A homily of St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, translated by Nun Cornelia (Rees)
The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him (John 4:23)
Beloved brethren! Today we have heard in the Gospel that the true servants of the true God worship Him in Spirit and in Truth and that God seeks, that is, He desires to have such worshippers. If God desire to have such worshippers, then it is obvious that He will receive only such worshippers and servants, and they only are pleasing to Him. This teaching was imparted to us by the Son of God Himself. We believe in the teaching of Christ! We accept the all-holy teaching of Christ with all our love! In order to follow Him carefully, let us look at what it means to worship God the Father in Spirit and in Truth.
Truth is our Lord Jesus Christ, as He testifies of Himself: I am the way, the truth and the life (John 4:16). The Truth is the Word of God: Thy word is truth (John 17:17). This Word was pre-eternally in God, it was pronounced by God and to God; this Word is God, this Word is the Creator of everything that exists, both visible and invisible (cf. John 1:1,5; Colossians 1:16). This Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the Only- Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). No man hath seen God at any time, but the Word of God, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him (John 1:18). The Son of God, the Word of God confessed God before people, and fully manifested God to people; the Son of God showed people the truth that was incomprehensible to them, having irrefutably witnessed to it and impressed it upon them by abundantly bestowing divine grace. And of His fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:16–17). This means that Jesus Christ brought not some more or less detailed and clear understanding of grace and truth, but the grace itself, the truth itself, essentially bestowed upon people, instilled in people. We have been made partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
Truth has a characteristic Spirit. This spirit is called the Spirit of Truth (cf. John 15:26; 16:13). It is Spirit, proceeding from the Father (cf. John 15:26). It is the Holy Spirit of God (cf. John 14:26). It is the Spirit of the Son (cf. Galatians 4:6), as inseparably close to the Son, as comprising together with the Father and the Son one undivided and unmingled Divine Essence. Accepting the Truth, we also accept the Holy Spirit—that is why the All-Holy Truth says of Himself, that He will send the Holy Spirit from the Father to His disciples. Naturally, the Holy Spirit of Truth will be present where Holy Truth acts and will leave the effect of Its action. In like manner, where the Holy Spirit works, there will be an abundant manifestation of Truth, as the Lord also said to His disciples: Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth (John 16:13). Describing the wondrous relationship of the Divine Word to the Divine Spirit, the Lord said of the Spirit: He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are Mine (John 16:14–15). The Spirit shows and manifests to people the Son co-natural to Him. The Holy Spirit spiritually forms the true Christian and transforms him into a dwelling-place of God (cf. Ephesians 2:22); He represents Christ and instills Him in the inner man (cf. Ephesians 3:16–17). He makes people God’s children by adoption, making them like unto Christ, establishing Christ-like qualities in them (cf. John 14:6).6 People who have been made children of God by adoption turn to Him in their prayers as to their Father, because the Holy Spirit very clearly and tangibly witnesses to the spirit of a person renewed by Him (cf. Romans 8:16) concerning that person’s union with God, his adoption by God. And because ye are sons, says the Apostle, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father (Galatians 4:6). Such worshippers are recognized as true worshippers of God! Such worshippers, who worship God in Spirit and in Truth, seek and receive God. There is no knowledge of God outside of true Christianity, and no service of God.
No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me (John 14:6), said the Lord. There is no God for those who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ: Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father (1 John 2:23), and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him (John 3:36). It is impossible to approach God or to enter into any kind of communion with Him in any other way than through our Lord Jesus Christ, the only Intermediary, Intercessor and means of communion between God and man! There is no true knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ without the mediation of the Holy Spirit! No man, says the Apostle, can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 12:3). Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His (Romans 8:9). There is no virtue outside of Christianity that is worthy of Heaven! “Nothing good,” says St. Mark the Ascetic, “can be believed in or acted upon unless it be of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.” Unworthy of God are natural human good works, which proceed from our fallen nature, in which goodness is mixed with evil, and in which goodness is for the most part barely noticeable amidst the preponderance of evil. Fallen nature is capable exclusively of evil, as God Himself testified: The imagination of man is intently bent upon evil things from his youth (Genesis 8:21); If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children (Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13). Such is the worth before the Gospels and God of natural human goodness and the activity proceeding from it. In vain does fallen nature glorify its great and famous good works! Such self-praise shows a terrible blindness! Such self-praise is an involuntary reproach against the famous works of men, inspired and nourished by vainglory. The stench of pride coming from these whited sepulchers is an abomination to God; pleasing to Him is the incense of humility.
That is why the Lord commanded fallen and blinded mankind to deny its nature, for man is unconscious of his woeful fallenness. To the contrary, he sees it as a magnificent triumph and seeks to escalate this triumph. For the sake of salvation, we must renounce sin! But sin has become so much a part of us that it has become our nature, our very soul. In order to renounce sin, it has become essentially necessary to renounce our fallen nature, to renounce our soul (cf. Mat-thew 10:39), to renounce not only the obviously evil deeds, but also the good deeds of the old man that the world honors and glorifies; it is essentially necessary to replace our manner of thinking with the mind of Christ and to replace our activity motivated by the senses and the dictates of carnal mindedness with the scrupulous fulfillment of Christ’s commandments. If ye continue in My word, said the Lord, then are ye My disciples indeed. And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:31-32). What remarkable and deep words! Their direct impact consists in the fact that sin holds man in slavery only through incorrect and false understanding. It is likewise clear that the destructive incorrectness of these understandings also consist precisely in an acceptance as good what is in essence not good, and in the non-acceptance as evil what is in essence, murderous evil.
He who is from God, hears the words of God (cf. John 8:43), said the Lord. Brethren! Let us humble ourselves before our Lord God! Unlike the hardened Jews, who rejected both the Lord and His teachings, let us show submission to the Lord and obedience to His all-holy and saving teachings! Let us set aside the manner of thinking that comes from our fallen nature and from the world, which is at enmity with God! Let us assimilate the manner of thinking that the Lord offers us through His holy Gospels! Let us follow the Truth, and we shall inherit the Truth. The Truth frees the human mind from the invisible bonds of error by which sin has shackled it. Moreover, the omnipotent Truth, having given spiritual freedom to the mind, renewed and enlivened it by life from above—by the Word of God, brings it out onto the path of Christ’s commandments and removes it from the way of unrighteousness (Ps. 118:29). The soul enlivened by the Truth hymns together with the inspired prophet: The way of Thy commandments have I run, when Thou didst enlarge my heart. Set before me for a law, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes, and I will seek after it continually. Give me understanding, and I will search out Thy law, and I will keep it with whole heart (Ps. 118:32–34). Such a soul will unfailingly become a partaker of the Holy Spirit, Who cannot but be present where Divine Truth is present and reigns; the Truth, Who in His mysterious counsel with the All-Holy Truth, speaks of Himself thus: I am a partaker with all them that fear Thee, and with them that keep Thy commandments (Ps. 118:63).
As long as man abides in his fallen nature, as long as he is immersed in the darkness of his exceedingly deep ignorance, he does not know how he should pray, he does not know what he should pray for (cf. Romans 8:26), and he is in-capable of serving God. Only faith in Christ gives knowledge of Truth; faith, expressed by the fulfillment of Christ’s commandments, draws the grace of the Holy Spirit to the heart of the faithful, as the God-inspired prophet said: I opened my mouth and drew in my breath, for I longed for Thy commandments (Ps. 118:131). Only a true Christian, a Christian in faith and deed, can be a true worshipper of God, worshipping and serving God as the Father, in Spirit and in Truth. Amen.