Source: Canadian Orthodox Messenger
As many as have been baptised into Christ, have put on Christ. (Galatians 3.27)
These are the words that we sing at every Holy Mystery of Baptism into the Body of Christ of every believer. These are the words that we repeat, too, on several major feast-days of the Church : Pascha, Pentecost, Nativity, Theophany. It is on such days that, long ago, baptisms were only done. Nowadays, we are receiving new faithful persons at almost any time of the year, and we can sing this hymn, words of the Apostle Paul, very often. How deep are the implications of these words! They are not just words to be said for the occasion. They are words that describe the baptized one’s very being, as he or she is then immediately Chrismated and, thereby, filled with the Holy Spirit.
Recently I had the blessing, during a retreat, of talking at length with a priest, Fr David Fontes, an American psychologist. He is in the process of writing a book in which he reflects on these words, and he gave me permission to share, in advance, something of what he understands of the implications of them.
For background, the “fruits of the Holy Spirit,” as described by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5.22-23, are in fact one nine-fold “fruit”; and these all together reveal the character of Christ in the person who has put on Christ. These characteristics are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. They are not separated from one another, and one does not “pick-and-choose” among them. The Lord gives them to us to live. When one lives them, and expresses them, he often is not aware of it, although others often are.
According to the perception of Fr David Fontes, this “putting on Christ” in Baptism implies a deep identification with Christ Himself. He reflected on the fact that most people talk about the uniqueness of their personality, differing from that of others. Someone might say, “Well that’s just his/her personality,” or, “They just have a personality conflict.” He said that he has come to see that the fruits of the Spirit are, in reality, manifestations of Christ’s Personality. If this is the case, then there really is a “Christian personality” that we should all possess as baptised Christians, and should therefore manifest towards others. As the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) lays out a number of personality criteria for specific personality disorders, so too the Bible also lays out nine personality characteristics that make up a holy Christian personality. Fr David perceives that these fruits of the Holy Spirit are, in fact, personality characteristics of Christ Himself. So, if we are identifying with Christ, Who is definitely a Person, then we will also exhibit His personality characteristics, which are these very fruits. These nine fruits are clearly the characteristics of His Life, as we see throughout Scripture.
Fr Fontes’ assertions are underscored by the writing of Jean-Claude Larchet in “Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses,” partly quoted in the Lenten 2008 issue of Divine Ascent (St John of Shanghai Monastery, Manton CA). Living in France, Larchet holds doctorates in theology, and philosophy, and writing in the context of the Fathers is his specialty. In the context of a consideration of Adam and Eve, he cites Dorotheus of Gaza, St Maximus the Confessor, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Basil the Great, and others, in writing that God made human nature a participant in every good, in all virtue, and all the best imaginable. With St Isaac the Syrian, he writes that “Virtue is naturally in the soul.” However, he notes that “Whereas the image is natural, the likeness is virtual—that is to be realized by man’s freeparticipation in God’s deifying grace.” This refers to the process that is involved in putting on Christ, and being identified with Him. And so, he cites St Basil, who writes “. . . when you see a portrait that conforms to the model exactly, you do not praise the portrait, but rather you admire the painter. And thus, so that I might be the object of admiration, and not another, He has left it to my care to become God’s likeness. Verily, I possess rational being by means of the image, and I become the likeness by becoming Christian.” This, Larchet adds, is directly connected to the admonition by the Lord in 3 Moses 20.26 : “Be holy, as I am holy.”
Anyone who loves and respects another person tries to emulate—to be like—that person. I remember in my own childhood wanting to be like a respected teacher, to be like a respected pastor. It is all the more the case with ourselves and the Lord. We love and respect Him. We wish to be identified with Him. We wish others would see Him in us. This is the practical application of the “putting-on” of Christ, which happens in our Baptism, and which happens in us daily. In being identified with Him, in imitating Him, in emulating Him, Who is Love itself, we cannot but take upon ourselves willingly those personality characteristics, as understood by Fr Fontes, to be exactly the fruits of the Holy Spirit. This all happens by the grace of the operation of the Holy Spirit within us, as we constantly put ourselves in the Lord’s presence. This is the establishment of the Likeness of God in us.
May the Lord grant us the renewal, and the multiplication of the Grace of the Holy Spirit, so that we may, filled with Divine Love, exhibit in our whole being the fruits of the Holy Spirit, the personality characteristics of Christ Himself. May others clearly see the Savour in us. May they acquire the desire to be, with us, like Him, and may they fulfil that desire.