St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

On The Feast of St. Andrew

by Fr. Antony Hughes

Sermon Preached by Father Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 30, 2003

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

The Lord Jesus did not surround Himself with wild-eyed ascetics although He could have. He did not call the religious leaders of Judea to follow Him although He could have. He knew they were not good candidates for what He had in mind. In fact, many of the persons He called seemed not even to be extraordinarily “religious” at all. Jesus seems to have preferred the company of common people.

The Lord formed his band of apostles and disciples (both women and men) from the ranks of the ordinary. Some were fishermen and tax and with them came their wives and children. Others were prostitutes. In other words, common people. The Lord surrounded Himself with them. Out of this rough and unlikely material God wove the flesh of the Church.

Why not the religious and powerful? Wouldn’t that have been a better strategy? Maybe for us, but not for God. The Scriptures tell us over and over that God ways are not ours and that our wisdom is utter foolishness before Him. The road to Golgotha is hardly a recipe for worldly success! If God were interested in our definition of success, He would not have come in the first place. If He were sold on our conceptions of righteousness and holiness then why did He consort with the people like you and me? He did not come to congratulate us on a job well done, but to lead us in a different way altogether.

What we have to come to know is that we cannot produce anything worthy of God. There is no amount of effort that will automatically switch us into another gear. We are trapped in a voracious cycle of pleasure and satisfaction. It is a cycle that has no hope of fulfillment. So blind we are that we do not even see that this is so! We are like cold moons encircling a dead planet – the cold moon being our poor selves and the dead planet the object of our worship and desire, an ego that does not have and can never have a single thing to offer except death.

What we need and what we should be seeking is a gift, pure and simple; what we need is a gift, a visitation, and an embrace from God. Nothing else can set us free to move beyond an ability to reject obvious sin (that is the power to be truly human) and receive the ultimate gift which is the very life of God.

The virtuous fool themselves and think they have made it when they are able to obey the commandments and parade their pseudo-sanctity before lesser beings. But this is a subtle and dangerous self-deception leading to very great evils. What was it St. John Climacus said, “An angry monk in his cell is like a viper spitting poison on the world.” I cannot resist the temptation to give you another quote: you can tell a holy person because they do not concern themselves with the business of others. A contemplative once wrote that to avoid obvious sin is to be merely human which is essential in the grand scheme of course, but what we are looking for is something infinitely greater than that: to share the love, life and glory of God forever.

Our fasting and spiritual efforts have no other purpose than to bring us to a place where we can see this more clearly to the end that God’s great love can embrace and penetrate to the depths of our souls. Our preparation during Advent is for this and this alone. The gift we seek is the very one we welcome at Christmas.