Homily for the Sunday after Epiphany
Some time passed after the Lord Jesus Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. He came to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, but He did not stay there long. He saw that the arrogant scribes and Pharisees, and together with them the commoner Jews, were less ready to hear His divine teaching than the less educated but simple-hearted Galileans. The land of Galilee is the northernmost part of Palestine, where the descendants of Jacob’s sons Zebulon and Nephthalim lived. There were no educated scribes here, as there were in Jerusalem and Judea, but the Galileans were not so infected with various prejudices and false beliefs concerning the coming Messiah as were the innate Jews. It was here that the Lord preached for the most part, from here He chose His disciples, here He performed many miracles.
Truth to say, there was a lot of ignorance in Galilee concerning the teaching of faith, and many zealots, including the entire Judea, looked upon the Galileans with disdain. The Jews even had a saying: “Can anything good come from Galilee?” However, all of the Galileans’ prejudices and errors in faith stemmed from ignorance, whereas among the Jews they were the result of their Pharisaic pride and vanity.
It is this land of Galilee that is spoken of in today’s Sunday Gospel: “The land of Zebulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people which sat in darkness saw great light, and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up” (Isaiah 9:1-2; Matt. 4:15-16).
“Before Christ’s coming mankind was in a most disastrous state: surrounded by darkness and idol-worship, people did not know where to go; according to the prophet they no longer even walked, but ‘sat in darkness’: this means that they no longer had any hope of being delivered from this darkness” (St.John Chrysostome).
In His life on earth our Lord Jesus Christ left us a perfect example of piety. His entire life was a single expression of continuous, ardent piety and fervor for piety. He was the ideal of perfection. And now this ideal of perfection expressed His preference for the ignorant land of Galilee with its simplicity and sincerity. The historical consequences of this were such that, as you all know, Christ was crucified by the proud experts in Mosaic law, while from Galilee came the first apostles and the primary core of the New Testament Church in general. Even the Roman Caesar Julian the Apostate, three centuries later, called the Christians – Galileans.
Thus, humility and simplicity in faith and in life draw a person nearer to God. At the same time, these humility and simplicity stem from a realization of one’s insignificance in the face of eternity, and from here it is only a single step to a mood of repentance.
It was precisely with this word – “Repent!” – that St. John the Baptist began his preaching. With this same word the Lord Jesus Christ, too, began His preaching. The mood of repentance is inherent in every believing Christian. A repentant mood helps us grasp the mysteries of faith, for man realizes quite clearly that he is nothing without God’s help in everything. If the mood is not there, then even simple things become difficult and often lead the worldly sage to an impasse.
Recently a story appeared in the press about a gathering on the West Coast of professors of science, who teach that man is superlative to nature, i.e. that man influences nature and his environment. And then, as an experiment, a group of such scientists was placed in the most elementary conditions of life, wherein they did not have such basic amenities as electricity, telephone, etc. And so these people came face-to-face with real nature. Their general conclusion was that nature’s influence upon us is immeasurably greater than our influence upon it. We have become used to having nature under our control, but no one thinks or talks about what would happen if it were to go out of control… To some degree this can be evaluated as a “repentant mood,” if one notices the fact that more and more often we hear of man’s inferiority and of the superiority of machines. And that is true: without faith man can fall very low. Such was the state of mankind before the coming of Christ.
However, a man who has faith in God, who has a living faith in his Creator, is far from such comparisons. There are examples of this in the history of the Christian era. The light of Christ illuminated all those who exhibited even the slightest response to His appeal. I think that each one of us has had bright examples of faith in our lives, has experienced the warmth of faith.
Unfortunately, many people do not have living faith, to which all of us can attest, and the consequences of such lifeless belief are heavy indeed. But I would like to note that there are live offshoots of faith too, that the “Great Light” shines also in our holy churches. These churches themselves were built through the living faith of their parishioners.
Let the turbulent sea of life rage around us, let the waves of the world rise high, but the Light of Christ will shine as long as He, the Lord Jesus Christ, allows it, and He will be with us until the end of time.
Thus, let us build our lives and maintain them on a church foundation, gear them to our churches. One can live a church life under any condition whatsoever, as long as one’s faith is not lifeless. If we walk before God in the light of faith, in the light of knowledge of God’s truths, – we will feel our entire being fill up with spiritual joy, and we will glorify God with the words: Glory to Thee Who has shown us the light! Amen.
Protopriest Igor Hrebinka