Tag Archives: Romans 2:10-16

All the Saints of This Place

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?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

The Blessings of Liberty: the Challenge of Success

Sunday, June 18, 2017: 2nd Sunday of Matthew; Leontius, Hypatius, & Theodulus the Martyrs of Syria, Leontios the Myrrh-Streamer of Argos

Epistle: Romans 2:10-16
Gospel: Matthew 4:18-23

For some Orthodox Christians, today–the second Sunday after Pentecost–is a day set aside in the liturgical calendar to commemorate the saints of their local Church. Having last week commemorated all the saints, especially those known only to God, today we commemorate all the saints, again known and unknown, of America, Russia, Mount Athos, Palestine, Romania, & the Iberian Peninsula.

We do this as a reminder that just as “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NKJV), God freely bestows “glory and honor and peace” on all those who “do by nature what the law requires” as we just heard.

This obedience to the divine will. St Paul points out, is possible because God has written the demands of the law on our hearts. If I still myself, if I cultivate a sense of external and internal quiet, in the secret of my heart, I can hear the Word of God.

Another way to say this is that to grow in holiness, to become a saint, I must listen to my conscience. Again as St Paul reminds us, though we are all sinners, God has not abandoned any of us.

Rather, and now we turn to the Gospel, God calls each of us. Even as He called Peter and Andrew, James and John, He calls each and every single human being to follow Him as His disciple and apostle.

And He doesn’t simply call us as individuals–though we each of us must respond personally or else love isn’t love–but as a people, as a nation.

For Americans, this might at first seem to be a problem. We are after all not a nation established by blood or soil. We are rather a people united by an ideal, a conviction, as we read in the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This is not the time or place to examine the particulars of what these unalienable rights. Nor is it the time to examine the many ways in which we have as a nation we have failed to live up to the ideals that Jefferson outlines.

For now, let me simply point out that in many ways America has been a blessing for the Church. For the first time since the Edict of Toleration, the Church is not only free politically to live her life as she sees fit, she has the economic and social resources to do so.

In America, not only are we not persecuted, we are also not established. We are not a department of State and we are not a despised minority. Moreover, we are well-educated and, frankly, wealthy personally if not always institutionally.

We are wholly and truly free. This means that there are, if I may say it this way, no external constraints on our growth in holiness either personally or as a community.

All though isn’t necessarily well with us.

It seems sometimes that the sheer breadth of our freedoms and the extent of our wealth undermines our pursuit of holiness. We are free and wealthy beyond what any of the fathers could have imagined. And yet, how do we respond, how do I respond, to the “blessings of liberty” that God has given the Church in America?

As we reflect on the saints who God raised up in other lands, we need to ask ourselves, I need to ask myself, what return are we–am I–making on what God has freely given?

Orthodox Christians have remained faithful in obscurity, poverty, and persecution. We have found a modus vivendi, a way of life, conducive to holiness in many different cultures, economic circumstances and under even the cruelest and most repressive political regimes.

Now, though, we face the challenge of success! There are times, in what I hope are my lesser moments, when I worry that America will do what the Romans, the Ottomans, and the Communists, could never do. In these moments I worry that a Church that raised saints under persecution will collapse under liberty.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! God has called each us to follow Him as His disciples and apostles. And He has called us to do so here, in America, in a land of unparalleled wealth and freedom.

Let us exploit with gratitude the liberty we have been given!

Let us follow Christ as His disciples and apostles “doers of the law.”

Let us with our time, talent and treasure teach and preach the gospel of the kingdom God so that through us God can heal “every disease and every infirmity among the people” of this place.

To do this we need only respond affirmatively to God call.

To do this we need only say “Yes!” to the God Who has this day said “Yes!” to us and called us to be His disciples and apostles in America.

To do this, to say yes, we need only to prayer as we can, read the Scriptures as God’s word to us and do good when the possibility presents itself.

Above all though, we need to come to God in Holy Communion and Holy Confession. It is here, in these two sacraments above all else, that we are transformed and so are able to make a worthy returning to God for the blessings of liberty He has granted the Church in America.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory