27th Sunday After Pentecost - Apostle Andrew
We find ourselves again in a period of trouble. Yet again our Churches are closed as we enter the fast to prepare for the great feast of Nativity. Our state has issued these guidelines to protect us and to keep us safe as they say. And yes, I agree that we should be safe and should take the correct precautions when it comes to this virus. Technically only essentials are open, which makes sense. And yet, why are not Churches considered essential? Here in the church is where we receive eternal life, which is for the healing of soul and body. This to us Orthodox Christians is absolutely essential and there is no way around it. Taking this into account, we should remember this as we hear the lives of the saints and great fathers before us, who really sacrificed their whole being for the one true God.
Today we celebrate the Holy First-called Apostle Andrew. This great saint started as a simple fisherman. After being called to follow Christ, he called other Apostles to do the same, including his brother Peter. After Christ's resurrection, the Holy Apostle Andrew went forth to preach to various places of eastern lands, areas which would become in the present day bastions of Orthodoxy; places like Romania, Bulgaria, and even Russia. He was able plant the seeds of Christianity in many of these lands, and many of these countries today consider St. Andrew as the patron saint of their country. Although he is greatly revered today, back in his time, he led a very persecuted life. Everywhere he went, he was attacked by the pagans, even having stones thrown at him. His life was not a very pleasant one. He endured all these until his life was ended with a martyric death. His final resting place would be in the city of Patra, where he was crucified on an X shaped cross. Even while on the cross, St. Andrew would continue to preach and bring people to the faith. His faith did not wane but rather he preached with greater fervor, even though he was going to die and lose his life. His fervor brought many people to the faith and strengthened the Church.
I want to share another story about Saint Paisius the Athonite which I heard recently. In the year 1970, the Monks held a vigil service, where St. Paisius was present as well. Suddenly there was this great earthquake that erupted in the Church. Everything in the church shook, chandeliers from the ceiling began to swing back and forth, even some candle stands were knocked over and fell to the ground. Many of the people in the Church began to scream and started to run out panicking greatly. However, the elder Monks of the monastery sat still, inside the church, holding their candles, not moving or budging an inch. Their minds were deep in prayer.
During this earthquake, as Saint Paisius was about to enter into the Church, one of the Deacons ran quickly out of the Church and told Saint Paisius, "why are you going in there? Don't you see everything is shaking, why are you going inside the Church?" What did Saint Paisios answer? He replied: “Didn’t your mother used to swing you? At that time you weren’t afraid… Now that Jesus is swinging us back and forth a little… you become afraid! Let me go on my way…” And he went into the Church. He had no fear, but only faith in Christ. He knew that the Church is where we find solace.
During this same earthquake in Thessaloniki, there was another story, about a Monk named Enoch. As the earth was shaking, everyone was fleeing. And yet the Monk stayed in his house peacefully on a balcony. And as people saw him, they ran quickly and knocked to try to get him out of the house. Quickly they said, "Monk Enoch, come out, because everything around us is collapsing!". And the Monk peacefully said: “If our Lord wants Enoch to die, Enoch will die. If our Lord doesn’t want Enoch to die, Enoch will not die”.
These stories given to us are a reminder of how far we are from having true faith. St. Andrew, St. Paisius, and the Monk Enoch had so much faith in Christ. Their whole lives revolved around the Church and around the faith. Even in the face of adversaries, or in times of calamities, they did not waver. This is what brought them to salvation. And we should pray to God to grant us the same faith that they had so that we too will not waver in our struggles.
So now since our Church is closed, we have to ask again, why is this happening? Why God allowing us to go through these trails? One of the easiest scapegoats we have is our governor who authored the edict which closed down our places of worship in order to prevent the virus from spreading. However, I believe the blame should not be on him, but rather it should be on us! We are the ones who are at fault for our churches being closed and taken away from us. And it is not because we have not taken this virus seriously or not practiced social distancing as we should have. Rather it is because of our unbelief. It is because we did not take our Churches seriously when they were open. Last year we had so many Vigil services or weekday services at our parish where we only had a handful of people present. When we began to have signups, at first we had high demand, but over the time we even had some Sunday's where we were below the limit! And now when we are closed again we have people begging to come to the Church, to open up and to have more services. On the other hand, there are people who have hidden completely and not shown their face at all these past 10 months. We cannot be like the man who hid his talent in the ground and be fearful. Rather we should be flocking as much as we can in order to receive the Holy Mysteries which are still being offered. Frequent Holy Communion is what is key to surviving in these crazy times. No doctors, no politicians, no vaccine, no mask, nothing in this fallen world is able to heal us as Holy Communion does.
Therefore, let us try to emulate the saints, especially Saint Andrew, and be ready and prepared for our death and not fear it. Let us not be scared of any worldly virus, because God has power over, death and even over any virus. That does not mean we shouldn't take any precautions such as wearing masks or socially distancing ourselves if it helps. Instead, we need to put our full trust in God. If we take all the precautions necessary and it happens that we get sick, then we should know that it is God's will. Finally, when we reach the end of this early life, we will know that it was God's will for us to go at that time, and in that place. The only thing we can do is to have the faith to accept God's will as well as to accept everything he has given to us, both the good and the bad, knowing that it is given to us precisely for our repentance. And our repentance is what will lead us to salvation.