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37th Annual Adult Educational Lecture Series Continues - 09/25/07

On Tuesday, September 25, the 37th Annual Adult Educational Lecture Series continued with His Grace, the Right Reverend JOSEPH, Bishop of Los Angeles and the West of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America who spoke on the theme: "Holy Nation, Holy Diaconate, Holy Priesthood and Holy Episcopate."

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“Holy Nation, Holy Diaconate, Holy Priesthood and Holy Episcopate”
Presented by: His Grace, the Right Reverend JOSEPH
Bishop of Los Angeles and the Diocese of the West,
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

Your Grace, Bishop TIKHON, Father Michael, Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Beloved Seminarians and their families, and honorable guests:

First, I would very much like to thank Father Michael Dahulich for inviting me to speak here to you again and, more importantly, to thank him for the excellent ministry he carries out here at St. Tikhon Seminary.  Father Michael’s work will have an important and lasting impact on the Church in North America for years to come.

When Father Michael invited me to speak, he would not suggest a topic.  So, what I say today is only my own impression of what I hope God wishes me to say to you.  I believe this is an important opportunity for me to share with you a topic which connects with much so what I do as a Bishop of the Church.

I speak to you this day about holiness, true, Godly, divine, pure, unwavering holiness.  To be holy is to be set apart by God.  If all things are from God, then to be set apart by Him means that what is holy has been returned to its true owner.  Holy things have been restored to their rightful place in a world of disorder.  In essence, it becomes what it really is supposed to be.

An object that is ‘sanctified’ or made holy may carry out a common task, but it does so for a divine purpose.  For example, a flask of water is a flask of water, but if it is consecrated, that means it carries water for a task related to God.  No longer can it be used for anything else.  To be used for a common purpose would be a violation of what it has become.

And so it is for those who seek to minister in the Church: if we have been chosen as such a vessel of God’s grace, and we are sanctified by the laying on of apostolic hands, then we are no longer able to go back to having a common life.  Instead, we become our true selves in connection to God, gradually being transformed by His grace that restores the Image and Likeness of God in which we were made.

Please allow me to explain my point to eliminate any confusion. Seminary and ordination are not merely matters of individual preference.  If any person is ambitious and impatient for clergy status, thinking that he is capable by his own power to face the challenge, he is still far from the godly priesthood.  Priesthood is something chosen by God for us, and He places His yoke upon those who will heed His voice.  He will also permit His yoke to be placed upon those who force themselves into ministry, and this same priesthood may destroy them and destroy their parishioners.

Throughout the ages, men called by God have often questioned their calling.  When Moses encountered the Burning Bush, he asked the Lord, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ge 3:11).  He did not assume he was prepared to be the prophet of God, nor was he in the desert preparing himself for such a task. 

Rather, he was called upon to carry out his work, not unlike the prophet Isaiah.  The holy Isaiah was cleansed of his sins through the application of God’s grace symbolized in the burning hot coal applied to his lips, but this only came after he confessed his unworthiness (Is 6).

St. John Chrysostom thought so little of himself that he hid from the men sent to his home to bring him to his ordination (On the Priesthood 1:6). 

Of these three examples of men called by God, two were called to be prophets, but the third, the one who hid from his calling, was eventually ordained to the Holy Priesthood and later consecrated as one of the most powerful bishops of the Church.  St. John understood the awesome task of the priest, and hid out of fear of his own unworthiness.

St. John wrote of the need for clergy to live pure lives, and admonished us to avoid the many temptations that beset us.  This is to live only to serve God and bear the yoke he has chosen for us.  Holiness is singularity of purpose.

Why is priesthood called a yoke?  Because, to take up the yoke of priesthood means one cannot look back to old ways and follow after them.  The yoked oxen cannot turn his head, or the harness will become tangled and the plow will break.  Again, those who are not obedient and humble of heart will destroy themselves and their flocks, because the weight of earthly masters, the Passions, gradually destroys the strength of their servants.

Priests who are engaged in spiritual combat, which is, above all things, self-discipline, benefit from careful attention to their daily lives.  Practicing self-denial, they have to live under strict rules set for themselves by their Bishop, spiritual fathers and the demands of their family and parish obligations.  They are not free to ignore self-discipline as some Christians think they are entitled to. 

God does not grant the priests here to partake of worldly pleasures so that they will not taste them and forget the greater reward that lies ahead for the priest who faithfully carries out his ministry to the end.  The yoke of our Lord Jesus Christ, however, is light for those who are humble of heart. Christ helps those who carry His yoke, because priests do bear grace, and that grace bears them.

Those who force themselves upon the Church are not reliant upon the grace of God.  Such men rely upon ambition and self-will.  They have great plans and greater self-assurance.  Yet, unless a man is ready to put down the yoke of self-centeredness, he cannot take up the yoke of holiness that comes from God alone by the very nature of what holiness is.  Invariably, those who are not holy and have not been chosen by God to follow Him alone, such men will look back while plowing, and wreck their harnesses.

Listen to this passage from the First Epistle of Peter, which we restate in the Liturgy of St. Basil:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people that you may declare the wonderful Deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…”

Then, St. Peter follows this with a stern admonishment to the ‘chosen people:’

“Beloved, I beseech you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul.  Maintain good conduct amongst the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be the emperor as supreme, or to the governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and praise those who do right.  For it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.

“Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretense for evil, but live as servants for God.”

My beloved, I advise you that it is not enough merely to be innocent and expect the world to honor you.  This is the passion of pride, in which a man exalts in his perception of himself as one who is godly. 

St. John Chrysostom also wrote:

“For a man who has received an honor beyond his deserving should not use its greatness as a cloak for his faults.” (On the Priesthood iv.i).

Pride is the idolatry of the self: we begin to confuse our intellectual prowess with salvation and spiritual gifts, forgetting that there are many brilliant men who reject our Savior Jesus Christ.  We place being ‘correct’ above all else, before mercy and compassion and love.  Then, we demand that others recognize our ‘uprightness’ of theology and religious praxis, forgetting that divine glory is not a man-made phenomenon.  Thus, pride keeps us tangled with the vain praises of the world.

Rather, you must be an exile from the world, a stranger in a stranger land.  Saint Paul said something much beyond this; for not merely did he call himself a stranger, but he said that he has been crucified to the world and that the world has been crucified to him.

You can no longer indulge without consequences in the things of the world, because to do so is a violation of your nature as those set aside to God.  People of the world are free to indulge in worldly cares because it is their nature to do so, but your freedom comes from acting according to the holy nature imparted to you by God. 

If the priests bury themselves in the depth of the affairs of this life, they will become as ones buried alive in a grave.  Once submerged beneath the earth, they will not be able to see the heavens and the Lord of All.  We say in the Divine Liturgy, ‘Let us lift up our hearts.’  This is not the sentimental heart of the West, but the center of our consciousness.  We are called to focus only on God.  We cannot lift up a mind buried in worldly cares, just as we cannot lift up a head buried in the sand.  The priest must be vigilant, awake and alert.  This is the meaning of priestly self-discipline.

Worldly people receive their happiness from the pleasures of power, money, luxurious things.  They find joy in expensive vacations in exotic lands and surrounding themselves with opulence when they return home.  This is their world, and it makes them feel good.

But, if the holiness of God pervades our senses and transforms our perceptions, then we will see the bondage and enslavement to the material.  Why will we see such things?  Because, by being bought as slaves from these things by God, we become His slaves.  Yet, at the same time, this holy enslavement is our freedom.

It is not bondage because it is according to the new nature imparted unto us who have been consecrated to the new life in Christ.  We do not notice the ‘inconveniences’ of the holy life if it is what God has inspired us to follow and we actually decide to start acting according to our new nature.

If we accept our calling out from the Egypt of worldly cares, we form the new exilic community, the Body of Christ, the New Israel.  Just as Israel of old, we must learn with our children in Christ to live as nomads, carrying nothing but what is essential.

As seminarians, you will learn throughout your ministry to discover what is essential to you and to your parish.  You cannot take everything from your old lives with you as you embark on this journey.

And, like our forefathers before us, the Lord organized this new Holy Nation with a hierarchy: apostles, patriarchs, metropolitans, archbishops, bishops, priests, deacons and monastics.  Thus, the Holy Nation of the Kingdom of God is organized not unlike Israel’s caravan in the desert.  We now march together as exiles from this world.

