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Sermons of Archpriest Anthony B. Gavalas
My beloved brothers and sisters, as we have spoken before and reminded you that every word in the Holy Scripture is important; that by reason simply of being in a Scripture a word has added weight, has added importance. And so it is that when in one account, one reading we read the same word repeated twice, then certainly our ears should prick up, our attention should be sharpened so that we pay attention to that word and think about it, so that we see what it is that the Holy Spirit is trying to communicate to us through these words.
The word that we see today is "immediately." Peter and Andrew immediately left their nets. Andrew and Peter left their nets immediately and followed Jesus as soon as He called. John and James left not only their nets but they left their boat, and what is more important they left their aged father so that they could follow when Christ called immediately. It's a very important word then since we see it twice in the same Scriptural passage.
Eagerness, my beloved brothers and sisters, is a very important trait. Eagerness to follow the Word of God; eagerness to obey His commandments; eagerness to do all of those things that our Savior has ordered for us to do; eagerness, willingness, so that we quickly do the will of God.
How quickly the world follows after the commands and the requirements of the enemy of our salvation; how quickly do we follow the will of him who wants nothing but our destruction. But when we hear the will of God; when we hear his commandments; when we hear of the requirements that we have as Orthodox Christians, our hearts immediately slow down, our minds practically stop, and the only thing that works is our creation and manufacture of excuses. Why we can't, why we shouldn't, why it is an inopportune moment to do the will of God. We are slow to pray; we are grudging in our fasts; and we are stingy in our almsgiving. When actually in all of these things since they are nothing more than the helps that the Holy Trinity has given to us through the Church for our betterment and our salvation, we should be eagerly seeking after performing these things: doing the will of God immediately, without waste of time.
One might say, "What about the parable of the worker of the last hour?" Truly our Lord does give, and He does forgive even the worker of the last hour. But why should we waste so much time? Why should we not as St. Irenaeus has told us, why not give our heart to our Lord while it is still soft and tractable and can be molded from our youth? Why waste so much time?
This eagerness is what distinguishes all of the saints. Last Sunday we celebrated the general syanaxis, the gathering together, of all of the saints of the Orthodox Church, both those whom we know, and those whom we don't know. And we did that following upon the Sunday of Pentecost so as to underscore that it is through the apostolate, through the preaching of the Holy Apostles and the foundation of the Church that all of these saints have come to be. And we spoke of saints as being those people who have been healed, who are healthy spiritually.
And on this Sunday that follows on the Sunday of All Saints we have another four synaxes, gatherings together of saints. We gather together the saints of the Holy Mt. Athos, and of the Russian land and Ukraine, and Rumania. We gather together all of those saints marveling at how our Lord God has seen fit in His economy and according to His plan to have all of these saints before us that we might glorify them, not simply to glorify them for they have been glorified by God, but to glorify them in imitating their lives, in imitating their works insofar as it is given to each one of us.
We especially pay attention today the syanaxis of the holy saints of Mt. Athos, because this acropolis of Orthodoxy has forever been for us the lighthouse of Orthodoxy. All through the history of the Church for the last thousand years ever since its foundation and its becoming the most important grouping of monasteries and center of Orthodoxy, the fathers of the Holy Mt. Athos have always been the keepers, the conservators, the curators of Holy Orthodoxy. Not simply preserving it in glass cases as if it were some kind of an archeological artifact, but living Holy Orthodoxy, they themselves becoming cases, exhibition cases of Orthodoxy. We are especially grateful, we who are struggling in these latter times to maintain the tradition of the Church, are especially grateful to the fathers of the Holy Mountain, who after that terrible imposition of the uncannonical change of calendar rent the people of the Church of Greece in two, these fathers left the quiet of the Holy Mountain, left the peace that they had sought there, and came into Greece, and in their preaching and serving and by their very example of self denial fortified the people, fortified the parish priests, fortified everyone who was in Greece, those who wish to maintain Holy Orthodoxy and not to fall into the heresy of ecumenism, the heresy that began with the change of the calendar.
We're especially mindful of a certain archimandrite Matthew who left the peace and quiet of the Holy Mountain and came into Greece, and with his crystal character, and his love of Holy Orthodoxy, and his example gave a special illumination, luminosity to the struggle to maintain Holy Orthodoxy among the people. He was an archimandrite at that point and had been made an archimandrite by St. Nectarios of Aegina himself, and later became bishop and maintainer as the new Mark of Ephesus of Holy Orthodoxy in Greece.
The saints of Russia, of Ukraine, of Rumania who themselves were fruit of the holy fathers of Athos, who during the time when it was still possible would go into these countries and make pilgrimages to gather funds, but also to preach to the people and strengthen them in Holy Orthodoxy so that when that terrible hurricane of Communism came the people in those nations had stricken deep roots, and it was impossible even though there was exerted the greatest persecution that Christianity had ever known, it proved impossible to uproot from the people of these Slavic lands Holy Orthodoxy.
All of these themes, the theme of willingness as we see in the holy apostles who immediately left their nets and their boats and even their parents for the sake of following the will of Christ; the fathers of Mt. Athos whose eagerness to follow the will of Christ made them leave home and hearth and family; and all of the saints whose synaxes we celebrate today, they are all gathered together and all interwoven together, for it is impossible for us not to see, and not to improve in our willingness to follow Christ when we see the willingness of the saints.
Let therefore our Lord give us a willing spirit, an eager spirit, a spirit that is not given to excuses or procrastination to follow His holy will so that it might be realized in you and in me the promises of our Savior Christ that we too shall be sons of God and coinheritors of a portion of the Kingdom, through Christ Jesus our Lord, Who together with His Father and the Holy Spirit is worshipped by Orthodox people everywhere. Amen.
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