HEAVEN ON EARTH – ORTHODOXY
Sunday of All the Saints
Metropolitan Panteleimon of Antinoes
With our Lord’s love I welcome all of you at this divine service and pray that the Love of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ will rest in the hearts of all. For He has said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John l4:23) and elsewhere He says: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John l4:23).
Our Lord wishes to give us a peaceful heart, for He is the Prince of Peace and He is the One who reconciled man to God. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John l4:27). The peace which God offers to man differs from that of the world. The world seeks external peace; whereas God offers the internal peace, which no one can offer. This peace man receives, when he opens his heart to Christ and welcomes Him within his soul with faith and trust.
In the Gospel of St. Matthew the Son of God teaches us saying, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentile and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. ll:29). Elsewhere He teaches us saying: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matt.l6:24-26).
Man’s aim in life is to achieve his sanctification and salvation in Jesus Christ. St. Peter reminds us of what God had spoken to man in the Old Testament: “For I am the Lord your God: you shall therefore sanctify yourselves: and you shall be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. ll:44. l Peter l:l6). To achieve this sanctification one must follow Christ, for He said: “For without Me you can do nothing” (John l5:5). God is our only Lord, and Jesus Christ is our Lord and God. He is the Son of God the Father, Who came into the world to save man from the bonds of death. He is the Saviour of all mankind, Who took up flesh in order to sanctify man’s nature. He is the Revelation of God the Father to the world, Who reveals to us the true knowledge of God and grants to us understanding of all heavenly things. He is the unique God-man, Who proclaims and says: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John l4:6).
No one can achieve true knowledge of God except through the Revelation, which God Himself has revealed to man. No one can achieve the true aim in life, which is man’s sanctification, except through the Church, which Christ has established by the shedding of His precious Blood. No one can achieve his salvation except through Jesus Christ.
Only when man turns to the true God, can he become a living image of His Divine glory. St. Paul teaches us saying: “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (l Corinth. 6:l9). God abides within us, when we practice His Commandments. This practice proves our love to God, because our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ said, “if you love Me, practice My commandments”(John l4:l5). “If you keep my commandments you shall abide in My love” (John l5:l0). Elsewhere our Lord assures us saying, that man can bear fruit only if he abides in Him. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me … If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John l5:4, 6).
With these words of Jesus Christ one can understand the importance of abiding in Christ. This means, that one must abide within the original Body of Christ and not to cast himself outside of the Church by creating his own man made organizations. What man creates is unable to offer him salvation. Man is indisposed to achieve salvation by his own authority. If anyone separates himself from the Body of the Church, then the Church is neither injured, nor does She suffer.
God Himself has no need of anyone. He did not create the invisible and visible world because He needed the logical beings to worship or glorify Him. He created out of nothingness all things, those which we know and all those which we do not know. The creation of the invisible world of the angels and the visible universe is the result of God’s love. He was not forced to create, but out of love He created the world.
He gave us His Church out of love and wishes that all mankind will be saved. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:l6).
See the greatness of God’s love! He loves us so much, that He gave His only begotten Son to be sacrificed on the cross for our salvation. God’s love is expressed through the creation of the world and especially in the work of the salvation of man. St. Paul teaches us saying, that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
Christ invites every man to follow Him and to partake in salvation. Man is free to choose whether he wishes to become a faithful disciple of the True God or to turn against Him. God does not force anyone. Man has received from God the gift of having a free will, to practice good or to do evil. The beauty of man’s creation is that God respects man’s free decision so much that He never interferes in his actions.
Christ invites us all to take up our cross and follow Him. This is the way of salvation. We must follow in the footsteps of our Lord knowing, that at the end we will participate in His Heavenly Kingdom. “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke l7:20). Again our Lord assures us saying: “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Luke l8:l7).
St. Paul, the Apostle of the Nations, teaches us saying: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. l2:l-2). Each and everyone of us must offer a living sacrifice to God, which is our whole life. He gave us life and we are called to offer our life as a living sacrifice back to Him. This means, that man should be holy in all aspects of life. Not only when he is in Church, but in his whole life man must prove, project and testify the life of Christ through his own life and body.
Man in the Orthodox Church is called to imitate Christ Himself. Man is called to become an imitator of God, because we have the honour of being God’s children by Grace in Jesus Christ. St. Paul calls out: “Be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:l-2). He also invites us to become imitators of the Saints of our Holy Orthodox Church, whose life reflect the life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. “Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:l2).
The Saints of our Holy Orthodox Church are those fellow Christians, who through their life, revealed the life of Christ in this world. They proved that all the teachings of our Lord, given to us through Holy Scriptures, can be practiced by all men irrelevant of age or sex. They themselves had practiced the word of God in their life and found salvation. They are the living proof that within our Church man can be saved. Take out the Saints from the Church and man has no living proof that he can be saved. Everything then is just good and fine words, which one finds in all religions. But one thing is solid proof that within the Orthodox Faith man is sanctified by God, when he practices His Commandments and remains within the Body of Christ.
The Saints are Christ’s friends, who imitated Christ’s Sacrifice. They themselves offered their life as a living sacrifice and many, millions of them, have died for our Holy Orthodox Faith. From the time of St. Steven’s martyrdom to the latest Saint in Orthodoxy, Christ reveals to His Church His beloved friends and faithful disciples in order to encourage the rest to follow their example. This is the reason why our Orthodox Church projects the life of the Saints, in order to have prototypes in our life. Here they are surrounding us. Their holy icons are reminding us of one thing, that they gave their life for Christ’s glory; they followed Christ and they are now inviting all of us to follow the footsteps of our Saviour, to become holy as they became holy in Christ.
For them St. Paul spoke in the Epistle to the Hebrews saying: “Who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mocking and scourging, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, and 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 mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. ll: 33- l2:2).
We must never forget, my beloved friends, that “the saints will judge the world” (l Corinth. 6:2). The Saints are not worshipped by our Church; nor do we offer to them sacrifices, as many who do not understand the truth of Orthodoxy accuse our Church. This is a false accusation by those who believe in falsehood and heresy. The Orthodox Church honours only the Saints as being Christ’s friends, who proved to be true Christians. They are the true heroes of our Christian Faith. They are the victorious soldiers of Christ, who gained victory over Satan and all his evil forces.
Their holy icons which decorate our Holy Churches and homes tell us about their life, their sufferings for Christ’s name sake and they invite all of us to follow their example.
Today, my beloved friends, our Orthodox Church is celebrating the feast day of All the Saints. Let us become imitators of those who inherited the promises of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Let us change our life and practice God’s Commandments. Let us project the life of Christ through our own bodies. Let us renounce sin and the sinful desires of the flesh, which enslave us to this world of vanity. Let us lead a spiritual life as holy people of God. You hear the priest during every Sunday service inviting all to partake in Holy Communion and saying: “The holy Gifts, for the holy people of God”. Let us struggle to become holy through the Grace and Love of Christ.
My beloved friends, today, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is offers to us the opportunity to become a living temple of His Divine Grace and Glory. Let us all partake in this invitation, for this is the Will of God. Let no one remain in sin, but rather let all of us turn to Christ our God to achieve our sanctification, for the glory of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.