“Holiness is not simply righteousness, for which the righteous merit the enjoyment of blessedness in the Kingdom of God, but rather such a height of righteousness that men are filled with the grace of God to the extent that it flows from them upon those who associate with them. Great is their blessedness; it proceeds from personal experience of the Glory of God. Being filled also with love for men. Which proceeds from the love of God, they are responsive to men’s needs, and upon their supplication they appear also as intercessors and defenders for them before God.” – St. John the Wonderworker
When I first read this, it helped me understand holiness a bit better. There’s a difference between maintaining an aesthetic of holiness versus actually being consumed by God and thus being made holy through union with Him. It is not of works that I may boast, but through the grace given to me through Jesus Christ. I am the chief of sinners and unworthy of such a gift from God, but He has allowed me to enter into it because He has reconciled me to Himself through Christ. It is the true aim of any Christian’s life, but we will not fully know it for ourselves until we are standing toe to toe with the Holiest of Holies.
Our holiness doesn’t just sit and produce light, like a stationed lamp. It comes to the aid and defense of those who have need. Essentially, if you are truly holy and have experienced the glory of God, you will show it before men in a greater volume.
Matthew 5:14-16: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
The Orthodox Study Bible has this to say about verse 16: “Christian virtues have both a personal and a public function, for our virtue can bring others to glorify the Father.”
Light in the Bible symbolizes God and Christians are called to exude the uncreated Light (His energies) out to the world. Not through mere words, but through actions. God showed His love to us. He didn’t just say “I love you”, slap His knees and then bid adieu but He acted on it. And so must we to the world. Holiness without showing any virtue is not really holiness. It’s an aesthetic of attributes God deems morally pleasing, but has no outward effect on the person or creation. It’s tasteless and unsatisfying to the world that needs salt.
And what does it mean to be salt to the world? Does it mean to be abrasive and intolerant of all forms of sin in the world? I think it’s rather clear in Matthew 5 that it means to be filled with the holiness of God, so that all virtue that comes forth from a Christian impacts the world in naturally divine ways. It means people come to repentance not by great orations or angry tirades or criminalization of their behavior, but through encountering the Light in someone else to a degree that they can’t help but remain changed forever. It means even in silence, people become changed. The individual repents of sin is transformed into a new creation to become a walking beacon of Light to the world as well. They desire it because they have felt it’s warm glow from another person.
As St. Seraphim of Sarov has notably said “Acquire the spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved.” This comes through holiness.
Yes, many will hate and despise the Light, but I’d rather they despise it for it’s own sake than because I’m a horrible witness. I actually can’t be a horrible witness if I truly have the Light. I’d rather have the Light than a false, flashing police light, complete with noisy sirens and a “The End is Nigh” picket sign stapled to my forehead. That’s a product of my own pride and self-righteousness, not holiness. Unfortunately, that’s been all too common for me in the past. I am not truly holy if I think I am. I can only hope I’m holy and continually strive to be through God’s grace.
May God bless you and keep you and may His face shine upon you, so that you may be Light unto the world.