The first duty of the leader of the caravan is to be an exemplar to his men.  He cannot tell his followers not to overload their animals with unnecessary items when he himself carries such things.  So, the first duty of the clergy in this exilic life is to abandon all things not directly related to the Kingdom of God.

You seminarians, as ones preparing for ministry, must begin this work.  Realize that your attachment to worldly things (this includes worldly thinking and vain philosophies) will not save you, and it will, in fact, kill you.   You have to keep up with the caravan, so do not weigh down your bags with worldly cares.

As a Bishop of the Church, I can tell you that worldly cares are exceedingly dangerous.  After all, the community keeps pace with us.  If we are burdened with unnecessary things of this earth, no matter how important they may seem, surely we will slow down the progress of the entire community.

For this reason alone the Church deigned that monastics should be consecrated to the Episcopacy.  Nowadays, because of the weakness of our community in America, only a portion of our hierarchy is actually made up of monastics.  Many are unwed men.  Now, there are fine bishops in this category, but the community takes serious risks in such practices, given that candidates for the Episcopacy must be carefully examined to ensure they have truly renounced the things of this world.

The Bishops, as masters of the caravan, must also know how to properly distribute the load the caravan must carry.  He must be able to accurately read the talents of his men and the strength of the animals, so that no one is either over- or under-loaded.  He does not put all of the treasure on his own beast, for fear that the bandits will target him and leave the caravan desolate.  Rather, he distributes the treasure amongst those best able to carry it, so that the loss of one does not spell the end of the caravan’s existence.

These days, clergy tend to try to carry all the burdens and the treasures themselves, and so we become exhausted and constantly assailed by the bandits.  Our bishops and clergy are, quite frankly, frail men, weakened by carrying too much on their shoulders. They submit again to a “yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5: 1) This is why some of them despair and turn to worldly pleasures and exalt wealth and privilege and power. 

They rejoice in the splendid vestments that adorn them, but, as St. John wrote, used these garments to conceal their inward despair and suffering.  In rejecting the holiness of the ministries they conduct, they damn themselves to eternal torment and assure the destruction of their communities.

Once the yoke of the episcopacy is taken up, there can be no turning back.  A bishop cannot look back to times when he was freer, or able to enjoy the pleasures of this world without serious consequences.  We take up a great burden in guiding the Holy Nation through this exilic desert, leading the caravan with our captains, the Priests and the Deacons.

The Holy Nation is led by Holy Men, men who have disciplined themselves and tamed their inner impulses for carnal desires through hard work and the healing grace of God’s mercy and love to cure their passions.  They must fulfill their calling to be Icons of the High Priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ, like the Levites that bore the Ark of the Covenant in the Sinai.

In recalling the story of the people of God in the Exodus, they were led by the Pillar of Fire and Smoke.  They learned to rely on God and overcome their fears.  It is the spirit of slavery that leads the priests to fall back into fear; F – E – A – R, that is our enemy. St. Moses and his men could not lead the people if they themselves doubted or were afraid.

How can we lead people through dangerous places if we ourselves are afraid to go?  How can we lead our parishioners to a fearless death if we are afraid to die?  How can we comfort one who suffers when we fear suffering?

If you have not yet suffered, if you have not yet experienced the fears of the people and overcome them through endurance, then you cannot serve as a priest.  For it is during such endurance that, with humble groanings and pleadings, the grace of God is poured forth upon us. There is no fear in our ministry; the shepherd who fears will expose his flock to the wolves.

If we are not bearers of God’s grace, then we cannot lead.  Certainly, we cannot bear such grace when we also hold onto worldly cares and avoid suffering above all else.

And, just as God strengthened the legs of the People of Israel for the journey so that none failed, God will impart to those truly called for this ministry to endure the punishing desert life.

At the ordination of the deacon, the Bishop prays thusly:

“The grace divine, which always healeth that which is infirm and completeth that which is wanting, elevateth, through the laying on of hands…”

This is transformation of a man from that which is common to that which is holy.  You may ask yourself, but are not all Christians called to be part of this royal priesthood?  Are we not all equals?  Yes, it is true, but those who ask must also wonder if all people who come to Church on Sunday are really prepared to live out their lives solely devoted to God.

Because God is merciful, it is up to those who have been ordained to inspire the people to live according to their holy nature.  We cannot do this if we, as clergy, turn around in the yoke and try to look back to the secular lives we once lived.

