Synaxis of All Saints
Let us attend!
“At that time, Jesus said: whosoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whosoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
Then Peter answered and said to Him: See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore, what shall we have? So Jesus said to them: Assuredly, I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” [Matthew 10:32–33; 37–38; 19:27–30]
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
On this, the first Sunday after Pentecost, we commemorate [and celebrate] the solemnity of the Synaxis [or Sobor] of All Saints — both those who are known to us, and canonized by the Church, and those whose vast number is known to God alone. For it is written:
“And after this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could [count or] number, gathered from all the nations, [tribes,] kindreds, peoples, tongues [and languages] of the earth, standing before the throne, and before [Christ] the Lamb. They were clothed with [and dressed in] white robes [denoting purity], and [they held] palms in their hands [denoting victory]. They [shouted out and] cried with a loud voice, saying: Salvation [belongs] to our God Who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb [to Whom we owe our salvation and deliverance]. And these are the very ones who came out of great tribulation, [distress, and persecution], and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb [Who was sacrificed on the cross in propitiation for their sins].
Therefore, they [stand] before the throne of God, and serve [and worship] Him day and night in His Temple. And He Who sits on the throne shall [shelter and spread His tent over them], and He shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun light [beat down upon] them, nor shall any scorching heat burn them. For the Lamb Who is in the midst of the throne shall [shepherd and] feed them, and shall lead [and guide] them unto fountains of living waters — and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes” [Revelation 7:9–17].
Now, these are the glorified saints of God —and it is these whom we are called to imitate.
To be transformed; to rise above
It was the Descent of the Holy Spirit [on Pentecost] that enabled, and enables, man to be transformed from the ‘carnal man’ “who cannot please God” [Romans 8:8] into “a son of Light and a son of the day [who does not belong to the night or to the darkness]” [I Thessalonians 5:5].
“But the natural [and carnal] man does not receive [or accept] the things [that is, the teachings and revelations] of the Spirit of God, for they are foolish, [absurd, and illogical] unto him — and he is incapable of understanding them, because they are noetically discerned and appreciated [in, by, and through the power of the Holy Spirit alone]. Therefore, the carnal man is unqualified to judge [in spiritual matters]” [I Corinthians 2:14].
“For the carnal mind [with its sinful pursuits] is [actively hostile and at] enmity against God; for it refuses to obey [and submit to] God’s law — and in fact, it is not even able to obey [and submit to] God’s law” [Romans 8:7].
Jesus spoke to those with carnal minds saying: “You are of your father the devil, and it is your will to practice the desires and lusts [which are characteristic] of your father. He was a murderer [and a liar] from the beginning. He is against the truth and abides [and stands] not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie [or lies], he speaks his very own tongue [and reveals] his own nature — for he is a liar, and the father of lies and half-truths” [John 8:44].
Notwithstanding, “Christ saved us [by His atoning sacrifice on the cross] and [delivered us from our fallen carnal nature], and called us with a holy calling [a calling that leads to a consecrated life], not because of our works [or because of any personal merit for we could do nothing to earn this], but because of His own purpose and grace [His amazing and undeserved favor] which was granted to us in Christ Jesus before the world began [eternal ages ago]” [II Timothy 1:9].
“So even as sin once used death to rule us, God gave man the grace [of the Holy Spirit] so that grace might rule, and make man right with Him [through faith]. And this brings eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” [Romans 5:21]. Therefore, the descent of the Holy Spirit into our hearts makes it possible for us to attain holiness, or sainthood.
“And you shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated [and severed] you from among the nations, that you should be Mine”
For it is written: “You who love the Lord, hate evil! For He preserves, [watches over, guards, and keeps] the souls of His saints; He delivers, [frees, and rescues] them out of the [power and] hand of the wicked [one]” [Psalm 97:10].
And the Apostle Paul says: “Put out of your life all evil, [earthly, and worldly] things — and whatsoever belongs to your carnal nature [together with your self-centric ego and self-centered instincts] — [and put to death] promiscuity of any [and every] type, [physical and moral] uncleanness, passion and evil desire, and covetousness [and greed], which is [a manifestation of] idolatry [because it replaces your devotion to God]” [Colossians 3:5].
For it is written: “I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore consecrate [and sanctify] yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with swarming things [in large numbers] that crawl and creep about” [Leviticus 11:44]. “And you shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated [and severed] you from among the nations, that you should be Mine” [Leviticus 20:26].
It is only the ‘Descent of the Holy Spirit’ that enables [and empowers] us to rise above our fallen state and respond to God’s call to holiness —that is, the quality and state of being separated from the world and dedicated and devoted to God and His special purpose. The Apostle Peter says: “But just as He Who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy” [I Peter 1:15–16; Leviticus 11:44]. It is the Holy Spirit Who instills holiness in men —and it is therefore most fitting to commemorate all of God’s saints on this the first Sunday after Pentecost.
