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|Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky|
Orthodox dogmatic theology
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8. The Holy Mysteries or Sacraments
The life of the Church in the Holy Spirit
The new life.
The Church is surrounded by the sinful, unenlightened world; however, it itself is a new
creation, and it creates a new life. And every member of it is called to receive and to create in
himself this new life. This new life should be preceded by a break on the part of the future member
of the Church with the life of “the world.” However, when one speaks of the break with “the
world,” this does not mean to go away totally from life on earth, from the midst of the rest of
mankind, which is often unbelieving and corrupt; for then, writes the Apostle Paul, “must ye
needs go out of the world” (1 Cor. 5:10). However, in order to enter the Church one must depart
from the power of the devil and become in this sinful world “strangers and pilgrims” (1 Peter
2:11). One must place a decisive boundary between oneself and “the world,” and for this one
must openly and straightforwardly renounce the devil; for one cannot serve two masters. One
must cleanse in oneself the old leaven, so as to be a new dough (1 Cor. 5:7).
Therefore, from the deepest Christian antiquity the moment of entrance into the Church has
been preceded by a special “renunciation of the devil,” after which there follows further the baptism
with the cleansing away of sinful defilement. Concerning this we read in detail in the Catechetical
Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. In these Homilies to the Catechumens we see that the
“prayers of exorcism,” signifying the banishment of the devil, which are in the present Orthodox
service of baptism, and the very “renunciation of satan” by the person coming for baptism, are
very near in content to the ancient Christian rite. After this there is opened the entrance into the
Kingdom of grace, the birth into a new life “by water and the Spirit,” concerning which the Saviour
taught in the conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:5-6).
As to how the growth in this new life subsequently occurs, we know this also from the
words of the Saviour Himself. “So is the Kingdom of God as if a man should cast seed into the
ground, and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he
knoweth not how. For the earth beareth forth fruit of herself first the blade, then the ear, after
that the full corn in the ear” (Mark 4:26-28). Thus all this new life . if only it is received inwardly,
if a man sincerely desires to remain in it, if on his part he applies efforts to preserve it .acts in him with the mystical power of the Holy Spirit, although this invisible process can be almost
unfelt by him.
The whole life of the Church is penetrated by the mystical actions of the Holy Spirit. “The
cause of all preservation lieth in the Holy Spirit. If He think fit to blow upon a man, He taketh
him up above the things of the earth, maketh him grow, and settleth him on high” (Sunday Antiphons
from Matins, Sixth Tone). Therefore, every Church prayer, whether public or private, begins
with the prayer to the Holy Spirit: “O Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who
art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of life, come and
abide in us…” Just as rain and dew, falling upon the earth, vivify and nourish and give growth to
every kind of growing thing, so do the powers of the Holy Spirit act in the Church.
In the Apostolic epistles, the actions of the Holy Spirit are called “excellency of power” (lit.,
“superabundant power” 2 Cor. 4:7), “Divine power” (2 Pet. 1:3), or “by the Holy Spirit.” But
most frequently of all they are signified by the word “grace.” Those who enter the Church have
entered into the Kingdom of grace, and they are invited to “come boldly unto the throne of grace,
that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16; see also Heb. Ch.
The Divine grace.
The word “grace” is used in Sacred Scripture with various meanings.
Sometimes it signifies in general the mercy of God: “God is the God of all grace” (1 Pet
5:10). In this, its broadest meaning, grace is God’s goodwill to men of worthy life in all ages of
humanity, and particularly to the righteous ones of the Old Testament like Abel, Enoch, Noah,
Abraham, the Prophet Moses, and the later Prophets.
In the more precise meaning, the concept of grace refers to the New Testament. Here in the
New Testament we distinguish two fundamental meanings of this concept. First, by the grace of
God, the grace of Christ, is to be understood the whole economy of our salvation, performed by
the coming of the Son of God to earth, by His earthly life, His death on the Cross, His Resurrection,
and His Ascension into heaven: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of
yourselves: it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:8-9). Secondly,
grace is the name applied to the gifts of the Holy Spirit which have been sent down and are being
sent down to the Church of Christ for the sanctification of its members, for their spiritual growth,
and for the attainment by them of the kingdom of Heaven.
