Joy of All Who Sorrow

Homily for the Sunday of All Saints

[Hebrews 11:33-12:2. (§330) / Gospel [Matthew 10:32,33,37-38; 19 27-30 (§38)]

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

Dear Fathers, brothers and sisters: Spraznecom! Happy Feast!

Today we celebrate the final end, the purpose and telos of what our whole Christian life, all our prayers, all our service attendance, fasting, reading and ascetic struggles, what all of this is for. It is today’s feast which represents the true climax and proper end of our whole liturgical year. Following our Lord’s ascension into heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit which we celebrated last week, we now celebrate and affirm the possibility of our sanctification. The flesh which had been stuck in the mud and grime of fallenness and alienation from God, is now enabled through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to become whole, healed and transfigured. The gates of hades have been broken down, and now the gates of paradise are open to us, not only as a distant possibility, but as a reality that can be experienced here and now in this present life.

It is easy when reading the lives of the saints to gain the impression that the saints are so far above and beyond us, so other from us and our lives that they are almost a class of superhumans. Whilst it is true that – through the power of the Holy Spirit – what is impossible for man, by his own will or power is overcome, we should not understand the saints as a class of beings completely other and completely distant from our own lives and our own selves. All the saints were once fallen human beings just like, sometimes even worse than ourselves. However, despite their unworthiness and spiritual ugliness they became sanctified through their repentance and their participation in the healing, deifying rays of the Holy Spirit. And at today’s feast we don’t simply commemorate all the saints as a separate elite class of superhuman alien beings, we also affirm the possibility of our own sanctification. For our Lord desires that each one of us should become a saint: the fully restored, fully healed, transfigured and radiant version of ourselves. God desires that each of us should become who we truly are, the person we are meant to be, that God has called us to be from eternity. God has not given us life to be successful in this world. To be fully comfortable in this world. He did not give us life in order to own big and luxurious houses, to drive big cars, in order to write clever books, or have successful careers, worldly recognition or a full an active social life. No, God has given each one of us life for one purpose, and for one purpose only: to become His saints, to be sanctified. God has prepared a path for each one of us to become this person, and will both provide the crosses on which we will crucify our egos as well as the grace that will be needed to be lifted up from our sin.

On this Sunday of All Saints, we should ask ourselves, what exactly does it take to accept this path, to become a saint, to become the person that God has called us to be? One important thing we should understand is that that is certainly no ONE type or form of saint. As we hear in the canon of today’s Feast –

Let us joyously sing of the company of all the Saints, which is composed of every race, rank and way of life, and let us chant together with them: Blessed is the God of our fathers.

As we look through the calendar each day we should be struck by the beautiful diversity and unity of the list of the saints we encounter. Emperors, kings and princes take their place alongside beggars, paupers, priests, monks and nuns, rich, poor, fools, wise, simple, children and old people … of all races, times, places and social rank, all find their place in their heavenly worship around the Lamb.  Despite this stunning diversity, however, all those saints from every age, place and time were and are united in one thing. They have all attained sanctity through their love of God and His Kingdom above all else in this world.

As we hear in our Gospel reading today, it is this love which our Saviour wishes to be kindled within us. A love which reaches out far beyond the shallow, egocentric love for ourselves, and the sheltered, reciprocal love of friends and family, the love of the people that already love us. As our Lord reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount a few chapters earlier –

if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?

Rather God desires that we should have FIRST an ardent and pure love for Him and should never allow other loves to come before this primal and primary one in our lives, especially where those same people attempt to ask us to put aside this love, or try to supplant our First love for God.

Thus as our Lord says in that hard Gospel saying –

He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

As St Jerome qualifies in his commentary on the Gospel,

After God, love your father, love your mother, love your children. But if the necessity comes that love for parents and children are pitted against the love of God, and if it is impossible for both to be preserved, then hatred for one’s own is piety towards God … he has not prohibited loving father or mother, but has expressly added: ‘He who loves father or mother more than me’.

We must prevent our love for anyone in this world, or of anything in this world becoming idolatrous especially if it comes before our love for God, which is itself the foundation and fountainhead of our spiritual renewal, restoration and healing.

It was this pure and perfect love for God, nourished by the grace of the Holy Spirit, which enabled the Saints we commemorate today to endure such torments and suffering which would ordinarily would be well beyond the frail limits of human endurance. As we hear in our Epistle reading about the great trials of the saints –

 … others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

It was only in and through their ardent love for Christ, that the saints could endure these sufferings and trials. And if we would become the saint that God desires us to be, then we must also seek to kindle this same unshakable and sincere love within us.

Along with this love, however, our Saviour also adds one more thing in our Gospel reading –

And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.

Is not worthy of becoming a saint.

For without sacrifice, without struggle and perhaps most critically without resolve, we will not be able to become the saint God calls us to be. There is a famous saying of St Seraphim when he was asked one day, in what does a perishing sinner differ from a righteous man who is saving his soul, a saint, St. Seraphim answered:

Only in his resolve… Our salvation is in our will, in our firmness, in the steadfastness of our resolve to be godly to the end. The Lord does not give His Spirit by measure, nor does He give His grace by measure; He gives everything, and He gives Himself. But we receive grace and make use of God’s gifts to the measure of our readiness to receive what He gives and bring forth the fruit that He expects from us.

The saints of course differ from us in their fervour of their love for Christ, but they also differ from us in the strength of their resolve, and it is this resolve, this firmness of will and desire that we must also seek to realise.

My dear fathers, brothers and sisters, as we stand here in the midst of the church let us once again open our eyes to reality, the way things actually are but that in our distraction and sinfulness we fail to realise or see. Surrounded by so many holy ikons, with our spiritual eyes, we should remember, and try to see, that we are indeed surrounded on all sides by a great ‘cloud of witnesses’ the Communion of all the saints, of all ages and times. However, lofty and beyond us the saints may seem, let us never lose hope in the possibility of our sanctification, but rather see this as what God intends for each one of us. Whether we will indeed find ourselves with the saints in heaven, though depends entirely on our will and resolve as well as the depth of our love for God. Let us then honour the saints that have gone before us and our alive now in the Holy Spirit. But the greatest way we can honour them is to form relationships with them, get to know them and love them and to try in our own feeble ways to imitate them. All the saints loved the saints of God, and they loved the saints because they loved the One through Whom they became saintly, our Tri-Personal God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To Him be the honour and the glory for ever and ever.