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CHRISTIAN TEACHINGCHRISTIANTEACHING

GOSPEL VIRTUES

(Homily for the feast of the holy martyrs Faith, Hope, Charity, and Sophia)

 

Several times already, dear brethren, I have pointed out to you the wonderful connection which exists between the Sunday Gospel readings. The last three Sundays are a great example of this interrelation. Today we celebrate the feast of the holy martyrs Faith, Hope, Charity, and their mother Sophia. These holy martyrs are extraordinary not only in themselves, as three young maidens, girls actually, who courageously endured cruel torture for the sake of Christ and thus put to shame even the Roman Emperor himself; and their mother, who, while suffering inner torment and anguish, against her own maternal nature encouraged and inspired her beloved daughters to endure martyrdom. These holy martyrs also have a deep symbolic meaning for the Christian Church.

The girls bear the names of the three greatest Christian virtues – faith, hope, and charity – and are born of their mother Sophia, whose name means “wisdom.” Therein lies the depth of meaning: it is precisely spiritual wisdom which gives birth to these virtues in us, nurtures them in us, and helps us bear spiritual fruit from them. And the way all of this actually takes place in life can be seen in the Gospel readings of the past three weeks.

In the first place we see before us the woman of Canaan, who seeks help for her tormented daughter. The woman of Canaan turns out to be wise enough to understand that help can be received only through special, even supernatural, means. And in trying to obtain this help, this simple woman exhibits the three virtues of faith, hope, and charity. She has faith in that the Lord can help her with a single word; she has absolute hope that He will take pity on her, even despite His seeming indifference to her plight; and she has such great love for her daughter that she is ready to humble herself, to endure all possible humiliation, all possible insult, in order to get her wish. And we see the fruit of her wisdom and her virtuousness: “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wishest.”

The following Sunday we hear of how Christ rewards His disciples with a miraculous catch of fish. This reward is given to them also in response to their exhibiting the three virtues. The apostles spent the whole night fishing in the Sea of Galilee without catching anything. The Lord commands them to launch out into the deep and let down their nets. The apostles were experienced fishermen and knew the laws of the sea well: if the fish could not be caught during the night, there would certainly be no catch during the day. But they did not argue with Christ or contradict Him; instead, they obediently did what He told them to do. Why? Because they, despite being simple fishermen, exhibited great wisdom: they had faith that according to Christ’s words even the supernatural could occur; they had hope that their faith would not be in vain; and they had such great love for their wondrous Master that they were ready to obey Him absolutely. And what happened? The same thing happened to them as to the woman of Canaan – a veritable miracle occurred! The boats were so overflowing with fish that they began to sink, while the disciples were caught into the net of even greater service to Christ: from catchers of fish they became catchers of human souls.

And finally, in today’s Gospel reading the Lord directly summons us to show wisdom: to have enough wisdom to understand that which in human terms is completely incomprehensible, even unnatural perhaps: the Lord summons us to love our enemies and to do good unto those who hate us. To us that seems impossible, even unbearable: how can we love people who blaze with anger at us?! But herein lies spiritual wisdom. We must determine very clearly the source of malice, enmity, and hate. They arise from the evil spirits, who are evil themselves, who hate mankind, and try their utmost to sow discord among people. And every person who is in a state of anger and enmity is ensnared in the devil’s net. For this reason it is extremely important to be able to distinguish between the person himself and his sins. If we truly love our neighbors, then seeing them in a state of anger we can only pity them for being ensnared by the demons, and in pitying them we would only be glad to show them our love and do something good for them, in order to help them free themselves from such entanglement. And in the process of doing so it suddenly becomes clear to us how it is possible to love one’s enemies and do good unto those who hate us.

Dear brethren, let us exhibit there three virtues – faith, hope, and charity – towards God, our Lord Jesus Christ, towards our neighbors; let us follow the Lord’s commandments which we have heard in today’s Gospel reading – to love our enemies, and be charitable towards them, and to lend without expecting anything in return; then we, too, will earn the great reward promised by the Lord – to become the children of the Highest and to inherit the Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.

Father Rostislav Sheniloff

 



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