Homily for 3/8/09 - L1 - lives of saints
- Heb. 11:24-26 & 32-12:2
What an inspiring reading we heard today from the epistle of St Paul to
the Hebrews. We heard of the struggles of the Old Testament saints who
lived in the hope of the coming Messiah, the God/man Jesus Christ. We
are reminded of their faithfulness through all kinds of difficulties and
persecutions. For the love of God and in His service they gave up all
the various good things of this world, wealth, security, safety,
shelter, respect, power, careers and so on, that in return they might
receive the eternal blessings of God. The reading from the epistle is
shortened so that we heard particularly of the Holy Prophet Moses with
just a reference to the other saints. This suggests to us something that
should be a good practice every week – when we all go home, to take the
Scripture and read for yourselves not just the particular selection that
you heard today, but the preceding paragraphs and those following so
that all can be seen in greater context. If you do this you will hear
not only of Moses but of Abel and Enoch, of Noah, Abraham and Sarah, of
Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. You will be reminded also of Gideon, Barak,
Samson, Jephthae, David and Samuel as well as the multitude of other
saints of the Old Testament. Perhaps this will inspire you then to look
into the Scripture further and to read of these saints of God as well.
The choir of the saints, however, does not stop for us with the closing
of the Old Testament and the coming of Christ. Providing the bridge from
the saints of the Old Testament to the New, we have first the last of
the Old Testament prophets, the Holy Forerunner and Baptist John as well
as the one who embodied the pinnacle of the Law and the Prophets, the
Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary. After these two the choir of saints
continues to grow with the apostles and other disciples of our Lord and
their heritage, the martyrs, the holy fathers and mothers of the Church,
the archpastors, pastors and teachers of the Church and all those who
struggled in every part of this world for the love of God who are now
renowned and venerated as saints.
It is good to go into the Scripture and to read the lives of the saints
contained therein, however, it is also good to go beyond that resource
and to seek out and read the lives of the saints of the Church. There
are many resources, collections of the lives of saints, prologues,
menologia, and such which are books and collections of books dedicated
solely to relating the lives of the saints. In our modern society there
are other resources as well – videos, audio recordings, radio and
internet broadcasts and pod casts which focus on the lives of the
saints. Every day of the year we celebrate the memory of a different
saint. Each day, we can include the reading of the life of the saint of
that day in our spiritual reading, or perhaps to set aside some time to
listen to the life of a saint or to see a video based on his life. The
choir of the saints is the treasure chest which the Church gives us from
which we can draw a different gem every day by which we enrich our lives.
Today, in the epistle reading we heard just a little about one saint –
the Prophet Moses. It would be a great thing to return to the scripture
and to read more of his life. Even if we were to look only at this one
saintly life, we would be occupied for days and months on end simply to
scratch the surface of the spiritual wealth his life has to offer us. If
we also look at the calendar of the New Testament saints, there is an
equally rich vein of spiritual riches in the lives of the saints there.
On the calendar, on this day, we remember the life of one of the first
and perhaps most famous martyrs of the ancient Church, the hieromartyr
Polycarp. Let us for a moment pause and scratch the surface of this gem
from the treasure chest of the saints.
As a child the holy martyr was an orphan who had been given to the
childless widow Callista by St Buccolus, the bishop of Smyrna. She
raised him with faith and love and in the fear of God and he grew to be
a pious young man. His early life was marked by his generosity and when,
as a young man he inherited the estate of his adoptive mother, he gave
it all to the poor and continued his life in asceticism and prayer. He
was instructed by St Buccolus as well as the Holy Apostles Paul and John
(whom he accompanied at times). He was ordained deacon and then priest
by St Buccolus and at the death of the bishop, Polycarp was made bishop
in his place to care for the flock. His life continued to be marked by
compassion for others and great charity. Many times, when he saw others
in need, he would pray for them and miraculously the need would be
fulfilled. He was also known for his ability to cast out demons and to
alleviate natural disasters. St Polycarp lived 86 years in the service
of the Lord. The martyrdom of the saint is a particularly uplifting
"As Polycarp stepped into the arena, the mob of heathen roared with
delight. At that moment he heard our Lord's voice from heaven say, 'Be
strong, Polycarp, and play the man.' No one saw the Speaker, but many
Christians heard the voice.
