SERMON ON THE SUNDAY OF ALL SAINTS (2012)

 

Just seven days have passed my dear Christians, since the great feast day of Pentecost and we find ourselves again today celebrating another Feast Day, the Feast of All Saints. In this Feast Day we celebrate, not just one, or two or ten saints, but hundreds, thousands and millions of saints, who are too many to even count. When we refer to All the Saints, we must firstly think of the All Holy Mother of God, the Theotokos Maria, secondly the Holy Prophet and Forerunner John the Baptist who is ranked as the highest among the Saints after the Theotokos of course, then the Holy Apostles, the Holy Prophets, the Holy God bearing Fathers, the Hierarchs and Teachers of the Church, the Holy Hiero-Martyrs, Great-Martyrs both men and women, the holy ascetics and finally all the righteous.

If one was to describe the saints as angels of God they would not be wrong because they have reached the heights of the heavens and some saints will be higher than the angels due to their efforts here on earth and the struggles they overcame. It is said by the Fathers, that not even the stars in the sky shine as much as the martyrs who gave their lives for Christ, and this because their love for Christ, was strong and exceeded the love for everything and everyone in this world. Today we heard Saint Paul say to the Ephesians that Christís followers underwent great temptations and persecutions, they; had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

In todayís Gospel, we heard our Lord say: Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Many of us however, are unfortunately afraid to confess Christ and His Church before friends, relatives, and colleagues, simply because people may think less of us or they may even think of us as fanatics or crazy. We must understand that we have nothing at all to be ashamed of, because, we are only doing what is normal to our Christian nature, which is none other, than to confess and keep the Faith of our Fathers, the Faith which Christ gave to man for his salvation, the Faith which can only be of Christís true Church the Ark of salvation. So many of us are embarrassed to be open about our Faith because, we do not want to risk becoming isolated by people and mocked by them; therefore we prefer to maintain a good relationship and reputation with the world, rather than with God. What profit is it to us however; if we gain the liking of people, to the expense of losing our relationship and reputation with God? By confessing our faith, we ultimately express our love for our fellow people, because as the word of God becomes exposed to them through us; this allows them to see the Truth, thus giving them a path to salvation, through Christís One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and there is no greater act of love than this. Whoever confesses Christ as the One, True God and Saviour and Creator of all, will too be confessed by Christ before His Heavenly Father, yet those who deny Him, He will also deny before His Father in Heaven. This is the message that the Church is giving us all today, but it is not by chance at all that the Holy Fathers chose these verses of the Gospel to be read today; they are perfectly fitting, because all saints were confessors of the Faith in one way or another, either by mouth, or by action. Let us also, therefore, imitate their love for Christ, Whom they confessed and refused to deny Him, even as they were tortured and killed.

Christ then says: Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 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.

This may seem like a very odd thing to hear from the Gospel; especially from Christ Himself. When we think of Christ, the last thing we think about is that He came to bring a sword to humanity, because we all know Him as the bringer of peace, however, He specifically uses these words to capture our attention, and to let us know that, as children of God, we must learn to love our God and Creator above all. We must realize my dear Christians that our relatives like everything else; are temporary in this life, and mere creations of God, just as we are, and that our relationship to them, will last for [only] as long as we live in this temporary life. From the moment we die, our relationship with people ceases to exist, because our soul will no longer be clothed with the flesh it wore while on earth. There are those people however, [who] choose not to follow Christ, because their relatives refuse to, in fact, there are so many people from various so called Christian churches, who choose to remain in ignorance, rather than follow the True Church and confess the True Faith, simply because they do not want to disappoint or offend their relatives, despite the fact that they know what is right. At the end of the day, by doing so, they choose not to confess Christ, but people, therefore on that fearful Day of Judgment, Christ will not count them worthy of Him, this was also said by Christ Himself in Matthew 7; Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.

