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Homily for 3/8/09 - L1 - lives of saints

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  • Fr David Moser
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 8, 2009
      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
      wild animals.'
      '''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
      ages. Amen.'
      "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)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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