What *is* Christianity”?

Earthen Vessels

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Cor 4:6-15, Mat 22:35-46



In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.[1]


What is Christianity, brothers and sisters? It can be defined many ways. The Gospel speaks many times, giving different definitions of what it is. Today we have another way in which it is defined, for those who read carefully.  


The Apostle tells us that "the God who commanded the light to shine out of the darkness has shined in our hearts, to give the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”[2]


That's a pretty good summary of the Gospel right there. The Lord Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to see the glory of God.


He lived as a man, making it possible for our flesh to obtain the knowledge of God. He who shined before all things hath now brought the light into our hearts. But in order to truly have this light be illuminating all of our hearts, we must understand how to live, because the Lord's mission on the earth was not only to make us capable, but also to teach us how. In order to accomplish a task, you must know something about it, but you must also have the ability to do it. Without the ability and the knowledge, you cannot be successful. The Lord gave us both of these things.


Now, the Apostle goes on to say, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us.”[3]


Hasn’t this always been sort of a riddle to you – your life, how the Church is perfect, spotless, the spotless bride of Christ[4], and yet somehow you, a sinner, are within this spotless bride? How the Lord performs a miracle for you all the time, but certainly on Sunday when you take the Holy Mysteries – and yet you don’t feel completely changed, you don’t feel completely warm from the fire that is within you?


Isn’t this a bit of a riddle? It should be for a Christian, but we should understand part of the answer :we are earthen vessels.


If we had no struggle to become righteous, then we would become proud, we would not appreciate holiness.  


The greatest and most gifted creature there ever was or will be became the greatest devil[5]. The Lord wants to keep us from this terrible condition, so we are earthen vessels. We make many mistakes. We forget a lot. We sin a lot. We have many weaknesses. There is much that we want to do that we can’t. Slowly, we get stronger and are able to do more – but in the Lord’s time, so that we don’t give any credit whatsoever to ourselves.


We have the light of God within us. This light is not from us; it didn’t come from us! It always was; It was before all things were created, and now the Lord abides in us! What a wonderful privilege it is to be a Christian! But a Christian who feels this privilege should at every moment realize that none of it is of himself. So when you sin, let it humble you, let it make you remember that you are still weak, and without God are naked.


“We are troubled from every side,” the Apostle says, “yet not distressed. We are perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not forsaken, cast down but not destroyed, always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be manifest in our body.”[6]


These words have frightened many people away from being true Christians. The Apostle is not just talking about his office as an Apostle; it’s also our office. It’s our office to live as Jesus Christ lived, to feel as He felt, to react to things as He reacted to them. Now, He was constantly dying; His whole purpose to live was in order to die! The whole reason He came into the world, from the moment He was born, His purpose was Jerusalem, and to be crucified.


Now, we are to die as well, but let us not be morbid about it. This is not a dying that should give us anything but joy! This is a dying of things that are useless anyway, a dying off of our selfishness, a dying off of our sinfulness, of our passions, of things which obscure the light. A Christian should gladly die.


At no time does a person feel more free than when he is giving of himself, dying as it were, denying his own needs for the needs of others. We see examples of this in every culture, in every society, Christian or not Christian, where this kind of altruism, giving ourselves to others, is magnified and is considered to be the highest pinnacle of human endeavor. The Lord is the highest pinnacle of this human endeavor, as well; the highest of all the highest, because He showed us how to die daily, how to die minute by minute.


He had no sins to die from and no passions to die from. His dying was accomplished for us, to make us able to die. In the same way, He had no need to be baptized, but He was baptized in order to make us desire and need to be baptized.


We are to live as Christians. To live as Christians means to be like Christ, which means to enter into His mind, which means, to die, which means to react as He reacts.


When you read these words, do you feel that you fulfill them?

Are you troubled, but not in despair?[7]

Are you always bearing about in your body the dying of the Lord Jesus?[8]

Are you giving up of yourself, and giving to others?

Are you trying to put away selfishness, greed, thinking for yourself?

Are you thinking of others first?


