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Homily for 10/23/05 - Optina Elders - the Garden of God

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  • David Moser
    John 17:1-13 When I lived in the Colorado mountains, there were many beautiful things to see around me. One of the things I particularly remember are the
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 23, 2005
      John 17:1-13

      When I lived in the Colorado mountains, there were many beautiful things to
      see around me. One of the things I particularly remember are the fields of
      wildflowers. A mountain meadow, beginning in the early spring and
      continuing all through that season and the next, is filled with flowers of
      many colors. It is truly a beautiful sight. There are small subtle flowers
      which are low to the ground and there are others which grow tall. Some are
      bright and catch your eye quickly while others are simply a part of the
      background until you notice them up close. The bright sunshine brings out
      their colors and the gentle breezes cause them to move creating a symphony
      of shape and color for the eyes.

      The Kingdom of God is like such a meadow filled with such flowers. The
      Light of God shines upon it bringing out the colors and shapes and the
      breath of the Holy Spirit gently moves each blossom. The flowers themselves
      are the saints, each one manifesting in his life the beauty of God which he
      nurtured and developed throughout his life. Some of these blossoms in the
      meadow of God's Kingdom stand out brighter and more noticeable than the
      others and these are the ones that even we, in this darkened world, can
      recognize as saints. One such bouquet of saints is that of the Optina
      elders whose memory we celebrate today. Among the blossoms of God's garden,
      these elders stand out as bright blooms from the same root, all moving in
      harmony with one another.

      What is it then that makes these men to be saints, why do we look at them as
      blossoms in the garden of God? In the Gospel today, one of the things that
      we heard was the prayer of our Lord for his disciples in which he asks the
      Father to keep them, "For I have given them the words which you have given
      me and they have received them." It is this that is at the heart of being
      a saint - to have the words of God. All those who are among the choir of
      the saints have been given the words of God and have received them into
      their hearts so that those words, like seeds in the ground, took root, grew,
      brought forth life and the blossoms of the beauty of grace. Those saints
      which appear brighter and more noticeable are those who not only have
      blossomed with the words of God, but who in turn have spoken, either by word
      or deed, the words of God for those of us still in this world to hear. Such
      are the Optina elders. Each of these saints, beginning with the fathers
      Leo, Moses and Anthony and continuing on in unbroken succession throughout
      the years ending with the elder Nikon who was exiled after the Bolshevik
      revolution, heard the word of God and kept it in their lives so that it took
      root and grew and coming to maturity, it bloomed in them. At the right
      moment, each one was brought to the forefront, to speak, by word and deed
      this word and to share it with others, planting in turn innumerable divine
      seeds in the hearts of their hearers. We too, today, still hear those words
      through their lives, their letters, their talks and sayings which survive in
      the memories and hearts where they had been planted. And so in our own turn
      those seeds are being planted in us and will grow and bring forth the same
      blossom of grace that grew from the root of Optina.

      How does this work in us, how do we become saints to bloom in the meadow of
      God's kingdom? In the world, we have all become "experts" at something.
      Many of us have careers in which we have trained and studied some skill and
      so have become expert enough to use that skill in a manner that provides our
      livelihood. Not only do we study and practice skills for our livelihood,
      but we also do so for our own recreation. We practice various sports or
      games and become "expert" to varying degrees. We engage in hobbies and
      become "expert" in those topics which interest us. Each of us has become
      expert in one or more areas of life. The saints are those who, having
      received the Word of God, have kept it and studied it and practiced it until
      they become "experts." The saints are "experts" in the words of God. By
      their lives, they put these words into action, conforming themselves by
      practice over and over again to the life that the word of God teaches. They
      study the words they have received from God through the Holy Scripture and
      other spiritual reading, through the lives and sayings of the saints and
      through the Tradition and services of the Church, becoming acquainted with
      those words and their meaning and adapting their own way of thinking and way
      of life to the truth that they have found in those words. In this way they
      become experts, both in word and deed, in the Word of God - that is what
      makes a saint.

      We too have this opportunity to become experts in the Word of God by making
      the same choices as the saints to receive the words of God, to find their
      meaning and to incorporate them into our lives. If we wish to become
      beautiful flowers in the meadow of the saints, then all that is necessary is
      to hear the word of God and keep it - to become expert in it. The elders of
      Optina have not only become experts in keeping the word of God, but they are
      also eloquent speakers of those words, planting their seeds in the hearts of
      others. Even today as we read their lives and their sayings those seeds are
      planted in us. Even today as we conform our lives, even a little bit, to
      the kind of life in Christ that they led, we practice, as they did, the Word
      of God which they received. Even today we can go to visit the elders at the
      Optina monastery as did countless thousands during their lives and we too
      can pray at their graves asking them to pray for us, to console us, to
      direct and instruct us - even as so many have before us. And if we do, we
      will find that although the field had been mowed and it seemed all the
      flowers disappeared, that the root still lives and that again there are
      saints blossoming from the same root as the Holy Elders of Optina there.
      Not only there, but here too, in your very heart, that same seed of the Word
      of God is planted and as you nurture it and cause it to mature in you, as
      you become "expert" in that Word - you too will become a saint, walking the
      same path and blooming in the same beautiful meadow of the Kingdom of God.
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