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Sermons of Archpriest Anthony B. Gavalas
Being Called 'Christians'
Christ is Risen!
In the Epistle reading today, my beloved brothers and sisters, we have learned where and when the followers of Jesus Christ were called Christians. From the Book of Acts we learn that it was in the city of Antioch in Syria that Christians were first called by that name, and we continue to be called that name.
It is a great thing to be called a Christian. There is no greater, no more awesome name by which we might be named than that of our Savior Jesus Christ. But greater still than being called a Christian is to be a Christian. That is that our words match our name; that our behavior is appropriate to the name that we have been called since we arose out of the baptismal font in which we were baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity, and have been called Christians. For the name Christian itself, if it is not followed, if it is not consistent with our behavior does us no good. Our identity as Christians is not something written on an identification card or a dog tag. It is something that is graven in our hearts, and shows itself forth in our behavior, in our attitude, and chiefly in the love that we have for God, and for our fellow man. For without these things we are not Christians regardless of how we are called.
I recounted a story of something that happened to me some years ago, when one of our brethren came to me in great distress, complaining that by recent government edict the cross that had crowned the staff from which the Greek flag flies had been taken down. No longer is there a cross at the top of the staff. And further he said with great distress it was traditional in the buses for there to be a small icon stand with various icons and sometimes even a little electric bulb, and that has been taken out of the buses. Now for those of you who are not familiar you must know that Greece was one of the last countries in which the state religion was Orthodoxy. It was the last country that by the constitution the Orthodox Church is the established Church. And yet the great numbers of the population of Greece are anything but Orthodox. We have for example the greatest percentage of abortions of any place in Europe. The churches are basically empty. If it weren't for the fact that the government supports and pays the clergy--the bishops, the priests, and deacons--according to a scale that has something to do with the civil service scale of pay, one wonders if there would be any clergy at all. This of course is not the case with the Old Calendarists who are not supported at all by the government, but whose churches and clergy are supported by their people.
In any case, I responded to him that if the Cross of Christ had been engraved in the hearts of the Greek people, if the Cross of Christ existed in the souls of the people, then it would be impossible for the government to make such a decree. And as for the buses, why should the icons stay there when all they hear are the worst blasphemies, the worst, most terrible blasphemies that you can imagine being directed at our Savior, at His all holy Mother, and at the Cross, and at the Saints. For it is a terrible habit that our Greek people have of uttering these vile blasphemies, even as other people use simple expletives to express various emotions. We should rather weep for the erasure of the Cross from the hearts of our people, and pray that is restored again to them, rather than to bewail and to berate the government for simply doing what is obviously the will of the people.
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Photine the Samaritan woman. And here we come to the very heart of our holy faith, the very heart of God's relationship with us. Our Savior Who is One of the Trinity, Who is the Almighty God, Who is the All Powerful Creator through Whom everything was made that was made, for our sakes took on our human nature and all of its attributes, including weariness and thirst. And He Who enveloped the earth in the clouds and gives rise to the rivers and the streams and torrents, He Who is the Almighty One, we see Him under that hot Judean sun thirsty and exhausted. This He did for our sake. And who does He begin to talk with? He begins to talk with a woman who by all measures was an immoral person, a common woman, who had been married five times, and now publicly was living with someone who was not her husband, a slave of her passions, a person totally involved in the flesh. And it is to this woman that He speaks, this woman, who most of us would pass by on the street, and would not say Good Morning to her, and we would caution our children not to imitate her, that we would bring her as an example of a fallen person, beyond rehabilitation, beyond redemption. And yet our Savior speaks to her, and not just to exchange pleasantries, but rather to reveal to her depths of theology, heights of sublime teachings that He had not at that point yet entrusted to His disciples, teaching her of the spiritual nature of worship; weaning her away from the carnal, earthly, anthropomorphic worship that was characteristic of that time; and further revealing to her that He was the Messiah Who would reveal all things to mankind upon His coming.
What do we learn from this exchange? We learn from this that our Savior is not disgusted by our sins; He is not put off by our condition; He does not keep us at arm's length because of our falls and our failings. But just as He embraced that Samaritan woman and revealed to her the things of salvation, so it is that if like her we show the slightest inclination for spiritual things, if we show the slightest inclination to learn about Him and about salvation, if we show just a little that we care He will reveal to us, He will fill our hearts with so much, so much grace, so much revelation, so much joy, so much assurance of salvation that we will even as this woman forget our water pot, we will forget our carnal flesh, we will forget our clay bodies there by the well and run and tell everyone what wonderful things our Savior has done for us. Our lives will become such that we will really be what our Savior says, He who does and preaches shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. For as St. John Chrysostom remarks on this portion of Scripture, See how God has put things in their priority. First we must do, and then we must preach. And indeed he continues, If we do, if we live as Christians it won't be necessary for us to open our mouth, for people will see, and as people do, they give much more credence to how we live than what we say. And they too will be drawn to Christ, even as the Samaritans were drawn to Him by this woman.
Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, we who bear the name Christian, we who bear the name that is above all names, let us understand that God is not disgusted by us. God does not despise us because of our failings. But if we will just show the slightest inclination, He will give us all things needful for our salvation even from now, will cleanse us of our sins, will elevate us so that when our soul is separated from the body then the angels will recognize us as Christians, and at our repose, they will accompany our soul past all of the barriers that the demons seek to put in our way. They will accompany us to the very throne of God, where our Savior Himself will intercede for us as He had promised, saying to the Father that this is one of Mine, this is one whom I have saved, this is one who did. Therefore usher him into the Kingdom, give him a portion of the elect, make him a coinheritor of the good things of the kingdom, for he is a Christian.
To our Savior Christ, Who has given us His Name as the most extraordinary ornament and boast, and to His Father, Who was well pleased that He do so, and to the Holy Spirit, Which enables us to continue in our identity as Christian: to the Holy Trinity be glory and honor unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Christ is Risen!
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