|Homily 1st Sunday After Pentecost All Saints|
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
On this day we celebrate the memory of all of the saints known and unknown…but mostly those unknown to us. Their number is vast. Our books of the menaion, the books of the services to the saints included them it would include far more than the twelve volumes that it takes up now. We are indeed encompassed about with a great cloud of witnesses and they are present with us as we send up our prayers to God. They are present with us as we pray privately at home. They offer with us their never silent praises to God. Just as importantly, or perhaps more importantly, they offer their prayers up to God on our behalf as well. They are there for us to beg for their intercessions and they do not leave us without comfort and aid.
Often the question arises as to why we seek the intercessions of the saints. Why do we ask them to pray for and intercede for us? We can be certain that God knows what we need even before we can formulate the thought ourselves. The saints do not hear our prayers except by the grace of God who permits them to reach their spiritual ears. If God has to direct our prayers to the saints so that the saints can direct their prayers for us back to God, isn’t this a bit of a roundabout way to reach God? Well, yes, and no.
Man was made in the image of God with the potential, after Christ came, to reach the likeness of God. The image is the potential, the likeness is the potential realized. Now, God is Love and God is goodness in the infinite degree. That means that God’s love and goodness never reach an end. If we are to be like Him, then, we will continually grow in that goodness and love. There will be no end to that glory that we can attain in Christ. We all will go from glory to glory. The saints grow ever more into the likeness of God as they intercede for us, as they pray for us and exercise their love for us and for the world. God brings about the ability of the saints to intercede for us. He does not need to hear our prayers to know what we need. We need to pray for each other, though. We need to pray in love for our brothers and sisters here on earth, for those who have passed on in the hope of the resurrection and to those saints who are the friends of God. This is how we become a community of faith. We are the mystical body of Christ. We are not separated from each other by time or by space. As Archimandrite Vasileios of the Holy Mountain puts it, “In the end you understand that there are no ancient or modern people. There are only true or false people.”
It is to those true people that we want to turn our gaze upon today. It is those true people that we celebrate, honor, and ask to intercede for us in a communion of love. These true people, the cloud of witnesses, the holy ones and friends of God, they are those who have attained to the likeness of God as much as any of us are able.
What distinguishes them from us? What makes one a saint? How does one attain to that state of holiness? Right away we must look to Jesus Christ, the finisher of our faith, as the saints do. We hear in every Divine Liturgy, “The Holy Things are for the Holy.” If we are honest with ourselves, we will know that we are not “the holy.” How then do we approach the chalice? Our response to the priest’s exclamation tells us: “One is holy, one is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of the Father. Amen.” As Archimandrite Vasileios says, “And it is precisely because this one saint, this one Lord exists that we can hope, that we are able to stand. And we see that this One Saint is the source of all holiness and goodness, and this Saint is Jesus Christ, He is the Son of God: this Saint is God.” So we see that it is from the holy one Jesus Christ (in Greek the word for saint and holy is the same) that we are given the holiness to approach the chalice and partake. God makes us worthy to approach. Now this does not mean that we can be lackadaisical about approaching the chalice. We have our part to play. We have to make ourselves receptive to this holiness we are to be given. In the Parable of the Sower, we are given to understand that our part is to prepare the soil of our heart to receive the word of God, to receive God’s holiness. It is important to note as I’ve said before, quoting the fathers, that Christ in the parable is seen as the sower…not the ploughman. We prepare the soil and Christ plants the seed.
How do we prepare the soil of our heart then? St. Isaac the Syrian, a great ascetic father and writer of the Church has given us a threefold path to follow: repentance, purity and humility. For St. Isaac a saint is one who has progressed from repentance to purity and from purity to perfect humility.
Repentance: to abandon our former sinful ways without grieving over their loss.
Purity: is a heart filled with compassion for the whole of creation. (note: purity is not just observing that we are free from this or that passion, but the result [of that passion]. “If after repentance we attain to purity, this purity is genuine in Christ Jesus if we have a heart which loves all people.”
Humility: is perfection: it means abandoning all perceptible things and all objects of thought and being above these things.  In other words we are to seek the spiritual and not worry about the things of the world. This would include fame or glory or power or wealth…or even what others may think about us. It is as the Gospel for today says, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.”
If one wants to be holy, he must also have a merciful heart. As St. Isaac the Syrian tells us a merciful heart is:
a heart’s burning for the sake of the entire creation, for men, for birds, for animals, for demons, and for every created thing; and by the recollection and sight of them the eyes of a merciful man pour forth abundant tears. From the strong and vehement mercy which grips his heart and from his great compassion, his heart is humbled and he cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in creation. For this reason he offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts.
The humble acquire this state by living simply, desiring the lowest place (I remember Christ saying that a man should take the lowest place at the table and then wait to be asked to the higher place…also the first shall be last and the last first….the meek will inherit the earth… Our Lord had a lot of things to say about humility). The humble person does not seek to be “known.” He does not judge, he does not set himself above others, but pays close attention to his own sins.
The merciful heart of the perfected can also wish to suffer for others as Moses asked for the sins of the people to be forgiven or that he himself should be blotted out; or as St. Paul desired to be anathema from Christ if only Israel could be saved….This is in spontaneous imitation of the Lord Himself Who became one of us and died for our sins, who took on the consequences of our transgressions. He could have saved us in any way He wanted, but He chose to take the route of humility and extreme mercy and love as a sign for us to follow. God could have forced us to be “saved” but He showed us His love instead by His actions. God is love and love does not coerce.
There have been many saints who have been known to us. These saints did not seek fame or glory. Those we do know about were revealed so that the glory of God could be revealed and so that we would have a sign of hope and know that we have righteous forebears praying for us. They also give us a means of imitating them and thereby imitating Christ and finding our own way to holiness in Christ. “Alongside these great Fathers,” Archimandrite Vasileios writes:
… there are also many others - a whole cloud of
nameless and unknown people who have the same
grace… They have not become known figures. They
have remained unknown to the world, to their nearest
and dearest, even to themselves. Because they regarded
that self as nothing. They paid no attention to it. …
They preferred the life of contrition,
the service of love and of offering, while always hiding
what they were doing. They said nothing, not a single
phrase. But they said a great deal by the way they behaved,
their smile, their willingness to forgive. And they
became one with God…
“Through the prayers of all Thy saints, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.”
 As Saint Paul says, (2 Cor 3:18) “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
 This information comes from both St. Isaac’s Ascetical Homilies p. 344 and Archimandrite Vasileios’ work “The Saint: Archetype of Orthodoxy” p. 16
 “The Light of Christ Shines upon All Through the Saints” p. 18
2009 Fr. Philip Kontos