The world prizes virtue in a human being. We would call a person “moral” or “ethical” if they display such qualities as goodness, honesty, loyalty, bravery, trustworthiness, truthfulness, integrity, etc. These are human qualities one can develop and possess to a varying degree with hard work. One need not be a Christian in order to be virtuous. For example we encounter fine examples of great virtue among the ancient Greeks, as with Socrates, Aristides, and many others. The virtues exhibited in the Saints of the Church, however, are not human achievements alone, but rather they are the result of the grace of God working in them–of course with human cooperation.
Once we have received Christ in us through holy Baptism and holy Chrismation (and in holy Communion and the other sacraments), as we pray and struggle in our life to know God, to do His will, to love Him and to serve Him, the grace of the Holy Spirit works our renewal and transformation to God’s image and likeness, that is, to render us like Christ, worthy members of His Body, the holy Church. We then exhibit the fruit, that is, we display the results of the synergy of the Holy Spirit and our personal effort.
In his Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul lists the fruit of the Holy Spirit. He says,
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22).
St. Paul names nine virtues, that is good qualities and characteristics which we value in a person, yet he does not call them virtues, but fruit, and notice the singular, fruit, not fruits, of the Spirit. In contrast to the “works”, plural, “of the flesh,” used earlier, the single, fruit, indicates that they form a unity, that is, they are obtained all together. So although a person may be known by one rather than another of these virtues, either a person has them all or none at all!
Today,1 we’ll talk briefly about each one of these virtues/fruit of the Spirit, and provide an example from the lives of the Saints for a better understanding.
1. LOVE (αγάπη)
Love is mentioned first, because it is the highest, but also because in it all the other gifts of the Holy Spirit are included: In it “the whole law is fulfilled” (Gal. 5:14). Love, “which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14), is the root and cause of the other gifts. “Love bears all things” (1 Cor. 13:7)—and all kinds of people!
As an example of great love for the fellow human being, we bring the testimony of a woman who tells the following story about the blessed Elder (now Saint) Iakovos:
“He loved everyone intensely. I went to see him, and as soon as he saw me he began to cry so hard that he was shaking, and his tears were running to the floor. ‘Why?’ he kept saying, ‘why?’ addressing me by name. I was shaken. No one had ever cried like this for me before—especially someone who did not know me. But he knew me. He knew everything about me. Not only what I had done, but even the things that I was going to do, which I did not know myself at the time—but he knew!” This love and great concern of the Elder made her turn around, and change her life.
2. JOY (χαρά)
This is the joy of the spirit which a person experiences, despite all the adversities and physical suffering encountered, a joy which nothing and no one can take away from us (cf. John 16:22). It is a “joy inspired by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thes. 1:6), despite the affliction one experiences, the “unutterable and exalted joy” St. Peter talks about (1 Pet. 1:8), the joy born in the hearts of the redeemed.
I cannot think of any one exemplifying the joy of Christ more than Saint Seraphim of Sarov, whose greeting year-round was, “Christ is risen, dear heart!”
3. PEACE (ειρήνη)
Peace is a gift of God, who is “the God of peace” (1 Thes. 5:23). This peace of God surpasses all understanding (cf. Phil. 4:7).The love one has in his heart and the joy one feels in his spirit cause the interior peace of the soul, which cannot be disturbed, either from within, by thoughts and imaginations, or from without, by the world and the devil.
Here is a small example of interior peace, from the life of Fr. Dimitri Gagastathis: Whenever people would trouble him and actually persecute him because of his faith, he would invariably say: “My sins persecute me—not people.”
4. LONGSUFFERING (Μακροθυμία)
Longsuffering is the long and patient endurance of injuries, insults, adversities, etc. It too springs from love, as the Apostle says, “love is patient and kind” (1 Cor. 13:4), and as he also says, “forbearing one another in love” (Eph. 4:2).
Here is another small example from the life of Fr. Dimitri Gagastathis: He wanted one of his nine daughters to become a nun, but his presbytera would have nothing of it. This created a tension and a source of conflict. One time, he himself narrates, she was at it for hours, going on and on. He sat quietly, reading his Bible and praying the Jesus prayer without saying a word. He later said that he was not disturbed at all, but kept his inner peace throughout the ordeal.
5. KINDNESS (χρηστότητος)
Kindness here is not to be equated with being gracious, polite and courteous, it does not refer to a person of gentle manners. It is a quality that makes one God-like, “for He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Lk. 6:35). One who has this quality would suffer anything, rather than offend his brother.
