The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews. (11:33-12:2) and the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30)
Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints according to the Orthodox calendar and the epistle reading reflects this well as it mentions saints and all of their amazing accomplishments which were done through faith in the living God. Here are a few of the amazing works that the saints did through faith: They subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, became mighty in war and turned away the armies of the invading enemies. Women received their dead by resurrection and some were mocked, tortured and thrown into prison. And St. Paul concludes his long list of the accomplishments of the saints, which I have abbreviated, with these words “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith.”
On this day in the life of the Church we are reminded that our faith is not theoretical or merely an intellectual idea. We are reminded that our faith is real, living, transformative. What is the proof of the transformative nature of our faith? The lives of normal men and women just like you and me, who were transformed and were used by God to do wondrous things and to become wondrous human beings. As St. Irenaeus once said “the glory of God is man fully alive.” That is God’s goal for our life, that we should truly come alive. God wants for us, what we often do not truly want for ourselves: to become who we are meant to be in Christ.
God desires for us to be fully alive. He desires that we should have true communion with Him, to acknowledge His presence everywhere. In fact, God is going to use the many trials and difficulties in our world to mold a new generation of holy men and women. He desires that you and I should become saints. But how do we do that?
Let me begin by saying that in today’s gospel reading we have something of a litmus test from the Lord Jesus. He begins the reading with these words “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father Who is in heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven.” This is a starting point:Do we acknowledge or deny Jesus Christ publicly before others? Do we acknowledge the teachings of Jesus Christ publicly or do we keep quiet out of fear and shame that we might be judged or seen as different? Do we honor His teachings in our lives or turn our backs tothe Lord when it is convenient to do so? Let me challenge you and say that if you are not willing to live for Christ with a measure ofboldness, you will never be ready to die for Christ like the martyrs and saints. There is no magical switch that makes us courageous. There is a deep inner conviction that has been cultivated in our lives. We have a deep relationship with Christ through prayer, studyand the life of worship and holy communion and this life gives us strength of character and unshakeable faith and boldness.
If you are ashamed of Christ in your day to day life, that is likely a sign that you are on the wrong path. It may mean that you live to serve yourself and not God.How are we ashamed of Christ? We are ashamed of Christ when others speak of immoral behaviors as if they are good and we keep our mouths shut. We are ashamed of Christ when we don’t pray before we eat for fear that others might be watching. We are ashamed of Christ when others use the name of the Lord in vain and we do not ask them to refrain from doing so. We are ashamed of Christ when we choose acceptance and approval from others instead of honoring Him by living His teachings and offering the sacrifice of holy lives. In short, we are not yet saints because we have not yet made Christ the center and nucleus of our lives.
Look to the saints as our examples. We become saints by refusing to compromise with the world. We become saints by refusing to compromise even with ourselves, with our sinful passions and selfish desires. We take up the battle in earnest and as St. Paul wrote in today’s epistle “we lay aside every weight and sin which so easily besets us and we run with patience the race that is set before us.” What kind of a race is it? A short sprint? Possibly. But it is more likely to be a longer race, perhaps something like a marathon.
To become a saint requires us to be strenghtened for the long haul. Not to make decisions based only on what is good for me in the present, but with a thought towards the future, towards eternity. How does my activity or life choice glorify God? Does it fulfill the purpose that God intended for my life? Does it honor the sacrifice that Christ has made to give me new love? Does my way of life demonstrate the love that I have for the one that I call Lord and Master?
In the life of the Church we are truly blessed because the saints are our examples. Listen to the words of St. John of Kronstadt,
“The candles lit before icons of saints reflect their ardent love for God for Whose sake they gave up everything that man prizes in life, including their very lives, as did the holy apostles, martyrs and others. These candles also mean that these saints are lamps burning for us and providing light for us by their own saintly living, their virtues and their ardent intercession for us before God through their constant prayers by day and night. The burning candles also stand for our ardent zeal and the sincere sacrifice we make out of reverence and gratitude to them for their careon our behalf before God.”
So we thank God for the saints and their presence and prayersin our lives and we struggle to grow in Christ while we look to the saints, knowing that the same God who worked in them, is working to transform and perfect us. St. Justin Popovich writes, “In them [the Lives of the Saints] it is clearly and obviously demonstrated: There is no spiritual death from which one cannot be resurrected by the Divine power of the risen and ascended Lord Christ; there is no torment, there is no misfortune, there is no misery, there is no suffering which the Lord will not change either gradually or all at once into quiet, compunctionate joy because of faith in Him. And again there are countless soul-stirring examples of how a sinner becomes a righteous man in the lives of the Saints.”
May Christ be the center of our lives and may we look to the saints for encouragement and help as we press on seeking the prize of life with God. Glory be to Him who is glorified in His saints. AMEN.