June 12 Epistle Reading

Romans 3:28-4:3

[28] Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith
without the deeds of the law.[29] Is he the God of the Jews
only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:[30]
Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith,
and uncircumcision through faith.[31] Do we then make void
the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.[1] What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining
to the flesh, hath found?[2] For if Abraham were justified
by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.[3]
For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted
unto him for righteousness.

In Chrysostom's Homily 7, he says:

"…the Law of Faith is to believe that we are, indeed, saved by Grace. The Law does not save, it has no power to make man righteous, because 'all did sin.' 'So then, (faith) did not abolish the law, but brought it to perfection."

St. Kyril of Alexandria writes in his Explanation of the Epistle to the Romans:

"The law was a shadow, but even so it presented an image of the truth. Furthermore, the truth hardly destroys images; rather it makes them clearer."

While looking for commentary on this passage, I stumbled upon a beautiful conversation (full text here; entitled "The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit")  between…

St. Seraphim of Sarov and a questioning nobleman Nicholas Motovilov. This is his most famous teaching and is a reiteration of the apostolic message. (I could copy the whole text in here but that might result in frustrated readers, so will just choose some of the main points in paragraphs…) Motovilov had long since been troubled about "the aim of the Christian life" and received no relief in asking for years about it. St. Seraphim begins: 

Inp100 "Prayer, fasting, vigil and all other Christian activities, however
good they may be in themselves, do not constitute the aim of our
Christian life, although
they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end. The true aim
of our Christian
life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for
fasts, and vigils, and
prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ's sake, they
are only means of
acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. But mark, my son, 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.
That is why our Lord Jesus Christ said:
He who gathers not with Me
11:23). Not that a good deed can be called anything but gathering, since
even though it is
not done for Christ's sake, yet it is good. Scripture says:
In every
nation he who
fears God and works righteousness is acceptable to Him

"What do you mean by acquiring?" I asked Father Seraphim.
"Somehow I don't understand that."

"Acquiring is the same as obtaining," he replied. "You
understand, of course, what acquiring money means? Acquiring the Spirit
of God is exactly
the same. You know well enough what it means in a worldly sense, your
Godliness, to
acquire. The aim in life of ordinary worldly people is to acquire or
make money, and for
the nobility it is in addition to receive honours, distinctions and
other rewards for
their services to the government. The acquisition of God's Spirit is
also capital, but
grace-giving and eternal, and it is obtained in very similar ways,
almost the same ways as
monetary, social and temporal capital.

"God the Word, the God-Man, our Lord Jesus Christ, compares our life
with a market, and the work of our life on earth He calls trading, and
says to us all: Trade
till I come
(Lk. 19:13), redeeming the time, because the days
are evil
5:16). That is to say, make the most of your time for getting heavenly
blessings through
earthly goods. Earthly goods are good works done for Christ's sake and
conferring on us
the grace of the All-Holy Spirit."
"Of course, every good deed done for Christ's sake gives us the grace
of the Holy Spirit, but prayer gives us it most of all, for it is always
at hand, so to
speak, as an instrument for acquiring the grace of the Spirit. For
instance, you would
like to go to Church, but there is no Church or the Service is over; you
would like to
give alms to a beggar, but there isn't one, or you have nothing to give;
you would like to
preserve your virginity [6], but you have not the strength to do so
because of your
temperament, or because of the violence of the wiles of the enemy which
on account of your
human weakness you cannot withstand; you would like to do some other
good deed for
Christ's sake, but either you have not the strength or the opportunity
is lacking. This
certainly does not apply to prayer. Prayer is always possible for
everyone, rich and poor,
noble and humble, strong and weak, healthy and sick, righteous and

"You may judge how great the power of prayer is even in a sinful
person, when it is offered whole-heartedly, by the following example
from Holy Tradition.
When at the request of a desperate mother who had been deprived by death
of her only son,
a harlot whom she chanced to meet, still unclean, from her last sin, and
who was touched
by the mother's deep sorrow, cried to the Lord: 'Not for the sake of a
wretched sinner
like me, but for the sake of the tears of a mother sorrowing for her son
and firmly
trusting in Thy loving kindness and Thy almighty power, Christ God,
raise up her son, O
Lord!' And the Lord raised him up.

