Sermon – The Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council
The Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
October 15, 2023
This month we are helping our young people to understand what it means to be a good disciple of the Lord. Being a member of God’s Kingdom and “being a disciple” is living our lives as a plant rooted in the “good soil.” Plants in good soil produce good fruit. Spiritually, this means that a good disciple is living a life well grounded in the church (the “good soil”) where we are able to grow in faith and love by knowing Christ who is “the Gardener.”
Our homes and the community of the Church are like a garden. Our homes and our life in the church (“our family of families”) is the most important context for our children to know God, to experience a relationship with Him and people of faith, in order to grow and thrive spiritually. This does not happen without parents and Godparents sharing in the responsibility and the faith experience with their children.
The month of October in our Archdiocese is dedicated to the youth in our church for a reason. Our young people grow up with many trials and challenges in an environment of many challenges that have much to do with finding and being accepted; being liked and noticed; having trusting friends. Whether our children are in public or private school, their experiences are the same even though their context may be different. It is a very good thing to shelter a child from needless distractions, however, life is not lived in a bubble.
It does not take long for a young person to discover that the world is a very large place and consists of all kinds of people; some who do not necessarily think, speak or even behave like you and I. One’s youth is also a time of adventurous exploration, testing, and discovery. And for this reason, building the relationships with trusted persons within one’s family and the community of the church is very important to the spiritual health of our children. In every generation it has never been enough to say that something is wrong. Leaning the importance of making good choices over bad ones can be made by a parent, however, the choices eventually become our children’s.
A priest who was once assigned to a parish decided to gather his parishioners at the start of his pastorate to ask: “What do you think my job is?” One man stood up and said, “Father, I think your job is to help us know what all of this means” (as he pointed to the icons and the altar of the church). Then a lady at the rear of the church raised her hand and said, “Father, more than teaching us ‘what all of this means,’ I think that you need to show us that all of this has meaning.”
This task is not only the “job” of the priest. It is the call of every parent of the church: Helping our children to believe that “all of this,” in fact, all that we do, does have meaning; a very personal meaning.
As parents we want safeguards for our children; protecting them from bad influences; harmful things and needless anxiety. How do we do this? Are there ways to ensure or guarantee their future, who they form relationships with, trust or confide in?
Our church is committed to providing an environment that not only teaches our children facts but demonstrates the Christian life. This means that all of us have a part to play in educating our children. This also means: whether we even care to be involved in the lives of our children or not—we all have an influence in the lives of our young people for better or worse as members of the church. They also are very keenly aware of knowing if you care.
Demonstrating the Christian life is a shared experience. It is practiced. A practice that we all participate in. Whether it be coming to church, sharing our offerings and talents, doing things for others, also caring for our church property; it involves a lot of repetition and personal sacrifice. In fact, life is filled with doing things over and over again; sometimes because we do not get it right the first time. However, getting things right can become easier when you know you have someone there beside you; not only to help you in knowing how to do something, but being there for encouragement and support, especially when you don’t feel like you can do it again or get up and try doing things over. It helps to also know that you will not be harshly judged or looked down upon for not being perfect.
However a healthy trusting relationship is a relationship where one is able to not only tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to hear; perhaps what you don’t want to hear. This is precisely what is meant by Christian discipleship. It is mentoring. Discipleship, however, is not a cloning process or joining a cult. Discipleship does not stifle creativity, dialogue or discussion. However, discipleship is governed by norms, rules, boundaries. Discipleship is also recognizing that we are all disciples of the One who is the Lord our God!
While we might place a great deal of importance in acquiring knowledge, the Christian life is not solely based upon knowing things. While knowing and remembering facts have their purpose, being a Christian and living the Christian life is strengthened by the inspiration of good models, strong leadership, positive images and living examples. Each of us can have a part in the lives of our children as parents, godparents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and friends if we take seriously what God expects of us and consistently do our best to live up to our calling as Christian parents, godparents, uncles, aunts and friends. We all have a responsibility as members of God’s vineyard; His garden. More attention is rightly given and afforded to those of us who have been doing it for a long time. However, even with the contribution of elders, there must be room for open-mindedness and a sense of shared learning. No one ever arrives in being Orthodox or living the Orthodox Christian life, just as no one masters being able to love, or to forgive, or to be patient, or even to repent. These are lifetime practices experiences in different stages. Being a good mentor or helper to a brother or sister is done with great humility and honest reflection; being willing to share of what was learned through one’s successes and failures.
We hear the Holy Apostle James saying in verse 16 of chapter 5: “…confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.” This verse is at the end of the section of the first Epistle reading for the Sacrament of Holy Unction (Anointing of the Sick) and follows the Apostles instruction for the sick to: “call for the elders of the church” for prayer. We should take note that while the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) is a very private matter, we are nonetheless called to also “confess to each other.”
To the Galatians (6:2), St. Paul says, “Bear one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ.” These two verses illustrate that the ministry of healing extends beyond the clergy and involves the participation of the laity. Those who are strong in the faith are expected to help with those who are weak; however the Apostle also cautions that the strong must be careful and wise, in order that they too will not fall into being tempted (Galatians 6:1).
Finally, God’s Kingdom does not only consist of like-minded adults, or people of the same background. God’s garden is a very big garden; a garden that consists of very many plants; all kinds of plants created by God’s own design. In today’s Gospel lesson God is the Gardener who sows seeds generously and without hesitation. This illustrates to us that His words have been distributed freely to all who have “ears to hear.” However, as the lesson describes, the circumstances and environment of the seeds determine their survival. The survival of our families has a lot to do with our life in the church and the bonds and ties that we have with one other as members of the Body of Christ.
You and I must choose the Lord as our Gardener. With that choice must come our willingness to be cared for in ways that we don’t always understand, in a world that presents us with many trials and challenges. Good and healthy plants cannot grow without proper pruning and occasional treatment. This means that you and I cannot be completely in-charge of determining everything about what we want or would like to see happen in the lives of our loved ones. The Lord is our Gardener. He said: “I am the Vine, you are are the branches” [John 15:5] (…and without Him we can do nothing!)
Our role as parents, teachers, Godparents and clergy is to clearly understand our call in nurturing our children and living in a healthy, responsible and loving environment; an environment that teaches not only by words but by actions; deeds, good works; by example; with humility and kind generosity.
O Christ our God, we thank you for your love and acceptance of us as we are. Help us as we commit ourselves to doing your will. Strengthen us in our time of weakness and keep us safe from all evil, for blessed is Thy Name and glorified is Thy Kingdom, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; now and ever, and unto ages of ages. A-men.