We bishops, priests and deacons cannot teach people the freedom of asceticism when we ourselves seek to indulge our senses and are enslaved to fallen delights.  We cannot teach the people obedience when we conduct ourselves according to worldly standards of power and control.  We cannot teach the people humility when we exult ourselves as dictators and tyrants.  We cannot teach our people to pray when we fail to weep over our own sins and beg God for His mercy.  We cannot demand sacrifices from others when we refuse to live sacrificial lives.

This is an impossible task for the weak, fallen man.  Only God’s grace can empower those He has chosen to carry out this prophetic task of ministry.  Just as the prophets of old suffered, so we will suffer.  For through suffering the blows of wickedness and want, we discern what is real from what is illusory.  Suffering is not good, it is not the will of God, nor is it something we should set out to cause for ourselves.  Do not take unnecessary risks, but rather boldly face the pain given to us by the world each day, for this comes from God.

This gradual transformation by God’s power through the experience of pain accounts for the three stages of Deacon, Priest and Bishop.  The first stage, the Holy Diaconate, is when the man is purified of his delusions through constant buffeting and testing.  He learns what he is not as opposed to who he is.

So many of us fail in our priesthood, because our Diaconate was measured in hours instead of years.  There was no time to prepare and we were shoved into the Holy Priesthood before our characters were fully exposed.  Therefore, we were forced to learn about ourselves while serving, which is dangerous and often traumatic.

The younger and more inexperienced the man, the longer his time in the Diaconate should be.  This accounts for the canonical restrictions on the ages of ordination.  We must be more wary of our Tradition and heed it.  If we are in such a rush, then a young man ordained ahead of his time ought to be assigned for a lengthy period as an assistant to a more experienced priest, so that he will be protected from himself as he errs.

Once the Deacon is purified of delusion, he enters into the illumination of the Holy Priesthood, where he simultaneously encounters God and himself, where he learns who he is and who God really is.  He experiences the grace of God, which shines light into the darkness and reveals the secrets of the hearts of men.

In short, the illumination of the Holy Priesthood is the light of God’s love, which the priest begins to see all things through.  No longer does he rely on earthly light, but on the radiant splendor that shines forth from God.  He sees God’s love for all mankind, and desires to emulate it and act according to it as opposed to the darkness inside himself.

Whereas the Deacon is one who is turning from darkness, the Priest is one turning to the light.

Only when a man has truly been filled with God’s love and light is one ready for the Holy Episcopacy.  This is the stage of glorification, where the Bishop himself becomes an icon, an image, of the Divine.

When a Bishop refuses to be filled with light and love so that he might radiate this to all the people, he is like the light kept under the measure: eventually, the light will die down, and he will be part of the undifferentiated darkness around him, as he covets the office of the episcopacy as a personal possession. In the face of money or power, he will sell his conscience, his reputation and even the children of the Church.

A true Bishop is one who illumines his people through his own repentance and reliance on God’s mercy.  A Bishop who is humble and merciful does not need power and privilege, because he relies on God.  As a result, the things that are needed come when they are supposed to.

An illumined Bishop inspires others to love God and act according to that love.  He models fearlessness through his utter dependence on God.

God has not abandoned the Church.  There are many, many good men around us, who have answered the call of God’s holiness and have shunned the distractions of this world.  They have courage and strength that comes from their purification from all self-idolatry and atheism. You must challenge yourselves to become completely and totally reliant upon God’s grace rather than your own self-will. 

My beloved in Christ, do not accept the laying on of hands if you know you are not ready to be crucified and suffer with patience.

Just as you will kneel before the Holy Table to receive your healing at ordination, kneel before God each day and beg for His guidance and strength, because you are weak.

In your weakness, you will find God’s strength.  In your exile, you will find your belonging in God’s holy nation.  In your humility, you will find exultation in God’s royal priesthood.

If you have been called, then let others be the judge, that your self-will has not deceived you.  Heed the advice of holy men like His Grace, Bishop TIKHON and Father Michael, and trust their discernment.

If you have been called, then act in accordance with the holy nature you have been blessed with.  Because, once you have been yoked to the plough of ministry, then you cannot look back without destruction.

