Sunday of All Saints of Russia and America
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… in Greece, in Romania, Serbia, Georgia, 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 – a land with a rich spiritual heritage of holy men and women who have been filled with the grace of God. Monks, nuns, patriarchs, bishops, priests, and lay men and women… all infused with the grace of God as poured out through His holy church throughout the centuries. Such luminaries and Sts Cyril and Methodius, St Sergius of Radonezh, St Seraphim of Sarov, Sts Antony and Theodosius of the Kiev Caves, St John of Kronstadt, St Xenia and St Matrona, and many others who have illumined the Russian land like the stars in the sky.
The inheritance of Russian Orthodoxy brought to this land our beloved patron, St Herman of Alaska – as well as 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 flows through into our own times with the many praise-worthy fathers who came to this land during the 20th century. Priests and monks who’s spiritual lineage came from the holy monasteries of Valaam, Optina, and Pochaev. And certainly one of the crowns of this immigration was St John Maximovich, whose memory was celebrated yesterday and whose incorrupt relics lie at our cathedral in San Francisco. We are blessed with a rich inheritance and it is important for us to know and honor our forebears in the faith.
Wherever their original homeland may have been, these saints of God shared the same citizenship and allegiance to their heavenly home and to their shared faith in Orthodoxy. The saints are those men and women who heard the call of the Lord to follow Him and responded with all their heart and all their strength.
Today’s Gospel reading recounts for us the call of God to the first apostles. Our Lord called out to Peter and to Andrew, ‘Follow Me’, and they responded to this call of God – immediately dropping their nets and following Him.
God calls out to each of us… ‘Follow Me’. He doesn’t force us, He doesn’t coerce us, He simply invites us out of the abundance of His love. He calls to us – ‘Follow Me’ and invites us to partake of His grace and His love so that, even here in this life, and no matter what our outward circumstances might be, we may begin to experience the joys of paradise as we live a life in communion with God.
God calls each and every one of us to follow Him and each and every one of us has the freedom and ability to choose to respond or not. But what holds us back? We are surrounded by nets that entangle us and hold us down to the earth and to our self-imposed exile from paradise. The Apostles and the saints were those dear ones of God who, when they heard His call, dropped those nets and followed Him.
What is the call of God for you in your life? Perhaps God is calling you to some specific service, but let’s talk for a moment about the universal call of God which beckons to each and every one of us. The Apostle Paul spoke of it this morning in the Epistle reading… It is the call of God in our conscience. It is that ‘still small voice’ that knows what is right and what is wrong. Do we listen to our conscience? Do we heed this call of God, casting aside our nets to follow Him?
Never underestimate the challenge and the impact of something so unglamorous as simply being honest in all of our interactions, of being patient and kind with one another in our homes, in denying our tendencies toward selfishness - listening to that voice of our conscience and choosing to do the right thing at every step of our lives.
Remaining attuned and attentive to the call of God in our life is heroic work. It is the call of God to each and every one of us. When we awake in the morning, God is calling to us to take a moment and begin our day with Him in prayer. As we go about our day at work or at school, God is calling to us to work diligently, honestly, and to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting an Orthodox Christian. In our family life, God is calling to us to be kind and gentle and forgiving with one another – to make the home a safe haven of love for each other. And as we come to the end of day, we should give thanks to God for his many blessings and pray that He would preserve us to rise to greet the new day.
The call of Christ to follow Him may or may not lead us in a new physical direction in our lives. But it MUST lead us in a new spiritual direction in our lives. Christ calls us to follow Him at every moment of our lives. How we act, how we speak, how we think… all aspects of our lives offer us the ability to follow in Christ’s footsteps: choosing love over fear, choosing kindness over selfishness, choosing all those good things which are of Christ our God.
Our holy father Theophan the Recluse wrote the following rule for us: ‘Do not do anything that your conscience prohibits, and do not omit anything that it says to do, whether great or small.’ Indeed, in summarizing a basic rule of spiritual life, St Theophan advises that ‘all that is required is to remember God at all times with reverence, to obey your conscience, and to arm yourself with hope through patience.’
Those whom we hold in reverence as saints are those who lived by this rule… they remained aware of the presence of God at all times and conducted themselves accordingly in His presence. They attuned themselves to the voice of their conscience and obeyed its directions. And they demonstrated great patience to endure all the trials that might come their way… never losing sight of the hope and joy of the promise which Christ bestows.
May God, through the prayers of all the saints of Russia and of our homelands, grant us strength and inspiration to love Him with all of our heart, and mind, and soul… that we may ever remain aware of His presence, that we may hear the guiding voice of our conscience, and that we may arm ourselves with hope through patience.