All Saints Sunday (1995)

Sermon for All Saints Sunday  1995

Saints =   the Holy Ones of God, those who sought out God’s will in their lives.     They didn’t just think about doing God’s will, or hope they did God’s will, nor wish they could do God’s will.  They fought to do it, strived to do it, consciously and conscientiously struggled to do God’s will.   

It was not a matter of just doing what they wanted to do anyway and then saying, “I hope this was God’s will.”   NO!  First and foremost they prayed, and studied God’s Word to understand the will of the Lord, and then they acted upon what they understood.

When we look at the icons around us, we are looking at some of the saints whom we honor today.  I know there is a tendency to somehow think these people were different from us, that they spent their whole life as professional Christians and because of the Grace of God they never sinned nor made mistakes and so life was simple for them to become saints.      This is a false image.  These people are saints because they overcame their limitations, they overcame great obstacles and problems to follow the will of the Lord.

Consider a few of the people in the icons of our church:

St. Peter was a married man.  He had all the problems that any husband has.  St. Paul was a single male.  His profession was a tentmaker – he was a skilled laborer, but he had to work hard and had to struggle with all the problems that any single person has to face.  The Virgin Mary came from a very poor background, her husband was a carpenter.  They had to face all the problems of the working class of their day.  Our Lord himself was raised in a working class family.  They faced all the pressures of any family.  St. Nina was a slave, a women with no rank nor money and she too faced all the problems of a single women with no rights.

If we look around the church we know the occupation of some of the saints,   there is a doctor in St. Luke, a fisherman in St. Peter and St. John (working class folks), and there are other married and single men and women, some poor some of the educated class who all aimed to serve God in their lives.

These my friends are the saints of God.  May you and I be faithful enough to join them in the pursuit of God’s will in our own lives, in our jobs, in our families and in our homes and neighborhoods.  For that is how we can best honor the Saints throughout the year is by imitating their lives and upholding their examples and their values in our daily lives.

Yes, there also are many mystical and ascetical saints in our church.   Some of us are called to follow their examples as well.   But my main contention to you is that you can take up  your cross and follow Christ today in your life.   The only thing you need to change is your heart and mind in repentance.  All other circumstances, married or single, working class or middle class, etc, are simply means for you to honor the Lord.

And I would tell you to start your pursuit of holiness by prayer, first and foremost.  Then by studying God’s Word to learn the will of the Lord our God.   I especially encourage you to follow the Beatitudes, be humble, merciful, seeking righteousness, mourning, pure in heart and peacemakers.  This is the way to holiness my friends.

A final note to you if you think about the Saints of America that we have recognized in our country, what do you notice that is different about them then the saints that I have mentioned from earlier times in Christian history?        

Yes, all of them so far were “professional” Christians, clergymen and monks.   I believe the one gift the American Orthodox Church is going to give back to Orthodoxy is the gift of hundreds of saints from the ranks of the laity, from you, from common people who struggle with doing God’s will in their homes, in their families, on their jobs.  The true flowering and bearing of fruit in Orthodoxy in America will come when we again realize that the struggle to do God’s will is not the exclusive right of professional clergy, but is the call of each and every one of us, whether we be a father, mother, single, child, working class or filthy rich.

May the Holy Spirit indeed descend upon each of us and help us to realize our high calling in America.

All Saints of North America

Sermon from 4 July 2005

This weekend:   In the Church we are commemorating All the Saints of North America                                 In our country, we are commemorating Independence Day

While American freedoms and independence are a special gift for which we ought to give thanks to God, it should be obvious to all of us that independence and freedom are not necessary conditions to live a holy life and to please God.   The vast majority of Christian saints lived outside of America and in fact lived in times of almost no freedoms and great persecutions.  Being a Christian is not dependent on being an American.    And our goal as Christians is not just to be independent and free to do anything we want, but our goal is to love God and our neighbor.

Freedom and independence do not necessarily lead to holiness, to faith, to love, to being a Christian.   One has to be willing to use one’s freedom to choose holiness and goodness and truth and love.   We don’t automatically get to heaven just because we are born in America or because we have the right to exercise our freedoms.

In fact one can use one’s freedoms and independence to live a proud, alienated self-centered life.  One can use one’s freedoms to serve self, or to serve evil, or to serve God and neighbor.

America, God shed His grace on thee, and crowned thy good with brotherhood.

Embedded within the American ideals, within America’s self-myths or these very high virtues of goodness, truth, justice, kindness, generosity, brotherhood.   It is up to us to bring these forward into our lives.

We are free to live by the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, to strive for the Christian ideal of deification, that union with God by which we experience God in our daily lives.    We also are free to practice self-deification, whereby we each make ourselves to be the most important thing in the world, and we treat all others around us as things designed to serve our self interest.

Freedom does create that temptation to be proud and alienated and self-sufficient.

But these things can be overcome when we as God’s children embrace the goodness of creation itself – Creation that great gift which God created for us to enjoy and to be a cause of our giving thanks to Him.   We overcome our self-centeredness when we embrace our interrelatedness to the rest of humanity, when we see in each person the image of God, and realize we all were created to share the earth and we actually can love one another.

We are most blessed when we use our God-bestowed freedoms to relinquish our isolated self-will in favor of communion with Christ.   For here in the liturgy, we should be able to experience the blessedness of all creation through the sacraments in which creation itself becomes our means to communion with God.   Here we come to see each other not as poor and rich, smart and stupid, beautiful and ugly, like me or different – but here we are given opportunity to see each other in the image and likeness of God as we each were created by God.

And here we especially experience the blessings and love of God for us, for which we give thanks.    Because here we realize that it really is not only the rich, the powerful, the self promoters, the aggressive, the famous, those who forcefully help themselves and the healthy and the gorgeous who are blessed.

Because the good news is that even the poor, those who are mourning, the meek, the hungry, the innocent, the powerless, the persecuted are called blessed by Jesus.   Even these people are not cursed or suffering because they aren’t good enough, but they belong to God.   And instead of us looking around and judging the less fortunate as deserving their fate, as not living up to their potential, as suffering due to their sins and failures, we come to see each person as being in God’s image and likeness, blessed by God, and so we too should in love be blessing them.   May God bless Americans with this vision of His love so that we all can become the saints of North America.   And future generations of Americans will be blessed through us.