St. Paul’s counsel to the Ephesians delivers a direct and powerful message to his spiritual children: ‘and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you’ (Eph 4:32). With this year’s synthima, we are called to challenge ourselves in christotis. Experientially, Christotis means to make room in my own life for Christ to come in, and transform me from my old self. Literally, ‘xρηστοί’ means, ‘honourable, virtuous, moral’. Elsewhere, it translates as useful, helpful, obliging, or benevolent. Beyond logically understanding what christotis means, our challenge is to ask ourselves if we have experienced christotis in our everyday life. Have we been moved by Christ’s mercy for us, and has this motivated us to be kind, forgiving, and sacrificing for others?
St Paul is strongly advising his spiritual children to become christoi. So we may assume that this does not come easily, but in order to acquire this virtue we need to work at it, and we need grace and humility. We need to have mentors who inspire christotis in us, and then we can become examples of christotis for others. St Ignatius of Antioch points out such a virtue strengthens the bond of unity between Christians and in this way Satan’s power is confounded.
So how can we acquire this virtue? St Paul gives us the answer. He tells us to avoid all those ills which grieve the Spirit of God, to put off the old self, and put on the new. He teaches us to be approachable and gentle, leaving anger, bitterness, wrath and slander with malice behind. If we are merciful, and serene and take the initiative to reach out to others, our approachability will overcome the shyness and fear of those for whom we reach out to. Often those who are not receptive to the Christian message can be moved by acts of love. As Archbishop Anastasios of Albania said in an address to the World Council of Churches: ‘Many of those who deny or resist the name ‘God’ indirectly accept His other name: Love’.
Humility in Christ is the only way in which the secret of spiritual radiance can be revealed as christotis. When humility is missing, then kindness does not differ from a worldly type of humanitarianism. Deeply humane people, who love humanity passionately, have so much sorrow for the world that they rebel against God, because they ascribe the world’s ills to Him. The Orthodox view of christotis, however, differs from this worldly kindness. It is expressed through the lives of saintly souls who are close to God’s love, who live a life of repentance and ascetiscism, and have the “type of love that suffers in this world of sin, but is triumphant in eternity”, according to St Chrysostom. These souls struggle to discard their old self, and when repentance reaches a certain stage of fulfilment, they then experience grace, and the love of Christ begins to become active within them and flows out to all humanity. Then, as St Silouan says: ‘the saintly soul does not see the world with his physical eyes but with the spiritual, and he deeply empathises with all that humanity suffers with a Christian conscience, because he sees that each person’s soul is priceless’.
St Paul and St John Chrysostom showed us christotis when they stated that they were willing to sacrifice their souls and bodies for their spiritual children. St Paul writes: ‘Who is ill, and I am not ill with him?’ (2 Cor: 11:29), and St John Chrysostom in Homily 44, like St Paul, writes: ‘I would prefer to lose my sight, to be blind, if that would save your souls.’ Further, St Chrysostom reminds us that Christ is the prototype of christotis since He became poor for us, went on the Cross, in the Tomb, and pleaded to the Father for our sake… He did everything to save us. So what more do we want he asks?
So those who are aware of God’s mercy express their gratitude through christotis by being ‘ambassadors for Christ,’ and in this way they allow God to make His appeal through them. So what they do and say will be edifying for their neighbours since they will say only good things and nothing more. St Ignatius points out: ‘it is better to keep quiet and be, than to make fluent professions and not be’. He reminds us that ‘what Christ achieved with His silences was well worthy of the Father. A man who has truly mastered the utterances of Jesus will also be able to apprehend His silence, and thus reach full spiritual maturity, so that his own words have the force of actions and his silences the significance of speech’.
Source: February- March 2014 Lychnos Edition