I cannot comment on this topic without addressing the ministry of the clergyman’s wife.  Especially in this era, the wife of a priest or deacon plays an increasingly important role.  Why?  Because, there are so few women who are strong enough to endure the strain of marriage to one of God’s ministers.

Feminism has so corroded the identity of women in our culture that the natural and good inclinations of women have been utterly eclipsed.  Women are counseled by our culture to rebel and be selfish, much as our young men are admonished to act effeminate and irresponsible.  Their weakened personalities will not be able to endure the strains of a clergy family.

Just as a candidate for ordination must be purified of sinful cultural distortions, so must the wife of such a candidate undergo her own spiritual purification.

The matushka must also remember that her marriage to her husband is to be an iconic reflection of the relationship between her husband and the parish itself.  After all, if she is rebellious and demanding of her husband, why should the parish obey and respect her husband as a clergyman?  Parishes learn how to treat the clergy after observing the behavior of the wife.

If the parish community sees that the wife loves and appreciates her husband, delighting in his strengths and grateful for his talents, then they will learn to do the same. 

I admonish men that if they must forcefully assert authority over their wives, then they really have no marriage at all.  Marriage is about love, and compliance with the God-appointed roles of husband and wife must be voluntary.

A healthy, God-inspired marriage is the bedrock foundation of the clergyman, and the weaknesses of his marriage will necessarily crack what is built upon it.  My advice for seminarians not already married is to ask a few priests to talk to your prospective mate prior to buying a ring and making promises.  As for those of you already married, remember that it is never too late for self-examination and changing your ways.

A real marriage is according to the will of God, not according to human will.  Therefore, before you begin to look for a wife, ask God to guide you.  Ask for advice and help from those who are spiritually mature.  Do not rely on your own will.  You may get your way and live to regret it.

Now, having said all of this to the seminarians, I would like to turn my comments to the Holy Nation, the laity of the Church.  As members of this holy exilic community, each Christian must fully live out his role within the Church.

There is a foolish phrase being bandied about, saying that the laity of the Church are only expected to ‘pray, pay and obey.’  I say this is foolish because many of those who say such things despise prayer, resent almsgiving and have not willingly obeyed anyone since the Third Grade.

As the Holy Nation of God, the laity are called to the same holiness and exile from worldly cares as the clergy.  There is not one iota of difference between the two, mind you.  A sin for one is a sin for the other, though clergy will encounter negative consequences for their sins far sooner than laity.  It is only a matter of time.

A layman can, sadly, postpone the confrontation with the self, mostly because he has far more options to satiate his fallen desires in secret.  Yet, it is the refusal of laity to hold themselves to the same standard of holiness that is at the core of the problems in the Church here in North America.  If the people spend all of their time challenging the clergy and fighting their leadership, the clergy are distracted from their roles as defenders of the caravan of God.

Because so many people refuse to support their parish priests through prayer, consolation and cooperation, those ‘lost sheep’ of our communities cannot be chased down.  Why?  Because the shepherd cannot trust his flock enough to stay put while he chases down the lost sheep.

Rather than constantly challenging the clergy and criticizing them at every opportunity, holy laymen protect and uphold their clergy through constant prayer offered out of genuine love.  If you cannot love your parish priest, how is it that you expect him to love and respect you? 

Without thinking, some will say that they will show respect for the clergy when the clergy ‘repent’ and treat the laity with respect.  I’ll let you in on a little secret: the clergy think the same thing about the laity.  So, we end up with a Mexican stand-off where both sides wait for the other to first change.

This is a recipe for disaster, and it is totally contrary to the sacred Gospel message of forgiving and blessing everyone, even our enemies.  It is time for everyone to remember that worldly strategies and attitudes do not work.  Forgiveness works.  Love works.  Patience works.  Otherwise, the Church becomes nothing but another country club.

Every layperson would do well to remember that the new parish priest models his behavior based on the people of his community.  If his people are hard and angry, he will harden himself to survive.  If his people are lazy and careless, he will purge himself of the desire to serve.  He does these things to survive and not lose his mind.

Our attitudes and behavior, even in the privacy of our own homes, impacts all of us because we are interconnected.  This is what it means to be in communion.  Just as the Lamb is consecrated with commemorative particles symbolizing the entire community, we must remember that partaking of the Holy Gifts is not just about the communicant and God.  It is about being a member of the community and God.