By putting our relatives and people before God, we show that we do not truly believe in the One True Living God, because if we did we would have complete trust in Him, in other words, we would look to keep His commandments and would also look to the next life and not this present temporary and material life. On this note, a lot of us think that our parents are our creators, when in fact they are co-creators; it is God Who allows for people to give birth. People tend to think differently today, however, this is a result in humanityís lack of Faith and apostasy from God, it is a display of their disbelief in God. If people truly believed, they would let Godís will be done in their lives; they would literally let Him govern their lives as He knows to be right for them and their salvation. This is what all the saints have done throughout their lives, they let Godís Holy Will be done and as a result they were Blessed and honoured by God, Who not only exhonerated them from their fallen sinful nature, but made them also inheritors of His Holy Kingdom, which is the greatest honour of all. This is why we celebrate all our saints on the day which they died and not on the day they were born, because as Christians we are supposed to celebrate our birth into everlasting life, rather than our birth into this life.

I will now touch on a subject of Birthdays and Christianity. The views I will share with you will be regarded by many as extreme, however, as a priest, I feel that I must say what is right before God, and not what is regarded as  ďacceptableĒ for todayís modern society. What many people and Christians donít know is that celebrating birthdays is a great deception of Satan; But why? As we know, the hour of our death is unknown to us. The Church tells us to pray and remain vigilant and repentant, so that we may become inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven by the hour of our physical death. Of course, these things are better understood as we become wiser and spiritually mature, however, Satan, has come up with a device, which changes the Christian way of thinking, this is birthday celebrations. Society, has made it perfectly normal for us to celebrate birthdays. Man can no longer see the big picture, because his heart is taken by the materialistic world, and for such a man, seeing into eternity is impossible, because his spirit is blind. By celebrating our birthday, we focus less on our Name Day, which is the day we are supposed to honour our patron saint; after all, theoretically, we were given his or her name by our parents in honour of them. Not only do we focus less on our Name Day, but, like I am witnessing amongst you, many of you do not even know who your patron saint is, or, when he or she is commemorated, or why we even honour their memory. We must try to understand my dear Christians, that we honour our saints because they lived their lives according to Godís Will and they became living examples for us to see that our Faith is alive and real, they are beacons of light which help us see through the darkness of this life.

By celebrating our birthdays, or taking our children to birthday parties, we not only put ourselves and others, above all the saints, but also we become foolish, and why do I say this? We are basically celebrating our birth into a life which will come to an end, and we do this every year. Is there something great about that? Is celebrating a birth which leads to death, a cause for celebration? If anything, we should make that day, a day for prayer to God to have mercy on us, and we should offer God an offering of thanksgiving, as we pray that we live the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance, because, if we do not live according to Godís Will, it would have been better for us, to not have been born. Through birthday celebrations, Satan deceives us into celebrating our fallen nature, the nature which he corrupted in the Garden of Eden, the nature which brought death to man. On the other hand, by celebrating our Name Day, we celebrate our liberated nature, the one for which Christ sacrificed Himself, to give us everlasting life. The Orthodox Church celebrates only three births. The birth of Christ, because it is the day in which people and angels physically saw God and that because Christ became the Redeemer of mankind; the birth of the Holy birth-giver of God, the Virgin Maria, who became the vessel in which God became the Son of man, and the Holy prophet John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Christ. He preached repentance and prepared people to accept the true Messiah. Of course, in the Gospel, Christ Himself ensures us that there has never been nor will there ever be a greater man than John the Baptist, because he lived according to Godís Will, but to a whole new level. He gave up all the pleasures of this life, in order to inherit the next life. It is also worthy to note that Saint Johnís beheading was decided at the birthday celebration of King Herod. Quite often birthday celebrations become an excuse for us to sin, and what I mean by that is, people stop fasting if it is a fasting day, they over indulge in food, drink, sweets and alcohol, and before you know it, people start losing control of themselves, acting foolishly and very un-Christian like. Very often in birthday parties people take narcotics, they sing and dance to music which is completely Satanic, young men and women provoke each other with indecent clothing, and deadly sins such as fornication and adultery are committed, as well as other things. For the sake of a birthday party, people will fall into so many sins in just one night. It starts with pride and vanity, people dressing up to impress their egos and other people. Most of the time people purposely dress to provoke others of the opposite gender. At the party, gluttony, overindulgence of food and drink lead to lack of self-control, which leads to the use of narcotics, fornication, adultery, indecent acts, sodomy etcÖ After the party, the next day, those people fall into slothfulness, which is another great sin. Now imagine, Christ takes us at that very hour, what then? He did say to us in the Gospel: Where I find you, I will Judge you.

