The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews. (11:33-12:2)andThe Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30)
Today, the Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. In many ways this is one of my very favorite feasts in the life of the Church. “Why?” You might ask. Because this feast is about possibilities, mainly, our possibilities in this life, in Christ. A few weeks ago, I gave a lesson and had a discussion with some of our teens and we talked about finding our purpose in life. I summed this purpose up with the words of St. Theophan the recluse“The chief end of our life is to live in communion with God.” We were created to live in communion with God, an everlasting communion, a communion of love. Not only is this our purpose in life, it is the very definition of a saint.
Today we celebrate all the saints of the holy Church, both those whom we recognize officially and the many many multitudes of holy and righteous men, women and children whom we never even notice. If we don’t have this as our purpose in life, to emulate the saints of the Lord, to become saints, then we are not yet thinking clearly. We are then, a people without a purpose. St. Mark the Ascetic once said, “Think nothing and do nothing without a purpose directed to God. For to journey without direction is wasted effort.” What he is saying is that each and every action and thought should be directed to a purpose in Christ. A purpose that is directed towards the Lord.
How do we fulfill this purpose? What are the steps that we must take to grow in the image and likeness of God and live in eternal communion with God and His saints? The apostle Paul in today’s epistle writes “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfection of our faith.”
He comforts us by reminding us that what we are chasing is nothing new. It has already been observed. It has already been accomplished successfully because of the Lord Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit. It has become a reality in the saints whom St. Paul calls “a cloud of witnesses”. But how? He says that it happens by “laying aside every weight and sin which clings so closely.” On this verse,One of the ancient father says that“Weight” is a sin of the enjoyment of the flesh, a form in which the “sin which clings so closely” is born. It clings closely to us as it surrounds us with pleasure and subdues us to its own will. St. Paul’s work agrees when it reminds us that the flesh wars against the spirit.
For a saint, or those who desire to be saints, each and every day we are forced to choose between the flesh and the spirit. We either choose a life of comfort and pleasure, or a life that may be difficult but comes with the consolation of God. To become a saint, we lay aside our sins. Even the ones that feel like they have become a part of us because of our stubborn ways or our habitual failings. St. Paul reminds us that we can lay these sins aside, just as the saints did, through the grace of God.
Becoming a saint, becoming who you were meant to be, becoming who you were created to become, is not only a matter of laying things aside. It is also a matter of learning to carry something. The Lord Jesus Christ tells us that the one who seeks to follow Him must learn to forget about his life and carry his cross. The cross was a painful instrument of death and yet the Lord Jesus used this way of the cross in order to give us life. I have no doubt that we have crosses in our lives…some of them are quite difficult. Whatever you do, don’t lay aside your cross. Don’t quit. While sins appear harmless, they bring us death. Yet the cross which looks painful, brings us life!
When we learn to carry the cross we learn to be like our beloved Master. We learn to emulate the One whom we claim to love with all of our hearts and minds. In a way, we prove to God that we are His because we know the way of suffering, the way of self-sacrifice, the way of denial. In short, through the cross we come to know the way of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. We are so faithful to this way that we do not consider our lives as our own, but we offer them up to our heavenly Father, because without His blessing, it cannot even be called a life. Each cross is a trial that tests our faith and our belief in the living God. It is also a real chance to display the life of the resurrection that has been given to us!
For one person, the cross is a difficult marriage, yet he stays married because this honors God and gives life to his children and to his community. He (or she) may even find that struggle produces more love and the growth and flourishing of that relationship. For another, the cross is a difficult workplace with ungodly people. One of the crosses that we must each face is an increasingly hostile, godless, secular culture. None of us will escape from it. Either we will succumb to it or we will carry the cross of faith in Christ as our banner. And so, we can’t throw off our cross, or abandon the culture or it will be lost. We must carry these crosses because they lead to our union with the Lord and they offer life to the world around us. After all, this is what we are celebrating today…the lives of those who learned to live and die according to Christ, and who, by doing so, became life to the Church and their own societies through their faithful witness. These are the men and women that we ask to pray for us and support us as we seek to follow their path to the One who is the path, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to Him is due all glory, honor and worship, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit AMEN.