This following story is about Elder Elpidios of the Holy Mountain who reposed in the Lord in 1983:
When he first went to Mount Athos he participated in a vigil, and when the time for holy communion came, as is customary, he entered the altar. A monk told him abruptly, ‘We don’t receive communion today. You won’t receive either. You must conform to our rules. You must do obedience to what we tell you.’ The Elder, without being disturbed, told him, ‘May be blessed, Father.’ He stood there for the duration of the vigil, which lasted for ten or eleven hours. Then, after it was over, he went to his hut, and with two brothers he celebrated the Liturgy in order to receive holy Communion. He did not say a word to the brother who attacked him, who was much younger than he was and who was not a priest, although he was an Archimandrite.
6. GOODNESS (αγαθωσύνη)
Goodness is a quality attributed uniquely to God: “No one is good (ἀγαθός) but God alone” (Lk. 18:19). Goodness is a quality to do good, to have a good resolve and disposition to do good no matter what. It is in imitation of God, who “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Mt. 4:45).
Someone told Abba Zosimas, “I love you very much.” “I believe you,” the Elder replied, “but if I do something you won’t like, you won’t love me anymore, whereas I will love you no matter what.” Some time passed and the Elder heard that this man was cursing him and speaking evil of him. The Elder thought: “God sent this man to heal my vain soul. He will benefit me greatly, whereas those who praise me cause me damage. Therefore he is my benefactor.” He prayed so much for him that eventually this man could not resist his goodness and repented before him in tears.
As St. Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).
7. FAITHFULNESS (πίστις)
“God is faithful” (1 Cor. 1:9. cf. Rom. 3:3), not as having faith, but as being constant (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13), trustworthy (cf. 2 Cor. 1:18). It is a divine quality. The martyrs were “faithful unto death” (Rev. 2:10), not vacillating at the face of bodily harm and suffering, imitating thus their Lord “Jesus Christ the faithful martyr” (Rev. 1:5. cf. 3:14).
In lieu of an example from the life of a Saint, we quote the following lines from the Wisdom of Solomon, read in the Vespers service for Martyrs:
“The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of Himself; like gold in the furnace He tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering He accepted them. In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them forever. Those who trust in Him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with Him in love, because grace and mercy are upon His holy ones, and He watches over His elect” (Wis. of Sol. 3:1-9).
8. GENTLENESS (πραότης)
Gentleness makes us Christ-like, for, as the Lord attests about Himself, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt. 11:29). St. Paul appeals to such qualities in Christ: “I appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1). Those who have the “spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1) bear one another’s burdens (cf. v. 2). The Lord blessed the meek (cf. Mt. 5:5).
One time a beggar asked charity from St. John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria. He immediately gave him a sum of money, which, however, didn’t satisfy the beggar who began to curse the Hierarch to his face. Everyone was indignant at the offense, except the patriarch. With sweetness and calmness he looked at him, and very gently told the people who were with him, who had detained the insolent beggar: Leave him alone, my brothers. I offend Christ with my works for sixty years and He bears with me. Shall I not now endure so small of an offense? Give him some more money and let him go.
9. SELF-CONTROL (εγράτεια)
Self-control or “continence”, is applied not only to the desires of the flesh (cf. 1 Cor. 7:9) or to the cravings of the stomach, but it is used in the more general sense of an “athlete who exercises self-control in all things” (1 Cor. 9:25). Self-control is the avoidance of evil deeds and thoughts.
A small example from the life of Patriarch Pavle of Serbia (+2009) may suffice to illustrate self-control, when it comes to food:
A few years ago Patriarch Pavle was invited to dedicate a new cathedral in San Francisco. At the banquet they had, he was seen taking an apple out of his pocket, cutting it in half, eating one half of it and putting the other half back to his pocket. That was his supper.
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The Saints, my dear Christians, are the good soil on which the Holy Spirit produced abundant fruit (cf. Mk. 4:8). They are themselves the fruit of the Holy Spirit. They are the mirrors of Christ, “who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God” (Rom. 7:4). The Saints possess the virtues of Christ and share His deified human nature—thus they reveal Christ to us. Through the holy intercessions of the holy Theotokos and of all the Saints may we too, my dear brothers and sisters, obtain the holy virtues to our “measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). Amen.
- All Saints day