Today, the Church celebrates a Feast in which all of the saints are commemorated. In the reading from the epistle to the Hebrews, we hear about some of them. Some were martyrs, who loved our Lord and His Church more than life itself, and so died rather than turn their backs on Him. Others, confessors, suffered tortures of all kinds while remaining faithful to our Lord, proclaiming Him as Savior and Lord despite horrible cruelties inflicted upon them. Others withdrew from contact with the world, living in caves and deserts and other solitary places, in order to pursue a life in God, and to be free from the temptations that surround the faithful in the world – which is to say, in the culture and society in which they live. There are many, many others, of course. Some, we know – and some who are known by God alone.
The Church, in her wisdom, has given us this day to remember the saints, who in word and deed have made known the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ through the quality of their lives. But we must do more than merely remember them, for we are called to be like them. Each and every one of us here is called to be a saint of God. Some may even be called to be martyrs, for it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how our culture is growing in its contempt for Christ, and its rejection of His life and teachings. Others may be called to be confessors – and all of us, if we live our faith, if we live the life we are meant to learn from and in the Church, will have people mock us, laugh at us, and reject us for the foolishness of our faith in Christ. The Apostle’s Fast, for example, begins tomorrow. What will the people you work with, or go to school with, think of you when you do not eat or drink what others are consuming, so that you can be faithful in keeping the fast? Are you prepared to answer their questions as to why you do the things you do, and why you have turned away from other things that our culture and society accept as normal, even healthy? And, if you answer, what will you do when they laugh at you, or turn their backs on you? Are you willing to suffer rejection for the faith?
Yes, brothers and sisters, we are called to be saints – to live a holy life in which Christ is revealed by what we say, and by what we do. We may not ever be called to be martyred, or to be tortured because of our faith. But we are all called to put on the life we have been given in our baptism; and our Lord Jesus Christ has told us the way we must go: we must take up our Cross, and follow Him. And so we pray, in order to draw closer to Him. We fast, so that we can withdraw from the world. We give alms and offerings, to set ourselves free from the things of this world that will possess us if we do not understand that all we have is entrusted to us as stewards of the blessings of God, to be used for His glory, and for the salvation of souls. We struggle against the passions that attack us, and fight against the sins to which they lead us; and we labor to love God with all of our being, and to love each other, and all the world, with the love of God in Jesus Christ. When we do these things, we take up the Cross appointed for us, and we carry it, as we follow our Lord Jesus Christ, as He leads us from this world to His heavenly kingdom.
Of course, we cannot do this by our strength alone. It is not possible to be a saint without the power of the Holy Spirit being present in us. But we know the Holy Spirit has come, for we have just celebrated the Feast of His coming, the feast of Pentecost. Now, just as the calendar of the Church makes clear, we a re living in the season after Pentecost – and so it is in time and space as well, for the Holy Spirit has come, and all who ask for His help and presence shall receive what they need to live a holy life.
Brothers and sister, called to be saints: Let us not neglect this opportunity to repent of our sins, to turn to God, to ask His help, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us devote ourselves to the Orthodox faith, and the way of life we learn in the Church, so that we may fulfill the high calling to be saints – to the glory of God, and the salvation of our souls.