Beloved in the Lord, on this day the Holy Church celebrates the feast of All-Saints, both those known to us and those only known to God. This feast is celebrated on the Sunday immediately following the Feast of Pentecost and the Decent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and Disciples, and indeed upon all who have been baptized into Christ.
This is due to the fact that, as we know, without the help of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can do nothing good, but when we work together in synergy with the Holy Spirit indeed great things can be accomplished. This is true with the saints. The wonderful things that they accomplished, the trials and the persecutions, the martyrdoms, the long fasts, the great healings, the miracles performed, were all done by the Holy Spirit, working in and through the saints, of whom, as the Apostle Paul says in today's Epistle reading, 'the world was not worthy'. In this case, St. Paul speaks of the sinful world, not all of God's creation, as being unworthy. We too are called to be in the world, but not of the world, as the saints before us were. The great accomplishments of the saints are things that we too can, and indeed must do, if we wish to inherit eternal life. Beloved brothers and sisters we are called to become saints as well. This is what our goal as Christians should be - unity with Christ, our God, one of the Holy Trinity, by the grace and help of the Holy Spirit working within us. Saintliness must be understood by us as not being something abnormal, or exceptional, but rather it is the normal thing for every Christian. For being a "saint" in the understanding of the Church, is to be living in constant communion with God, and living according to His Commandments at all times and in every place.
The Gospel reading of today provides us with sayings of the Lord which actually state the conditions for this holiness and sanctity, or "saintliness".
He clearly states: "He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me, and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." Although for some, that might sound like a very harsh teaching, and something too drastic and radical, our Lord, in His usual mercy, goes on to say, "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for my namesake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life."
We must leave the things "of this world", those things that interfere with our path towards sanctity, no matter what they are, if we are to inherit eternal life. Christ does not tell us not to love the things that are good, but rather He instructs us not to love them "more than" we love Him. This teaching could be applied to many things. In the Gospel account, Christ Himself lists "fathers, mothers, sons and daughters", but we can certainly add other things to this list, such as "friends, co-workers, priests, bishops, books, music, titles, diplomas, wordly knowledge, and even ourselves or our own accomplishments" as things, being in themselves indeed good, but when loved more than Christ interfere with our lives as Christians. Then, these seemingly good things became very bad stumbling blocks for us and for our salvation.
This is not difficult to understand. The Lord gave us the Great Commandment, "To Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all mind and with all your strength". If we do that, we will love nothing more than him. If we do that, we will also do as He instructed us, "to love our neighbor as ourselves". This is what the saints whom we commemorate today did. This is something that the Lord Himself commands all of us to do.
Christianity is a celebration of love, my friends. It is a life in love with our Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Through Him, it becomes a life of love with one another, as in each other we see God Himself. Animosity towards one another, hatred, jealousy, envy or even anger towards one another has absolutely no place in the life of a Christian. St. Maximus the Confessor, in his "Four Hundred Chapters on Love" states, "The one who sees a trace of hatred in his own heart through any fault at all toward any man whoever he may be makes himself completely foreign to the love for God, because love for God in now way admits of hatred for man." Further, he writes, "Blessed is the man who has learnt to love all men equally." This is the "blessedness" of the saints whom we commemorate today. Their love for God overflows into love for all man, and indeed all creation. By celebrating the life of the saints we celebrate not only their miracles, their great podvigs, their healings, their fasts, but most importantly we celebrate their love, first towards God, and then to all mankind, and indeed their love towards all of us gathered here today to celebrate their memory.
We must constantly struggle with our fallen nature, to be able to abide in this Godly love with each other. Every day, and in fact every minute, we will be tempted by the enemy of our salvation, to be drawn towards something "other". This could be anything at all, as long as it is "other" than God. We must fight this temptation with all of our strength. It is precisely for the sake of this fight that the saints before us took on fasting, long vigils, prayers, and ascetic efforts. It is exactly the same reason why we too should do likewise. It is for this very reason that the Church in Her mercy gives us another fasting period, beginning tomorrow and lasting until the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul. The Church, as the Body of Christ, knows what we need to do to inherit eternal life. We just need to be obedient to Her and in joyful thanksgiving follow Her rules, which are given to us for our own good, and our struggles will be made much easier and our earthly burdens much lighter. This is shown to us by the example of all the saints.
May we, like the wonderful saints before us, those known to us, and those known only to God, struggle to love Him above all else. May we, for His sake, joyfully endure fasts, podvigs, vigils, and if deemed worthy, sufferings and martyrdoms, in whichever form they are given to us, not as ends in themselves, but for the sake of Christ, our Savior. May we leave behind us all the things which interfere with our salvation, and confidently believe that, as our Lord promises, "he who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for His namesake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life."
May we, my beloved, be deemed worthy to one day be numbered among the saints. May we begin this process by loving God above all, and loving one another as ourselves.
Through the prayers of All Saints, o Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us!