Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

The First Sunday After Pentecost: On Sanctity

Posted in Sermons by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 3 June 2010

Today, on the first Sunday after Pentecost, the Holy Church celebrates the memory of all saints.  Just as Pentecost is not the pouring out of the Holy Spirit two millennia ago on the Apostles only, but on the whole Church—that is to say, on us—now as then; in the same way the Feast of All Saints is not a memorial or a tombstone on the graves of some ancients, but a call to sanctity for us here and now.  And if anyone is dead to this call, if anyone is a stranger to sanctity and considers it to be for someone else, in some other place, and at some other time, he must ask himself whether or not he is in the Church, the living and holy Body of Christ, or whether he is a tree that does not bring forth good fruit (see Matt. 3:10).  But what is sanctity?  And what does it mean to partake of it?

The word “saint” (from the Latin sanctus) and its equivalent “holy” (from the Old English hālig), much like the Greek ἅγιος and ἱερός and the Hebrew kedushah, have several closely related meanings.  One of the primary meanings is “being separated or set aside for God.”  Thus, anything that is sanctified for sacred use is holy: the holy temple, the holy chalice, or the holy icon.  Christians are also holy, because they are separated, set aside, and sanctified for life in God.  In this sense Apostle Peter calls all Christians “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Pet. 2:9).[1]

The holiness of a Christian begins from his baptism, when he chooses Christ and is chosen by Christ, when he dies a sinner of the world and is born a saint of the holy Body of Christ, when he is washed of his old corruption and dressed in the robe of righteousness, when he is anointed and tonsured as a sign of his being called to the service of God.  The Church gives each Christian a name as a claim of divine right and ownership over him.  Each Christian is no longer a subject to the principalities, the powers, the world rulers of this present darkness, or the spiritual hosts of wickedness (Eph. 6:12), but is a subject to Christ, a servant of salvation, and a slave of eternal life.

But we must remember that Christ did not come to put us in shackles, but to set us free.  Life with God is a choice that must be made every day and every moment of every day.  A man who chooses to separate himself from the Body of Christ, and to live not according to the will of God, but according to his own sins and passions, will necessarily be defiled and no longer suitable for the sacred service of salvation.  In many ways we all fall short of the ideal, and all pray at Confession for God to “reconcile and [re]unite” us to His Holy Church,[2] from which our fallen nature continually draws us away.  But there are sins due to our human weakness, and there are those that we consciously choose, thus sending our hearts on a path away from God and defiling our baptismal garment.  A church that has been defiled by the godless can be restored and resanctified.  But what will restore a heart that has turned away from God, or our inner temple of the Holy Spirit, which we ourselves continue to defile?

Another meaning of holiness is related to health, wholeness, and perfection.  A man is holy who chooses health—that is to say, the way that God made us and intends for us to live—over the illness and corruption of sin.  He who remembers that he is an image of God and strives to reflect God’s divine likeness in his life—that man has the Father’s perfection reflected in him (see Matt. 5:48).  He who brings to Christ his ills receives healing from Him by Whose wounds we have been healed (1 Pet. 2:24); and he who brings his brokenness to God will be made whole (John 7:23).

The gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed on us on the day of Pentecost gives each one of us the power to fight sin and to be victorious in this fight.  He who takes pleasure in his illness, like a pig rolling in the mud, who makes the sickness his own and grows into it—the same will also die with it.  But he who rejects sin, does not conform to it, seeks purity, and asks for God’s help in this fight—that man will surely receive and find that which he is seeking (Matt. 7:8).  The kingdom of God is in the midst of us (Luke 17:21), and we must “lead lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12).  And let no one bewail his weakness, because God Himself gives us strength.  He who chooses life in sin rejects the abundant gifts of Christ Who has fulfilled all for our salvation; he refuses the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, breathed into us by God (John 20:22); and he makes himself a slave to the enemy, forgetting that we have been given “authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions” of sins and passion (Luke 10:19).

Finally, sanctity is that which cannot be hidden, but is revealed to others.  God’s qualities, such as goodness and love, for example, are not hidden from us, but revealed through God’s actions: He created the world which was good (Gen. 1:31), and He so loved it so that He gave His life for it (John 3:16).  In the same way, our life must reveal God’s likeness to those around us.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.

Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14-16)

This is that which we usually associate with sanctity: the works of faith (see Jas. 2:17, 26) and the fruits of the Spirit—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).  And all of these are given to everyone of us, and everyone is called to receive and use these fruits.

The Feast of All Saints is not a memorial or a tombstone on the graves of some ancients, but a call to sanctity for us here and now.  It is a celebration of the Church—not only of old, but of the living Church here and now, because all of us are called to sanctity.  Of course, many will not walk on water, as did Saint Mary of Egypt, or eat almost nothing for two years, as did Saint Seraphim of Sarov, or hardly ever sleep, as did Saint John of Shanghai.  But such feats in and of themselves are not indicators of sanctity, and they are not that for which these great saints are known.  Rather, we know Saint Mary for triumphing over her sins, Saint Seraphim for showing God’s love to all, and Saint John for giving his life to his flock.  These are the true marks of sanctity.  So, “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

[1] The New Revised Version of the Bible is used here et passim.

[2] From the Order of Confession; see The Great Book of Needs. 4 vols. South Cannan: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2000, (1:129).


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