We often use this word, but do we always know what it means? How can we acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit? Can we speak of a grace-filled church or a grace-filled priest? How do we know if you have been touched by Grace? Archpriest Alexander Khvorost, Rector of the Church of the Holy Martyr John the Warrior at Druzhkovka, Ukraine, explains the meaning of grace in Christianity, and how we may acquire or lose it.
The doctrine of the Church
Grace can refer to many things, so let us first decide what we mean by it. In Christianity and the Church doctrine, grace means the action of God on man. So how does God act? In dogmatic writings, grace is defined as the fullness of God’s love and mercy bestowed on the people as a living and active energy that gives us life and brings us to salvation. As the energy that accords us sanctity and salvation, it conforms with the following definitions:
- Grace is a distinct, uncreated energy of God.
- It is given to us by the descent of the Holy Spirit. All things at the Church happen by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
- Grace is bestowed on man by virtue of the redemptive deed of our Lord Jesus Christ. Man acquires it as a great gift of God.
- Grace does not change the nature of man but transforms the existence of such nature. In other words, the action of the Lord’s grace has transformative power over people.
In the Holy Scripture, the words “grace”, “Holy Spirit”, “Gift of Grace”, and “Gift of the Holy Spirit” are used interchangeably and synonymously. The action of the Holy Spirit on man is mysterious and unique. The Grace of God has a distinct presence in the sacraments of the Church. In the sacrament of priestly ordination, the following prayer is said, “The divine grace, which always heals that which is infirm and completes that which is lacking”. It reaffirms the power of the Divine Grace to cover our weaknesses and transform us as humans.
The teachings of Saint Seraphim of Sarov
Perhaps the most complete teaching on the divine grace is provided in the account of the conversation between Saint Seraphim of Sarov and his disciple Motovilov. The words “grace” and “graceful” occur 51 times throughout the text. Saint Seraphim affirms that any act of virtue performed for the sake of Jesus Christ (emphasis added) will bring the grace of the Holy Spirit, but most of all the prayer. The Lord said, “The Kingdom of God is now within us.” (Luke 17:21). By the Kingdom of God, he meant the grace of the Holy Spirit. We seek the grace of the holy spirit with our prayer and church life our piety, and by partaking in the Holy Sacraments. As Saint Seraphim of Sarov taught, these are the means that bring us closer to God.
However, there is one caveat to which Saint Seraphim draws our attention: God gives us His grace, which we eventually lose because we cannot keep it. It takes an effort to keep, accumulate and build upon the grace of the Holy Spirit. In his commentary on the parable of the nine virgins, Saint Seraphim underlined that the foolish virgins ran out of myrrh because they had lost the grace of the Holy Spirit, despite their righteousness.
How do we keep the gift of His grace? First, by not letting ourselves become complacent. Grace fills all things at Church – its sacraments, rites, traditions and offices. The Grace of the Holy Spirit illuminates every small detail at the church. But taking the right attitude is critical. We must have piety and the fear of God.
It is easy for us to take for granted things we already have, and stop recognising their value. We begin to see the gift of grace as a tradition, even a national tradition, as we do now. With this attitude, we lose the grace of the Holy Spirit even within the Church by forgetting about the fear of God, not giving him thanks, and losing our piety. We cannot remain true believers without the right attitude to the gift of God’s grace. It is possible to be churched, but without grace.
Recognising the presence of God’s grace
The most telling sign of the presence of His grace is joy. We often despair, feel depressed or wrathful. These states of mind are both common and frequent for many of us. Our moods are subject to change, but feeling negative most of the time should suggest that we need to repent. But our feeling of joy is the sign of our being in the Holy Spirit. We rejoice in meeting other people, attending worship services, participating in the sacraments and spiritual life. How can there be any place for sadness when we are with God? With God, how can we despair?
Let us not go looking for grace
Everything is grace-filled at the Church. It is not true that some churches or priests are more grace-filled than others. Grace is invisible. Sometimes, we can sense it, but only when we are disposed to it. Sometimes, people confuse with the gift of grace their positive experiences or impressions. They tend to view grace in worldly terms, like the attention given to them by the priest, or his impression of the church. We should not go looking for grace. “The Kingdom of God is now within you,” said the Lord. So let us live righteously, grow rich towards the Heaven and please the Lord in every way we can, and He will bestow on us the gift of His spirit, shed His grace and fill our lives, prayers and faith with His joy.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds