Sunday, June 30 (O.S., June 17), 2019: Second Sunday after Pentecost; Sunday of all Saints of Mt. Athos; Sunday of all Saints who have shown forth in missionary lands; Sunday of All Saints of Rus-Ukraine; Sunday of All Saints of America.
Epistle: Romans 2:10-16
Gospel: Matthew 4:18-23
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Monastics and missionaries; mill and mine workers; any number of seemingly ordinary men and women who simply lived their lives, day to day, in fidelity to Christ.
We commemorated all the saint only last week. Today we remember them again. But today we fix our gaze on them once again but now as saints of particular places. Mount Athos, the mission fields where they brought the Gospel, Rus-Ukraine and here in North America.
Men and women of different backgrounds, living very different lives, all of them united by a common faith in Jesus Christ and life as Orthodox Christians.
St. Cyril of Alexandria says that “we make images” of the saints “not so that we might adore them as gods, but that when we see them, we might be prompted to imitate them.”
And what we imitate is not the externals of their lives but their commitment to Christ; their love of God and neighbor. The form of their commitment, the form of their love, takes the shape it does based on the unique circumstances of their lives. But that commitment to Christ is the same.
As we heard last night at Vespers,
…let us praise the Saints of North America, Holy hierarchs, venerable monastics and glorious martyrs, pious men, women and children, both known and unknown. Through their words and deeds in various walks of life, by the grace of the Spirit they achieved true holiness.
Hearing this you might ask, what do we mean when we say the saints “achieved true holiness”? What did it mean for them, and for us, to be free in Christ and to experience the abundant new life that He offers?
If you know the history of the Church in America, you know that many of the saints we commemorate today were often not free in the usual sense of the world.
The bishops and clergy were bound by the obligations of their ministries. Like their parishioners, they often lived in poverty holding secular jobs to support not only themselves and their families but also their parishes or dioceses.
The monastics lived under obedience and, again, often in poverty.
The martyrs lost their lives. In some cases, they willing returned to their native countries knowing that doing so would mean persecution, imprisonment and even death at the hands of Communist or Muslim regimes.
And then there were those whose livelihoods depended on the harvest on farms in the Midwest, on the good graces of the owners of the mills and mines that built America and the vagaries of the market place even as others depended on their luck at fishing or hunting in the wilds of Alaska.
And then there was the persecution they suffered in America.
Mainline Protestants professed friendship while proselytizing Orthodox Christians.
The Klan persecuted Greek Orthodox Christians in the South.
And as they did in the Lower 48, the US government took native Alaskan children from their families and villages sending them to Protestant missionary schools to become “American” a process that required stripping them of their culture, their language and, above all, their Orthodox Christian faith.
And yet for all they suffered, the Orthodox Christians we remember today not only kept their faith but loved the country that was a source of joy and opportunity of prejudice and persecution.
The witness of the saints of America is this: Holiness and being American are not fundamentally opposed to each other. Or, at least, being an American is no more an impediment to life in Christ than being a member of any other culture or citizen of any other nation.
And for us? What does this mean for us personally and as a community?
Just this. If our ancestors in the faith could become saints in their circumstances so can we. If being American, with all its opportunities and temptations, was not for them an obstacle to faith in Jesus Christ and holiness, can it be any different for us who live in Madison?
My brothers and sisters in Christ! Let us imitate the fidelity of those saints we commemorate today, those of North American but also of Ukraine, of the missionary lands and Mount Athos. They remained faithful to Christ and His Church. And they did so in what were often difficult economic, political and personal circumstances can we, can I, do any less?