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Homily for 6/14/09 - P1 allsts - what is a saint

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  • Fr David Moser
    Heb 11:33-12:2 What is it that makes a saint? What qualities define sainthood? Today we celebrate the memory of all the saints, known and unknown to us. Who
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 14 11:58 AM
      Heb 11:33-12:2

      What is it that makes a saint? What qualities define sainthood? Today we
      celebrate the memory of all the saints, known and unknown to us. Who are
      these people and why do we honor them? One clue to the answer to our
      question is in the epistle to the Hebrews which we heard read today. The
      saints, it tells us are those who “through faith subdued kingdom,
      wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,
      quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of
      weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the
      armies of aliens” So saints are those whose faith has become so strong
      that it conquers all the difficulties, trials and opposition of this
      world and emerges not only unscathed but victorious. The Apostle goes on
      to say that saints are also those who “were tortured, not accepting
      deliverance…had a trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, … of bonds and
      imprisonment; they were stoned, sawn asunder, tempted, slain by the
      sword” and so we see that this victory over the world was not obtained
      without a struggle or without suffering. And still the Apostle continues
      that saints “wandered about in sheepskins, and goatskins; being
      destitute, afflicted, tormented; they wandered in deserts and in
      mountains and in dens and caves of the earth.” Their faith was made
      strong not by ease and comfort but by the labors of self denial and
      sacrifice. Thus the saints are those who through self denial and
      struggle against the things of this world have obtained the grace of God
      and become strong in faith by which they have overcome the world and are
      united to Christ.

      Saints are our exemplars, the leaders whom we follow and imitate in
      order to grow in our Christian life and to bind ourselves to Christ.
      They show us how to strengthen our faith in order that we might overcome
      the world. The first necessity that we have is that of self denial.
      Perhaps we do not go around, as those saints mentioned in the epistle,
      dressed only in sheepskins or goatskins, nor do we necessarily wander
      homeless in deserts and mountains and in the wilderness with none of the
      comforts of this world. It is not necessary to imitate the saints in
      these details; what is necessary is to imitate their self denial which
      was expressed in these details. Our Lord said to those who would come
      after Him that the first step is to “deny yourself”, therefore this is
      the same step for us as it was for the saints. So begin today, even this
      moment to “deny yourself”. Give up one small thing that you want – deny
      yourself some small pleasure or comfort. Deny yourself the luxury of
      “sleeping in”; deny yourself those extra few moments of watching
      television; deny yourself the extra snack or drink that you normally
      would have; deny yourself the pleasure of reacting angrily to someone
      who inadvertently offends you. Deny yourself – that is the first step in
      imitating the saints as they follow Christ. When you begin, it is not
      important how you deny yourself, but that you do in fact deny your own
      will, your own desire, your own pleasure or comfort. Self denial is the
      first quality of the saint and so should be the thing for which we
      strive as we begin to follow in their footsteps.

      The second step which our Lord gives to those who would follow Him is to
      “take up your cross”. This means that we must die to the world, no
      longer living according to worldly values and standards, but rather
      living according to the values and standards of the Kingdom of Heaven.
      In some cases, such as in the lives of many saints, this dying to the
      world is quite literal. Those saints who gave up their earthly lives for
      the sake of Jesus Christ and the Gospel we call martyrs. Their lives
      were taken from them for the world could not tolerate their presence.
      They no longer lived according to the world and so offered up their
      lives as a sacrifice. Some saints however were not required to give up
      their lives in quite so literal a manner. The world did not take their
      lives, but they instead could no longer tolerate living in the world and
      so fled the worldly life to live in the desert. Saints such as these we
      see in Anthony the Great the father of monastic life and Mary of Egypt.
      They fled the life of the world for it was no longer tolerable to them
      as they struggled to live the life of Christ. But not all of us are
      called to such extremes, in fact most of us are called to remain where
      we are living the life that we have been given. But even in this case it
      is necessary to live no longer according to the world, but to live
      according to Christ. We do this by substituting the values and standards
      of the life of Christ for our own. We replace our love of self with the
      love of God and neighbor; we act out of compassion rather than anger; we
      forgive rather than take revenge and so on. When we live the life of
      Christ we consciously set aside our identity as creatures of this world
      and clothe ourselves instead in the Christ-like garments of His grace.
      Sometimes our choices will seem to be foolish to the world, sometimes
      they will seem to be without reason. In such cases, those who live
      according to the world may tolerate us or pity us or wish that life were
      really so simple that they could be as guileless as we. Sometimes
      however, the life of Christ in us becomes threatening to the life of the
      world and we will be subjected to persecution and suffering, even
      imprisonment and death. Should that happen, then we do not resist, but
      rather embrace such suffering with joy, remembering the words of the
      Gospel which we just sang – “Blessed are you when men shall revile you
      and persecute you, rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your
      reward in heaven.” This is what the saints did and they are our
      examples, for they have arrived at the place where we wish to be –
      living in the presence of the Lord and in constant union and communion
      with Him.

      These two things, self denial and dying to the world (taking up the
      cross) are the means by which we build up and strengthen our faith so
      that through faith we might fulfill the third step in the Christian life
      and that is to follow Christ. All of these struggles that the saints
      endured were worthless in and of themselves, but when those same efforts
      were filled with faith which then enabled them to walk with Christ those
      same struggles became priceless. This is the final step – to follow
      Christ, to live the life that He lives, to be able to say with the
      Apostle, “not I, but Christ lives in me”. This is the key to the whole
      of the spiritual life. This is what makes a saint. It is not the
      struggles, the trials, the suffering, or even the martyrdom that makes a
      person a saint – it is the life of Christ. When a person is filled with
      the life of Christ; when he no longer lives for himself but for Jesus
      Christ; when he becomes a living reflection of God – then he is a saint.

      This then is our destiny – to take on the life of Christ as our own, to
      become like Him and to reflect Him in our every word and deed. When He
      fully becomes our light and life then we too will be saints for we will
      be living fully in union and communion with God. This is the purpose for
      which we were created, this is the reason for our existence, this is why
      we are alive on the earth today, this is our destiny – to live in union
      and communion with God; to be transformed and transfigured into His
      likeness; to be a saint.

      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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