A blessed Feast of All Saints to all of you brothers and sisters as we celebrate this awesome Sunday, which always follows the feast of Holy Pentecost! Today is a witness to the power of the Holy Spirit on earth, entering into the lives of the Holy Men and Women who not only received…but allowed the Holy Spirit to champion their lives! Baseball has Cooperstown. Football has Canton. We in the Church have the iconostasis which depict life’s “Hall of Famers”; the Holy Saints of the world.
Next week, just to show and remind us all that these men and women are not just people in some distant land, the Church will remember the local saints. In Greece, they will remember the Greek Saints. In Russia, they will remember all of the Russian Saints. It will be the same in Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and all of the other countries throughout the world. We will do the same here in our own young nation, as we remember the Saints of North America! Men and women who lived among us, who experienced the same hardships and climate as us. These are the Holy Lights that we look to in our own land, as we try and emulate and be inspired by what they were able to accomplish in allowing the Holy Spirit to guide the way that they lived their lives.
In the epistle for today, St. Paul gives us perhaps one of my favorite images of what it means to live a saintly life. After speaking about all of the attributes and wonderful things the Saints of the Old Testament were able to do, and then going through all of the hardships that they had to endure, he says:
“We also, since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight…and the sin which easily ensures us. Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”
I was reflecting on this epistle and remembering my time on the high school track team. Although I was never very fast, one event I enjoyed more than any of the others was the 400 meter hurdles.
For those who have never been to a track meet before, there is a lot of preparation that a runner has to go through before participating in a race. It starts with getting their feet into position on the blocks, spending a moment to calm their heart rate from the adrenaline, and remaining focused on the task ahead while waiting for the shot of the starting gun.
Once the race starts, the runners have a jolt of energy and adrenaline as they begin to concentrate on their form in trying to jump the hurdles that had been placed before them. Leaping off the right foot, bending your back knee just right so that it can clear the bar, and landing in a way that they don’t break their stride takes a lot of practice and preparation. If by some chance they hit one of the bars or stumble, a good runner also has a short memory so that they can reset themselves for the next hurdle. While all of this is going on, the runners are surrounded on the track by crowds, their teammates, and their coaches who are cheering them on, encouraging them if they stumble, and embracing them when they finally cross the finish line!
In a very real way, as St. Paul and so many of the other Saints can attest, our spiritual life is very much like a race. It isn’t one of speed, but rather one of “endurance” as we heard in the epistle.
The race begins every morning when we open our eyes to a new day. We go into our prayer corners and (as St. Paul says) we “lay aside every weight”, by asking forgiveness for our sins and the ways that we had fallen in the past. Then, just like when we are at the starting line, we focus our minds and our hearts on Christ, and the race that lies before us that day.
One of the morning prayers we read asks our Lord to: “Enlighten the eyes of my understanding, open my ears to receive your words…teaching me Your commandments. Help me to do Your will, to sing to you, to confess you with all my heart, and to praise Your All-Holy Name…”.
Help me Lord, to allow the Holy Spirit to be my guide and my rock as I begin to tackle the day!
When the gun sounds and we leave our prayer corners, we go out into the world, and we are hit with daily tests and hurdles that we have to climb over. Whether it is a conversation or a post on social media that angers us, or a moment of greed or gluttony overcomes us, or we are hit with larger hurdles like a pandemic or political unrest, The Church, through her Saints, has trained us how to overcome every hurdle! There is no obstacle in life that is new or unique to our own place and time. The Saints, through the work of the Holy Spirit, offer us a chance through their lives and experience, to prepare ourselves for everything that life throws at us, if we only had the patience to listen to their coaching!
Once the day is over and we find ourselves at the finish line, we come face to face with Christ in our icon corners. In the evening prayers, there is a beautiful song of thanksgiving, thanking our Lord for allowing us to complete the race, and asking Him to continue to allow our hearts to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Through the Grace of the Holy Spirit, we pray that we can run an even stronger race the next day, encouraged by the loud cheers coming from the Church’s Hall of Fame.
This is our life, brothers and sisters in Christ! This is the life of an Orthodox Christian! We have all received the Holy Spirit at Chrismation, and we continue to receive Him again and again when we partake of the Holy Eucharist! Among the first words we will sing after receiving Him is: “We have seen the true life…we have received the heavenly spirit…we have found the true faith….worshiping the undivided trinity who has saved us!”
After every Divine Liturgy, we should be asking ourselves: “now what?” There is a temptation to move on from Church, and go about our normal routine without giving a thought to the Holy Spirit that we had just received. This is an attitude that we all need to change within ourselves, if we ever hope to accomplish a successful race through life.
We have the Holy Spirit within us. If we quiet our minds to listen, it is He that guides us and gives us the endurance that is needed to conquer the day, leading us all to the footsteps of our Lord. May He enlighten our minds to this understanding and lead us on the right path, surrounded by the Saints who have already completed the race, and who continually cheer and encourage us as we jump over the difficult hurdles of life.