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Orthodox Spirituality

Sermons of Archpriest Anthony B. Gavalas

Cloud of Witnesses

Second Sunday of St. Matthew
9/22 June 2003

+ + + In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. + + +

My beloved brothers and sisters today as we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, that synaxsis, that gathering together which the holy Church has placed on the Lord's Day immediately following Pentecost as if to tell us that that is the reason for the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Holy Apostles. The reason that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Holy Apostles was so that the saints could be wrought in the Church, so that sanctity could be realized in the Church.

There's nothing as we said in the Church that is accidental or haphazard. Again we see that one week we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the next week we celebrate the results of that coming, that is the creation of saints, the birth of saints, the edification of saints within the Church. It is an opportunity for us once again now on this Lord's Day as we see this cloud of witnesses, that St. Paul has pointed out to us in the Epistle today, having that cloud of witnesses before us to remind ourselves of the reason that we were born, the reason that we came into the earth, the reason that our Lord Jesus Christ has created each and every one of us, that is our sanctification. For it is the will of God that all men should be saved. This is the predestination of all of mankind, that all men should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. This is what our father St. Paul tells us in his Epistle, that the will of God is our sanctification; the will of God is that we become saints.

Therefore this will of God is not limited, nothing in God's will is limited except by our freedom and by our will. In certain matters we can become more powerful than God. Can you imagine such a thing? That you and I can become more powerful than God, because through our lack of cooperation, through our lack of giving ourselves over to the will of God, we stymie, we thwart the will of God, and His desire that we become saints is not realized. Imagine that the God Who created the heavens and the earth, the visible and invisible creation, the stars in the heavens and the mountains, the rivers and the seas and the waters asks of us that we cooperate with Him so that His will that we be saved be realized. And if we fail to give that, if we fail to assent to His will, then the will of God is thwarted, is negated in us.

But let this not be so. Let each of us understand that we are destined for salvation, and we are destined for divination, we are destined to become children of God, and being children of God we become like Him, not participating in His essence, but participating by His grace in His Divinity. Sanctification is not just for monastics; it is not for those who live far from the world; it is not only for those who live in monastic brotherhoods in monasteries and convents. Our Lord has shown through revelation that it is His will that everyone be saved, and everyone remain where he is, everyone where he is can be saved. This was revealed to our ascetical fathers, those great pillars of asceticism and of fasting and of prayer and of vigil, when many times the Lord, wishing to humble them and to remind them that it is He Who saves, and it is not the place that saves, but the way of our life and our response to His love that saves, has told the great ascetical fathers that you are less in glory than this housewife, than that cobbler, than that person that lives in such and such a village. So that the fathers picked themselves up and went and saw the way of life of these people who live in families as husbands and wives, with children and with dealings with the world, how because they cooperated with the will of God by prayer, by fasting, by vigil, by alms giving, they themselves became saints in the eyes of God, and after all that is the only place that it counts.

A saint is a person who is healthy, a person who is healthy spiritually, a person in whom the results of the ancestral sin have been obliterated by the grace of God. This is what a saint is: a healthy person, a spiritually healthy human being is a saint. And the way to this health is Holy Orthodoxy. The way to this healthiness in God is through our holy, and blameless and revealed faith of Holy Orthodoxy. For many were the ways of life of the saints, but their faith was one, and that is in our Holy Faith, because that is the revealed way that our Lord has given us that we might be cured and made whole. In the holy saints we see the realization of our Lord's words that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church, for each in his own way stopped those gates, closed those gates against the Church: the holy apostles by their preaching, the martyrs by their death for the love of God, the ascetics by their tears and fasting and vigil, by the holy hierarchs by their teaching, by all of the saints, even the humblest by living the life in Christ, by living the life in the Church, through prayer, fasting, vigilance, almsgiving, confession and Communion. They all became luminaries overshadowed by the grace of God in which they had sought each in his own way to participate.

Therefore my beloved brothers and sisters, as we contemplate the glory of this glorious and luminous cloud, this cloud of witnesses as St. Paul has called them, let us also continue in reading that verse in Christ and look at the road and the race that lies before us, trusting in Him Who is the Author and Finisher of our race, in Christ Jesus our Lord, Who together with His Father and the Holy Spirit is worshipped and glorified unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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