In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
This Sunday, dear fathers, brothers, and sisters, we honor all the saints who have pleased God throughout the ages. The Church of Christ has wisely ordered this commemoration so that after the Sunday of Pentecost, the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit, the fullness of the manifestation of the hypostases of the Holy Trinity and the appearance of God the Trinity to mankind at the foundation of the Church, shows us the fruits of the Church’s activity. Sainthood is the necessary norm of life in the Church. It is the natural course of a person who believes in Christ. Whoever has come close to Christ, and responded to His divine love, cannot but strive to live as Christ has commanded us to live, and as He revealed Himself in His earthly life.
The Holy Church shows us the hosts of saints as an assurance that God really works in His Church, that man’s fallen nature, defaced by sin, deformed by the passions, and bereft of its original integrity, can be nevertheless restored, resurrected, and transfigured in the Body of Christ—the Church. This in fact is what happens in the Communion of the Body of Christ, of the body of the Church, and is the mystical salvation of the human soul to the degree that a person penetrates Church life in Christ, and lives with Christ and in Christ. This is sanctity. And it is no coincidence that today’s Gospel reading reveals to us these paths to sanctity. The Evangelist Matthew cites the words of Christ the Savior: Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven (Mt. 10:32–33).
It would seem that few of us will be found worthy of such forthright confession, when at the limits of human capabilities, on the borderline between life and death, we are required to confess Christ as our Lord, have the courage to remain true to Him to the end, to be unshakeable in this assurance that the Lord will send us not only consolation and joy, but will also allow us to have suffering and sorrows. But these sufferings and sorrows purify man’s soul and crown it with a heavenly crown, if he accepts it for Christ’s sake and with Christ. But nevertheless, this human dread before the face of death is perfectly understandable, because Christ Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane dreaded death. But our task is to cast this death down at the feet of Christ the Savior, when physical death is for us not gloom and horror, but the door to a new life with God, the transition from temporal life to eternal life. However, we should begin to live in eternity while we are still here. We may not live that way, but instead naively suppose that our Christian life has somehow become complete in reality. A Christian lives before God’s eyes, before the eyes of the eternal, immortal, almighty God.
But it is not only possible for us to confess this not only this in the face of suffering and death. We are required to confess this every day, when we show the world every day that we are Christians not in eloquent or lofty speeches and teachings, not some show of piety, but in the authentic virtue of our hearts, coming from a God-loving soul, which manifests the works of our Creator: mercy, meekness, longsuffering, amazing non-judgment of our neighbor, and Godlike humility. All of this confesses that Christ is the true God and that He is our true God. It is for this confession that we must labor daily. This is the confession that Christ God expects from us. Because whoever does not do this sincerely and with his whole being every day cannot walk with Christ to the end, to days of terrible persecution, trials, and even violent death. That becomes impossible, because the path to sanctity is faithfulness to God, being true to Him to the end and always. After all, it is so easy to turn out to be unfaithful in small things. Nevertheless, the Lord sees every little thing of ours. He is the Seer of hearts, the Omniscient, Who knows the secret and hidden thoughts of every person’s heart. And as much as we become responsible for this faith, so much does this responsibility grow for each of us before the face of our Creator.
Further the Lord says, He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me (Mt. 10:37-38). One would think that the Lord commands us to love our children and honor our parents. How is it possible not to love them? But the Lord is only saying that when we are faced with a choice between our parents and God, between our children and Him, the Savior of the world, and we do not choose Him but them, we are not worthy of Him because we have not learned to love Him wholly with the love that He commanded us to have in the first commandment given even to Moses: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might (Deut. 6:5). This is the love that brings a person to God, and by this to sanctity. It is impossible to love your neighbors if you don’t love God. By loving God we learn to love with real love—love that is not hypocritical, not feigned, not feeble, but love that is wise, patient, at times exacting and strict, in order to manifest the works of our Heavenly Father.
The Lord says, And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. This cross consists in many things. It is not only some kind of terrible suffering, but daily faithfulness to Christ is also a cross. The cross of sickness, the cross of various relationships with our close ones, the cross of our neighbors or relatives, who can have at times unpleasant personalities or very bad manners. It can be our children’s illnesses, or perhaps our boss’s difficult character. All of this and much more make up our cross. But first of all, our cross is the labor of being attentive in our hearts to God, the ability to preserve our minds from sinful thoughts—this is the tension and bitterness that can be the heaviest cross in our following after Christ. And without accepting this cross, without the desire and resolve to be with God and endure everything necessary in order to be with Christ, we are not worthy of Christ; we will not be capable of uniting with Him or even being close to Him.
This is what Christ calls us to. This is what the apostle Peter says: “We have left everything”. And the Lord assures him That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 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 (Mt. 19:28-29). Without this promise any renunciation is impossible in our earthly lives. But this promise is immutable. Christ gives us so much, but we are ready to accept so little from Him. How narrow our hearts are at times, that this generosity, this fullness of divine gifts does not fit in them. And there is a lesson from the Lord in this Gospel reading, that we might realize this and correct ourselves to at least some small degree. After all, the Lord says, and the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. The Lord does not judge by externals but by the state of a person’s heart and soul, according to what is going on within, what thoughts he has. It is not those with some high rank, high salary, and many possessions who will be first. First of all will be those who consider themselves to be the last before God—those, as we heard in the Epistle reading, of whom the whole world is not worthy, those who wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (Heb. 11:38). Those whom the world in its madness did not recognize, but whose minds were made foolish for the sake of God’s wisdom. Those are the ones who will be first at God’s judgment.
May God grant that we too would obtain this foolishness for Christ’s sake, this wisdom of Christ—may it make us also, at least to some small degree, aware of ourselves as the last in this world. May we too appear among the ranks of those followers of Christ, those whom we celebrate today—all the saints who pleased God throughout the ages. Amen.