On the Sunday of Meat Fare
Sermon Preached by Father Antony Hughes on Sunday, February 15, 2004
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
I have three things to weave into my sermon today: the Gospel, of course, a wonderful article by the Russian Philosopher Nicholas Berdayev and some observations from my trip to Dallas this week. Luckily for me, they all dovetail nicely!
Berdayev’s article is about the nature of fanaticism and its distinction from true Christianity and, really from true humanity. He writes, “…all the orthodox (little “o”) doctrines of the earth are nothing in comparison with that one least among mankind and his fate.” “The Gospel,” he continues, “in particular revealed to people, that it is impossible to build one’s relationship to God without a relationship” to others. Finding in Christ’s words to the Pharisees (“The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath”) a springboard to his thesis, Berdayev, writes that all heretics in the end are revealed to be “heretics of life, heretics in relation to the living man, to mercy and to love.” Heretics do not love the human person as she is, but loves only what they can make of her reminding me also of one of Vladimir Nabokov’s great themes that when we attempt to mold people according to our own dreams and desires we destroy them.
The Gospel is about this very thing. For in the end we will be asked only one question, “How did we treat one another? How did we treat our neighbor?” The answer will betray everything about us, everything we have chosen in life, whether we have believed in God or whether we have refused Him, whether we have followed Christ or rejected Him, whether we have loved God or not.
In the Teen SOYO meetings in Dallas, which, frankly, are often anesthetizing events, I was awakened from my slumber by a report given by my friend Fr. Kevin Scheer of my former parish in Orinda, CA about the new and exciting program called Orthodox Youth Outreach. This year thirty-five Orthodox young people were lead by Fr. Kevin to reach out to the homeless in Los Angeles in dramatic ways. They literally went out in the streets, located homeless women and men and led them to shelters where many of their needs could be addressed. If you have never done this kind of work, believe me, it challenges everything you are and everything you believe. It takes you so completely out of your comfort zone that you feel you have nothing, but sheer faith, to hold on to. Two of the teens present participated and reported to us that nothing had ever affected them as powerfully as this. One of them put it this way, “We are the reason there are homeless people. We do not love enough. We do not love like God loves.” I was deeply moved by her words. There is no excuse for the people lying destitute on the streets of Cambridge while we who profess to believe do nothing
The OYO is expanding its outreach this Memorial Day to three more cities, San Francisco, Washington, DC and Detroit utilizing over one hundred Orthodox young people from every jurisdiction to try and make a difference in the lives of the “least of the brethren” in our rich and materialistic society. In other words they put their faith into action.
Finally, the message came home dramatically. Fr. Anthony Yazge just learned before he came to the meetings that an uncle of his had died…homeless and on the streets of Los Angeles where the ministry had taken place. He thanked Fr. Kevin and the young people because, for all he knew, they may have given his uncle his last meal, his last pair of shoes, his last glimpse into the face of a loving human being. Fr. Anthony will travel to LA this week to bury his uncle with dignity.
“Whatever you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done to Me.” If all of Great Lent, if all of our lives, pass by without realizing this one thing and acting upon it, then we will have missed the point of life, of God, of Christ and of the Church and all She teaches.