All Saints of Russia and Homelands
On this second Sunday after Pentecost, the Holy Church commemorates those saints who shone forth in the various local regions where the seeds of Orthodoxy took root. Thus, if one were able to somehow visit the various local Orthodox churches on this day, one would hear the praise and memory of the saints of Greece, of Romania, of Serbia, and whatever region the particular church might honor as its legacy and inheritance.
Today, our Russian Orthodox Church commemorates all the saints of the Russian land. The land of Russia has proven to be that good soil which bore much fruit, for many righteous strugglers for God blossomed forth in sanctity there. And we are blessed to be the inheritors of that faith of our fathers.
The inheritance of Russian Orthodoxy has brought to this land such luminaries as St Herman of Alaska. St Innocent the Apostle of America and later Metropolitan of Moscow, the Missionary Monks Juvenaly, Macarius, and the native Alaskan Peter the Aleut who was martyred in San Francisco. The holy martyred Patriarch Tikhon of Russia served as bishop in San Francisco from 1898 to 1907. And this inheritance follows through into our own times with the many praise-worthy fathers who came to this land during the 20th century. Priests and monks whose spiritual lineage came from the holy monasteries of Valaam and Optina and Pochaev. And certainly one of the crowns of this immigration was St John, whose memory we celebrated yesterday on the 25th anniversary of his canonization.
Yesterday’s celebration was a remarkable outpouring of love for St John, who gave so much love to his flock during his earthly life and who continues to pray and care for us through his prayers of intercession.
One of the most important lessons and legacies which St John imparted to his people was the love for the culture of Orthodoxy. From the time of his youth St John immersed himself in the Holy Gospels and in the lives of the saints of all ages and places. He dove in deeply and swam in these waters of true Christianity, immersing himself in that otherworldly culture of sanctity and life in Christ. And he was transformed by it!
One of the greatest dangers confronting the Orthodox Christian of today is the rapid erosion of a culture which supports our faith. While the American culture has never been explicitly Orthodox, still in times past there was an underlying Christian sense of values prevalent in our land. When I was growing up - stores closed on Sunday, school lunches featured fish on Fridays, vulgarity was censored in all forms of the media, and there was a general understanding of basic decency and Christian values which were held up as admirable within the culture.
That culture is gone today. We are seeing an ever-increasing descent into apostasy and anti-Christian ideas and ways of life today. And this makes raising our children and caring for our own Christian life harder and harder.
How ironic, and actually how overtly demonic it is that on the very weekend of the celebration of one of the greatest saints of Orthodoxy in this land, there should be a celebration and promotion of so-called ‘gay pride’ within the same city. This issue of homosexuality and gender confusion is being pushed aggressively upon our culture. The rhetoric and tactics being used by those who hold this as their agenda are very clever and very deceptive and they are leading normal, decent people… even some Orthodox Christians into a false understanding and toleration of something which cannot be tolerated.
The language being used, and the lie being promoted is that all of this is about ‘love’. What can possibly be objectionable about two people loving and caring for one another? If you are against that – you are simply intolerant and filled with hate. Such is the misdirection of the narrative being promoted.
But this is not about being against two people caring for one another. There is nothing wrong with two people caring for one another. This is about sexual confusion and perversion and, forgive me for being explicit, it’s about sodomy. Now if that word makes you uncomfortable – good! It should make you uncomfortable. That means you still have some semblance of normality and conscience alive within you. That is what this issue is about. It is not about two men who are fond of each other having a home with a white picket fence. That is a distraction from the terrible reality of what this sin is really all about.
God and His Holy Church care for us and guide us away from that which will do us harm (both physically and spiritually) and toward that which will make us healthy. God created us male and female, both genders complementing one another and joining together to create the miracle of new life. My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we must not be intimidated or coerced by the misdirection that makes us think we’re being ‘hateful’ if we discern what is right in the eyes of God from what is wrong. Indeed, we are always called to love others and to refrain from judging or condemning anyone. Yet, at the same time, we must know what is right and what is wrong, and we must be clear about that first and foremost with ourselves and not be afraid to stand firm for what is right when challenged by others.
We humans are adaptable creatures and, consciously or unconsciously, we tend to conform ourselves to the environment in which we live. This culture of today is not going to nourish our souls. It is going to compromise and challenge the well-being of our spiritual life. If we don’t consciously and actively pursue and immerse ourselves in the culture of Orthodoxy, we are cutting ourselves off from our spiritual life-support.
So how do we tap into that culture of Orthodoxy?... First of all, we must have a daily life of prayer. We should arise with prayers and lay down to sleep with prayers. During the day, we should remain aware of the presence of God and conduct ourselves within that conscious awareness of His presence. We should strive to see the image of God in everyone we meet throughout the day. And we should purposefully strive to raise our mind, warm our heart, and tame our will by exposing ourselves as often as possible to reading the Gospels, the lives of saints, and attending Church services. We will adapt to the environment in which we place ourselves… it is up to us to immerse ourselves within an Orthodox environment if we are going to remain faithful to Christ. If we just go along with the trends and directions of this society, we will be dragged along into the perversions of thought and the loss of morality which we see prevailing all around us. You have to struggle for your faith!
Let us take St John as our example. He lived just a short time ago and ended his days as Archbishop of San Francisco. He lived and breathed within the life of the Church. The Gospels and the saints were his constant companions and guides. If we are to survive and if we are to guide and guard our families, we too must immerse ourselves in that Orthodox way of life.
Stay focused on the love of God. Do not fall into the traps of arguing over smokescreen issues... homosexuality is not about love, abortion is not about choice, sin is not about breaking arbitrary rules. May God grant us to see our own faults and not to judge our brother. Each one of us has a lifetime of work to do in purifying our own hearts and uniting ourselves to Christ. God grant us the wisdom to immerse ourselves in our faith, uniting ourselves to Christ our Lord, and granting us the courage to stand firm in that foundation.