My dear Christians, let us start reading the lives of our [patron] saints, because we will then begin to understand the Holy Scriptures better, because through their actions they analyzed and translated the Gospel, simplifying it even more for us.

The next verse of the Gospel which we heard today was: And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me. Here our Lord tells clearly that unless we learn to bear our cross with piety and patience, we will not be worthy of Him. We must understand that our cross is our gift from God, it is the means of continually remembering our end goal, and it becomes a cleansing of our sins. As Christians, we should never ask God to redeem us from our cross, but we should ask Him to give us the strength and courage to bear the weight of it, until the end of our lives, doing exactly what the Holy Martyrs did, as they remained strong in their Faith until their last breath.

Furthermore we also heard our Lord say: And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My nameís sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. In this passage Christ is clearly telling us that the more we give up in this life, we shall receive a hundred times more in the next life. Again, one can read in the lives of our saints, that many of them did exactly what that passage says, in fact, if you could also take monks and nuns for example, they too abide by these words, because they chose to sacrifice their own pleasure, satisfaction, joy, and will, for everlasting happiness. Our Lord then goes on saying the following edifying words: But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first. If we choose to become last, meaning, if we become servants to our brethren, and become humble in our ways, we will surely be first in the life to come. Unfortunately, today we strive to become first in society, and great amongst men, and if we canít achieve these things, we look up to people who are. From the time we are young, we develop dreams to become rich, famous, well known, and powerful. Our parents expect us to become successful in this life, to make a name for ourselves; they enroll us in the finest schools, they want us to become doctors and lawyers, however, not many parents want their children to serve God or even to become God fearing people. In the Old Testament, one child of every family was dedicated to God, such was Godís Law, and itís not that Godís Law has changed, rather humanity has changed and drifted far from God. My dear Christians, to truly honour the All Saints, we must try to imitate them, we must [look] to them for their intercessions, we must see them as our ambassadors in Heaven.

Although we honour saints, honour must never be confused with worship, because we certainly do not worship Saints; they, like us are servants of God. Unlike honour, worship applies to God alone; therefore we honour and venerate the saints. What is most unfortunate today is that most people honour and venerate and sometimes even worship actors, singers, football players and other sports stars. I often ask myself, why do people love the so called stars and celebrities so much? What have they ever done for us? What is so important about these people, that we should keep their pictures on our walls? Have they helped us in anyway? We sadly turn these poor creatures of God into idols, we become excited seeing and hearing them, and we support everything they do. In a way, their spiritual destruction is partly our fault, because if we didnít support them in what they were doing, then they wouldnít do it. They are just pleasing themselves, chasing their greed and lusts, doing exactly what Christians shouldnít do, therefore pleasing Satan, and we applaud them for doing these things. Would any of these people give their lives up for God? No, absolutely none of these people would, because their God is Money, and Fame. If only the younger generation was to hear or read what our saints underwent, the tortures, the mockery, the abuse, all for the love of Christ, then they would be putting them up on their walls and would strive to become like them, because it is they, who are the true heroes.

The celebrities are also known as stars, but it is the different type of stars which shine with divine light, they are all of Godís saints. It is that they who listen to our prayers and pray for our salvation, as they are in a position to do so, for they are in Heaven. Celebrities become tools of Satan, and I say this because, they become distractions to people. If only they used their fame to bring people back to God. Let us then, turn to the real stars and follow their footsteps into eternity.

And so my dear faithful, keeping in mind the obedience, the dedication, the confession, the love and the Faith that all the Saints of the Church had for God, let us too, become as they were, imitators of Christ and living examples for the generations to come, so that we will also become inheritors of the kingdom of God which is everlasting. So, through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy and save us. Amen.

 

Hieromonk Sozůmenos
Saints Constantine & Helen Parish and
Holy Chapel of Saint Nektarios

Birmingham, UK. - 2012 a.d.

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