Recently, while at my parish for Divine Liturgy, a beautiful booklet with an icon of Jesus Christ on the cover was provided to each family. This booklet contains the December 2011 pastoral letter from our Patriarch, His Beatitude Sviatoslav, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The title of this letter is
“The Vibrant Parish – a place to encounter the living Christ.”
When I read it, several passages seemed to be highlighted and vibrated within me. I had read this letter earlier on the Internet. Yet, somehow, by seeing it in print in the form of this lovely booklet, it was as if I were reading it for the first time. It seemed fresh and I was very attracted to the message.
Here is a quote from the first paragraph.
Holiness is God’s gift, and the vocation of every Christian.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification,”
St. Paul reminds us in the letter to the Thessalonians (1 Th 4:2).
Holiness! I am a weak and sinful person! How can I be holy? That word hooked me. I took it and ruminated on it for several days. I researched it. The Miriam Webster Dictionary says:
the quality or state of being spiritually pure or virtuous
Holiness is a “growth experience” gained and gifted by persistently pursuing knowledge, love, self-control and all the virtues of Jesus. Of myself, I am not capable of being spiritually pure, that is, “holy” on my own. But, I see the above scripture says that this is the will of God for me, for you, our sanctification. The quote also says that it is a “gift from God” and that I, as a Christian, have a vocation; a mission/destiny, to become holy. I understand that I am to receive the “gift” and embrace it and live it, as God leads.
Holiness is something I “know” I am incapable of doing in my own flesh and I must go God for teaching and understanding; so, I enter into prayer. I understand and comprehend that sanctification is God’s will for me. I understand that I need to desire to be willing to change; it is a process, an ongoing receiving of God’s gift and grasping and holding it and becoming familiar with it and that I am actively living my days growing in knowing, loving and serving my God.
Jesus Christ is truly holy, and truly human and divine. Scripture teaches us that God is holy and we are created and are called to reflect Jesus Christ in our daily lives. We are each called to be “holy!” It is our obligation and response to His love for us.
Am I receiving God’s gift and allowing it to embrace me, cooperating with the Holy Spirit, and working into my spirit the grace and process of sanctification to become holy? My thoughts go to the Divine Liturgy where we pray three times the prayers that we “commend” ourselves to God. My spirit leaps at these prayers. Yes, I have commended myself to God and I desire all that God has for me. My spirit responds by desiring the gift of holiness; what God wants for me. I desire to know God and live with Him in a greater way than I have already known. This is my part; that is, to be active in my response to His call. The holiness is from God, Himself, and the gift, when received by me, works in my spirit a way of being and living and loving that reflects God and His Image, which is “Holy!” Now I understand that holiness is reflecting God to the world.
In Jeremiah 29:11-14a
“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord…”
Our wonderful God desires that I hear His voice and follow Him. I want more. I cautiously need to guard my heart that the enemy tries to distract me from this beautiful vocation and choke the gift. As I enter into God’s plan for me, surrendering my hopes and dreams to Him, by grace alone, I begin His gift of transformation from my selfish ways to ways that are loving and revealing Jesus Christ to others by my words and actions.
I cannot hide from this beautiful gift of being chosen. If I am a Christian, then it is true: I have been chosen, you have been chosen!
You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. 17 These things I command you, that you love one another. ( John 15:16 )
God’s love enfolds me as I “commend” myself to Him and thus it becomes “joy” to respond. I might be tempted to dwell only of perfection—the feeling of a task completed and well done. I might be tempted to push aside this gift because I fear that I will not have any “will” of my own, and crave such distractions as pride, lust, greed, deceit, intellectual condescension, stylish attitudes, and worldly recognition. The “joy and peace received” is greater than any distraction of fear if I ask Jesus to help me respond. No one, including me, is off the hook from the call to holiness. His mercy is generous and touches us in our core to build and transform us to be “renewed!”
In Romans 8:28 it says:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good
to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
This passage reminds me that He brings good out of everything that happens to us and He can and does make something that seems a failure into something that is good and beneficial. His love shapes all we do well and reshapes the impacts of our blunders and botches. He is always working for our good—nothing is ever wasted. He never rejects us.
I must take my eyes off myself and keep my eyes on Jesus. Lord, I am yours! Lord, I want more!
Copyright 2012 © Irina Demkiw, all rights reserved.