all the saints. Through their prayers may our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon us. Amen.