Every follower of the Lord Jesus Christ is called to be a ‘saint’
Now a ‘saint’ is someone who lives a ‘holy’ life —and who is set apart [from the world] for God’s special purpose. Every follower of the Lord Jesus Christ is called to be a ‘saint’ or ‘holy.’
In his epistles, the Apostle Paul often refers to believers as ‘saints.’ Such reference throughout the New Testament is drawn from the Old Testament, in which God Himself refers to Israel as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” [Exodus 19:5–6]. The Apostle Peter applies this very same language to believers in Christ: “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” [I Peter 2:9].
What does it then mean when we say that every follower of Christ is a ‘saint’? There are two different [but complementary] perspectives.
The first refers to our posture before [and our potential in] God. The Apostle Paul writes that Christ Jesus “became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification [or holiness] and redemption” [I Corinthians 1:30]; and that all who believe in Jesus — and who ‘have put on Christ’ by faith [and put off sin] — are ‘holy’ before God [Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27]. This is because of what Christ has done for us on the Cross.
Notwithstanding, as per a prevalent aphorism among the Jews, there are indeed different ‘levels of observance,’ which are reflected in the second perspective related to our experience. In other words, because of our posture before [and potential in] God as ‘holy ones’ or ‘saints,’ our lives must be transformed to reflect that holiness. The Apostle Peter calls believers to “not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance but just as He Who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do [that is, in your conduct]” [I Peter 1:14–15].
As Christians, we demonstrate that we are set apart for God and His special purpose by living lives that reflect the ‘likeness’ of God [including His moral perfection or holiness]. The Apostle Paul exhorts believers to “strive for peace with everyone, and for holiness without which no one will see the Lord” [Hebrews 12:14].
Six categories for holiness
Accordingly, six categories [and ranks] of saints reveal the following hierarchy of potentiality for holiness [and sainthood]:
(1) The Apostles are at the head of this ‘hierarchy,’ because they were the first to spread the message of the Gospel [that is, the Good News] throughout the world.
(2) The Martyrs are next because through their example of courage in professing the true faith before the enemies and persecutors of the Church, they encourage us to remain faithful to Christ even unto death.
(3) The Prophets are listed after the Apostles and Martyrs because the Old Testament Prophets saw only the shadows of things to come, whereas the Apostles and Martyrs experienced them personally.
(4) The Holy Hierarchs [who constitute the fourth category] are the pastors of their flocks, who teach them by their word and their example.
(5) The Monastic Saints are those who withdrew from this world — not out of hatred for the world, but in order to perfect themselves through unceasing prayer and devotion to God, and to intercede for the true believers by battling against the power of the demons in the world. St. John Climacus explains: “Angels are a light for monks, and the monastic life is a light for all men” [Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 26:31].
(6) The last of the categories, the Righteous [or Just], are those who attained holiness of life while living ‘in the world.’
Some examples of the Righteous include:
- The Holy and Righteous Forefather and Patriarch Abraham and his wife Sarah —who were the parents of Isaac the Patriarch;
- The Holy and Righteous Job the Longsuffering, who was resurrected on the first Pascha and who, after his restoration, became the father of Tersi, Choros, Hyon, Nike, Phoros, Phiphe, Phrouon, Hemera, Kasia, and Amaltheia;
- The Holy and Righteous Ancestors of God Joachim and Anna —the parents of the Virgin Mary;
- The Holy and Righteous Joseph the Betrothed, who was the adoptive father of our Lord Jesus Christ and the father of the Holy Apostle Jude [and Brother of the Lord], St. James the Just [and Brother of the Lord], St. Simeon [Simon] the Martyr [Second Bishop of Jerusalem and Brother of the Lord], and the Righteous Justus [and Brother of the Lord];
- The Holy and Righteous Basil the Elder, who was the son of St. Macrina the Elder, and his wife, St. Emilia, who were the parents of five saints —St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Naucratius, St. Peter of Sebaste, and St. Macrina the Younger.
This last category of saint -the Righteous- are those who attained holiness while living ‘in the world’, with families; that is: with wives or husbands, daughters or sons, sisters or brothers, or mothers and fathers. Must we abandon or leave our loved ones behind to “inherit eternal life"? [Matthew 19:29–30]. The answer is a resounding ‘NO.’
The Lord Jesus Christ tells us to put our lives in order by making the Kingdom of God and His righteousness [or holiness] our priority. The Lord said: “But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all things shall be added unto you” [Matthew 6:33].
Whether we live ‘in the world’ with our families, or alone and withdrawn from the world as a monk [in Greek, monahós —solitary and unaccompanied], we are called to evince ourselves [intelligibly abounding by means of our actions], and thereby fully persuade all those around us, that the Kingdom of God and His righteousness [or holiness] are an absolute priority for us.