"The judge asked, 'Are you Polycarp?'
"'I am,' the saint replied.
"'Consider your age and have pity on yourself,' advised the judge.
'Renounce Christ and swear by Caesar's fortune. Admit your error and
cry, Away with the godless!'
“At this Polycarp lifted his eyes to heaven, motioned toward the
infidels, and exclaimed, ‘Away with the godless!'
"'I said, revile Christ, if you wish to go free,' the Governor pressed him.
"'For eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He has never done me
wrong,' replied Polycarp. 'How can I blaspheme my King and Saviour?'
"The judge warned, 'If you do not change your mind, I will release the
'''Release them,' said Polycarp. 'I am not about to repent of what is
good, and espouse evil,'
'''I will burn you alive, then,' said the judge.
"Polycarp said, 'The fire you threaten dies out quickly, but there is
another fire, of which you are unaware. In it the ungodly shall burn
forever. Why do you hesitate? Do what you intend.'
“At this the Governor ordered a herald to announce that Polycarp had
admitted to being a Christian. The crowd of pagans and Jews shouted,
'This is the corrupter of all Asia Minor, the father of the Christians,
the destroyer of the gods. Burn him alive!'
"The mob rushed to collect wood and kindling while Polycarp loosed his
belt and sandals and removed his outer garments.
The Governor's servants prepared to shackle the martyr and nail him to
the stake, but Polycarp said, 'Let me be. He Who will give me strength
to endure the flames will also enable me to remain on the pyre without
being secured.' The servants allowed him his wish and merely tied his
hands. As they led him like a noble ram to become a whole burnt-offering
acceptable to God, the saint prayed, 'I thank Thee, O Lord God, for
numbering me with Thy martyrs and confessors and permitting me to share
the cup of the Saviour's Passion. Having suffered with Christ, I hope to
partake with Him in the resurrection of life everlasting. Receive me as
a rich and pleasing sacrifice which Thou Thyself didst foreordain and
prepare and dost offer; for Thou art the true God, Whom I praise with
Thy Son Jesus Christ, the eternal High Priest, and the Holy Spirit. Unto
Thee is due all honour and glory, now and ever and unto the ages of
"Upon this, the servants lit the fire, which blazed furiously and shot
up to heaven. Everyone witnessed an amazing sight: the flame arched over
the saint's head like a sail filled with wind, encircling but not
touching his body. Polycarp's flesh was not consumed, but glowed like
gold tried in a furnace. We perceived a wondrous fragrance, sweeter by
far than any perfume. Seeing that the martyr could not be destroyed by
fire, the impious shouted for the executioner to drive home his sword
through the flames. The man stabbed Polycarp with a long sword, and a
stream of blood gushed out, quenching the fire. The crowd was astonished
at the difference between unbe¬lievers and the elect, one of whom was
the most admirable Polycarp: bishop of the Catholic Church of Smyrna,
teacher of the apostolic faith, and holy prophet whose every word has
been or shall be fulfilled.”
Here we see the life of one saint – there are countless more. Having
heard of the Hieromartyr Polycarp today as well as the Prophet Moses,
let us meditate on their lives and draw from them some of the strength
and grace that they showed in their devotion to our Lord. But do not let
your familiarity with the saints stop here, but go to the Scripture, go
to the lives of the saints and read of those who struggled for Christ,
who walked the path of salvation before you so that you might walk in
their footsteps as they have demonstrated the way to follow Christ.
Today the holy Apostle exhorts us not to forget the saints and their
lives lay now before us as an open book. We need only to take the time
to become familiar with them and to ask their prayers and their help as
we strive to go where they have already gone, into the Kingdom of God.
Archpriest David Moser
St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)