On the Sunday of All American Saints
Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, June 10, 2007
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
On the second Sunday after Pentecost the Church asks us to remember all our local saints. We have ten officially and eleven unofficially. Some of them lived and died on American soil. Let me name them for you: St. Herman of Alaska, St. Innocent the Apostle to America, St. Raphael of Brooklyn, St. Alexis Toth of Wilkesbarre, PA, St. Jacob of Alaska, St. Juvenaly the Martyr and St. Peter the Aleut, also a martyr. Three lived and ministered in America for a time, but died in post-revolutionary Russia: St. John Kochurov, St. Alexander Hotovitzky and St. Tikon, Patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia. The eleventh, St. John Maximovitch, was recognized by the Russian Church in Exile, but due to canonical problems never by the whole Church. Whether or not he is a saint is not really in question. The Church always produces saints wherever She goes. It is only a matter of time.
The famous Pilgrim in THE WAY OF A PILGRIM relates what happened when he finally discovers the way to pray without ceasing,
I felt there was no happier person on earth than I, and I doubted if there could be greater and fuller happiness in the kingdom of heaven. The whole outside world also seemed to me full of charm and delight. Everything drew me to love and thank God: people, trees, plants and animals. I saw them all as my kinfolk; I found in all of them the magic of the name of Jesus.
To become a saint two things are necessary. The first is to learn to pray in a way that turns prayer more into what we are than something we do. What we discover when we begin to make the effort is that prayer is actually what we are! The first step is to begin to consciously pay attention to the development of a rich, interior life of concentrated spiritual effort not just every so often, but as often as possible. Effort must be exerted frequently. Energy must be wisely expended repeatedly. The mind must be trained, the heart must be cleansed. There is work to be done. It is the work of a lifetime. This work with the help of the Holy Spirit leads to freedom from the unruly mind, from ignorance and from tyrannical passions. The freedom attained allows us to see things as they really are. That is the classic definition of “enlightenment”. St. Paul experienced it. He wrote that he had learned “To be content in all things.” In other words, he had learned to be happy on good and bad days.
This demands a very simple discipline, that is, to develop in ourselves a love of prayer and silence. From this is born a life of continual, unceasing prayer. The still, small voice of God cannot be heard when the mind is in chaos. His still, small voice sustains us even when we are not listening, but how very wonderful it would be if we should ever exert ourselves to listen! The Word of God, intimate and personal, the river of living water, the fountain of life, the Truth Himself is speaking within, but he cannot be heard until we learn to rest our weary minds and listen to the Voice of God beneath all the other voices. “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
The second element is the conscious nurturing of a virtuous life. We use the word “virtue” sometimes to refer to a life lived according to ethical rules and norms, but there is a deeper, more spiritual meaning. “Virtue” refers to a life lived skillfully and wisely, a life lived intelligently and consciously, a life that utilizes the gifts of God effectively, in short, a life lived for the sake of others, a life of love.
The truth is that virtuous qualities must be cultivated. They do not just happen. If we do not practice love, then there will be no love. If we do not practice peace, then there will be no peace. God is love and God is peace. We have been created with the capacity to be by grace what God is by nature. Am I really at peace? Do I love enough? If we say, “not always,” then we must not despair. Here is rich soil for spiritual growth. Clearly, every moment provides an opportunity to practice virtuous living. If we do, then we will grow to be more like God. This is an immensely spiritual practice.
In the WAY OF THE ASCETIC Tito Colliander says it is as simple as consciously deciding to drink one cup of coffee in the morning when what we really want is two. That is how we begin to retrain ourselves to be loving rather than selfish. It is simple. Start saying no to the petulant child we call the ego and we start saying yes to the image of God, watering the seeds of holiness and uprooting the weeds of desire and craving. From little, positive actions grow lives of miraculous virtue if the effort is sustained day in and day out. This is what real love of self is because we turn our attention away from the selfish ego toward the true self, the image and likeness of God.
The Holy Orthodox Spiritual Fathers and Mothers tell us plainly that the saints see everything as holy. They say that only the sinful see the sins of others. What strange statements. How counter-intuitive! But what this means is that the holy see the deepest realities. With their enlightened senses they look with compassion on everything and see things as they really are like the Pilgrim who was delighted with all things. If we are not yet able to see like that, to the essential heart of things, then we know we are far from where we should be. Only holiness leads to real happiness.
All of us are capable of ascending the heights of holiness. Since this is the will of God for everyone so his help is assured, whether or not we do depends entirely us.