With the feast of the Lord’s baptism just past, we received the manifestation of the purpose of our creation. The God/man Jesus Christ revealed Himself to the world and began to call all of us to follow Him. He is the exemplar of what we are intended to become, nothing less than the unity of God and man. In Jesus Christ we see the two natures, divine and human, united in one person. He is fully God and fully man and the perfect example of what we are called to become. To this end He provides for us all that we need to accomplish this destiny – to live in complete and unfettered union and communion with God. The apostle explains this for us saying, “Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ …for the perfecting of the saints…till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
It is appropriate that this outpouring of the grace of God is given to us in the image of the water that we bless at Theophany, for indeed God pours out His grace upon us like a never ending and unlimited fountain. We are constantly in the shower of this grace, taking in as much as we can bear. Is this not the very thing that our own St Seraphim said to us in describing the purpose of the spiritual life as “the acquisition of the Holy Spirit”? However, we are not all equal in the acquisition of this grace – some have been able to obtain more than others, despite the fact that we all stand equally under the same shower of grace. What prevents us all then from absorbing this grace in its fullness that we might be fully united with Christ?
Since we have been given the image of water to help us understand the spiritual outpouring of the unseen grace of God, let us use that image to understand more fully what is happening around us. If I were to stand under the flow of a waterfall holding in my hand a cup with which to catch as much as I could, the water flowing all around me would soon fill my cup to overflowing. Now if that cup were already fully of stones and sand, then some water would still be able to seep in around the grit, but very little would actually be retained. In order to increase my ability to catch the water in my cup, I would have to empty out all the stones and sand to make room for more water. This is like the spiritual situation in which we find ourselves. We have a soul ready to catch and hold the grace flowing all around us, but that soul is filled with the stones and sands of our sins. Not only that but it is also encrusted by the sin-loving passions which infect the heart. In order to hold onto the grace which God pours out upon us, we have to empty the soul of the grit of our sins and chip away the encrustation of the passions. This is accomplished by repentance which eliminates the stones and sand of sin and by ascetic labor which weakens and prys away the encrustation of the passions. With each stone grain of sand that I pull out of my cup of the soul by repentance, there is more room for the grace of God. As the encrustation of the passions falls away, the cup of the soul opens more and more to receive the grace that surrounds us. For this reason we gladly embark on the tasks of repentance and ascetic labor, for it is by these means that we retain more and more of the grace of God. Those who are advanced in the spiritual life, who have exhausted themselves with ascetic labor and with the tears of repentance, are able to retain more of the grace of God in themselves and thus exhibit to a greater degree that communion with God in which we are called to live. This is also our goal – to enter into that same communion with them.
The apostle also describes for us some of the provision that God has made for the “perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry and for the edifying of the body of Christ.” He says, to this end, that God has given to some the grace of apostles, to some that of prophets, to some evangelists, to some pastors and teachers. These spiritual gifts (and many others) are provided to us as helps in our spiritual lives. No single person has within himself all of these gifts, but those who are genuinely filled with the grace of God all work together in harmony for the good of the flock of Christ. These spiritual gifts are given by God to the Church according to the needs presented by the time and place and situation of each. No matter in what circumstance we find ourselves, God provides for us out of His grace.
As an example of the provision of God, let us look at the martyr Tatiana whose memory we celebrate today. She was the daughter of a nobleman who was a secret Christian in a place and time where the Christian faith was persecuted and Christians were killed if they would not renounce their faith. Tatiana held within herself an great love for Christ and so remained a virgin in the service of the Lord and was made a deaconess of the Church. For this ministry, she was given all that she needed by the grace of God. But as the persecution of the Church intensified, she was given a new task and new gifts of grace for she was called to martyrdom for Christ. Time and time again she was brought before the judge and tortured mercilessly when she would not renounce Christ. Each time she was tortured, however, she was tended by the angels and her wounds were completely healed. No matter what she suffered, God provided for her all that she needed to continue to confess Christ before all men. Her witness was so strong that even her torturers embraced the Christian faith and themselves became martyrs. Every attempt to kill her by fire or beast or mutilation failed for she was protected by God. When she was taken near to the temples of the idols, the idols fell and were destroyed. Finally she was beheaded as this was the only way that she could be silenced. No matter what her situation, by the grace of God she received the strength and other gifts of grace that she needed not only for herself, but for the strengthening of the faithful, for the welfare of the Church and for the glory of God.
We too stand in the same shower of grace as the martyr Tatiana. The same outpouring of God’s power surrounds us and engulfs us. We have the same opportunity to acquire this grace as did she. She trusted God for everything – she held nothing back for herself – and God provided for her everything that she needed. Likewise as we entrust ourselves to God, He will provide for us so that we lack nothing needful. We are engulfed in the shower of the grace of God and in order to acquire that grace for ourselves, we need only to “empty the cup” of the soul by repenting of our sins and breaking away from the passions that encrust us through ascetic labor. We need only to give up all that we are to God trusting Him for everything and He will indeed give everything to us. Our destiny is to enter into the same communion with God as the saints and to enjoy that life of communion and union with God throughout eternity. In order to fulfill this destiny we need only to imitate the saints such as the Martyr Tatiana and work to acquire that grace that God so freely pours out upon us.