If you are doing these things, then you are not far from the kingdom of heaven.[9] Or even if you are trying to do these things (and not doing very well) , but you acknowledge that these things are a necessity, as much as eating, or breathing, is a necessity, then you are also not far from the Kingdom of Heaven. Dying to our own will is a necessity. Our Lord’s will is perfect. We can’t see that will, we can’t realize or understand it, without killing off some of our will.


So we must die, in order to be true Christians. That’s the only place where happiness can occur. The only true happiness is when we are feeling, seeing, experiencing the uncreated Light within us. What a marvelous thing it is! We, who are earthen vessels, hold something that is so precious! We must live like this. We must live like we believe this. We must protect this precious cargo that the Lord has put within our hearts, by everything we say and do.


Christianity is beautiful. We must feel this beauty, we must guard this beauty. He Who created the heavens — He Who was before the heavens — lives within us, earthen vessels that we are, sinners that we are, and yet He helps us to get better. I can’t think of any better news.


I certainly don’t want to live forever, not on this earth, because this earth is passing away, and this earth has too much that is wrong with it. The Lord gives us the opportunity to have Him forever, if only we live as He showed us how to live.


I’ve told you this before. I believe that the reason why our Church loves the saints so much, and why we pray to them, and why we put their icons on the walls, and why they’re a part of our daily life, is because they reflect Christ. And anything which reflects Christ should fascinate us. We should never grow tired of seeing such a thing. And their reflection of Christ shows us that indeed it is possible to be what He has told us to be.


It’s one thing to say, and to believe in our minds, O yes, the Lord has come, and He has become man for our sake, and made us capable of eternal life, made us capable of becoming holy. It’s one thing to say that, but it’s another thing to see that all the saints have accomplished it, which means that we can, too. We accomplish this by attempting to enter into the mind of Christ. His mind is not closed to us at all; it is very open. He desires us to know everyting.


The only way to understand is to do.


Live as a Christian. When you have troubles in your life, go to the Lord in prayer. Don’t despair over them. When you have some difficulty, ask the Lord to help you. It doesn’t mean you won’t have difficulties, it doesn’t mean you won’t be sad. It doesn’t mean you won’t sometimes be perplexed, as the Apostle says. It doesn’t mean that you won’t feel tired, and lonely, and very sad. All these are human things, that even occurred in our Lord Jesus Christ’s life. But how did He live? How did He react when He was tired, and lonely, and sad? By living righteously at every moment. By never failing to struggle. By never failing to die daily.


So, brothers and sisters, we should die. Let us not be afraid of dying. Let us not be afraid of getting rid of that which is already a festering sore in us anyway. Let us get rid of these things, of our evils, and of our desires for ourselves, and of our desire for comfort, of our anxiety about the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. Let us live just as Jesus Christ lived. He’ll make us capable of doing it. And if we die, then we know what the end will be. The apostle says, “Knowing that He which raised up the Lord Jesus Christ shall raise us up also by Jesus, and present us with you.”[10] The Lord will raise us up.


Now, if we have not lived as He has taught us to live here, on the earth, then in the last days, we won’t know Him and we won’t understand Him. Salvation is not a judicial concept, being in the Chuch does not guarantee we will go to Heaven and not Hell.


To be with Christ — truly to be with Him, to understand Him — is to live as He lived on the earth, and as He has shown through all his saints how to live. Then we will understand him. Then there will be this marvelous, shall we say, meeting of the minds. Our little, weak, small mind, like a drop of water, in the ocean of the knowledge of God. May God bless you, and help you in all things. Amen.



Priest Seraphim Holland 2010    


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[1] This Holy was preached on the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, 2002. The Scriptures read on this day were 2 Cor 4:6-15,  Mat 22:35-46

[2] 2 Cor 4:6

[3] 2 Cor 4:7

[4] Cf. [Rev 21:1-3]  And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. {2} And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. {3} And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.


[5] Lucifer

[6] 2 Cor 4:8-10

[7] Cf. [2 Cor 4:8-10]  We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; {9} Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; {10} Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.

[8] See Note 2

[9] Cf. [Mark 12:32-34]  And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: {33} And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. {34} And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.


[10] 2 Cor 4:14