The Great Cloud of Witnesses

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near…Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 10.23-25; 12.1-2)

28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Eli′jah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem. (Luke 9.28-31)

We live in a one-storey universe. We are members of one Church in which we take counsel together regarding the faithful articulation of the faith. This great conversation, by the grace of God, is not limited by time and space.

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No mortal has interpreted the Epistles of the Apostle Paul with greater love and depth than St. John Chrysostom. Had St. Paul himself interpreted them, he could not have interpreted them better. Behold, history tells us that it was Paul himself who interpreted them through the mind and the pen of Chrysostom. When St. Proclus was a novice under Chrysostom, during the time that he was patriarch, it was his duty to announce visitors. A certain nobleman was slandered before Emperor Arcadius and the emperor had expelled him from the court. This nobleman came to implore Chrysostom to intercede with the emperor on his behalf. Proclus went to announce him to the patriarch but, looking through the partly opened door, saw a man bent over the patriarch, whispering something in his ear while the patriarch wrote. This continued until dawn. Meanwhile, Proclus told the nobleman to come back the next evening, while he himself remained in amazement, wondering who the man with the patriarch was, and how he managed to enter the patriarch’s chamber unannounced. The second night the same thing happened again, and Proclus was in still greater amazement. The third night the same thing happened again, and Proclus was in the greatest amazement. When Chrysostom asked him if the nobleman had come by, he replied that he had already been waiting for three nights, but that he couldn’t announce him because of the elderly, balding stranger who had been whispering in the patriarch’s ear for three nights. The astonished Chrysostom said that he did not remember anyone entering to see him during the previous three nights. He asked his novice what the stranger looked like, and Proclus pointed to the icon of the Holy Apostle Paul, saying that the man was like him. Therefore, it was the Apostle Paul himself who was directing the mind and pen of his greatest interpreter. (The Prologue, November 20th)

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Sinner or Repentant Sinner — Sainthood

A saint is not a non-sinner. A saint is a repentant sinner.

It is crucial that we distinguish, in our thought life and behavior, the difference between a sinner and a repentant sinner. To make this distinction is essential to our purification from the passions, illumination by the Holy Spirit, and deification by the same Holy Spirit in the likeness of Christ Jesus by grace.

In the Divine Liturgy, the proclamation is made that God has made “repentance the way of salvation.” Our salvation, to put it boldly, is not based on our moral perfection as much as it is on the way in which we respond to sin. (That, of course is not a reason to go on sinning that grace may abound. “God forbid,” to quote St. Paul in his letter to the Romans.)

The question is not whether or not I am a sinner. The question is, am I a repentant sinner?! If I am not repentant, do I desire to be a repentant sinner?! Do I understand myself to be in and consciously embrace the environment of the mercy of God?! Do I desire to do so?!

All of this wonderfully questions what we mean by “progress” in the Christian life.

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It is necessary to distinguish a sinner from a penitent. If you have taken it upon yourself to rebuke a sinner, take care that you do not rebuke the penitent also. The Parable of the Prodigal Son demonstrates how dear a repentant sinner is to God. Therefore, let one who has become dear to God, be very dear to you. One time, a monk succumbed to sin, for which he was banished from his monastery. This monk went to St. Anthony, confessed his sin, repented, and remained with Anthony for a period of time. Then Anthony sent him back again to his monastery, but they did not receive him, and again drove him out. Again the penitent went to St. Anthony. Again, Anthony sent him back to the monastery, with a message to the fathers there: “A ship suffered shipwreck and lost its cargo, and only with great difficulty did that boat reach the harbor–and you want to sink even that which was saved from sinking!” Hearing this wise message, the fathers received the penitent brother into the monastery with joy. St. Nikolai Velimirovich, The Prologue, July 30.

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“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Grant me your grace to be a repentant sinner and not just a sinner in your sight.”

Saint’s Journey

A friend shared this quote with me today. I believe it is worth making available.

“Miracles may show me the saint, they do not show me how he became a saint: and that is what I want to see. It is not the completed process that intrigues me: it is the process itself… Tell me what was churning in his soul as he battled his way up from selfishness and the allurements of sin to the great heart of God.” – M. Raymond, O.C.S.O, quoted in Seeking God, The Way of St. Benedict, by Esther de Waal