When people turn from God, they become self-reliant and depend upon the delusion of Pride to save them from their fears.  In our parishes, Pride manifests itself in several categories:

The first category is the ‘It Is Mine’ attitude, in which parishioners see that the parish is for them alone.  They do not care about the outside world, or even their children.  They want things their way because they feel entitled to control.  This sense of entitlement comes because they have donated money, but the money was not alms.  It was a shopping trip.  They are paying for membership in the parish the same way someone belongs to a gym, only, with this attitude, the gym is probably a healthier activity.

Such people obsess over budgets, demand to see where every dime goes and will destroy any relationship rather than cede one bit of control.  Remember, it is not about good stewardship, but power over what they once said was their offering to God.  It is an offering with lots and lots of strings.

Certainly, I am all for having good stewardship, and I think malfeasance should be punished, but I have seen parishioners engage in horribly unchristian conduct because of this obsession.  If you are wronged and defrauded, do not allow the passion of rage to deprive you of the Gospel.

This leads to the second stumbling block, which is exclusiveness and pharisaical thinking.   This is when parishes, possessed by the ‘It Is Mine’ attitude, become odd-ball communities unto themselves.  They develop strange traditions out of the mainstream, and create rules based on a selective reading of the Tradition apart from the greater community of the Diocese.

These parishes are easy to spot because they tend to be monolithic in terms of population.  Everyone looks and acts alike.  One of my priests calls them Borg Parishes, but I don’t know what a ‘Borg’ is so I won’t comment.

These communities drive away far more people than they attract, because they are not ambitious to bring more people to God.  Instead, they want to do what they do for their own edification.

This leads to the third common problem of parishes, which is rebellion.  Such parishes refuse to follow the guidance of the clergy and the hierarchy, because they ‘own’ (in their minds) the parishes and have things the way they like it.  They will demand all kinds of things from the Bishop when he asks for them what is due, then they will discover all sorts of reasons not to comply.

I had a priest one time tell me that his entire community would rupture if a few pieces of music were to be changed.  Imagine that, people would destroy their decades-long relationships with others over five minutes of music once a week?  Remember, it started with the idea that it was ‘their’ parish and ‘their’ music.  Then, they discovered that this music was important to them, more so than fitting in with the greater community.  Finally, they threatened schism.

So, we must ask ourselves, how do such conditions come about?  Generally speaking, it is because the people and even the clergy are battling with secret sins.

Such secret sins are covered up with denial, which pharisaical thinking is the perfect camouflage for.  You see, once there is perfect compliance with the rules of the parish, then you can pretty much do what you want.  You can be selfish, angry, insulting, lazy, inattentive, so long as you comply with what the parish decides it wants to do, rather than heeding the Gospel and the mercy of God.

Such communities lack repentance and humility.  Can a priest fix that?  I will tell you now, no, there is no priest that can fix a prideful and rebellious parish.

This is why God must destroy them Himself.  He lets them fade out of existence, or cut themselves to pieces through endless fighting.  If we do not repent, we too shall face such a fate.

The Holy Nation of God is on the move.  If we do not keep up with the caravan, we will be left behind.  The caravan will not stop for anyone, and so each of us must take of the sacred obligation to stay with the caravan.

Pride tells us we can survive in the desert alone, but this is not true.  We can only endure the desert of this world by remaining united.  Holiness is unity, for we are all to be holy to the same Lord and Master.  We have been chosen by Him, and He has called us forth from the new Egypt of this world.

By confessing our sins and renouncing our Pride, we can rid ourselves of the worldly delusions that keep us apart from one another.  By living lives of purity and holiness, putting our love for God above all else, we can be purified and healed of our wounds.

Salvation is not a legal arrangement, nor is it the results of magic, but it is only our love for God in return for the love He has shown us.  This love becomes real to us when we start living as if God’s love and mercy were real.  This is the core of holiness, the conscious encounter with the Living God.

For this we have been chosen, to repent and be converted.  To abandon the ways of the world and follow our Lord Jesus Christ.  To be holy as the prophet Ezekiel wrote:

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went.

“I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst.  Then the nations will know that I am the LORD,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.  For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land.  Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

“You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.  Moreover, I will save you from all your uncleanness; and I will call for the grain and multiply it, and I will not bring a famine on you.”

May God have mercy upon us all.

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