Putting on Christ (2009)

Archbishop Seraphim : Article
Putting on Christ
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Summer 2009]

As many as have been baptised into Christ, have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). These are the words that we sing at every Holy Mystery of Baptism into the Body of Christ of every believer. These are the words that we repeat, too, on several major feast-days of the Church : Pascha, Pentecost, Nativity, Theophany. Long ago, baptisms were done only on such days. Nowadays, we are receiving new faithful persons at almost any time of the year, and we can sing this hymn, the words of the Apostle Paul, very often. How deep are the implications of these words ! They are not words to be said only for the occasion. They are words that describe the baptised one's very being, as he or she is then immediately chrismated and, thereby, filled with the Holy Spirit.

Recently I had the blessing, during a retreat, of talking at length with a priest, Father David Fontes, an American psychologist. He is in the process of writing a book in which he reflects on these words, and he gave me permission to share, in advance, something of what he understands of the implications of them.

For background, the “fruits of the Holy Spirit”, as described by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22-23, are in fact one nine-fold “fruit”; and these all together reveal the character of Christ in the person who has put on Christ. These characteristics are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control. This last characteristic is certainly not the least important. The characteristics are not separated from one another, and one does not “pick-and-choose” amongst them. The Lord gives them to us in order to live them. When we live them, and express them, we often are not aware of it, although others often are.

According to the perception of Father David Fontes, this “putting on Christ” in baptism implies a deep identification with Christ Himself. Father David reflected on the fact that most people talk about the uniqueness of their personality, differing from that of others. Someone might say : “Well, that is simply his/her personality”, or : “It seems that they have a personality conflict”. He said that he has come to see that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are, in reality, manifestations of Christ's Personality. If this is the case, then there really is a “Christian personality” that we should all possess as baptised Christians, and that we should therefore manifest towards others. As the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) lays out a number of personality criteria for specific personality disorders, so too the Bible lays out nine personality characteristics that make up a holy Christian personality. Father David perceives that these fruits of the Holy Spirit are, in fact, personality characteristics of Christ Himself. Therefore, if we are identifying with Christ, who is definitely a Person, then we will also exhibit His personality characteristics, which are these very fruits. These nine fruits are clearly the characteristics of His Life, as we see throughout the Scriptures.

Father Fontes’ assertions are underscored by the writing of Jean-Claude Larchet in Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses, partly quoted in the Lenten 2008 issue of Divine Ascent (Saint John of Shanghai Monastery, Manton, CA). Living in France, Larchet holds doctorates in theology and philosophy. Writing in the context of the Fathers is his specialty. In the context of a consideration of Adam and Eve, he cites Saint Dorotheus of Gaza, Saint Maximus the Confessor, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Basil the Great, and others, in writing that God made human nature a participant in every good, in all virtue, and all the best imaginable. With Saint Isaac the Syrian, he writes that “Virtue is naturally in the soul”. However, he notes that “Whereas the image is natural, the likeness is virtual - that is to be realized by man's free participation in God's deifying grace”. This refers to the process of putting on Christ, and being identified with Him. He cites Saint Basil, who writes : "[...] when you see a portrait that conforms to the model exactly, you do not praise the portrait, but rather you admire the painter [...] He has left it to my care to become God’s likeness. Verily, I possess rational being by means of the image, and I become the likeness by becoming Christian". This, Larchet adds, is directly connected to the admonition by the Lord in 3 Moses [Leviticus] 11:45 : “You shall therefore be holy, for I, the Lord, am holy”.

Anyone who loves and respects another person tries to emulate (to be like) that person. I remember in my own childhood wanting to be like a respected teacher, to be like a respected pastor. It is all the more the case with ourselves and the Lord. We love and respect Him. We wish to be identified with Him. We wish others would see Him in us. This is the practical application of the “putting-on” of Christ, which happens in our baptism, and which happens in us daily. In being identified with Him, in imitating Him, in emulating Him, who is Love itself, we cannot but take upon ourselves willingly those personality characteristics, which are understood by Father Fontes to be precisely the fruits of the Holy Spirit. This all happens by the Grace of the operation of the Holy Spirit within us, as we constantly put ourselves in the Lord's presence. This is the establishment of the Likeness of God in us.

May the Lord grant us the renewal, and the multiplication of the Grace of the Holy Spirit, so that we may, filled with Divine Love, exhibit in our whole being the fruits of the Holy Spirit, the personality characteristics of Christ Himself. May others clearly see our Saviour in us. May they acquire the desire to be, with us, like Him. May they fulfil that desire.