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.