St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

On the Sunday of the Fathers of the First Council

Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, June 4, 2006

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

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Our Gospel reading is from St. John chapter 17, a section from the longest prayer of Jesus recorded in the Bible. It is called “the High Priestly prayer” because in it Jesus is praying for His disciples and for the whole Church. “I pray for them,” he says and later he will pray for all us us who have come to believe in him. We pray the same way in our services because he has taught us to. We pray for those living, for those who have fallen asleep and for those who are to come. It should come as no surprise that the Divine Liturgy, it's shape, it's content, it's spirit is entirely Biblical. He is praying as the High Priest, the one and only Priest. The rest of us who are called “priests” are only stand-ins. We'll all be out of a job on the day when everything comes to completion.

In verse 3 of chapter 17 we learn the secret of eternal life. It is the reason John wrote the Gospel. “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” The Ecumenical Councils were not called because the hashing out of creeds and canons is fun, nor, as some argue from time to time, to squash teachings the bishops saw as a threat to their power. Councils were called because the truth that had been taught from the beginning was being perverted by false teachers.

There are things that do not change in the Church. Those things have to do with what Jesus and the apostles have taught about salvation itself, In Greek this is called the kerygma, or the essential core of the faith. At first it was comprised of three simple words, “Jesus is Lord” because at the time that was enough. Soon, however, it was not enough because explanations of those words that were not in consonance with what had been believed always, everywhere and by all popped up. People became confused and needed something more than “Jesus is Lord.” If the Church fails to reflect this essential truth, then she ceases to be the Church of Jesus Christ and becomes the church of someone or something else. The Councils were called to keep this from happening.

Still, we must never see this as a way of defiance and triumphalism lest we betray the example of the Lord himself who came in humility. He did not arrive in this world with armies and blaring trumpets, billboards and cudgels. Too often the Church has done this in history to the detriment of herself and the world . The Lord divested himself of his glory and became a child as we are to divest ourselves and become children. He allowed himself to be unjustly tried, condemned, tortured and executed as we are called to do if need be for the sake of bearing testimony to the truth that Jesus, the humblest of all, is also Lord of all.

This is eternal life, to know God the Father, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Do not, however, think of eternal life as something only for the future. Eternal life if it is to be enjoyed in the future must begin to be enjoyed here in this life. “Eternal life” is how life is supposed to be, filled with light, goodness, peace, joy, happiness and, yes, power, power to share the glory of God in our human frame without being reduced to dust. And without reducing anybody else to dust! “Eternal life” is the life of yeast in dough, the life of the seed in the earth, the life of beauty that attracts others and blesses them with visions of the heavenly kingdom.

Where our lives do not reflect “eternal life” is where repentance begins. We repent of not being like Him in everything we do, think and say so that we can come ever closer through lives of repentance to do so. This we accomplish by nurturing in us the greatest seed of all, the kerygma of all Truth, Jesus is Lord and Son of the only True God.