We are called to evince ourselves by means of our actions and persuade all around us that the Kingdom of God and His holiness are a priority for us.
“Therefore, whosoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father Who is in Heaven” [Matthew 10:32]. Our lives must reflect our total integration into the Messianic dispensation and age, as revealed on Pentecost. As we pursue holiness [saintliness, sainthood] through the acquisition of the Holy Spirit and participation in the Kingdom of God —which is yet to be fully revealed, but already fully present in His saints— we entreat the Holy Spirit to “come and abide in us” here and now.
“For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So, then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” [Ephesians 2:18–20].
And ‘What now?’ That is the question you must ask yourself. Like most people who turn to Orthodox Christianity for answers, we initially seek the salvation of our souls. Only then can we embark on the pursuit of holiness. ‘Where do I go from here?’ It is a question to which you must find the answer.
At this point in your journey on ‘The Way,’ you still might not fully understand that practicing Orthodox Christianity [as a way of life] is an ongoing process.
This process involves cycles of adoption, and adaptation and re-adaptation of an Orthodox phronema [or worldview] and cycles of implementation and re-implementation of Orthodox praxis [or, practice]. And after first training in matters concerning the faith [which is the easier task], we all need to move on to a more difficult matter — practice. In doctrine, there is little to restrain you from benefitting from that which you have been taught, BUT in the implementation of practice, there are many things that might pull you off course as you journey on The Way.
Now as a follower of ‘The Way’ and as you pursue holiness, you will of necessity enter the path of the prokoptôn [in Greek] or naprednik [in Slavic], that is, ‘the path of one who advances or makes progress.’ This path does not reflect or represent stages of practice; but simply refers to and identifies someone who is progressing [however imperfectly or inconsistently] along the Orthodox Christian path to enosis, or union and oneness with God.
As your choices and actions become increasingly congruous with your primary and dynamic existential goal of holiness, fewer mistakes will be made in the process and you will be on the ‘path of one who advances or makes progress.’ You will then begin to fulfill the words recorded in Exodus [28:36]: ‘And you shall make a [name] plate of pure gold, and grave upon it — like the engravings of a signet [seal] — HOLINESS TO THE LORD [that is, SET APART FOR THE LORD].
The fool must step outside of the tumult of life’s passions before he can take the first step on the path toward righteousness and holiness.
Three disciplines allow the naprednik to make progress:
- the ‘discipline of desire,’
- the ‘discipline of assent,’ and
- (3) the ‘discipline of action.’
These disciplines are designed to transform the foolish and lost wanderer into a naprednik — one who is advancing in righteousness and holiness.
The three disciplines are interrelated and inseparable, and synergy is required. One discipline cannot be practiced in entire isolation from the other two. While a man can focus on a single discipline at any given moment, the other two are necessarily involved. All three disciplines are essential.
Notwithstanding such synergy, the controlling of our passions — through the ‘discipline of desire’ — is the ‘most urgent’ of the three disciplines. Desires and aversions that are inharmonious and incongruous with God and His holiness are the sources of crippling psychological disturbances. Until such ardent desires and aversions are under control, a man is ‘incapable of listening to reason’ for he loves lies more than truth.
Moreover, the Holy Spirit will not strive, or reason, with the mind [Isaiah 1:18] or convict the heart [John 16:8] of the complete and obstinate fool — “who says in his heart that there is no God” [Psalm 14:1]. Such a man is driven by passions and remains caught in a whirlwind of desires. The passions introduce disturbances, tumults, misfortunes, and calamities into man’s mind and heart; and cause sorrow, lamentation, and envy. The passions render man envious and jealous, and thus incapable of listening to the voice of reason or the gentle whisper [breeze] of the Spirit [I Kings 19:12]. The fool must step outside of the tumult of life’s passions before he can take the first step on the path toward righteousness and holiness.
The ‘discipline of assent’ is concerned with freedom from deception, [lies], and hasty judgment. It is the achievement of certainty [and the maintenance of that which has already been attained], so that —even in dreams, or agitation [anxiety], or melancholy [depression] —no untested impression may catch us off guard. In this discipline, we refrain from giving automatic assent to mistaken impressions, and refrain from automatically acting on impulses. Instead, we observe them for what they are —mere impressions and impulses. This implies some level of detachment, and resembles mindfulness or neptic meditation although it is meant to be practiced continuously during all activities and not as a separate activity.
In assent, we learn that everywhere and at all times, it lies within our power and will to be reverently contented with our present lot, to behave justly to such people as are presently at hand, and to deal skillfully with our present impressions so that nothing may steal its way into our mind and heart [which we have not adequately grasped, understood, assented to, and allowed]. Such discipline enables us to make wise decisions that complement our primary and dynamic existential goal of ‘holiness unto the Lord’ [Isaiah 48:17].
The ‘discipline of action’ concerns the impulse to act or not to act. It involves the advancement of appropriate —or righteous and just— action and behavior. It involves the development of the ability or skill-set to act in an orderly manner and after due consideration —not reacting emotionally, carelessly, hastily, and haphazardly, lest the Lord Jesus Christ ‘look round about on you with anger, being grieved for the hardness of your hearts’ [Mark 3:5]. But you, on the other hand, must carefully fulfill your duties and obligations in all of your natural, spiritual, and acquired relationships.
Through the aforementioned disciplines, the saints of God are ever-present in human society. For it is written: “Yet I have reserved seven thousand [holy ones or saints] in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him [or his idol]” [I Kings 19:18]. And Jesus said: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” [Matthew 25:21]. And these faithful ones have come from every corner of the earth and entered into the joy of the Lord. They were Apostles, Martyrs, Prophets, Hierarchs, Monastics, and Righteous — yet all were perfected and “transformed into His image from [one degree of] glory to [even more] glory, which comes from the Lord by the same Holy Spirit” [II Corinthians 3:18].
The promise of the Holy Spirit
Now today’s lesson follows last Sunday’s declaration by Jesus, Who said: “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” [John 7:38]. Jesus gave an exposition of this promise, and spoke of the Holy Spirit, not in terms of outward advantage, but in terms of the gifts, graces, and succors of the Spirit.
And the Apostle Luke writes: “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off [even the Gentiles], and as many as the Lord our God will call [to Himself]” [Acts 2:39]. For all received His sanctifying graces —and some [moreover] received miraculous gifts. “For these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” [Mark 16:17–18].
The Holy Spirit dwelling and working in Christ’s saints is as a fountain of living ‘running water,’ out of which plentiful streams flow —cooling and cleansing as water, and mollifying and moistening as water —thus making the saints fruitful and joyful.
“And when Jesus called His twelve disciples to Him [in order to commission them as apostles], He gave them [authority and] power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of diseases” [Matthew 10:1]. And Jesus sent the apostles forth and commanded [and instructed] them as to how they must conduct themselves [Matthew 10:5–15].
Said instructions are faithfully enshrined in the words of St. Paul [the Apostle to the Gentiles]: “Flee also from youthful lusts [and desires] — pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those [true] believers who [trust in and] call upon the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid [and moreover, have nothing to do with] foolish and ignorant arguments, disputes, speculations, and controversies [about unedifying, unimportant, and useless matters] knowing that they [produce and] generate strife [and create quarrels]. And a servant [or bondservant and slave] of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle [and kind] to all, [and even-tempered and peaceable to everyone]. And he must also be skilled in teaching — and [moreover] he must be patient [and tolerant] in delivering instruction. And in all humility, courtesy, and gentleness [a slave of the Lord] must lovingly correct those who are [disagreeable and] in opposition — in the hope that God may grant that they repent and be led to the knowledge of the truth, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the [trap and] snare of the devil, who has taken them captive in order that they might do his will” [II Timothy 2:22–26].
Adversities, misfortunes, and persecutions
Upon commissioning His apostles, Jesus forewarns and instructs them as to the adversities, misfortunes, and persecutions that they are to expect [and for which they are to prepare]. He also directed the newly commissioned apostles as to how they might bear such adversities, misfortunes, and persecutions, and how to proceed with their work in the midst of the same. For it is written: “I will call upon the Lord, Who is worthy to be praised; and I shall be saved from my enemies” [Psalm 18:3].
This commission looks further than to the apostles’ present mission. For they met not with any great hardships or persecutions while Christ was with them — but they are here forewarned of the troubles that they would encounter after Christ’s resurrection when He was no longer present [in the body] with them [Matthew 10:16–42].
For Jesus said: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be [clever, shrewd, cunning, and] wise as serpents [or snakes] and [innocent, guileless, and] harmless as doves [having no self-serving agenda]. But beware of men [whose fallen carnal nature is to act in opposition to God], for they will deliver you up to the councils [of the Jews] and [flog and] scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake [on account of your faith in Me], and you will bear witness of Me to them [and to the Gentiles]. But when they arrest you [and deliver you up], do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that very hour what you should speak — for it is not you who speak, but the [Holy] Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” [Matthew 10:16–20]. “But the Helper, [Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor, Counselor, and Strengthener], the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name [and in My place — to represent Me and act on My behalf], He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” [John 14:26].
The apostles were therefore duly forewarned by the Lord, and they anticipated being branded with the most odious and ignominious names, epithets, and characterizations in the midst of persecution. For persecutors must first slander and malign those whom they wish to destroy —in order to justify their cruelties.
Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself was characterized as Beelzebub —the prince of devils [or in Pharisaic derision, ‘Lord of flies’]. Therefore, Jesus said: “A disciple [or follower] is not [superior to or] above his teacher, nor is a bond-servant [or slave] above his master. It is enough for a disciple to be like his teacher, and a servant [to be] like his master [or Lord]. If those [who resist the Gospel and would persecute believers] have called [Me] — the master of the house [or head of the family] — Beelzebub, how much more will they [speak evil of] and call those [saints] of his household [even worse names]! But do not fear them. For there is nothing covered [and concealed] that will not be revealed, [uncovered, and disclosed during the Final Judgement], or hidden [and kept secret] that will not be [clearly] known” [Matthew 10:24–26]. And “The devil who rules this world [and who is also the god of this age] has blinded those who do not believe — lest the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ [who is the very image of God] should shine on them [and reveal Christ to them]” [II Corinthians 4:4].
Therefore, [and as an example], the attorney Tertullus presented charges on behalf of the Jews against the Apostle Paul [to Felix the Governor], saying: “For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, [troublemaker, public menace, and plague], a mover of sedition [stirring up and instigating riots among all of the Jews throughout the world], and [moreover] a ringleader of the sect, [party, and faction] of the Nazarenes… He even tried to defile, [profane, and desecrate] the temple, but [fortunately] we [grabbed him, arrested him and] took him into custody… And the rest of the Jews [present] also assented [and joined in the attack — declaring and insisting that these things were true]” [Acts 24:5–9]. Persecutors characterized the apostles as agitators of the kingdom of darkness. And since every man likes to thinks himself good and a despiser of evil [and that, in spite of all evidence] —curmudgeons [of evil and malicious hearts] and persecutors have [throughout the ages] endeavored to portray Christ’s disciples as odious instruments of evil.
In this chaotic, disordered, confused, and upturned world, a demonic discourse creates, recreates, focuses, modifies, transmits, and normalizes [through language and culture] a barrage of logical fallacies [or false reasonings] that misinforms our minds. These fallacies have been [and are] imposed upon us and never cease to induce duplicity, double-talk, and a general travesty of reality.
In such discourse, Satan and his legions [who are the sworn enemies of man] are represented as friends — and the disciples-apostles [who pulled down the devil’s kingdom] are called devils. The enemies of Christ accused His followers, not only of things which they are ignorant of, but of the very same things which the accusers themselves publicly held in abhorrence.
More often than not — those who are comparable to the devil [in character] are the most prone to accuse others of being akin to the devil [in word and deed] — and those that deny the devil’s existence have him reigning in their own hearts. Moreover, the sins that men decry with the greatest vehemence, sarcasm, and disgust, are most often those that they themselves are tempted by [and commit]. It is a relief to know that the day is coming, when that which is hidden will be brought to light. “Therefore, do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known” [Matthew 10:26].
In spite of all the ordeals, Christ encourages His apostles to confess Him before men. “Therefore, whosoever [experiences a state of oneness with Me] and confesses [and accepts] Me [as Lord and Savior] before men, him I will also confess before My Father Who is in Heaven. But whosoever denies [and rejects] Me before men, him I will also deny, [reject, and disown] before My Father Who is in Heaven” [Matthew 10:32–33]. “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” [Romans 14:10].
And again, “According to the [remarkable gift of] grace that God gave me [and by which He prepared me for the task entrusted to me], like [an expert, wise, and] skillful master builder, I laid a foundation, and now another is building on it. But each one must be careful how he builds on it, for no one can lay a foundation other than the one which is [already] laid, which is Jesus Christ. But if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, jewels, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw — each one’s work will be clearly shown [for what it is]; for the day [of judgment] will disclose it, because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality and character and worth of each man’s work. If any man’s work that he has built [on this foundation] and [any outcome of his effort] remain [and survive this test], he will receive a reward [in wages]. But if any man’s work [or building] is burned up [by the test], he will suffer the loss [of his reward], be fined, and punished; yet he himself will be saved, but only as [one who has barely escaped] through fire” [I Corinthians 3:10–15]. For “we [believers will be called to account and] must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be repaid for what has been done in the body, whether good or bad [that is, each will be held responsible for his actions, purposes, goals, motives, and the use or misuse of his time, opportunities and abilities]” [II Corinthians 5:10].
In his second pastoral letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul echoes the warning of Christ [in Matthew 10:32–33]: “You therefore, my son, be strong and [constantly strengthened and empowered] in the grace [that is to be found only in] Christ Jesus. And [the doctrine, precepts, and admonitions, which are the sum of my ministry] and the [other] things that you have heard from me among many witnesses — commit [and entrust as a treasure] to [reliable and] faithful men who will be able to teach others also. You therefore must [join me in my sufferings and] endure hardship [as you pass through the difficulties which you are called to endure] even as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” [II Timothy 2:1–3].
