Sunday of the Holy Fathers

Glory to the Father ant to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we celebrate the Sunday of the Holy Fathers. We celebrate all those who from ages past have been well-pleasing to God, beginning from Adam even unto Joseph the Betrothed of the Most Holy Theotokos, we also commemorate the Prophets and Prophetesses, and especially the Prophet Daniel and the Holy Three Children. It is fitting and right that today we ponder on the lives of the saints and the impact they made in this world while they were living. They are our example because they made the best use of their time that one can make. They took what they were given and brought forth abundant fruit. Fr. Alexander Schmemann used to say that every person is born with a different deck of cards, and that the key to one’s spiritual life is to play the best hand with the hand that one was given. We have all been given different hands: we each have our own set of circumstances, a different family of origin, diverse personality traits, different abilities and gifts. The Holy Fathers and Mothers of the church, were the same way. They were unique, unrepeatable persons just like each of us, created to reflect the light and glory of God while on earth. They saw this life as a fleeting moment compared to all eternity and they obtained great graces through their struggles while here on earth, in a very short time. Many of them struggled deeply, having lived a life of debauchery before their repentance, such as Mary of Egypt. Others defended the faith against heresies, having their tongues cut out for standing up for the truth, such as Maximos the Confessor. Others, such as St. John Chrysostom ended his life in exile with illness. Still others, such as St. John the Baptist, wandered about in ragged clothing, eating locusts and honey, preaching a life of repentance. And the list goes on and on… each unrepeatable, like a group of trees, each bearing different fruit, but watered from the same source. Their practices differ from those of another, but it is the same Spirit that works in all of them.

Like St. John the Baptist, the holiness of the saints was offensive to the unholy and this is why they suffered. One time a priest told me he met St. John Maximovitch and he said it was difficult to be in a room with him because of his extreme holiness. At the same time, he didn’t want to leave his side. But he experienced 2 seemingly opposing encounters while in his presence. On the one hand, he didn’t want to leave him, and on the other, his holy presence made my priest friend a little uncomfortable. The word holy in the original Greek means “totally other”, and this is why the Fathers, the saints were not worthy of this world. Perhaps when we hear all that they gave up, and all that they suffered, and how they humbled themselves before God and man, and how they loved those who persecuted them, we feel some uncomfortableness within ourselves. Let yourself feel that because it can help you become a better person. Sometimes when we’re uncomfortable, we tend to right away make ourselves comfortable, but let us examine this within ourselves today and see what it is we need to change to become more like the saints.

We all know why we are here on this earth, or at least we should. The saints knew. They knew that this life was fleeting and they knew it was tempting to waste their time in vain pursuits. This is something all of us struggle with a lot of the time. We are caught in-between good deeds and wasting our time. We think about it, we justify ourselves sometimes, and sometimes we give into our weakness. We would rather be lazy or selfish or please ourselves. This is the easy route dear brothers and sisters. We all give into it from time to time. The saints, with God’s help (and it cannot be done without God’s help) did good more often than they pleased themselves. It is not that the saints were without sin. If you could ask one, I know they would say that they themselves are the worst of sinners because the closer one draws near to God, the more he sees himself a sinner. But the souls of the saints are such that they love their enemies more than themselves, and in this age and in the age to come they put their neighbor first in all things. They fought their passions on this earth and stood for the truth. Because they did this, they suffered, but they knew their suffering was for an imperishable crown. It is so good for us to reflect on their choices today. They gave up corruptible things for incorruptible things and this is why it is so important for us to read their lives. In the world, we read about how people please themselves and this is a subtle delusion. In the lives of the saints, we are inspired to do better for the sake of Christ. Because soon we will stand before Christ on that day of judgment with all of those who were pleasing to God in their lives and wouldn’t it be tragic, if we had to stand there ashamed, with eyes cast down because of our choices. The saints are able to stand with “faces unashamed” and this should be our goal! We know what is the right choice to make in our daily lives. We come to a crossroad at every moment – should I do this or should I do that? The saints, by giving up their own desires and passions, collected for themselves graces upon graces and over time this became holiness.

How does one collect grace for him or herself? Or rather, how does one lose grace? We know that God gives grace to the humble. Also, grace is given to those who conquer their passions and desires. Saint Gregory Palamas tells us that in the saints we see the dominance of the spirit over the flesh, because they live by the spirit and see the spirit throughout the whole world, the Wisdom, the Omnipotence, and the Goodness of God; they see in every phenomenon, in every work, the impress of the spirit. We know also from the Holy Fathers that self-indulgence expels from us the grace of God. This is why moderation in everything is so important and it is how the saints lived. They did not see things as bad in and of themselves, but they practiced everything they did in moderation. They are our true heroes and our examples in all that we do. They are our encouragement in every kind of sorrow or pain and they are ready to help us if we call upon them because they did God’s will on earth and God is quick to hear those who have given themselves to Him. Saint Justin Popovich tells us this about the saints:

“If you are suffering for your faith in Christ, the Lives of the Saints will console you and encourage you and make you bold and give you wings, and your torments will be changed into joy. If you are in any sort of temptation, the Lives of the Saints will help you overcome it both now and forever. If you are in danger from the invisible enemies of salvation, the Lives of the Saints will arm you with the 'whole armor of God' and you will crush them all now and forever and throughout your whole life. If you are in the midst of visible enemies and persecutors of the Church of Christ, the Lives of the Saints will give you the courage and strength of a confessor, and you will fearlessly confess the one true God and Lord in all worlds - Jesus Christ - and you will boldly stand up for the truth of His Gospel unto death, unto every death, and you will feel stronger than all deaths, and much more so than all the visible enemies of Christ; and being tortured for Christ you will shout for joy, feeling with all your being that your life is in heaven, hidden with Christ in God, wholly above all deaths.”

We honor the Holy Fathers today for their lives which shone like the sun and we light candles before their icons and ask their prayers, because the candles lit before icons of saints reflect their ardent love for God for Whose sake they gave up everything that man prizes in life, including their very lives, as did the holy apostles, martyrs and others. These candles also mean that these saints are lamps burning for us and providing light for us by their own saintly living, their virtues and their ardent intercession for us before God through their constant prayers by day and night. The burning candles also stand for our ardent zeal and the sincere sacrifice we make out of reverence and gratitude to them for their solicitude on our behalf before God.

Let us give thanks today for the saints that God has glorified and revealed to us! And as St. Paul exhorts us: “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” Amen.