12th Sunday After Pentecost
Fr Andrew Gliga
The Gospel reading we hear today speaks of a rich man, who came to Christ asking Him, how do I inherit eternal life? And Jesus answered him to keep the commandments: "Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself". (Matthew 19: 18-19). And the man responded saying that he had done these things. So then there was one thing this man lacked, and that he had to do. Jesus told him: "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me." (19: 21). And as we know, this man, at this point gave up the path towards eternal life, and went to follow the things of the world, because he was unable to give up one simple thing.
Today also commemorates three great saints in the Orthodox Church, all of which bore the name of Alexander. These saints showed what it was like to really give up everything and follow Christ as well as how they showed their love for Christ and the Church. The first of these is St. Alexander of Constantinople, who lived in the 4th century. This Saint Alexander attended the first council of Nicea and was instrumental in rejecting the heretic Arius. There is a story about how Arius deceitfully wanted to be received back into the church and tricked the emperor Constantine to receive him back. St. Alexander, knowing that Arius was deceitful, prayed to Christ to not allow Arius to be received back into the Church. And the next morning Arius died without being able to be received back into the Church. St. Alexander cared so much for the integrity of the Church, that he gave himself up in order to protect the truth of the faith.
The second of these Saint Alexanders is St. Alexander Nevksy. Alexander Nevsky was a Russian prince, born in the 13th century. He was very faithful in his early life and always was close to the Church. When he was in his 20s, he began to embark on military campaigns in order to protect the land of Rus. He would pray in the Church, before embarking on military battles, Psalm 35 “Judge, O Lord, those who injure me, fight against those who fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler and rise up to help me”. He was able to fend off all enemies, including the Latins, and Mongolians. It was known that he was a great ruler and protected his land from enemies outside. He would go on many diplomatic missions in order to bring peace to his people. He toiled in order to allow his people to be faithful Orthodox, even pushing to open Churches in enemy lands to bring them to faith. Upon his deathbed, he took monastic schema upon himself, fully dedicating himself to the faith.
The final of these Alexander's is St. Alexander Svir. St. Alexander Svir was born bearing the name Amos. His childhood was extraordinary, he was always obedient and gentle, he shunned games, jokes and foul talk, he wore poor clothes and fasted so strictly, that it caused his mother anxiety. His parents had arranged for him to marry, so Amos left in secret to a monastery. In the monastery, he was tonsured and took upon the name Alexander. There, he lived an ascetic and holy life. However, news about his holiness spread which caused St. Alexander Svir to take up a dwelling place away from the monastery. But this new place caused many temptations to him, demons would appear to him as animals and snakes. They would constantly urge him to leave, but St Alexander was steadfast in his asceticism. After many years, St. Alexander became the abbot of the Svir monastery. St Alexander departed at the age of 85, having finished his ascetic struggle.
So what can we see about these three Saint Alexanders, especially in light of the Gospel reading today? We see that they truly loved Jesus Christ above all else, even above all that this world would offer. These three saints gave themselves wholeheartedly to the Church. St. Alexander of Constantinople loved the truth of the Church and gave himself in prayer in order to preserve that truth. St. Alexander Nevsky loved his people and gave himself up to be a noble ruler. Finally, St. Alexander Svir loved Christ so much that he gave up a comfortable life in order to live an ascetic life and be close to Jesus always. They did not choose the easy path, the path the foolish rich man chose.
And so, we too are given a choice, which we have to pick everyday: Do we choose to follow Christ by giving up the cares of this world, the riches we have been given, or do we choose the easy path and embrace all the wealth in this world? St. Luke of Crimea says it best: "If we… seek the pleasures and joys of life; if the purpose of our life is prosperity, if all our thoughts are on how to have a better life, and that is all we seek, then surely we are far from what the Lord asks. Because people who seek purity of heart, merciful people, they only seek to be close to God, to have fellowship with Him, to seek His grace and love, they want to be brethren of Christ. Many times the poorest man, who has nothing on earth but serves God, many times this man, is richer even than the richest people in the world. His wealth is divine grace, purity of heart, love and sympathy for his hungry and unhappy brethren. But first of all, their wealth is the warm love of God, our Savior Jesus Christ… This is how we should accept Christ's words about earthly riches. To banish from our hearts the attachment to earthly goods. And only one thing to pursue: to be friends and brethren of God, who love Christ and whom He loves."