The saintly imperative

The Saintly Imperative
Abhishek Singh, Flickr

I think that the concept of personal holiness is a bit misleading.

In the Orthodox chrismation (or confirmation) service the priest prays over the person being confirmed, “Keep him ever a warrior invincible in every attack of those who assail him and us; and make us all victors, even unto the end, through thy crown incorruptible.”

This prayer comes after the priest prays, “keep him in thy sanctification.” We usually think of sanctification as our daily walk, increasing in holiness and saintliness. But to what end? It’s not just our personal journey. The Christian walk is a caravan. We walk in the company of innumerable fellow travelers. And we are responsible for each other. Holiness isn’t for our own sakes; it’s also for all of our brothers and sisters. They need us, and we need them.

Look at James, chapter 5. After taking a crack at the rich for their self-indulgence (not that all rich people are self-indulgent), James shows us a picture of self-giving, other-directed holiness.

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

Elijah’s prayer benefited all. The righteous man’s prayers help others in need of forgiveness. In prayer we bear one another’s burdens, as Paul says elsewhere. Somehow the strength of one believer can uphold a weaker believer. There is a genuine sense of community and reliance inherent to Christian holiness. We increase in saintliness so we can uphold our brothers and sisters. They increase in holiness so they can uphold us. Each needs the other to grow in sanctity for the benefit of the whole.

That is in part because we are at war. The martial language of the confirmation prayer above is important to keep in mind. We are on a journey together, but we march as an army. Do we allow those under attack to bear the assault alone? Christians must stand in solidarity—not least of all in prayer, constantly remembering our fellow travelers and taking their concerns and welfare before the throne.

That is why we also must be mindful of cultivating virtue. This is not fundamentally a personal endeavor. Salt doesn’t flavor itself. Nor does light illumine itself. Our sanctity benefits others. Every daily exercise that helps us grow in holiness while at peace prepares us for the times we are under fire, and there are others (spouses, children, friends, church members, coworkers, neighbors, etc.) who are depending on us and our actions (even if they don’t realize it) in those moments.

If we do not pursue holiness in “every little action of the common day,” to work from Oscar Wilde’s previously quoted statement, then we risk, as he said, unmaking our character. What will happen when we find ourselves under attack after a period of spiritual sloth and indolence? What will happen to our families and friends?

The church needs legions of selfless, sanctified warriors, invincible in every attack of those who assail us, so that through the mercies of Christ we can all emerge as victors.

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  • Carmel

    Joel, this is a meaningful examination on our walk. The reminder that our pursuit of holiness and growing in grace is so essential, not so much for ourselves (and isn’t that a more common interpretation?) but for each other.

    ~ Carmel

  • Thanks, Carmel. I’ve only recently begun to see this and I’m so grateful for the experiences and (to show an example of it in action) other people who have pointed the way for me.

  • Amen! And thank you for putting into words so beautifully the inter-connectedness of us all, and the importance of our own ‘spiritual fitness’ as a component in being able to help others within our community. Beautiful piece!
    Thank you!

  • I love the concept of light illuminating others and salt flavoring others; never quite though of those Biblical pictures in that–er, light–before. (Sorry: had to). Well crafted. Thanks! ch: