Sermon – Sunday of All Saints
The Sunday of All Saints
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
June 23, 2019
Today, the Sunday following the Feast of Pentecost is the Sunday that we commemorate all saints who have lived since the beginning of time. In the western Church “All Saints’ Day” is the first of November (the eve of which is called “All Hallows Eve”). For we Orthodox, the Sunday commemorating all saints is the Sunday following the Feast of Pentecost. This is because of its connection to the Feast of Pentecost. It was in Antioch that the Sunday of All Saints began as a commemoration of martyrs in the 4th c.
The word martyr implies: “one who is a witness.” The Greek and Aramaic word for martyr is the same word for “witness.” It is God the Holy Spirit who indwells us, empowering us to be Christ’s witnesses with a spiritual power. Not every saint is a martyr. However, being a witness, or to testify that Christ is the Lord of one’s life, is the call of every Christian.
From the readings from the Old Testament prophesy of Isaiah heard last night at Great Vespers (43:9ff) we heard: “...You are my witnesses” says the Lord, “and My servant[s] whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after Me. I am the Lord, and besides Me there is no savior. I [have revealed] and saved and proclaimed, [I and not some] strange god among you; and you are My witnesses,” says the Lord…
It is the gift of the Holy Spirit, or Christ’s Spirit that enables one to be a Christian witness. In each and every generation beginning with the days of the holy Apostles, there have been countless numbers of witnesses; men and women whose lives have been a living testimony to the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. St. Paul speaks to this by describing the host of witnesses in heaven with the image of them cheering us on as in a grandstand:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin tat so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
There were many saints, before the time of Christ who were martyrs: men and women under the old covenant, who, because of their faith, paid the ultimate price. They were heroes of the faith. Some of them are described in today’s epistle reading.
Second the word “saint” in Greek is the word “the holy” (agios), meaning: “one who is called apart from” or “called to be distinct from.” Saints are among the living and the dead. Every Christian is called to be in the communion of saints. Calling anyone a “saint” already implies that someone is special and unique. However, it is important to remember that what characteristically made someone a saint was his or her ability to confess his sins and to be humble in the eyes of all men.
Christians are personally called to become separate; not independent, not in isolation, not even to be exclusive. Every Christian is called to be holy (Agios); called, chosen, and sanctified. Simply stated, saints are part of a community who are active in knowing and loving God. They are blessed as often as they commit themselves each day to love the Lord our God with all their heart, soul and mind, and their neighbor as themselves. Also bearing in mind that “no one can say that he loves God and not love his neighbor.” Second, Christians are called to reach out to others; to be prepared to tell their story. The Holy Apostle Peter reminds us: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (I Peter 3:15).
We live in a time when religion is considered by some as an evil in the world. It is considered divisive, controlling; by some, “male oriented.” We Christians have to be aware of the world that we live in and what are the pervasive views and attitudes of our time. There are many who have become very outspoken, some of whom are atheists, advocating that the notion that “God is not great.” It is part of the spirit of our age called, “secular humanism;” an age that disregards any notion, relevance, or belief in God. And so, to be a Christian today, and more importantly, to raise our children as Christians requires a real depth in understanding correctly; having a true image of God and to be surrounded by people of faith and discipline.
If you and I today think that we do not face the same kind of choices that the ancient heroes of our faith faced, we are deluding ourselves. While it may be true that you and I may not being called to become martyrs in the same manner that the ancients did, we live in a time where there is a great deal of confusion about what is the truth. There are anti-Christ’s. Now while there are in fact some who are very blatant in their anti-Christian views, you need to be aware that the word “anti-Christ” does not mean “one who is in opposition to Christ,” but what or who is worshipped “in place of” Christ. In other words, you and I, your children and my children, are today being faced with daily personal choices that determine who is our God. You see, each of our personal choices, as insignificant as they might seem to us, accumulatively reveal the God we worship. The Fathers of our Church constantly warn us about being deceived. We are constantly reminded to be on our guard, to watch, and to be vigilant.
A good Christian witness is never someone without discipline, without a framework or structure to our lives. And what are these disciplines: prayer, fasting, going to church to receive the sacraments, repentance, just to name a few. And if you and I consider that these things are mere rituals, that they are just a part of our family heritage and culture, or regard them as the ornaments of our faith, then you and I have yet to venture into the deep. By not doing this we will live our lives in shallow water without spiritual power.
There is a great deal about our American way of life that has dominated the national attitude towards religion. The value of our independent way of thinking causes us to formulate for ourselves the way that we are most comfortable in practicing our religion; a kind of “smorgasbord” or buffet religion, where we pick and choose what we like and just forget about being serious about we don’t like.
For the baptized Christian who bears God’s Spirit in their life it means that we will be challenged. We cannot be men and women, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers who are complacent. We cannot remain as children content in a wading pool. Today’s Christian must be very courageous and devoted, fervent in prayer and faith. This kind of courage and devotion is not something that manifests itself without spiritual power. Moreover, spiritual power is not manifested as in the ways of physical or political might. It requires being grounded in the knowledge of the truth, being steadfast and unshakable in faith and love, discernment and prayer.
You and I, our children and grandchildren are the products of the daily choices we make. This includes: how many hours we spend at work, how many hours we spend with our families, the sources we choose to be informed by and influenced, where and how we choose to spend our resources, just to name a few.
While your and my personal calling may not be so explicitly “Apostolic” as The Twelve were so called, there is much to be done in fulfilling our call as parents and teachers: by informing, advising guiding, guarding and protecting; most importantly, to be true witnesses. It begins with acknowledging what are our personal responsibilities; taking them seriously; doing our best in all that we will ultimately be accountable to God.
“O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Treasury of blessings and the Giver of life: come and abide in us and cleanse us from all impurity and save our souls, O gracious Lord.” Strengthen us in faith and love and empower us to do Thy will in all things.