Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

"Goodwill Toward Men"

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"God has always preserved freedom and the power of self-government in man. Yet, at the same time, He issued His own exhortations, in order that those who do not obey Him would be righteously judged because they have not obeyed Him. And those who have obeyed and believed on Him should be honored with immortality" (Irenaeus c.180).

In the Holy Gospel of St. Luke we read "And suddenly there was with the angels a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men" (Luke 2:13-14).

What does this tell us? It tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ came not only to bring peace into the earthly world but also to bring to humanity -- "goodwill toward men". This is how the Lord Jesus would reconcile humanity to God through peace and people's actions to one another through good will. Through the actions of peacefulness and goodwill, the Lord will save His people from the power of sin and death. The dedication to and magnitude of the meaning of peace and goodwill further impact not only the announcement of the immaculate and Holy birth but the far reaching implications of the Lord Jesus Christ's saving grace would be realized.

From the very inception and announcement of the Lord Jesus Christ's birth we are called to peace and good will towards others. From this announcement we are called upon in the truest sense to lead a life of holiness and not resist the Holy Spirit's work in us. Is it not true that if we are in communion with the Holy Spirit we are in peace and have good will towards others? As did Elijah and as did St. John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus Christ grew strong in Spirit. How do we know the Lord Jesus Christ Himself grew strong in the Spirit? He demonstrated peace and good will towards men.

Though still a youth, St. Stephen understood what it meant to grow strong in the Holy Spirit and the importance of doing so related to one's spiritual life. St. Stephen admonished the Jews,

"You stiff necked...You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you" (Acts 7:51).

It is when we refuse the peace and good will in our lives that we refuse also the Holy Spirit's work in us. The Holy Spirit gives us the capability spiritually to combat indifference, combat spiritual negligence, but it is by choice that we resist His work in us.

"He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8).

St. Clement of Alexandria c. 195 wrote..."To obey or not is in our own power, provided we do not have the excuse of ignorance."

The Galatians (3:3) were admonished by St. Paul in his letter to the church as they were believers in the Lord Jesus Christ yet they were foolish because they thought they were made perfect through circumcision or by the flesh not by the Holy Spirit in their lives. St. Paul in astonishment wrote:

"Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?" (Galatians 3:3).

The Holy Spirit, through peace and works of good will, gives us a new heart and a new spirit. It gives us the ability to grow and increase in our spiritual lives. It gives us the ability to fight the earthly desires and lusts of the flesh. Synergism teaches that the Christian free will can and must cooperate with the Holy Spirit in order to obtain eternal salvation.

"God will render to each one according to his deeds, eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good, seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath" (Romans 2:6-8).

One should not resist God's Saving Grace. St. Ignatius (c. 105) wrote that "When you are desirous to do well, God is also ready to assist you."

Synergism teaches us that the Holy Spirit leads us to do good, be upright in our love for the Lord and pursue peace. It is the Holy Spirit abiding in us and directing our lives. Yet, synergism cannot be forced. If a person is obedient to the Holy Spirit and in communion with the Holy Spirit, he will continue to grow in holiness. The saints are an example of those who had exercised the doctrine of synergism in their earthly lives.

The psalmist David pleaded "Do not cast me away from Your presence and do take Your Holy Spirit from me" (Psalms 51:11). Why? If the Holy Spirit is not within us, nor within our heart; and we reject Him continuing in sin, we cannot repent. A person cannot acceptably repent before God without the presence of the Holy Spirit within him.

Our beloved Church teaches that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not forgiven. Why? "Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men" (Matthew 12:31). For the reason we have alluded to. It is the refusal by the mind, the heart, and the free will of all works of the Holy Spirit; and the elimination of the Holy Spirit from our lives. Therefore without the abiding of the Holy Spirit within us; and His work through us, we cannot repent. No one can repent without the Holy Spirit living within them.

Since no sin can be forgiven without repentance; we must guard against the refusal of synergism in our life and look towards salvation through peace and good will. The thief on the cross is an example of someone accepting the Lord, recognizing the Holy Spirit and opening his heart to repentance and to salvation.

God does not force us to do good. However, who would not desire a life of peace and good will towards others? Who would turn away a better life? Let us not be like Samson who had the Spirit of the Lord and broke his vow because of the sinful environment he placed himself in and the company of Delilah, a sinful woman. Samson allowed the Holy Spirit to depart from him and subsequently his strength as an ultimate result. Although Samson repented; it cost him his life and his reputation. He went from Samson the strong to Samson the weak, to Samson the repentant, to an undesirable earthly death. Samson's peace left him, his good will corrupted and he died within a sinful environment and amongst violence.

Synergism and good will were within the disciples' hearts and lives. They did not fear death, beating or insults; nor did they deny their calling in life. Others did not influence their lives and they lived large. Their lives produced fruits and faithfulness not only in themselves but countless others. Their missions were successful and we follow in their apostolic traditions today in applying the good will taught by these apostles and numerous other saints.

In Acts (6:10) we read about the young St. Stephen...

"they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke."

The power of good will towards others produced signs, miracles and wonders. It would establish faith in Egypt and many countries in the East. It would go global.

"Emmanuel our God: is now in our midst: with the glory of His Father: and the Holy Spirit.
May He bless us all: purify our hearts: and heal the sicknesses of our souls and our bodies.
We worship You, O Christ: with Your Good Father:
and the Holy Spirit: for You were born and saved us.
Have mercy on us" (From the hymns of the Church).

Bishop Youssef
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

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