And again, “This is a faithful [and trustworthy] saying — for if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure [suffering], we shall also reign with Him. If we deny [or renounce] Him, He also will deny [and disown] us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; [because] He cannot deny Himself. Remind [and warn] everyone concerning these things, and solemnly charge them before the Lord [and in His presence] not to strive about [or over] words [and semantics] and [to avoid petty controversies concerning the meaning of words and even letters], which serves no good [or profit], and [upsets, undermines, and] ruins [the faith of] those who hear [and listen]. Be diligent [and study] to present yourself approved to God, a worker [tested by trial] who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing, [handling, and skillfully teaching] the word of truth” [II Timothy 2:11–15].
For “the solid foundation of God [which He has laid] stands [sure and unshaken despite attacks] having this seal — which is duly inscribed and engraved with the following words: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity’ [and withdraw from wrongdoing]” [II Timothy 2:19].
Immediately after Christ had encouraged His apostles to confess Him before men [Matthew 10:32–33], He warns them that such confession will bring division. For He said: “Do not think [or suppose] that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword [of division between belief and unbelief]” [Matthew 10:34]. For Jesus said: “If the world hates you [and it does], know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love [you as] its own and would treat you with affection. But you are not of the world [and you no longer belong to it], but I have chosen you out of the world. And because of this the world hates you. Remember [and continue to remember] that I told you: A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted [and wronged] Me, they will also persecute [and wrong] you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But they will do all these [hurtful] things to you for My name’s sake [because you bear My name and are identified with Me], for they do not know the One who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have [the guilt of their] sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. The one who hates Me also hates My Father. If I had not done among them the works [and attesting miracles] which no one else [ever] did, they would not have [the guilt of their] sin; but now [the fact is that] they have both seen [these works] and have hated Me [and continue to hate Me] and My Father as well. But [this is so] that the word which has been written in their Law would be fulfilled: They hated Me without a [just] cause” [John 15:18–25].
Furthermore, even “brother will [betray and] deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up [and rebel] against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who patiently perseveres and endures to the end will be saved” [Matthew 10:21–22].
“But He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take up his cross [thereby expressing his willingness to endure all things] and follow after Me [and, if need be — suffering or perhaps even dying for Me] is not worthy of Me. For whosoever finds [and clings] to his life [in this world] will [eventually] lose it [through death], and whosoever loses his life [in this world] for My sake will find [life with Me for all eternity]” [Matthew 10:37–39].
The lesson here is clear —Christ must be our first love. And moreover, the love of Christ must direct our every choice —even when such choices result in family differences and divisions, and in intense emotional pain, distress, suffering, and tears.
But beware that your attitudes, words, behavior, and conduct are without reproach, and that you have given others no cause to hate, [despise, or otherwise suspect] you [or your motives]. For “blessèd [and happy] are you when men insult, [mock, abuse, and revile] you or [hurt and] persecute you — and falsely say all kinds of evil things against you for My sake [and because you follow] Me. Be glad and exceedingly joyful, for great is your reward in Heaven, for in this same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” [Matthew 5:11–13].
And to the rest, the Apostle Paul declares: “If any believer has a spouse [who does not believe in Christ], and that unbelieving partner consents to live with the believer — the believer must not leave the unbelieving partner. But if the unbelieving partner leaves, let such a one leave. In such cases, the believer [who remains] is not [spiritually or morally] bound. For God has called us to peace. For how do you know, whether you will save your spouse [by leading him or her to Christ]?” [I Corinthians 7:12–16].
Now this latter apostolic advice can be applied to all family relations [and relationships] and is in the words of [the Scottish preacher] James Durham: “a rule of thumb [as we used to speak] — and not by square and rule.”
Christ must be our first love. And moreover, the love of Christ must direct our every choice.
Now most men do not hesitate to engage in pressing difficulties [and adversities] for the sake of their profession or for worldly gains and comforts — and they cheerfully submit to fatigues and troubles for obtaining passing pleasures. But when it concerns the “Highway of Holiness” [Isaiah 35:8] — most men invest little effort and fail to prefer God before any other interest.
The Apostle Paul says: “But I say, [live and] walk [habitually] by the [power of the Holy] Spirit [seek Him and be responsive to His guidance], and then you will certainly not carry out the desires of your sinful [and carnal] nature [which responds impulsively without regard for God and His precepts]. For the flesh [and carnal nature] sets its desire against the [Holy] Spirit, and the [Holy] Spirit opposes the flesh; for these [two — the sinful nature and the Spirit] are in [direct] opposition to one another [and continually in conflict] so that you [as true believers] do not [always] do the [good] things that you desire and purpose to do” [Galatians 5:16–17].
