Receive Not the Grace of God in Vain

A Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost

The following homily is from St. Makary II, Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomna (1835-1926), on the readings for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Mt. 25:14-30 and 2 Cor. 6:1-10.


Photo: Jesse Dominick Photo: Jesse Dominick     

Let us turn our attention to what was read from the Gospel and Epistle today, and let us draw forth some edification for ourselves. The Gospel spoke about talents, and the Epistle reading about that the grace of God ought not be received by Christians in vain. If we ponder the content of the Gospel and Epistle readings, we can easily see that both readings teach the same lesson: We must cherish the gifts of God given to each and every one of us that we might acquire eternal salvation and try to multiply these gifts so as not to face punishment for laziness and negligence.

Of what talents does the Gospel speak, and of what grace does the Epistle speak? Talents here indicate the gifts of God that every man receives from God from his very birth, and grace refers to those gifts of God that every Christian receives in his new birth in the Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation, and the rest. This grace is given that a Christian might use it to accomplish his salvation, succeed in virtue, and inherit eternal life. Although every Christian receives saving grace through the Mysteries, not every Christian uses it.

This grace, like a seed, can die, or it can grow and bear fruit. If a man takes good care of the seed, waters it, protects it from the cold and heat, if he pulls up the weeds growing around it, then the seed will grow and bring forth a bountiful harvest. But if neglected, the seed won’t rise up and grow. Likewise, the saving grace given to a Christian through the Mysteries can multiply, can act in him, cultivating the spiritual life in him as we see in the saints of God, but it can also remain inactive, unmanifested, as if it didn’t exist in him at all. The manifestation of the grace of God in the soul and in the life of man is called the fruits of the Spirit. These fruits of the Spirit, as a manifestation of the salvific grace given by the Spirit of God, are the following: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (Gal. 5:22-23).

But if a Christian doesn’t take care to multiply the grace given to him, then the seeds of sin begin to grow in him. Sin begins to prevail, and he becomes a slave to sin, to the sinful flesh. The fruits of the sinful carnal life are opposed to the fruits of the Spirit. Where grace is active, love, joy, and peace dwell, but where sin reigns, there live hatred, worldly sadness, envy, malice, enmity, and disputes. The fruits of the Spirit are longsuffering, goodness, and mercy, but with sin, there are impatience, grumbling, cruelty, and revenge. With grace there’s belief, but with sin there are unbelief, doubt, and godlessness; here there’s meekness, there irritability; here abstinence, there the indulgence of the flesh: overeating, lust, fornication, and all uncleanness.

The Apostle, pleading with the Christians whom he converted to faith in Christ that the grace they received not be in vain, says that they, that is, the Apostles, work together with God (2 Cor. 6:1), as His helpers. They labor as mediators between them, Christians, and God. That means the Apostle admonishes Christians in the name of God, as though it’s God Himself admonishing them not to receive the grace of God in vain, but to multiply it.

This admonishment of God isn’t just for the Corinthians alone, but for the Christians of all times. If in the early days of Christianity God admonished through the Apostles, then in our times, He admonishes through the pastors of the Church, who have received the rights of a pastor in succession. Whenever a pastor speaks the word of God, it’s as though God Himself is speaking through Him; when a pastor admonishes or threatens, it’s as though God Himself is admonishing and threatening. Those who listen to their pastors listen to Christ. What happened in Apostolic times still happens today. Just as some there listened to the Apostolic preaching, followed the Apostles, and fulfilled what they taught the faithful, and others didn’t accept the Apostolic testimony of Christ, and reviled and persecuted the Apostles, it’s the same now: Some listen to their pastors, follow them, believe them, and succeed in a good life, while others slander them and try to arouse distrust in them among the flock, and thus repel these spiritual sheep from the flock of Christ entrusted to spiritual shepherds.

Thus, we pastors implore the faithful, as if Christ Himself is speaking to you through us, that the grace of God not be received in vain. Be saved, beloved, be saved with the help of the grace of God. Be saved, while there’s still time! Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2). Don’t miss this precious time. Now is the time for bargaining, the time of the market—acquire, purchase your salvation now. If you miss this time, if you don’t stock up on deeds of salvation, it won’t return to you again: Death will catch you; the judgement of God will find you, will catch you unaware. You’ll repent, but it’ll be too late; when you see yourself unprepared at the judgment of God, you’ll wish and beg to be given at least one day for repentance, but you won’t get it. In whatever state the hour of death finds you, that’s how you’ll be judged. Remember the parable of the ten virgins (Mt. 25:1-13). (Remember our wise folk saying: After summer, no one goes into the forest looking for raspberries anymore). Watch, don’t miss this time. Strive to use the time of your purchase. Walk carefully, because the days are evil (Eph. 5:16). Strive so that you don’t receive the grace of God in vain.

We could end our talk here, but I think some of you might want to know what needs to be done to not receive the grace of God in vain. Do everything that the holy Church commands you to do through the Scripture or through the instructions of your pastors. And they say: Don’t delay your salvation, not for a day, not for an hour; begin it now, today. Where should we start? Begin by avoiding evil and learning to do good (Ps. 33:14). That means: Start fighting with your vices; notice what passion has taken hold of you. If there are no large, noticeable vices, then pay attention to your heart, to your thoughts, to your habits. You’re not a drunk, you don’t live depravedly? But perhaps you’re cruel, you’re irritable, you’re avaricious, you love to condemn, you’re envious.

So begin your battle with these spiritual vices and passions. Don’t think these are all tiny sins, or just weaknesses—no, each of them will lead you to hell if you don’t take care, if you don’t try to wipe them out with repentance and battle against them. Because of pride, for example, satan fell from Heaven; envy made Cain a fratricide (Gen. 4:8); the love of money made Judas a traitor of Christ. That rich man with Lazarus the wretch lying at his gate was taken to hell by his cruelty, avarice, and mercilessness (Lk. 16:19-24). Before the flood, people ate, drank, got married, didn’t think about God, and indulged in sin, but the flood came and destroyed everyone (Mt. 24:38-39; Lk. 17:27).

If anyone has found the desire to begin salvation by fighting with his vices, and if he wanted to do it by his own strength, then his labor would be in vain: We need the help of God in the work of our salvation. Without Me ye can do nothing, says the Lord (Jn. 15:5), and God’s help is given to those who ask for it. Therefore, we need prayer for salvation. Do you want to save your soul? Do you want to set aside your vices? Pray to God; pray fervently; pray at home, go to church.

When you begin the work of salvation, then the enemy, the devil, will attack you with special force, will trouble your soul with thoughts of doubt and unbelief, and will lead you into despondency and despair. Arm yourself with prayer, fasting, and frequent communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ; ask for advice and guidance from people experienced in the spiritual life or your spiritual father. As for what you need to do then—the grace of God will enlighten and admonish you through pastoral instructions and perhaps sometimes through inner enlightenment and admonition.

Thus, beloved, We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain… Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:1-2).

St. Makary (Nevsky), Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomna
Translation by Jesse Dominick


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