Orthodox Christian Church of the Holy Spirit
Orthodox Church in America - Archdiocese of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania
145 N. Kern St Beavertown PA, 17813
Sunday of All Saints

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.



Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


            Fr. Thomas Hopko, in the first volume of his series on The Orthodox Faith, writes concerning “holiness”:

“The ultimate perfection of God’s purpose for man is fulfilled in Christ. He alone is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. He alone is the ‘Holy One of God’ (Mk 1.24, Lk 1.35, 4.34). He alone is perfectly righteous and wholly without sin. Thus, Saint Peter speaks of Jesus to the people after the event of Pentecost, ‘The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses (Acts 3.13–15).’”


“The ultimate perfection of God’s purpose for man is fulfilled in Christ. … He alone is the ‘Holy One of God.’” To be a Christian, brethren, is to imitate Christ. To be a saint is to reflect—better, to embody—the holiness of Jesus Christ.

            Often, we conceive “holiness,” sanctity, saint-hood, in a very exclusive semantic sense, as a kind of “super-substantial infusion” of divine grace. It is true that God’s grace enables our sanctification. It is the grace of the Holy Spirit of God which sanctifies. We are hallowed by the Holy Spirit. Christ is anointed by the Holy Spirit, that is, set apart for his Messianic ministry at the time of his baptism,

“As Jesus rose from the water, the heavens opened, and he saw the Holy Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon him” (Matt 3:16).


The descent of the Holy Spirit on Christ at the event of his Theophany parallels the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost. Christ is “set apart”—that is the Semitic understanding of “holiness”; qādāsh, to “set apart for a special purpose”—(Christ is “set apart”) and the Apostles are “set apart.” They are given the Holy Spirit of God to become, in Jesus’ own words, “witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8b). The Holy Spirit creates holy men who are able to testify, in great power and efficacy and perseverance, to the Holy One of God. The Holy Spirit makes holy men to the glory of the All-Holy God.

            Now, I said earlier that often we conceive “holiness,” in a very exclusive semantic sense. This would be the semantic explained above: holiness as a super-substantial infusion of divine grace for the purpose of sanctification, that is, for the purpose of setting the “infusee” apart. As the tongues of fire appeared on the heads of the Apostles, as they spoke in tongues which all those gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost understood, indeed, they would have looked and acted very, very differently.

            But holiness, “being set apart,” also assumes a more—how can we say it?—mundane, blasé semantic? For the Jews, as a part of their Holiness Code, i.e., Leviticus 17-27, holiness meant not eating blood (cf. Lev 17), holiness meant not having a variety of unlawful sexual relations (Lev 18), holiness meant not gathering the gleanings of the harvest, not picking over your grapevines a second time; or wearing clothing woven of two kinds of materials (Lev 19). Really weird stuff, right, to equate with holiness? No power, no miracles, no tongues, just no tri-blend t-shirts. But the biblical law does just this; it equates the strange with holiness. For an ancient Israelite, for a Jew: to be holy was to be completely holy, “set apart,” different. It was to think, to worship, to pray, to dress, and to eat differently than the surrounding nations. In the ancient world, a man would have been able to simply look at his Jewish neighbor and know: he is a Jew; he is a worshipper of Yahweh, the God of Israel.

            With holiness comes power and grace. Acts, chapter 2, testifies to this point. But holiness also assumes strangeness, sacrifice, humiliation: a total otherworldliness in every aspect of our lives. St. John the Baptist was “holy” in this sense; in a truly, biblically comprehensive sense:

“… So John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey” (Mark 1: 4-6).


“John… appeared… preaching a baptism of repentance… [and] the whole Judean countryside… went out to him.” Sounds like a similar response to those gathered in Jerusalem listening to St. Peter on Pentecost, yes? Surely, the efficacy of St. John’s ministry was a result of the grace of the Holy Spirit, a result of St. John’s sanctity. But! St. John was also very weird. He was holy: the forerunner of Christ, his “voice in the wilderness” (cf. Isa 40:3). And he was holy: “different, strange,” a bug-munching, hairy, wilderness-man. In icons, he looks like an ascetic. He looks like an otherworldly figure, an “angel in the body” as our hymnography relates.

            Power and grace, sacrifice and humiliation: this is what it means to be holy, biblically-speaking. And, of course, to be holy is to be a saint. The two words are connotations. And today’s Gospel Reading, brethren, impresses upon us these very things: to be a follower of Christ, to be a “holy imitation” of the “Holy One of God” (recalling the opening remarks of Fr. Thomas Hopko), is to “take [up our crosses] and follow after [him]” (Matt 10:38). To be a “holy Christian” is to love Christ more than our fathers and mothers, more than our sons and daughters (cf. Matt 10:37), to leave “houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for [Christ’s] sake” (cf. Matt 19:29). To be holy is to sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed. It is to “commend ourselves, and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God,” in the words of our Liturgy.

            Today’s Gospel Reading is married with today’s Feast, brethren, the Sunday of All Saints, with very explicit purpose. What does it mean to be holy? What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God, the same Holy Spirit who descended upon, and empowered, and sanctified the Apostles in the upper room? What is the effect of the grace of this Holy Spirit on the hearts and lives of believers? I am reminded of a quote of St. Innocent of Alaska,

“Look at the saints! … They were like us at first and were not sinless, and they were also engaged in worldly affairs, cares, and duties, and many of them had family as well. But while doing their worldly occupations… they did not forget their duties as Christians, and while living in the world they made their way into the Kingdom of Heaven” (The Indication of the Way…).


St. Paul the Apostle was a devout Jew. But as a Christian, he was:

hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed, … always carry[ing] around [the] body the death of Jesus…” (2 Cor 4:8-10a).


St. Mary of Egypt was a harlot who once converted gave up her life of perversion. She separated herself from sexual sin for Christ. St. Athanasius of Alexandria nigh separated himself from the popular dogma of the Christian world for the sake of true doctrine, for Christ. St. Basil of Moscow, the Fool-for-Christ, separated himself from pants. (That is a joke. I mean, it’s true, but it’s meant to be light-hearted). St. Basil separated himself from all semblance of worldly convenience for Christ’s sake. St. Herman of Alaska separated himself from the relative comfort of Valaam to brave the wilderness of the New World, as missionary and advocate for the Alaskan peoples. St. Juvenaly separated himself from the vanity of life itself for the sake of the gospel of Christ.

“Look at the saints! … While doing their worldly occupations… they did not forget their duties as Christians, and while living in the world, they made their way into the Kingdom of Heaven.”


Holiness is power and grace; holiness is sacrifice and humiliation. Holiness is glory; holiness is death to the world for the sake of life in Christ. Holiness is imitation and worship of the Only Holy One, Christ our true God.


By the grace of Thine All-Holy Spirit, and through the prayers of all Thy saints, O Lord Jesus Christ, Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.


Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

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