"You see, your Godliness! Great is the power of prayer, and it brings
most of all the Spirit of God, and is most easily practiced by everyone.
We shall be
blessed if the Lord God finds us watchful and filled with the gifts of
His Holy Spirit.
Then we may boldly hope to be caught up…in the clouds to meet the
Lord in the air
Thes. 4:17) Who is coming with great power and glory (Mk.
13:26) to judge the
living and the dead
(I Pet. 4:5) and to reward every man
according to his works

"Acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit also by practicing all the
other virtues for Christ's sake. Trade spiritually with them; trade with
those which give
you the greatest profit. Accumulate capital from the superabundance of
God's grace,
deposit it in God's eternal bank which will bring you immaterial
interest, not four or six
percent, but one hundred percent for one spiritual ruble, and even
infinitely more than
that. For example, if prayer and watching give you more of God's grace,
watch and pray; if
fasting gives you much of the Spirit of God, fast; if almsgiving gives
you more, give
alms. Weigh every virtue done for Christ's sake in this manner."
"That's it, my son. That is how you must spiritually trade in virtue.
Distribute the Holy Spirit's gifts of grace to those in need of them,
just as a lighted
candle burning with earthly fire shines itself and lights other candles
for the illumining
of all in other places, without diminishing its own light. And if it is
so with regard to
earthly fire, what shall we say about the fire of the grace of the
All-Holy Spirit of God?
For earthly riches decrease with distribution, but the more the heavenly
riches of God's
grace are distributed, the more they increase in him who distributes
them. Thus the Lord
Himself was pleased to say to the Samaritan woman: Whoever drinks of
this water will
thirst again. But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will
never thirst; but
the water that I shall give him will be in him a well of water springing
up into eternal
(Jn. 4:13-14)."

St. Gregory of Nyssa gives another account on the Spirit's role in our lives in his "On the Christian Mode of Life":

Sgp05 "For the grace of the Spirit gives eternal life and unspeakable joy in
heaven, but it is the love of the toils because of the faith that makes
the soul worthy of receiving the gifts and enjoying the grace. When a
just act and grace of the Spirit coincide, they fill the soul into which
they come with a blessed life; but, separated from each other, they
pro-vide no gain for the soul. For the grace of God does not naturally
frequent souls which are fleeing from salvation, and the power of human
virtue is not sufficient in itself to cause the souls not sharing in
grace to ascend to the beauty of life. For it says: ‘Unless the Lord
build the house and keep the city, he labors in vain that builds it and
watches in vain who keeps it.”(Ps. 126.1)And again: ‘For not with their
own sword did they conquer the land; nor did their own arm make them
victorious (although they used their swords and arms in their
struggles), but it was your right hand and your arm, and the light of
your countenance.”(Ps. 43.4) What does this mean? It means that the Lord
from on high enters into an alliance with the doers, and, at the same
time, it means that it is not necessary for men considering human
efforts to think that the entire crown rests upon their struggles, but
it is necessary for them to refer their hopes for their goal to the will
of God."

Werner Wilhelm Jaeger, in his book "Two Rediscovered Works of Ancient Christian Literature: Gregory of Nyssa and Macarius":

"points out that St. Gregory's elaboration of the relation between grace and human effort antedates by only a short time the Pelagian controversy in the Western church. St. Gregory is himself convinced that the two are required if man is to attain perfection and gives us an early statement of the 'synergia theory,' which affirms the cooperation of the grace of God with the moral effort of man." (as discussed by Virginia Woods Callahan in her book "The Fathers of the Church: St. Gregory Ascetical Works". )


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