The aim of the Christian life

One day, Motovilov was walking in a field with the Elder, Saint Seraphim, near the Sarov Monastery.  The Elder sat him down and said,

The Lord has revealed to me that in your childhood you had a great desire to know the aim of our Christian life, and that you continually asked many great spiritual persons about it but no one has given you a precise answer.  They said to you, ‘Go to church, pray to God, do the commandments of God, do good-that is the aim of the Christian life.’  Some were even indignant with you for being occupied with curiosity displeasing to God and said to you:  ‘Do not seek things which are beyond you.’  But they did not speak as they should.  And now poor Seraphim will explain to you in what this aim really consists.

“Prayer, fasting, vigil and all other Christian practices, however good they may be I themselves, do not constitute the aim of our Christian life, although they serve as the indispensible means of reaching this end.  The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.  As for fast, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, they are only the means of acquiring the Holy Spirit.  But mark, my dear, only the good deed done for Christ’s sake brings us the fruits of the holy Spirit.  All that is not done for Christ’s sake, even though it be good, brings neither reward in the future life nor the grace of God in this life.”:

Who is the Holy Spirit?  Accordingly the Holy Spirit is God!  Saint Nikolai writes: “Regarding God the Holy Spirit, it has been revealed to us that He proceeds from the Father and is sent by the Son (John 15:26).  His proceeding from the Father means that He is of one being with the Father; His being sent by the Son, to continue the Son’s work, means that He is equal to the Son.”  Hence we affirm and proclaim this revealed Truth in the Nicene – Constantinopolitan Creed: “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father who together with the Son is worship and glorified….”

The Holy Spirit is as St. Maximos the Confessor poetically taught in the 7th century:

…present unconditionally in all things, in that He embraces all things, provides for all, and vivifies the natural seeds within them. He is present in a specific way in all who are under the Law, in that He shows them where they have broken the commandments and enlightens them about the promise given concerning Christ. In all who are Christians He is present also in yet another way in that He makes them sons of God.  But in none is He fully present as the author of wisdom except in those who have understanding, and who by their holy way of life have made themselves fit to receive His indwelling and deifying presence. For everyone who does not carry out the divine will, even though he is a believer, has a heart which, being a workshop of evil thoughts, lacks understanding, and a body which, being always entangled in the defilements of the passions, is mortgaged to sin.’

It is for this reason that Saint Nikolai reminds us: “Just as we pray every day for our daily bread, God is willing every day to send us the Holy Spirit, but He seeks from us that we pray every day, for Him to be sent to us.  He comes to us and leaves according to our good works and our patience.  According to the situation in which you find yourself, He will instruct you, advise you and direct you in what you must think, say and do.” 

In addition to extending the invitation to the Spirit, Fr. Paisios of blessed memory also suggests that we possess “…a fighting spirit, humility, philotimo, nobility, and sacrifice.”  Essentially, we“…burnish the wires… [to] become good conductor[s], and then the Grace of God will be transmitted to provide the divine light of Grace.  Otherwise, the system is short-circuited and Grace cannot enter.  The basic thing is for man to take care not to lose the Grace of God, so as to have divine enlightenment.  For, everything is in vain if there is no divine enlightenment.”  As Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia read the second Psalm as a prayer to God to enlighten those who were going to conferences, the Elder Paisios would frequently pray: “’May God enlighten all leaders of the world; enlighten all the hierarchs and Fathers of the Church to receive the Holy Spirit, so as to e able to help the people of the world.’  For even if one was enlightened and other became at least receptive, imagine what great good could be achieved…the person who has divine enlightenment can see things very clearly; he is well informed without doubts and can positively help others without becoming weary.”

His words are reminiscent of those once spoken by the fifth century Saint, Diadochos of Photiki.  “When the soul has reached self-understanding, it produces from within a certain feeling of warmth for God…The feeling of warmth which the Holy Spirit engenders in the heart is completely peaceful and enduring. It awakes in all parts of the soul a longing for God; its heat does not need to be fanned by anything outside the heart, but through the heart it makes the whole man rejoice with a boundless love.”  In turn, the man functions in an entirely pure manner, which places him at peace with God, himself, his environment, as well as those who come into his midst.

Although we may have many worries in a parish, in a family or simply in life, the greatest concern should be the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, which remains the true aim of the Christian life.  This is beautifully illustrated with the words of Archimandrite Touma, Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite Douma:

Our concern is the Church as idea, as institution, as an organization, as a teaching. Our concern is the services and the choir, the social and cultural groups and the religious instruction and church-tourism and so forth. It is not that these questions aren’t sometimes important. But there is one thing needful: the purification of the heart and the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. This is a deviation from the essence of the matter that keeps those who are considered believers—most pastors and flock equally—pagans, worshipping themselves, seeking their own glory.

To continue his line of thought, let us then not be concerned as Orthodox Christians with what we perceive as own power and own reputation and our honor. Let us not be satisfied with only the outward form of the worship of God. Instead of simply altering some practices, keeping some obligations and giving lip service, let us change the heart, offering as a frequent, heartfelt and contrite prayer: “Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, present in all places and filling all things, come and abide in us, cleanse us of every stain and save our souls Gracious One.”