All Saints 2013
“I saw a huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language; they were standing in front of the throne of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and with palms in their hands.” This vision of heaven lies at the very heart of the Feast of All Saints, which began life as a celebration of all Christian martyrs, many of whom were unknown by name. The only way to be sure was to have a feast in honour of them all. It is St Ephrem the Syrian, in the middle of the 4th Century, who mentions in his writings a feast dedicated to the saints, all of them martyrs. It was St John Chrysostom, who, towards the end of that same Century, assigned the feast to a particular day, the Sunday after Pentecost. Orthodox and Byzantine Rite Christians still celebrate All Saints on that day.
The feast only came into the Western Church when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome for Christian use on May 13th 609. A pagan temple dedicated to the worship of the entire pantheon, all the Roman deities, was transformed into a Christian church in honour of all the saints. The feast was observed annually on this date until Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel in St. Peter's Basilica to "All the Saints" on 1st November some time towards the middle of the 8th Century. It was Pope Gregory IV, who in 835 ordered the Feast of All Saints to be observed on 1st November throughout the Western Church. So it was that All Saints came to be celebrated in England in the middle of the 9th Century.
Today, then, we give honour to all the Saints, those who are famous and universally loved, those who are local and known only to a specific community or particular Church, those who have gone out of fashion and have been replaced by more modern saints and those who are almost completely unknown, known only to God and to the their fellow saints in heaven. Among these, surely, are members of our own families and community, people we have known and loved and who have had a great influence on our lives and still do through their intercession and example.
St John reminds us in today’s second reading that, because of the “love the Father has lavished on us,” we can be “called God’s children, and that is what we are.” We are already children of God, which is why St Paul calls all faithful Christians saints, even in this life. God has poured out his Spirit on us, thus we are temples of the Holy Spirit, living stones that make up the Body of Christ. We are far from perfect, we are still sinners, and yet we are, like the wheat grain that falls to the ground, in embryonic form, the saints we are called and destined to be. “We are already children of God, but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; all we know is, that when it is revealed, we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.”
This then is the exiting dynamic of the Christian faith, that tension between what we are and what we shall be, the future hidden in the present and the present revealed in the future. Just as in the account of the Transfiguration, where the disciples catch a glimpse of the future glory of the Lord Jesus and for a moment know him as he really is, we too, from time to time, in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, get a fleeting glance, “we see in a glass darkly”, of our own true identity as the image and likeness of God.
The celebration of the Feast of All Saints reminds us most eloquently that we, like the saints in glory, are called by God to be saints, to become fully, through grace, what he created us to be. Let us take heart from the words of Scripture and from the lives of the saints. It is so easy to fall into despair and give up hope, to think that all is lost, that we are so sinful that we will never make it to heaven. But God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world but to redeem it. Jesus is our Saviour: he came to heal the sick, forgive sinners and reconcile us with the Father. Together they have given us the only pledge of eternal life there is, the gift of the Holy Spirit. What, then, can possibly separate us from the love of God made manifest in Christ Jesus our Lord?
So we join in that glorious hymn of the saints in heaven, “Praise and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and strength to our God for ever and ever. Amen.”
my source: Pravmir.com
Who’s Got Your Back?
Who’s Got Your Back?
Priest Thaddaeus Hardenbrook Feb 2nd, 2013 //
“Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses”
Fr Thaddeus Hardenbrook
Having created the context for human activity (the Garden, tending and keeping it, eating and not eating of specific trees), God reveals the primary condition of man’s being and meaning, saying, “It is not good that man should be alone.” We are reminded of this need for companionship most often in the service of the Mystery of Marriage. But the nature of companionship, which is an image of the Holy Trinity’s essence as Persons in perfect union, manifests itself in many ways.
God was pleased to present animals to Adam, and though none were perfectly right for him, that bond between animals and man remains. A little below our companionship with animals is our bond to all of Creation, for which we were given the primary task to “tend and to keep.” That’s why we are happiest (undiscovered by many) with our hands in or near the soil. Hence we are also not environmentalists; we are simply Christians. Supremely above our bond to God’s holy Creation, we have marriage, family, and friends—those relationships of person to person that have the greatest potential to likeness of the Holy Trinity. “Not being alone” is the absolute truth at the root of such virtues as hospitality, trust, loyalty, repentance, forgiveness, and sacrificial love. It is the confidence of him “who has his quiver full, who shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies at the gate” (Psalm 127), and the joy of those who “subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, and turned to flight the armies of the enemy” (Heb. 11:33). True companionship produces young men and women “in whom there is no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, [to whom] God gives knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom” (Daniel 1).
This is the kind of companionship all long for and suffer from the lack of. We are in fact at war, and, in today’s language, we need to know “who has our back.” For the Orthodox Christian, fulfilling this need to know begins with faith and trust in Christ, who “calls us friends” (John 15:15), and reception of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter (in Greek Parakletos: one who consoles, comforts, encourages, and uplifts; an advocate in court). Only through the compassion of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit do we begin to experience that longed-for companionship and acquire the ability to offer it to others. And we make sure it is real companionship we offer by observing the lives of the saints. We are masters at disguising ego, fear, and self-interest as friendship; but the saints are the real deal. And, in imitation of them, we open ourselves up to the genuine experience of life in Christ. If we are uncomfortable with the saints, we have yet to actually know Christ, the Holy Spirit, and true companionship.
All saints icon
This week alone we celebrate the memory of Maximos the Confessor, the Apostle Timothy, Clement of Ancyra, Xenia of St. Petersburg, Gregory the Theologian, Xenophon and his family, John Chrysostom (lesser feast), Ephrem and Isaac of Syria, and the list goes on. Each one, every one, is a profound and inspiring example of being “in the world but not of it” (John 17:15–16). The saints are those who have cut the path to Paradise ahead of us, cleared it, and made it easier to follow. They are our mentors, our spiritual companions, and our friends. The grace-filled saints journey with us, encourage us, comfort us, embolden us, and advocate for our salvation. They “have our back,” and they teach us how to be true friends, how to support and encourage those around us in a God-pleasing manner.
Along with our morning and evening prayers, we read the lives of the saints because it works. Like going to church, keeping the fast, and resisting sin, it is the exercise that makes us spiritually strong. We don’t have to do these things. But if we don’t, we can’t complain of our spiritual failure. Like a person with unused exercise equipment in the garage, our familiarity with spiritual tools will not compensate for our failure to use them.
So read the lives of the saints. Every day. All year. Every year. They are the actual “cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) that surrounds us. When we ask them to, they pray for us. When we strive spiritually, they cheer. Like our guardian angel, they are ever present if we nurture our relationship with them; thereby we are never, ever alone. Christ stands at the door of our heart and knocks, the Holy Spirit is in all places and fills all things, and the saints, in likeness to God, accompany us also if we so desire.