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594Homily for 6/22/14 - P2 - becoming saints

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  • David
    Jun 22, 2014
      Matt 4:18-4:23 & 4:25-5:12


      Today, on the second Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate the memory of
      all the saints of the local Church. Here we are blessed to remember the
      saints not only of North America where we live, but also of the Russian
      Land, the root from which our local saints have sprung. The saints of
      Russia are great in number and reach all the way back to St Vladimir the
      Great, who brought the Orthodox Faith to the Russian people and even
      further to the apostolic journeys of the Apostle Andrew the first
      called. Just as the Russian Church itself was the fruit of the labor of
      missionaries such as Sts Kyrill and Methodii, so also the Church in
      North America is the fruit of the labor of Russian missionaries such as
      Sts Herman and Innocent of Alaska and St John of San Francisco. Today we
      look back not only on the Holy Ones of our own land and nation but also
      to the whole choir of saints of our heritage, those of the Russian land,
      for we are tied together as closely as a mother and her child.


      When our Lord called His first disciples, He promised to make them
      “fishers of men” for they had been fishermen by trade. They were not the
      recognized spiritual leaders of the people; they were not among the
      learned and wise; they were not even among the civil leaders of the
      people. They were simple and ordinary men who stood out only in that
      they believed and acted on their belief. Their simple origins remind us
      that not just a select few, but all men, no matter their place in the
      world, are called to follow Christ. Taking these men to Himself, our
      Lord immediately began to teach them the path of salvation. When our
      Lord first called the Apostles, He said to them, “Follow me” and when
      then did begin to follow after Him, He then began to teach them,
      explaining how they were to follow Him.


      This basic teaching in the Gospel of Matthew, of which we read the
      beginning today, is known as “the sermon on the mount” and it contains
      the most concentrated explanation by our Lord of how to follow Him. The
      beginning of the this great sermon, or homily, given by our Lord
      describes the kind of person who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven in the
      form of the “beatitudes” or more simply the descriptions of what makes a
      man “blessed”. These nine beatitudes have become the New Testament
      counterpart of the ten Old Testament commandments. The commandments
      define those sins which are spiritually deadly and teach us to avoid
      those sins. The beatitudes, on the other hand define for us those
      virtues which are the result of a healthy spiritual life and teach us to
      desire them. It is these beatitudes, this description of the spiritual
      man who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, that we heard read to us
      today. Just as the ten commandments of the Old Testament are daunting in
      all the things we must avoid, so also the beatitudes sound impossible to
      attain. Even later on, in the rest of the sermon on the mount, as our
      Lord explains how these virtues are to be acquired, He says to us, “Be
      ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Mt
      5:48). It is difficult even to grasp what this means for the sanctity
      and perfection of God is so great, so far beyond us, that it is
      impossible for us to comprehend, let alone to obtain. However, our Lord,
      knowing our imperfection, knowing our sinfulness, knowing our weakness,
      still gives us this charge. We know that He does not call us to any task
      that is impossible for us but that He gives us the strength and tools
      needed to fulfill all His callings; and so we also know that despite the
      utter impossibility of this calling, to become like God, He will make
      this possible for us. When the disciples realized the impossibility of
      this task and asked, “Who then can be saved?” did not our Lord say to
      them, “With men these things are impossible, but with God all things are
      possible.” It is impossible for us, in our weakness to aspire to the
      likeness of God – to be the person described in the beatitudes – to
      become saints. But our Lord, the incarnate God/man Jesus Christ, gives
      Himself to us and makes this impossibility possible.


      Today we remember all those who, by their lives, have demonstrated that
      indeed it is possible to become like the God/man Jesus Christ, to put on
      robe of righteousness and to acquire the virtues which adorn us in the
      Kingdom of Heaven. The saints were not daunted by the impossibility of
      this undertaking, but trusting that God would provide for them the means
      by which they could be transformed, by which they would acquire the
      grace of the Holy Spirit, by which they would enter the Kingdom of
      Heaven, began simply to follow Christ. They did not follow by leaps and
      bounds, jumping immediately to the lofty heights of the spiritual life,
      but they went step by step, climbing out of the valley of the shadow of
      death, fleeing the darkness of sin, ascending the steep hills of
      repentance and self-denial. Step by step, they climbed through all
      manner of difficulty and sorrow and suffering, fleeing the sin that
      pulled at them, seeking to sink them in the mire of death. Every time
      that they slipped, falling backwards toward sin they repented and turned
      again to climb away from the death that grasped at them. They turned
      their faces towards the light of Christ, the brightness of His
      righteousness and His love for us. They were driven by their love for
      Him as they took each step towards the heights of the Kingdom of Heaven.
      Even having reached the place where they began to resemble our Lord
      Jesus Christ more than the world, where they began to appear to the
      world as saints, they did not let up or rest in their efforts. They
      still felt the pull of sin, reaching if possible to drag them back into
      its darkness. They still saw before them the indescribable heights of
      the glory of God which they had only begun to obtain. Although they may
      have seemed to have reached the heights of heaven, they knew, they saw,
      that they were only on the foothills of the glory of God and that there
      were greater heights ahead of them – and so even to the last day of
      their life, the saints continued to climb toward the Kingdom of Heaven.


      With this example before us, it is now our turn to imitate the saints
      even as they imitated Christ. Like them we need to climb out of the
      valley of sin and death in which we are mired. Our Lord, by His death
      and glorious Resurrection has freed us from the chains that held us
      there. He Himself has begun to ascend into heaven, showing us the way
      and calling us to follow Him. The path of the saints shows us how to
      make each step, how to climb slowly but surely out of the depths of sin
      towards the heights of righteousness. They did not leap in one bound to
      the mountaintop, but climbed step by step and in so doing left for us a
      path to follow – a path made up of small steps each of which is
      possible, and which lead us inexorably away from sin and ever closer to
      the Kingdom of Heaven.


      Let us then immerse ourselves in the lives of the saints, let us study
      their lives to see how it is they were able to climb step by step out of
      the same life of sin with which we ourselves struggle. Let us set the
      love of God as a bright light before us, drawing us up and away from the
      darkness of sin. Let us follow the path that the saints have shown us by
      their own labors as they also follow Christ. To become like God, to
      become the person described in the beatitudes may seem to be impossible
      for men, but with Christ all things are possible and the saints show us
      the truth of that possibility. They ascended step by step, one day, one
      moment at a time towards the Kingdom of Heaven and now they stand on the
      threshold of their reward, ready to enter into the heights of God’s
      glory. But they are waiting – they are waiting for us to finish our
      climb and to welcome us into their company so that we all might enter
      the Kingdom of Heaven together.


      Let us then praise all the saints of Russia and North America who have
      blazed the path of sanctity before us and who now await us as we ascend
      by the same path, step by step coming to the threshold of the Kingdom of
      Heaven. Let us give thanks to those who by their lives, left a trail for
      us to follow, showing us that even when it seems impossible, even when
      it seems as though we will fall back into sin, that God will provide
      that which we need and lift us to the next step. Step by step, day by
      day, we struggle to ascend the hills of repentance and self-denial. Step
      by step we come closer to the Kingdom of Heaven. Step by step we follow
      in the path of salvation shown to us by the lives of the saints. Step by
      step we join our fellow strugglers in Christ as we all come to the gates
      of the Kingdom of Heaven. And then, when we have all come together, we
      will take that final step together with all the saints as we enter God’s
      Kingdom and rejoice in Him for eternity.


      --
      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org