The terms are therefore clearly established —if true religion be worth anything, it is worth everything!
Therefore, all who believe in the truth —will soon come up to [and pay] the price. “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls —who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all [things] that he had, and bought it” [Matthew 13:45–46].
Those who make the Kingdom of Heaven their business and bliss — will make EVERYTHING else yield to it.
For Jesus said: “But first [and most importantly] seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness [and holiness], and all these things shall be added [and given] to you” [Matthew 6:33].
Now Jesus said: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man [and accept and receive the One Whose body was offered on the cross, raised from the dead, and received into Heaven as Lord and Savior], and drink His blood [and trust and believe in the saving power of His blood that was shed for the atonement of sins], you have no life in you” [John 6:53].
And Christ invites them to eat, and this signifies that He is ready to give Himself to all, provided that they are willing to comply with the terms, which are repentance, submission, faith, and sanctification in the Holy Spirit —total surrender to Christ, “Who is all in all” [Colossians 3:11].
Those who do not, or refuse to, accept Christ on these terms may leave Him [forthwith] —but at their own peril. “Therefore, many of His disciples, when they heard this, said: This is a hard, [difficult, harsh, and offensive] saying; who can [be expected] to understand, [hear, and obey] it? And Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, and said to them: Does this cause you to stumble and take offense? What then [will you think] if you see the Son of Man ascending to [the realms] where He was before? It is the Spirit Who gives life; the flesh conveys no benefit [and is of no account]. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life [providing eternal life]. But [still] there are some of you who do not believe. For Jesus knew from the beginning who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said: This is the reason why I have told you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him [and unless he is enabled to do so] by the Father. And as a result of this, many of His disciples abandoned Him, and no longer walked with Him. So Jesus said to the twelve [disciples]: Do you want to leave too? And Simon Peter answered: Lord, to whom shall we go? You [alone] have the words of eternal life [and you are our only hope]. We have believed and confidently trusted, and [even more] we have come to know [by personal experience] that You are Christ — the Son of the living God]” [John 6:60–69].
And Jesus said: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man [who places his faith in wealth and status] to enter into the Kingdom of God. And when his disciples heard it, they were completely astonished, [shocked, bewildered, and stricken with panic], saying: Who then can be saved?” [Matthew 19:24–25]. So now the apostles [through the Apostle Peter] referred themselves to Jesus — and Peter himself said: “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore, what shall we have?" [Matthew 19:27] —thereby indicating that the apostles depended upon Jesus for considerable subsidies in lieu of the benefits they had left for Him. They had not sold all, for many of them still had wives and families to provide for —but they had forsaken all. They had not given all to the poor —but they had renounced riches as far as it might be [in any way] a hindrance to them in serving Christ. And even though there was no immediate advantage to themselves, the apostles were so well assured of Jesus’ goodness [and love for them], that they were certain He would make up their losses.
We have here Christ’s promises to the apostles — and indeed to all the saints who tread in the steps of their faith and obedience: “Assuredly I say to you, that in the renewal [or the Messianic restoration and regeneration of all things], when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me [and have become My disciples] will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are [now —in the present life] first will be last [in the Kingdom], and the last will be first” [Matthew 19:28–30].
All that we leave, or lose, or suffer for Christ —is but naught in comparison to that which we have gained. The terms are crystal clear — in order to be saved, a man must prefer Christ over and above himself, over and above all others, and over and above all things.
To be saved, a man must prefer Christ over and above himself, over and above all others, and over and above all things.
When we read or hear about the saints [who were set apart and who are saved], it concerns us to enquire as to whether we —through the grace of the Holy Spirit— meet the category. For the Apostle Paul says: “Therefore, 'Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you' [with the grace of the Holy Spirit]” [II Corinthians 6:17]. Now the Apostle Peter speaks as to the central extent and intendment of the saved —for it is God Himself Who has wrought in them a holy contempt of the world and the things that are seen [in comparison with Christ and the things that are not seen]. And how is this state to be evidenced? No particularized rule can be given —but according to as we are called: “For as He Who called you is holy —you must also be holy in all your conduct” [I Peter 1:15].
And this is not an impossible task for men. In the words of the English poetess, Lesbia Scott regarding the attainment of holiness and sanctity:
I sing a song of the saints of God — patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died — for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen — and one was a shepherdess on the green:
They were all of them saints of God, and I mean — God helping, to be one too.
They loved their Lord so dear, so dear — and God’s love made them strong;
And they followed the right, for Jesus’ sake — the whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest — and one was slain by a fierce wild beast:
And there’s not any reason, no, not the least — why I shouldn’t be one too.
They lived not only in ages past — there are hundreds of thousands still;
The world is bright with the joyous saints — who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea — in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
For the saints of God are just folk like me — and I mean to be one too.
