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Homily for All Saints' Day

Today, dear brethren, we commemorate all the saints, and it would, therefore, be fitting for us today to compare our lives with the lives of saints. We often hear a familiar protest from other people: But I am not a saint! Well, let us try to see then who and what they are these saints

In todays reading from the Epistle we heard the following words: The saints through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weaknesses were made strong, were valiant in fight, turned back the armies of the enemy

Apostles and angels
Apostles and angels.
Andrei Rublev. 1408

Let us look at some of the saints and at how they differed from us. Some, like St. Nicholas the Wonderworker or St. Sergius of Radonezh, for example, were chosen from their mothers wombs, while many others were martyrs for Christ. Among them there were men, women and children, the rich and the poor, the learned and common folk.

Look at them they are here with us, on the walls of our church. They are showing us the way into the Heavenly Kingdom. In what way did they differ from us? All of them kept the two major commandments of the Lord: they loved God with all their heart and they loved their neighbors, including their enemies. They completely denied themselves and suppressed their pride. They visited the sick and those in prison, they helped people in need, they performed charitable deeds. They earnestly kept the fast and took communion. They did not feel coerced in going to church and they participated in the services.

Not all the saints were chosen from birth. The majority of them earned their place in the ranks of saints by the way they lived. St. Mary of Egypt, for example, earned her sainthood through penitence. St. Blessed Xenia was originally a socially-prominent married woman. Not a whit of that which distinguished the saints is forbidden to us, dear brethren. The Gospel is preached to everyone equally. The Law of God applies to us in the same manner as it did to the saints.

In our everyday lives we often find idols for ourselves. Who are these idols? Usually they are singers, sport figures, actors or actresses. But never a saint! When we choose to idolize a singer, we become so enthralled with him that we memorize all his songs. If we choose an actor, we come to know all his films and we begin to imitate him.

But why should we not choose to worship a saint? Why not worship the saint whose name we bear, for example, and why not start to imitate him or her? After all, their lives led them to salvation and they earned the Kingdom of Heaven! In their earthly lives there was nothing hidden, nothing shameful, as is the case with most modern idols, but on the contrary, there was much from which we can learn.

Let us begin to imitate the saints, dear brethren, let us begin to learn from them. We may not necessarily reach sainthood, but it will be quite sufficient if, instead of eternal suffering, we attain eternal life. Amen.

Father Rostislav Sheniloff

 

* * *

 

In the heavenly firmament there are many stars of different magnitude and brilliance, but there are many more which we do not see. There are many saints of God, shining in the glory of our heavenly Father, but undoubtedly there are many more whom we do not yet know. All of these saints, revealed and not revealed to the world, whom we commemorate today, are like brightly shining beacons in the turbulent sea of life upon which treads our ship – the Holy Church of Christ.

There was a time when they, too, followed this path full of danger, illness, and all manner of deprivation. Crowned now with glory, being in joyous communion with the Lord God, they continue to support us on this path and encourage us to bear our cross. It is well-known that man is not born into this world for joy and comfort, and for this reason he should not become attached to earthly things above heavenly ones.

We have heard the following words in today’s Gospel reading: “The that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:38). In order to fully understand this saying of Christ, we should ponder the word “cross.” This word was often used by the Lord in His discourses.

In their hearts the Orthodox people have fully understood the meaning of this word and use it to symbolize misfortunes, burdens, tribulations, and all kinds of worldly sorrows. We have many such crosses, and each person has his own special one. One person has a sick wife – that is a cross; another has a sick husband – that is a cross; still others have to deal with sickly children – that is a cross; some have children who are healthy, but who do poorly in their studies – that, too, is a cross. There are many more examples that can be given!

Besides these personal crosses we also have a common cross – and that is our isolation from Orthodox society, our life in an alien environment. This cross is felt by many, especially the faithful, to be more painful than all kinds of personal sorrows.

In other words, there is not a single person upon whose shoulder the Lord did not place a cross. However, to everyone the Lord gives a cross that he can bear. If a good master does not place a larger burden upon his horse than it can carry, will the Lord do otherwise? And if we sometimes feel that our cross is too heavy, that it exceeds our strength, – that comes from lack of faith in God, from our faintheartedness.

Let us be encouraged by the fact that even the holy saints, before they vanquished the world, often paid tribute to human weakness, and is some cases descended to the very pit of sinful life. And if afterwards with the help of God they soared on wings of faith and righteousness, – what prevents us from following them up the mount of virtue? For we are not alone, the Lord Himself is always with us, our guardian angels assist us, and the holy saints intercede for us before the throne of God.

Imagine the following picture: let us say that a great big ship suddenly starts to sink in the middle of the ocean; will the passengers then hopelessly fold their hands and descend to the bottom? Of course not! Some will rush to the lifeboats, others will hang on to lifebelts, wooden planks, etc., and all will try to keep afloat. Not a single person would entertain the thought: oh well, let me sink, because I do not know how to swim.

The same thing happens almost every day with the small boat of life of each one of us, the only difference being that up to now, by the grace of God, we have been able to survive. However, let us fear lest the tempest catch us unawares, and then willy-nilly we will have to descend into the abyss…

Thus, in all our misfortunes let us not lose hope of salvation, especially in our spiritual life, even if by human reckoning there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. The lives of the saints whom we are now commemorating tell us that the impossible for men is very possible for God. The Lord has promised all those who follow Him with their cross not only sorrows, misfortunes, and sufferings, but also rewards for such. And since our Lord is Master of heaven and earth, nothing can happen to us on earth without His holy will.

Let us follow the example of God’s holy saints by bearing each his own cross uncomplainingly, just as they had done. If we fall, let us quickly arise and continue to carry the cross, as today’s Gospel reading instructs us. And the Lord, seeing our efforts, will help us just as He had helped His disciples.

O, all ye holy saints, pray to God for us! Amen.

Protopriest Igor Hrebinka


 
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