What’s next?

Homily 514 – 13 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
September 11, 2022
Epistle:  (215) Galatians 6:11-18, (166) 1 Corinthians 16:13-24
Gospel:  (9) John 3:13-17, (87) Matthew 21:33-42

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

I wanted to offer a couple of thoughts.  Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom reposed at 96, and I have learned a lot from her life that I’d like to share.

First, like today’s saint, her life took a trajectory that she could never have foreseen.  She was not expected to be queen, and didn’t enter the line of succession until she was a young woman.

The primary lesson from her life is that of self-denial.  She pledged her service to the people, and that is exactly what she did, for 70 plus years.  No thought to her own desires, only to her promise.  In that manner she modeled the life of our Lord – a life completely devoted to us.

I hope I can use her as a role model in my own service to the Lord, and to those that cross my own path.

The final lesson, again, to me, is that she took her calling – her role – very seriously and her office very seriously, it occurs to me she didn’t take herself too seriously.  She was known for a wicked sense of humor – and that indicated to me that she understood that while she had a special role and calling, in her own person, there wasn’t much different between her and us.

May her memory be eternal.

It is also useful to focus on our saint today – St. Theodora of Alexandria.  Her story is fascinating.  We heard the life of St. Theodora in the hymns last evening at vespers, along with her story.

As an aside – it is generally true that the stories of the saints are not contained within the Divine Liturgy, but in the other services of the Church.  The Divine Liturgy is focused on the resurrection of Christ, and while there may be one or two hymns that recall the saint, in general, you won’t learn much about the saints at the Liturgy.

That is sad, because of the lessons from their lives that we miss.

For example, sometimes we may think the saints had their lives planned out to pursue God, and knew which course to take.

And so we also may try that – to determine our path in life.

So often, though, that isn’t what the saints experienced.  In fact, it is rare that the Saints set out to pursue Christ from a young age.

More are like our saint today, Theodora of Alexandria.  She was tricked into committing a grave sin – that of betraying her husband with another man.  When she confessed her sin, the abbess that she confessed to told her to remember the woman with the alabaster jar of spices, who wept at the feet of Jesus, drying her tears with her hair.

The message of the abbess was clear – you are forgiven.  Instinctively, though, Theodora knew what to do next.  She responded to forgiveness with repentance.

So then ,how did she repent?  She thought the best place would be a monastery.  So that’s where she went.

Practically, though, she knew that her husband would look for her, and probably find her, if she went to a woman’s monastery.  So, in the moment, in response to her situation, she put on clothes that would cause her to appear as a man, and went to a men’s monastery.

When she got to the monastery, the abbot tested her resolve and refused to allow Theodora to enter – and she slept on the ground outside the gates.  The following morning she told the abbot that she was called “Theodore”, and he allowed entry into the monastery.

The monks were amazed at the diligence demonstrated by Theodora.  Years passed.

Now, the thing to note is that this was not the way Theodora thought her life would go.  Her course of action wasn’t a plan – it was a response.  It wasn’t a choice, but rather something she endured.

The only plan she had was to repent.  That was her only objective.  And whatever it took, that is what she did.

Even when falsely accused.  The saint was sent on an errand to another monastery, where she stayed the night.

The daughter of the abbot there found the saint very attractive, and thinking Theodora was Theodore, tried to seduce our hero to no avail.  So, instead, she seduced another guest of the monastery and became pregnant.

When her father the abbot found out, he asked who the father was, and the girl said the monk Theodore.  The monk was accused, and of course denied the allegations.  Yet, kept her secret.

The child was given to Theodore to raise, and she did her best to raise the child in the fear and love of God.

Again, Theodora was focused in the moment, and what needed to be done.  She had no plan.  This wasn’t her child.  She was removed from the monastery, and lived with shepherds who took pity on her.

In this situation, many of us would probably reveal our secret and get out of the situation.  But Theodora accepted all things that came to her.

She didn’t go looking for these things – all she wanted to do was repent and love God, who first loved her.

The abbot of Theodora’s monastery finally allowed her back, and when she died, God revealed to this man the holiness of the monk, and also revealed the secret.

The brotherhood of the monastery where the false accusation originated came to the funeral of the one they knew as Theodore, and the abbot showed them the naked body of the saint, prepared for burial.

When the truth was revealed, the monks and the abbot realized their false accusations, and were terrified.  They began to intercede with Theodora to forgive them.  The word of the saint even reached her former husband, who went to the monastery and was tonsured a monk.  The child became the abbot of the very monastery.

Theodora didn’t know what God had in store for her.  She only reacted to the circumstances, endured the circumstances, and considered everything that came her way – misfortune or blessing – to be from God.

Brothers and sisters, we too need to model our lives after that of Theodora and of all the saints.  We also never know what God has in store.

We shouldn’t waste one moment of time thinking about what God’s will for our future is.  Like Abraham wandering to the land of Cana’an, direction to the destination is never provided to us.  Like Noah in the Ark, we reach land when we reach land.  Like Moses leading the Children of Israel through the desert.

It is futile for us to think about what God wants us to do in the future.  We can only know what is now – the immediate task at hand.  St. Paul tells us to remain as we are, to the best of our ability.

Yet, if we remain faithful and endure what God offers to us, and continually seek only Him, we will get to the place where He desires us to be.

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