Homily 312 – 1st after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
June 2, 2018
Epistle: (330) – Hebrews 11:33-12:2
Gospel: (38) Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38; (mid-79) 19:27-30
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
In the world of my youth, I didn’t understand the idea of saints. Being raised Baptist, we didn’t have saints. Or, better, we didn’t recognize that saints existed.
We sang about them. When the Saints go marching in. Onward Christian Soldiers.
But we didn’t name any. We didn’t know any. In fact, most of our hymns in the Baptist tradition were about me – about us – the living.
The idea of saints, for me, wasn’t difficult to accept. After all, I already believed that when we die, we don’t cease to exist but rather go to Christ.
Having spent the last 30 or so years in the presence of the Saints, in the Orthodox Church, I have come to see them not as something distant and aloof.
On the contrary – I believe they are around us always. Whenever I’m in this place – this temple – I know that they are here.
And that is so comforting.
St. Paul describes it best. A great cloud of witnesses. A cloud is a collection of water droplets. Individual, yet collective.
So too are the saints. Individual – with names, lives, relatives – but also collective. We are in their midst – and they are among us.
We are closer to some than to others. Like the friends they are, they come in and out of our lives, yet they are always, always there. Some briefly, some, like our patron saints, stay long term.
We know how to become a saint. Easy to say, difficult to do – we simply become holy, indwelled with the Holy Spirit.
And all of us have that deposit – all of us who have been baptized and chrismated have that downpayment.
We are all, in that sense, saints.
And today, this Sunday of all saints, we recognize the saints that are not proclaimed by the Church, but are known only to God.
And perhaps a few of us.
The way a saint gets recognized has varied throughout time, but the one common element is the local veneration of that individual. We offer prayers for them on the anniversaries of their repose.
Over time, the remembrance of them takes on a new character. We remember the little things, but also the themes of their lives. We are able to pull their lives together, and see the presence of God.
The veneration spreads, and soon a region, and then the world knows that person. The newly recognized saints of Mount Athos – St. Paisius, and others – or St. Maria of Paris. And those still recognized locally, but not yet beyond that, like Matushka Olga in Alaska, whose following is growing.
We don’t have to wait to honor and venerate the people we love who have reposed in the Lord. Having a date on a calendar and an akathist composed, troparia and kontakia written – that may come. Or it may not.
We even know those we call “living saints.” I’ve been blessed to meet a couple. Archbishop Anastasios of Albania is one, who is still living. Archimandrite Roman Braga is another, who reposed in the last few years.
But this Sunday is also for people whom we know to be saints, that the Church may never recognize.
My mother, for example. I am confident we will never commemorate St. Sandra in the Orthodox Church. Mostly because she was never part of the Orthodox Church. But there is no question in my mind of her sanctity.
My father in law is another example. He was so kind and giving to everyone he met.
We do well to remember that this feast is for all the saints. We do well to remember the anniversaries of our departed loved ones, Orthodox or not, and pray for them.
When we remember the saints, both the ones recognized by the Church and the ones that are known to us, we remember a couple of things common to all the saints.
One, pointed out by St. Paul, is that they received no reward in this life. Anything they did receive, they shared. The only things they kept for themselves were hardships and suffering.
Another, pointed out by our Lord, is that they left everything. They gave up everything. In order that they might give everything – their entire being – to Christ.
Anything that was not Christ was worthless. Anything that did not help the acquisition of the Holy Spirit was not only to be avoided, but to be discarded completely.
We look at the saints, and we see the cost of sainthood. They gave up careers. Comfort. Self-interest. Wealth.
Counting it all as a barrier to their sanctification.
But having given up everything – let go of all they had – they received everything in return.
Joy. Fulfillment. Peace. Contentment. Love.
What will we pursue? Will we pursue sanctity – holiness – sainthood? Or will we stick to the pursuit of wealth, power, influence and comfort?
The latter is the road to perdition. The former is the path to our recognition on the Sunday of All Saints.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!