Yandex Metrika
Holiness and the Virtues of Saints

Should Every Christian Aim for Holiness?

Dobri Dobrev

Dobri Dobrev, also known as Grandpa Dobri, a Bulgarian unmercenary and ascetic

Who do we call “saints”? The biblical, Old Testament concept of holiness (which was later adopted by Christianity) referred primarily to God. "Be holy, for I am holy." says the Lord in Leviticus (Lev 11:45). The Hebrew word "kadosh" (קֹ֫דֶשׁ), which we translate as "holy", literally means "separated, not commensurate with anything, detached from the general environment". In this sense, it was used in relation to the entire Israelite people, and later to the "new Israel", embodied in Christian Church. This shows that both the ancient Israel and the Christians of the New Testament constituted a separate community of God's people, not so much due to their personal righteousness and purity, but because of their "chosenness", special relationship with God, participation in His holiness and readiness to do His will. As the apostle Peter writes in his epistle, " are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people..." (1 Pet 2:9-10).

Understanding holiness by the Church has undergone some changes over time. The word "holy" eventually began to be applied not to all Christians but only those who especially pleased God with their lives. However, traces of the earlier use of this word have been preserved in worship. For example, at Liturgy (before communion) the priest raises the consecrated Lamb over the diskos, proclaiming "The Holy Gifts, for the Holy people of God", referring to all standing in the church. Today, we even have a special procedure of canonization, i. e. general church glorification of a person who has acquired the grace of God and in whom God clearly acted during his lifetime. It is important to understand however, that canonization is not "introducing into sainthood", but only a profession of holiness, a confirmation of what has already happened in heaven. Canonization takes place after the death of a saint, with the essential condition of popular veneration and miracles performed through his intercession. Today, when we ask ourselves whether saints live among us, we have in mind people leading a righteous life, having acquired the grace of God and a special prayerful connection with Him.

One of the virtues inherent in saints is modesty. This means that there are many more saints than the number of names in church calendars. This reminds me of a story from the life of St Anthony the Great, the founder of monasticism and one of the most famous ascetics in the history of the Church. Once Anthony heard the voice of God, announcing that, despite all his exploits, his spiritual perfection had not reached the measure of a certain tanner in Alexandria. The venerable was surprised and went to the city where he found the man's house as God directed him. Entering there, he saw the tanner at work. The craftsman was perplexed when Anthony asked him about spiritual exploits. He replied that he did not understand what the venerable was talking about. However, Anthony insisted and asked the man to tell him what his day and his thoughts were usually like. The tanner said that he was busy all day with his needlework, and saw nothing but the pedestrians' feet flickering in his window. He was very distressed about not being able to attend worship or serve God in some way, like people who have leisure. All the time he repeated to himself, “There are so many people; they are all good and will be saved. I alone will perish for my sins. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Having thus learned a lesson of humility, Anthony bowed down to the tanner and withdrew into the desert.

Many know the name of St Anthony the Great and his life. However, no one knows anything about the Alexandrian tanner. At the same time, he is also a saint surpassing in his humility one of the outstanding Christian ascetics. His example shows that holy people live among us. Most of the time, we simply do not notice them. It is for a reason that folk wisdom says, "No village stands without a righteous man, and no city without a saint." Today and in all times, there are many people striving to live holy lives and walk with God in purity and righteousness.

Father Evgeny Murzin


June 01, 2022
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