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Sermons of Archpriest Anthony B. Gavalas
Life and Light
Our Savior came that we might have life and light. The light in which our Savior dwells, being one of the Holy Trinity, that light in which the Holy Trinity dwells eternally, that that is the light He came to give to all of us. He had given us already through the orbs of the sun and the moon the light of this world. He had given us the material light in the very beginning of creation. The activity of our Lord God brought light to a dark and order to a chaotic world. And so it is that everything that has to do with our Savior is associated with light and enlightenment.
How was the world before Jesus came? The light of the Holy Trinity but dimly, very dimly, darkly illumined the world. But in general the hope of salvation, the hope of escaping the tyranny of death and corruption, the hope of escaping the drudgery and pointlessness of life was what characterized the life of mankind before the coming of Jesus.
The prophets and the righteous of the Old Testament communicated as best they could, as much as it was permitted to them, the light of the Holy Trinity to the people. They tried to keep the people in a hopeful expectation of the coming of the Messiah, and even in parts of the world that were not touched by the holy prophets, there was some communication of this expectation to the wise men and philosophers of those times.
But to what end? The end for everyone, even the most righteous, even our father Abraham, even all of those of the Old Testament, even the soul of that Forerunner of the Light, St. John the Baptizer, when they died their souls were taken into those dark, shadowy places of Hades, there to remain in expectation of the coming of the Messiah.
Darkness, injustice, imperfect understanding of the Law of God, imperfect understanding of His will for us -- all of these things were scattered when our Savior came into the world. The glory of the Incarnation and Birth of the God-Man scattered all of this darkness, for there can be no darkness where there is Jesus; there can be none of that shadowiness, none of that obscurity. None of that can exist where Jesus is. Wherever he goes, His words, His very presence scattered light, illumination, understanding to all of those who had eyes to see, whose eyes of their souls were open to Him.
And after those terrible days of His Passion, when He descended into Hades--and like a lightening bolt illumined even the farthest corners of that terrible, dark place, where He loosed the bonds of all of the righteous, and all of those who had been expecting Him from ages, loosed their souls and took them into paradise, took them into the Kingdom--that kingdom of darkness was completely destroyed, that kingdom of darkness was scattered forever and no longer had the hold that it had before on mankind. But now the only ones who are condemned to that place are those who go there of their own will, who choose darkness instead of light, who choose the obscurity of sinfulness, and the selfishness of doing only their own will. For those now are the denizens of that dark place.
My beloved brothers and sisters, our Savior came so that we might participate in that light. He gave it to us objectively, to all of us by His Incarnation and by His presence here upon the earth. Who would imagine that anyone, knowing this, would willfully go away from the light? Who would willfully choose darkness? Who would rather live in the dark?
But this is exactly what we do when we sin; this is exactly what we do when we choose to follow the dictates of the evil one; we choose rather to live in darkness. We close our eyes to the light, for the works of the devil are works of darkness. And if we want to continue in those acts, and in those behaviors, and in those attitudes, then what are we but willfully closing our eyes, actually blinding ourselves to the light? From the very beginning of our lives, my beloved brothers and sisters, we have the obligation to seek the light, and to seek it insistently. But you know what happens when somebody tries to seek the light. You've seen it, possibly in your own lives. When a person who has lived in darkness, a person who has lived a life that is not what it should be, finally comes to understanding, and like the blind man today hears the footsteps of Jesus, and realizes that "Here comes an opportunity for my salvation, that Jesus is coming here close by me," and begins to cry out, by prayer, by fasting, by staying away from his former haunts and his former companions, you know what happens: the same thing that happened to the blind man today.
You! You're going to try to be a Christian now! You who are first in our companions, in our life that we have, you're going now to leave us? You're going to pretend to be a Christian? What a hypocrite you are! And in that way they try to muzzle our cries to the Savior for light.
What should we do? Should we not have this man as an example to us? For the more people tried to quiet him down, the more people tried to muzzle him, the louder he cried. The louder he beseeched, the louder he called upon his Savior. Who among us therefore is going to do that that we might be saved? But let us go back a little further. Let us talk about our responsibility to open the eyes and illumine our own children. A very wise man said that all children are born pious. And we see it with our children. I see it in the children who come here to church. Yes, they're noisy, but they're children. I have no problem with children being noisy. I have a tremendous problem with adults being noisy. But a church without the sound of children, a church without the sound of their sometimes disorderly cries, and of their sometimes distracting movements, a church without this is a church with no future. These children are naturally pious. They will cry out and make sure that somebody takes them to kiss the icons. They'll make sure that somebody helps them to come and prepare for Holy Communion. They stand on the line; they stand eagerly with their little arms crossed, waiting to receive that gift of light, which we adults in our dullness do not see like they do. For they see angels, and they see saints, and they see many things because of their purity that we do not see because we have grown jaded and our eyes have grown dim because we are sinful.
We have a tremendous responsibility before these children, to cultivate this gift of piety in them.
We have a tremendous responsibility because these children are not our own; they are lent to us; they are given to us for a time. They are not ours, anymore than anything is ours. They belong to Jesus Christ; they belong to the Holy Trinity, Who has made us worthy to have these children as a consolation, and yes, sometimes a distraction, but even more so as an opportunity to break our will, so that we do not do what we want to do. Sometimes it seems like we never get to do what we want to do. But this is from God also. Every time that because of our children we are not able to do something that we want to do, this is a gift from God; this is an opportunity to break our will, to humble ourselves and to become better Christians. And when we ungrudgingly accept this burden, then the raising of children becomes as sure, perhaps a surer way to salvation and to paradise than becoming monastics. You can stop being a monk sometime; you can stop being a nun sometime; but if you have children, you can't stop, ever.
And so it is that for us it's so important that we cultivate this gift of piety in our children. We're always in such a hurry in the morning. Children have to be dressed; their breakfasts have to be made; we're always late; there's something else happening; there's someone coming to pick up the children; there're so many things. And we forget to take the children in our arms and take them to the icon corner, and make sure that according to their age they are able to say some prayers, and according to whatever age they are they take their little bit of antidoron that we have saved for them, and a little drop of holy water. Because if we don't do this, then you must understand that we are blinding our children. Who of us would take with his own hands some vile instrument and put out the eyes of our children, the bodily eyes? Who here, for even to hear of it is a horrible; you shudder even to think of it!
But when we fail to open our children's eyes to the beauty of Orthodoxy and the grace of the holy Mysteries from very, very young, we are doing just exactly that to eyes that are more important than their physical eyes, and those are the eyes of their souls. When we fail to give them an opportunity to see us praying and fasting and confessing and coming to Holy Communion, we are failing them. And they grow to believe that all of these things, all of this piety of Orthodoxy which is not external, but rather wells forth from the soul of the heart that seeks Jesus Christ, and seeks salvation, that all of these things are just for children; they're not for grownups. When I grow up like my dad, I'm not going to be praying and fasting, cause I never see him do it. Even if the child does not say this in so many words, this is the message.
It is so important for us who are older, whether we have children or not, whether we are raising children or not, it is so important for us to give an example here in the church and outside of the church because those people who tried to muzzle that blind man today tomorrow will be trying to muzzle your child. They will be trying to muzzle our children and our grandchildren, and keep them from seeking enlightenment and keep them from seeking salvation and keep them from seeking Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Incarnate Messiah, Whose birth we are preparing to celebrate and commemorate in the feasts that are coming.
My beloved brothers and sisters, a Christian must always walk the way of light; a Christian must always walk the way of illumination that pours forth from keeping the commandments. If we do that, then what is our reward? Wise men have cautioned us and said to us, Do not despair; do not grieve, when for a time your children whom you have raised in the fear of God step away from His way. Have patience, just as God had patience with us. Have patience, and he will come back, because he will see that there is nothing else. And if he is a wise man, and if he is a person of understanding, he will understand that he needs to come back to Jesus Christ.
But in the meantime we have to walk like children of light in the way of light. We have to be like the blind man today. If anyone tries to quiet us down, if anyone tries to stop us from living as Christians, then we must be all the more loud. For our Savior came to bring salvation. The world had no need of another philosopher; the world had no need of another ethical system; the world had no need of another teacher founding another school. The world had need of salvation, and Jesus Christ came to bring salvation to all of those who seek Him, keeping our Orthodox confession of faith in the face of anything that tries to take it away from us, keeping Orthodoxy as the apple of our eye, as the most precious thing in the world, keeping it, expressing it, and living it. For in this way our paths will be straight, and we will found paths that our children will follow, and we will be leaving them the greatest inheritance that any parent can leave his child, salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord, He Who is the Incarnate Word of the Father, and Who is worshipped together with Him, and the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, Who has saved us. Amen. Amen. Amen.