For Jesus said: “If anyone wishes to follow Me [as My disciple], he must deny himself [set aside selfish interests], and take up his cross daily [expressing a willingness to endure whatsoever may come] and follow Me [believing in Me, conforming to My example in living and [if necessary, suffering or perhaps dying because of faith in Me]” [Luke 9:23].
Before receiving a martyr’s crown, the Prince of the Apostles —who was once commissioned to “Feed My sheep” by Christ Himself [in John 21:15–19] —wrote:
“Finally, all of you be of one mind [and one spirit], having compassion for one another; love [each other] as brothers, be kind, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil, [or insult for insult], or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary bless [and pray for one another’s well-being and protection], for you have been called for this very purpose, that you may inherit a blessing [from God]. For He who would love [and enjoy] life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking [lies, guile, treachery, and] deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace [with God, with himself, and with others], and let him pursue it eagerly [and actively — not merely desiring it, or talking about it]. For the eyes of the Lord [look favorably] upon the righteous [and upright], and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who practice evil. And who is he who can [really] harm [or hurt] you if you become [enthusiastic] followers of that which is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessèd, [happy, and favored by God]. And do not be afraid of their [intimidating] threats, nor be troubled [or disturbed by their opposition]. But sanctify Christ [as the Lord] in your hearts [acknowledge His holiness and sovereignty over your life] and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness, gentleness, respect, and with fear [and reverence for God]. Have [and maintain] a clear [and good] conscience, that when they defame, [slander, or falsely accuse] you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer [unjustly] for doing good than to suffer [justly] for doing evil” [I Peter 3:8–17]. Therefore, live your lives “in all manner of holy conversation, conduct, and godliness [for this sets you apart as saints of God]” [II Peter 3:11].
And most certainly, after taking the necessary steps to attain and acquire righteousness and holiness: “you shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” [Matthew 19:29].
The Holy Apostles tell us that even if you are among the last category [or rank] of saints [that is, the Righteous], you are a true ‘king and priest’ [I Peter 2:9]. Even if you are a beggar, you are surpassingly rich [II Corinthians 6:10]. Even if you are a slave, you are free [II Corinthians 3:17]. Even if you are alone, you are NEVER alone for the Lord promised: “And, lo [that is, prosti in Slavonic —or pay attention], I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” [Matthew 28:20].
My fellow Orthodox Christians, God has set you apart for His special purpose in this world and has sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in you. The Holy Spirit is at work in you to transform your life so that you might reflect that which is proclaimed by the priest at each Divine Liturgy: ‘The Holy Things are for the Holy.’ To which proclamation we respond with the ultimate of all proclamations: ‘One is Holy, One is the Lord, Jesus Christ to the Glory of God the Father. Amen’.
Call to action
Now if you have not believed [in the Lord Jesus Christ] unto salvation, cry out even [forthwith] to Christ, and repent! Submit to Him, and receive Him.
‘Eat the flesh of the Son of man [and accept and receive the One Whose body was offered on the cross, raised from the dead, and received into Heaven as Lord and Savior], and drink His blood [and trust and believe in the saving power of His blood that was shed on the same cross for the atonement of sins]’ [John 6:53]. In turn, He will deliver you, save you, and heal you. For He alone is tenderhearted, compassionate, gracious, plenteous in mercy, and the only lover of mankind [Psalm 103:8].
Or [otherwise], you may have believed in Christ [only half-heartedly], and have fallen [or come] short of your calling as a true disciple. You may have not yet begun to ‘walk in the Spirit’ on the ‘Highway of Holiness’ [Isaiah 35:8], for you continue to resist the intervention and operation of the self-same Holy Spirit, and actively thwart the removal of ‘the heart of stone out of your flesh.’ And furthermore, you refuse to receive from Christ ‘a new heart.’
Therefore, come now [in humility] and likewise repent. “Come out of from among her [the Great Whore of Babylon] … that you be not partakers of her sins, and receive not of her plagues. For [Babylon which ‘sits upon the seven hills by many waters’] has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird! For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury” [Revelation 18:1–4].
Lay aside then all filthiness, and overflow of wickedness’ [in thought, word, and deed], and ‘let no foul word ever proceed from out of your mouth’ [Ephesians 4:29; James 1:21a].
Come one and all —draw near, and respond to His invitation.
Receive with meekness the implanted Word [of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ], which is able to save your soul to the uttermost [James 1:21b]. For ‘now is [indeed] the acceptable time, and today is the day of salvation’ [II Corinthians 6:2].
And once again, to that same Christ [our true God], Who is risen from the dead, and Who sent the Holy Spirit as a Paraclete in His stead [being glorious in His saints] belong glory, might, honor, and worship, together with His Father Who is without beginning, and with the Holy, Good, and Life-giving Spirit, now and forever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.