The end is only the beginning.

Homily 246 – Thirty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
January 29, 2017

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

This morning we read two separate Gospel passages. One is the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector who repented. The other is the passage selected to commemorate the New Martyrs and confessors of the Russian Church.

The latter commemoration is rather recent. It finds roots in the declaration of the Local Council of the Russian Church in April of 1918 – 99 years ago. St. Tikhon led this council, the first after his enthronement as Patriarch.

It was created to remember those who gave their lives in defense of justice, in defense of truth, during the October 1917 revolution in Russia.

After the collapse of Communism, the martyrs of the communists were added, and the name was changed slightly from the “New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia” to the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church.”

While both passages offer insight into our life, the latter is very specific about what will happen to us as believers in Christ.

Christ tells us that we will be placed under arrest, persecuted, handed over to the authorities. We will perhaps be betrayed by the ones closest to us – our family, our friends.

Certainly St. Paul experienced all these things, as did believers throughout history. Every era has martyrs.

But interestingly, Christ tells us not to worry. Don’t worry about what to say, don’t worry about any of it.

Just as a Christian in our time can smile and laugh with the Name of Christ on his lips as he is martyred, so too will we, those who believe, be given understanding and comfort in those days.

At the end of the passage, Christ says something very different – almost contradictory.

He says: “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.”

You will be put to death, but not a hair of your head – meaning nothing of you, no part of you – will perish.

This tells us something very important about this life, it’s purpose, and our faith.

What he tells us is that this life is nothing more than a detour. A pit stop, if you will, to reunification with the paradise we lost at the time of the fall of humanity.

That isn’t to say this life is unimportant – far from it, it is a gift from our creator!

Before we are born, we spend 9 months or so in the womb to prepare the body for life. Then, we spend the life in this fallen existence to prepare our soul for true life. Eternal life!

Life where there is no time, and we experience the unending depths of our Creator’s love for us.

This world is all about the world to come.

This world is where we learn. Learn about our Creator, learn about each other, learn about self-denial and the Love of God.

So that we can enter paradise, as intended.

We need not fear giving up anything in this life – including this life. The only thing we give up in this life is our self-determination. We learn to accept, to be content.

If we lose something, it isn’t truly lost, because perfection is coming if we endure. We can’t even imagine. We can imagine, perhaps, perfection in this life. We dream about our “perfect” life.

Zacchaeus found that perfect life in reality.

He, too, is a martyr. He sacrificed his self-will and his self-interest to acquire the kingdom, the paradise, which is ours.

He recognized that the kingdom he would obtain is infinitely more than the trinkets of this world which he would give up.

He gave half his wealth to the poor. That was significant. Could we do the same?

This was not in repayment, or to make restitution. This was generosity.

Then – he made restitution. Four-fold. What he defrauded, plus three times that amount.

We don’t know how much that was – but let’s assume that graft and fraud was 10% of what he did in his life.

If that is true – he gave half of what he owned to the poor, and 40% of what he owned in restitution.

90% of what he had. The Mosaic Law demanded a tithe – 10%. He gave 90, keeping 10 for himself.

And some early Church writers believe that Zacchaeus became Matthias, the disciple chosen to replace Judas Iscariot.

As we consider and contemplate martyrdom today with the Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church, remember also the example of martyrdom offered by Zacchaeus.

And think about the martyrs doing what they did, enduring, offering, giving – with joy. Because they knew that martyrdom endured leads to eternal life and paradise.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!