Sunday of All Saints - sermon by Fr Andrew Gliga
As we come to the beginning of the Apostles fast, we begin to put aside fine foods in order to come closer to God. Despite that, we also see many things in our world turning upside down. Various factions of people each at odds with one another. Each calling out each other as the enemy. Each of these sides claims a root problem, which is that they are being unjustly persecuted. On one side people are constantly complaining that the lockdown is against human free will, while the other side bring up saying police brutality and how it is unjust and that people have their lives taken away wrongly. Throughout all this turmoil, we as Orthodox Christians tend to ask ourselves, what side should I take? Why is all this injustice happening to us and those around us? What if I see some Orthodox aligning themselves with one group and another set of Orthodox Christians aligning themselves with the opposite? Fortunately, the answer to these questions is conveniently given to us today. The answer to how to act in the face of injustice is actually given to us by the Saints of the Orthodox Church. Today as we remember all the saints who have shown forth, however there are 3 I would like to speak about in detail.
The first one is the Apostle Peter together with all the Holy Apostles. In the Gospel reading today we hear him speak to Jesus: "Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?" (Matthew 19:27). The holy Apostles of Christ gave up all their worldly cares, their wives, their work, and even their stability. Through this, they were able to bring the Gospel of Christ to the whole world. Nonetheless, by boldly following Christ, St. Peter, along with all the disciples, would also lose their lives for Christ. Some of the Apostles were crucified while others were beheaded. As we know from tradition, the Apostle Peter would eventually confess Christ and would be crucified upside down at the hand of Nero.
The second Saint is one that we commemorate today outside of all Saints. This Saint is St. Justin the Philosopher. He was a pagan who was in search of the truth. He eventually came to find about Christianity, and would embrace it as the absolute truth. He would write many different Apologies to defend the faith from various pagans, bringing the faith to those around him, and strengthening the faith of the persecuted Christians. Ultimately, he would debate a pagan philosopher who was unable to refute Justin's defense of Christianity. The pagan philosopher, being jealous of Saint Justin, reported Justin to the authorities where he would meet a martyr's death.
The last one I would like to bring up is not a canonized Saint yet, but most likely will be in the future. This last holy man is Elder Justin of Romania. The reason I bring him up is his day of repose is in two days from today and his namesday would have been celebrated today. He was a contemporary of our time who died in 2013 in Romania. When he was young, he denounced the Communist authorities in Romania who were persecuting the Orthodox Church, and for this he was sent to jail for about 20 years. After being released he started several monasteries in Romania. He would stay for hours upon hours on end without sleeping or eating in order to listen to pilgrims. He would hear countless problems and help each and every person. The lines to enter his cell would be lined up with hundreds of people every day, just to spend 5 minutes with him. This shows how much grace and love he had for his fellow human being. Many people after speaking to him would have their lives completely transformed. In his later years he was diagnosed with cancer. However, he refused any pain medication and only relied on the Jesus prayer in his final moments.
There are many other saints in our tradition with similar stories. If we look at their lives using the eyes of the world, all of these had unjust deaths. They all had done great works, miracles, and even sacrificed all they had for God, and yet they all had died tragically. How can someone who did so much for God meet such a disastrous death? Well, since we are Christians, we look at their lives with the eyes of faith. Through these eyes we see great labors for Christ who ended life triumphantly. Continuing the Gospel from today: "And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life." (Matthew 19:29). In fact, they are together with Christ in heaven receiving a much greater reward than those here. And they too are glorified since we remember them, and use their lives as examples for us to follow. Because they have given up everything they had for Christ, they now are glorified by us. We now have a way to measure our lives with what we should become.
So as we see with all these saints, they had many unjust things happen to them, but they embraced their struggles. And through their struggles the most important thing that they did shone forth. That is their love and trust of God. This is what sets them aside from the whole world. Even in their last moments, they showed steadfast faith. They did not complain about what was given to them, they accepted it because they knew this was both God's will, and that something better was to come out of it.
In the end when we are forced to pick a side in this tumultuous world, let us use the examples of the Saints. I would say, pick the side that shows true Christian values. There are many injustices done in this world and they will continue to exist. Do not pick a side just because of the injustice done! In turn we should align ourselves with those who are like minded and those who respond with love when they are wronged. Pick a side where the people's response to injustices is true love for God. And if it happens that both sides do not exhibit this love for God, then let us show what true love for God is. Let us be the third group which takes the injustices given to us and in turns responds with the love of God. We too are called to become Saints, so let us therefore take all the hardships and difficulties given to us by God and continue to show our love for Him in the midst of them. As Elder Justin would say: "Only love will save a man in the last days".