Today, on the second Sunday after Pentecost, we continue to explore the meaning of sanctity in our lives through the examples provided to us by the Church. The Church guides us in the celebration of the memory of the saints who are the closest to us in culture, and often in time. The numerous holy princes and peasants, learned and simple, monastics and soldiers, hermits and martyrs, men, women, and children—they are our ancestors and neighbors, parents and children, past and present. Sanctity in the holy Church of Christ did not end in some long-ago century, but has always persevered, and is set as a standard for our own lives here and now. Sanctity did not stop with the Apostles, or the Fathers, or even the New Martyrs of Russia, but reveals itself in the lives of the saints here in North America, some of whom many present here can remember personally. And those who remember, for example, the life of Saint John of San Francisco, know that sanctity is not in spectacular fireworks or drumbeat from the sky, but in taking one’s cross and following Christ (Matt. 10:38).
In the Gospel reading for the memory of the saints, we hear about the strange beatitudes or qualities that make people blessed in the eyes of God (Matt. 5:1-12). They are the blessed qualities that shine forth through the lives of saints, but how unusual they are in the eyes of the secular world! Christ says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (3), but it is the rich and the arrogant that the world adores. “Blessed are those who mourn” (4), but the world urges us not to even think about death, to forget that this earthly life has a purpose and an end. “Blessed are the meek” (5), but it is the ruthless that get ahead in the secular world, and it is through brutality that earthly kingdoms are established. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (6), but the world wants us to hunger and thirst for very different things. “Blessed are the merciful” (7), but secular schools teach the doctrine of the survival of the fittest. “Blessed are the pure in heart” (8), but purity is trampled into dirt in today’s society. “Blessed are the peacemakers” (9), but the secular definition of peacemaking is to start a preemptive war. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (10), but the world persecutes righteousness and leaves no place for it as it marches along the path of “social progress.” Blessed are those who are persecuted for Christ (11), but who are the persecutors? In ancient Israel, they were the leaders of the people. In ancient Rome, they were the best emperors. And in Russia, those who envisioned a “bright future” for all slaughtered hundreds of thousands of clergy and millions of the faithful. We must remember this fact whenever we feel comfortable in this world order, whenever the world seems to be our friend. “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4).
The kingdom of Christ is not of this world (John 18:36). It is in this world, but it is not of this world. This distinction is very important for us. We must not treat the kingdom of God as some sort of a fantasy happening sometime in the future on some far-away planet. On the contrary, life with God must begin in this earthly life, and “behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). And those who follow Christ get to partake of the kingdom in anticipation of the resurrection of the world to life with Christ. Similarly, those who reject Christ and His kingdom in this life, get to partake of life without God in anticipation of the eternal result of their choice. Those who choose to live according to sins and passions that rule the secular world, rather than according to the law of Christ, get their choice inscribed in their hearts, even as those who choose Christ get His law inscribed in theirs (Heb 8:10).
We must not think that it is possible to get the best of both kingdoms or to live according to our passions in this life and hope to inherit eternal life with God. “What accord has Christ with Belial?” (2 Cor. 6:15) The call of Christ must be answered without any reservation, or it is not answered at all. In the Gospel reading for this Sunday (Matt. 4:18-23), we hear of the way that the holy apostles answered this call: “Immediately they left their nets and followed Him” (20). We see no hesitation, no looking back, no calculations,—just an overwhelming readiness to be with the Lord.
Of course, the particular circumstances of this calling may be very different from ours. Not everyone—whether then or now—is called to immediately leave their nets. The Holy Spirit leads everyone on a path most beneficial to him or her. And if at times it is necessary for us to leave our nets, then we must respond accordingly. But at all times Christ calls us to leave behind the nets of our passions, the entanglements that we create in our minds that keep us from answering His call, and to follow him in the simplicity of our hearts. And we see complete resolve to follow Christ in the lives of all saints, and in the lives of the saints of Russia.
When Christ called the Russian saints to proclaim His Gospel and bring the good news to those in darkness, they answered His call. When Christ called them to teach the children, heal the sick, minister to the poor and the needy, and comfort the grieving,—they answered this call. When the godless attacked the faith and killed the faithful, they stood firm in the face of martyrdom. But at all times and under all circumstances they followed Christ in the firmness of their resolve and in the simplicity of their hearts.
In celebrating the Feast of All Russian Saints, we do not keep an anniversary or a memorial. Rather, it is a call to us to follow Christ in our lives in the same way as the saints followed Him in theirs. Any example from the past is meaningful only in as much as it is applied in the present. Only in this way our requests for heavenly intercession from the Russian saints can become genuine and devoid of hypocritical posturing:
All saints of Russia, pray to God for us
to be worthy heirs of your memory.
Help us follow Christ as you have followed Him.
Help us accept His calling and reject the nets and trappings of this world;
so that with you we also may glorify God Who is wondrous in His saints.
Here et passim the Revised Standard Version of the Bible is used.