Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, August 4, 2019 at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA.
I have been hearing messages here and there exhorting us with battle language. I understand the battle metaphor in the same way faithful and reasonable Muslims interpret jihad. The fight is not external, for then it would have no eternal value. After one such sermon a good priestly friend of mine whispered to me, “The theme of that sermon was, grab a sword at the door, shed some blood, and stack the bodies high! Taken literally this language reflects something antithetical to the intention of the Lord who plainly (I guess not clearly enough for some) taught that his kingdom is not of this world. He rebuked Peter for taking up the sword at his arrest and exhorted his followers to be peacemakers, to love their enemies, to turn the other cheek, not to resist evil, and to pray and love all people as he did. “Love one another as I have loved you.”
I want to turn our attention to a prayer from St. Isaac of Syria. It reveals the authentic tone and content of the Gospel.
Lord Jesus Christ, King of kings,
You have power over life and death.
You know even things
that are uncertain and obscure,
and our very thoughts and feelings
are not hidden from you.
Cleanse me from my secret faults,
for I have done wrong and you saw it.
You know how weak I am,
both in soul and body.
Give me strength, O Lord, in my frailty
and sustain me in my sufferings.
Grant me a prudent judgment, dear Lord,
and let me always be mindful of Your blessings.
Let me retain until the end, Your grace that
has protected me until now. Amen
Not one aggressive word, no call to violence, or anger, or revenge. Only humility and an overall attitude of love and gratitude.
What about humility, long-suffering, and compassion in the face of this call to aggressiveness? Remember that when Jesus stood before Pilate falsely accused he did not speak a word in his own defense. Think of the Passion-Bearers Sts. Boris and Gleb who took the Lord’s call to non-resistance all the way to martyrdom. This is very much like Gandhi’s doctrine of ahimsa, or non-violence.
I wrote something for “The Cornerstone" this month that I would like to weave into this sermon. If you have read it, allow me to refresh your memory. If not, then all the better. I realize that I am only one voice and that the other voices are many and often have the limelight. Still, I must preach what I believe the Gospel is saying.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Christ is in our midst.
In this time when the Faith is so often misrepresented by hate-filled purveyors of a Christianity utterly foreign to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a religion tied to the craving for power and wealth, we who love Christ are called to a different way of life.
Richard Rohr writes this: "Christianity is a lifestyle - a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving." He offers that in the process of the Faith becoming an established religion, the whole idea of lifestyle change was lost. He continues, "One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain ... and still believe that Jesus is one's 'personal Lord and Savior' ... The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great."
Above all we do not want to be a cause of suffering to anyone. We are called to alleviate suffering where and when we can, to bring peace to the afflicted and not to afflict them, to welcome strangers and not to turn them away, to remember that all humankind is one, and nothing, not race, gender, or creed, or anything else has the power to break that essential unity. The separation exists only in our minds and is nothing more than a terrible illusion. By perpetuating this illusion, we cause suffering to others and betray the Gospel.
Jesus told his disciples, "You are the light of the world." This goes for us as well. But we must choose to let our lives be light-filled by living to the best of our ability in a way that reveals Jesus Christ to the world. We must be what our name implies, "little Christs."
I fear there is not enough of that going on these days. Christianity has been hijacked by politics and politicians and has become an unforgivable parody of itself. When the Good News is so needed, we have allowed it to be replaced by very bad news indeed.
"The world has no time for such silliness anymore."
We are called to a different way of life, a way free of the passions of life that cloud and often obliterate our vision and breed more violence. “The world has no time for such silliness anymore.”