Homily 217 – Second Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
July 3, 2016
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
When we hear the words of St. Paul talking about the saints, it is easy to have the image of the New Testament saints – the monastics in the desert, the martyrs, the confessors – to have that image in our minds.
But those aren’t the saints St. Paul is talking about.
St. Paul is speaking of the characters, the people, of the Old Testament – the people of the Law.
What is confusing, perhaps, is that we understand “saint” to be a Christian word. In fact, it is an adaptation of the Latin word meaning “set apart” or “holy”. Sanctus – sanctified.
So when we say “the Holy Apostle St. Paul”, we are actually saying “the Holy Apostle Holy Paul”.
Saying “saint” is the same as saying “Holy”. Just like saying “repent” is the same as saying “turn” or “change direction”.
We think of Saints as being great people – and they are. But they are great because they are saints, not saints because they are great.
Sainthood equates to holiness – nothing more, nothing less. In our world, we perhaps look to frequently for “signs” of sainthood – things like manifesting the uncreated light of Tabor, or performing miracles, or leaving uncorrupt relics.
Perhaps they are martyred, and find their holiness in their martyrdom.
St. Paul lists all those things, and more. The thing that we should perhaps remember is that those sufferings did not necessarily cause sainthood.
Rather, they are the result of sainthood. They are the behavior of saints.
And the reward they receive, according to St. Paul, is not something that this life provides.
In fact, the opposite. St. Paul reminds us that the Holy Ones of the Old Testament were not to receive anything ahead of we who came in Christ.
We get a taste – a foretaste – of our reward in the presence of the Holy Spirit. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit. What the Church Fathers call “theosis” or “union with God.”
The fullness of the reward is found in the Resurrection.
So – if we can’t identify Saints based on greatness, how do we identify them?
Jesus provides the answer. During our Lord’s sermon on the Mount, he gives us new commandments – new law. Except they aren’t commandments.
We call them “beatitudes.” Blessings.
We sing them at the Little Entrance for nearly every Divine Liturgy.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven!
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted!
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth!
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled!
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy!
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God!
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God!
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven!
Blessed are you when people revile you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake! Rejoice, and be extremely glad, for great is your reward in heaven!
Blessed. Whole. Healed.
Notice what those characteristics are. Meekness, poor in spirit, mourning, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers.
In other words, without ego. Without self-absorption, without self-anything.
Totally and completely focused on something other than yourself. Dying to ourselves, as the Scriptures tell us.
Then, when our focus is on whatever is other than ourselves – outside of ourselves – we find God. That is the way Jesus lived. That is the way we were created to live.
We focus on our marriages. Our families. Our friends. And an ever expanding circle of people, all of whom are made in the image and likeness of God.
We don’t focus on obtaining – or retaining – wealth and material goods. Holy Basil the Great is quite explicit – the “things” in our closets, the “stuff” in our cupboards: Those belong not to us, but to the poor.
Our spare room belongs to the homeless – the traveler.
We don’t even hold on to our prestige or our reputation. We don’t create, or foster, conflict.
Because this is the path – the way – to our perfection. Perfect happiness. Perfect joy.
And in Heaven – in the Resurrection – our reward will be great.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!