In this second New Testament meaning of the word, grace is a power sent down from on
high, the power of God which is in the Church of Christ, which gives birth, gives life, perfects,
and brings the believing and virtuous Christian to the appropriation of the salvation which has
been brought by the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Apostles, therefore, in their writings often used the Greek word charis, “grace,” as identical
in meaning with the word dynamis, “power.” The term “grace” in the sense of “power”
given from above for holy life is found in many places of the Apostolic epistles (2 Peter 1:3,
Romans 5:2, Romans 16:20, 1 Peter 5:12, 2 Peter 3:18, 2 Tim. 2:1, 1 Cor. 16:23, 2 Cor. 13:14,
Gal. 6:18, Eph. 6:24, and other places). The Apostle Paul writes: “The Lord said unto me, My
grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
The distinction between these two meanings of the word “grace,” and the predominant understanding
of it in the Sacred Scripture of the New Testament as a Divine power, are important
to keep in mind, because in Protestantism a teaching has become established about grace only inits general significance of the great work of our Redemption from sin through the Saviour’s exploit
on the Cross, after which — as the Protestants think — a man who has come to believe and
has received the remission of sins is already among the saved However, the Apostles teach us
that a Christian, having justification as a gift in accordance with the general grace of redemption,
is in this life as an individual only “being saved” (1 Cor. 1:18), (The King James Version translation of
this verse, “unto us which are saved,” is imprecise; the Greek text has the present participle: “who are being saved.”)
and needs the support of grace-given powers. “We have access by faith into this grace wherein
we stand” (Rom. 5:2); “We are saved by hope” (Rom. 8:24).
How, then, does the saving grace of God act?
Both the spiritual birth and the further spiritual growth of a man occur through the mutual
action of two principles. One of these is the grace of the Holy Spirit; the other, man’s opening of
his heart for the reception of it, a thirst for it, the desire to receive it, as the thirsty, dry earth receives
the moisture of rain — in other words, personal effort for the reception, preservation, and
activity in the soul of the Divine gifts.
Concerning this cooperation of these two principles, the Apostle Peter says: “According as
His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness… (do you)
giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance;
and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness;
and to brotherly kindness, charity. For if there things be in you, and abound, they make you
that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful an the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he
that lacketh there things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged
from his old sins” (2 Pet. 1:3-9). We read concerning the same thing in the Apostle Paul: “Work
out your own salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God which worketh in you both to will
and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13); that is, you yourselves cooperate, but remember
that everything is given you by the grace of God. “Except the Lord build the house of virtues, we
labor in vain” (Hymn of Degrees of Sunday Matins, Tone 3).
In accordance with this sacred teaching, the Council of Carthage in the third century decreed:
“Whosoever should say that the grace of God, by which a man is justified through Jesus
Christ our Lord, avails only for the remission of past sins, and not for assistance against committing
sins in the future, let him be anathema. For the grace of Christ gives not only the knowledge
of our duty, but also inspires us with a desire that we may be able to accomplish what we know”
(Canons 125, also 126 and 127; for English text see Eerdmans Seven Ecumenical Councils, p.
497 — Canons 111 and 112 of the “African Code”).
The experience of Orthodox ascetics inspires them to call Christians with all power to the
humble acknowledgment of one’s own infirmity, so that the saving grace of God might act. Very
expressive in this case are the expressions of St. Symeon the New Theologian (10th c.):
“If the thought comes to you, instilled by the devil, that your salvation is accomplished
not by the power of your God, but by your own wisdom and your own power, and if your
soul agrees with such a thought, grace departs from it. The struggle against such a powerful
and most difficult battle which arises in the soul must be undertaken by the soul until
our last breath. The soul must, together with the blessed Apostle Paul, call out in a loud
voice, in the hearing of angels and men: “Not I, but the grace of God which is with me.”
The Apostles and prophets, martyrs and hierarchs, holy monastics and righteous ones .
all have confessed this grace of the Holy Spirit, and for the sake of such a confession andwith its help they struggled with a good struggle and finished their course” (Homilies of
St. Symeon the New Theologian, Homily 4).
He who bears the name of Christian, we read in the same Holy Father, “if he does not bear
in his heart the conviction that the grace of God, given for faith, is the mercy of God . . . if he
does not labor with the aim of receiving the grace of God, first of all through Baptism, or if he
had it and it departed by reason of his sin, to cause it to return again through repentance, confession,
and a self-belittling life; and if, in giving alms, fasting, performing vigils, prayers, and the
rest, he thinks that he is performing glorious virtues and good deeds valuable in themselves —
then he labors and exhausts himself in vain” (Homily 2).
What, then, is the significance of ascetic struggle? It is a weapon against the “lust of the
flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:15-16). It is the cleaning of the
field of the soul from stones, overgrown weeds, and swampy places, in preparation for a sacred
sowing, which will be moistened from above by the grace of God.
The providence of God and grace.
From what has been set forth, it follows that there is a difference between the concepts of
God’s Providence and grace. Providence is what we call God’s power in the world that supports
the existence of the world, its life, including the existence and life of mankind and of each man;
while grace is the power of the Holy Spirit that penetrates the inward being of man, leading to
his spiritual perfection and salvation.