Martyrdom, please.

Epistle: (296) – 2 Timothy 3:10-15 (Triodion) and (99) – Romans 8:28-39 (Martyrs)
My son Timothy, you have paid close attention to my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, steadfastness, persecutions, and sufferings. You know what happened to me at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. I endured those persecutions and the Lord delivered me out of them all! Yes, all those who desire to lead godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But wicked impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving others, being themselves deceived. As for you, remain in what you have learned, which is what you firmly believe, knowing from whom you have learned them.
From infancy, you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose. Whoever God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that his Son might be the firstborn among many brethren. Whoever God predestined, he also called. Those whom he called, he also justified. Those whom he justified, he also glorified.
What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all, how would he not also give us all things with him freely? Who could bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies! Who is the one who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes and rather, who is risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Could oppression, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written:
For your sake we are killed all day long.
We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Indeed, I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Gospel: (89) – Luke 18:10-14 (Triodion) and (105A) – Luke 21:8-19 (Martyrs)

The Lord spoke this parable: “Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, and the other was a Publican. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed like this:
‘God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of men, dishonest, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I earn.’ But the tax collector, standing far aside, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven. Instead, he beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man, rather than the other, went down to his house justified. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Lord said: “Watch out that you do not get led astray, for many will come in my Name, saying: ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified, for these things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines, and plagues in various places. There will be fearful events and great signs from heaven.
But before all these things happen, you will be placed under arrest and be persecuted; you will be handed over to synagogues and prisons, and brought before kings and governors for my Name’s sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion to bear witness. Therefore, settle it in your hearts not to ponder in advance how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or withstand. You will be handed over even by parents, relatives, friends, and brothers. Some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all for my Name’s sake, yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance acquire your lives.

Homily 296 – 34th Sunday after Pentecost (Publican and Pharisee)
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
January 28, 2018

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Today in preparation for Great Lent, we hear the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.

The Pharisee is the model of prideful. Self-important. Better than you or I or anyone. Deserving of mercy.

The Publican is the model of humility. Sinner. Begging for mercy.

And, as we hear our Lord say, it is the Publican that obtains the mercy that both seek.

Because no matter how well-behaved we are, externally, we still have evil thoughts. Lustful thoughts. Prideful thoughts.

We think ourselves worthy – deserving even – of mercy. But we aren’t. None of us are worthy.

We are only made worthy by the action of the grace of God. He makes us worthy. We glorify Him, and He in turn glorifies us.

Like most Orthodox Christian thoughts, this becomes a paradox. Because in order to glorify Him, we can no longer glorify ourselves. And that is what the Pharisee does. He glorifies himself, by reminding God of his good qualities and good behavior, and obedience.

The underlying issue here, though, is that nothing done by the Pharisee is actually good. It is not good, because it is done for self.

These things – the tithes, the fasting – all of this is for naught because it is done for himself, not for God.

It is to make himself feel better about himself. It is for show. It is to make sure his position in life is preserved.

The publican, on the other hand, a tax collector, did not glorify himself, but rather was humble before God – and received God’s mercy. The publican went away exalted.

Now today we also commemorate the New Martyrs of Russia – those who died for our Lord in the midst of the Bolshevik revolution, including the Tsar and his family.

Martyrdom is the ultimate in humility. It is the offering of ourselves to God. It is self-sacrificial by definition.

Occasionally it requires our physical death, as most of the martyrs we remember at Liturgy. But more frequently it is the sacrifice of only part of our existence. Our will, our desire – that is the sacrifice that we should direct toward others.

We offer them to God by offering them to others. By directing our efforts, our will and desires, toward others.

In marriage it is our spouse. In the Orthodox marriage service, the couple is crowned for one another – the crown is the crown of martyrdom.

In families, the parents martyr themselves for their children, and children for their parents. In neighborhoods, we martyr ourselves for our neighbors.

Even when they do not martyr themselves for us.

In the second Epistle reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, we can find that martyrdom is not all pain and suffering, though. It really isn’t.

In fact, martyrdom is a good thing. All things, St. Paul writes, work together for good for those who love God. All things. Even the painful things. Even the martyr things.

And in those things, God glorifies us. And if God glorifies us, who can be against us? Who can diminish the glory we are given from God? No one!

Nothing!

Because we are not and can never be separated from the Love of God. The Love which gives us hope. The Love which shows mercy. The Love which gives life, even in the midst of death.

Jesus also died – and death could not hold Him. Not even contain Him. If God offers the martyrdom of His Son, which He surely does, as Christ was not killed but ascended the Cross voluntarily, and raises and glorifies Christ –

Then surely He will love us the same. Because while we were yet sinners, Christ died, Christ martyred Himself, for us. For humanity. For you and for me.

So in the midst of oppression, deprivation, even death – we can, with full confidence, give thanks to God! For through that offering, through our own martyrdom to our own will and desire, we will be made complete, without blemish.

We will, through our martyrdom, become human. As the New Martyrs of Russia, and as the Publican.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

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