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Orthodox Spirituality

Sermons of Archpriest Anthony B. Gavalas

Seek First the Kingdom

Third Sunday of St. Matthew
23 June/6 July 2003

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

How much simpler our lives would be, my beloved brothers and sisters, if we could really do what our Savior commands us to do today: to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness in the sure hope and assurance that all things needful would be added unto us. For we spend all of our lives thinking about these things. We think about what we are going to eat and what we're going to drink and what we're going to wear and what sort of house we're going to live in, so that the righteousness of God, the Kingdom of the heavens takes second, third, fourth, and in many of us, last place in our priorities.

Like all of the commandments of God, this one is phrased as an ideal. Ideally this should be our understanding, so that we don't care at all, we don't worry at all about any of the things that the world worries so much about. But some of us take things even further. Not only do we worry about what we are going to eat, but we must have the very finest of foods. Nor is it enough that we think about what we are going to drink, but we must have the finest of wines and drinks at our table. And as for clothing, it is not enough that we cover our nakedness and be modest, but we must wear the latest styles, and we must wear the latest fashion. And our homes must not just simply be enough to house us and to protect us from the elements, but we must have the very best; we must have a home that is something out of a magazine.

Our Lord understands that we must have all of these things: that we need food and clothing, that we need something to drink and somewhere to live. Our mistake is that we don't try even in a small way to consciously limit ourselves in these things. Therefore let us begin. Let us begin with modesty. Let us begin with only those things that are needful: that our clothing needs to be modest and cover our nakedness; that our food needs to be nourishing, as does the drink that we have at our table; that our house needs to be adequate, but not unnecessarily luxurious. And if we begin to think in this way, then slowly these things will mean less and less to us, so that perhaps within our lifetime we can keep perfectly this commandment of only seeking the kingdom of heaven.

I have known such people, and I have mentioned this one lady to whom I was privileged to be introduced many, many years ago, for she has now reposed. In her youth she had a family, she had children, but she lived totally at the mercy of God. She was very poor. And yet when people would come to her seeking her help, she had nothing but she would go to others and she would borrow so that she could give alms. I have no idea how she was able to repay these things, or even if she was able to repay them. Perhaps she became the cause for not only her almsgiving, but for others to give alms to.

This very noble woman whose name was Vassiliki lived in this way, and people made fun of her. And many said to her You are so careless. How in the world are you going to live when you get old? Who will take care of you? How will you survive? And always she said God will provide.

When I met her she was very, very old, and she lived in retirement, in an old age home. This old age home was considerably luxurious. It was one of those places that people pay money, a lot of money, to live in. And when I went there I wondered, for I knew her story, how it was that she was able to live there. And I learned that this old age home was required by law, since it accepted certain federal monies, to accept a certain number of indigent people. And so it was that through God's providence Vassiliki lived in this place.

It was always a joy for me to visit her whenever I was able, for it was some distance from where I lived then, because she was such a noble woman. She was tall, and for all of her age, extraordinarily beautiful. She had a nobility about her that was something that even now after some twenty years I still remember with awe. And she lived there her last years and she died there, and we were privileged to bury her. She is one of those people who was able to slowly divest herself of those things that held her back from the Kingdom of heaven. And from taking no thought about her food, her clothing, her drink, her place of residence--all of those things as God has promised were taken care of for her. And the Name of our Lord God be praised in the keeping of His promises.

Today we also commemorate the gathering together of another group of people who first sought the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and were granted mansions in the Kingdom. And those are the holy New Martyrs, the New Martyrs who were slain during the centuries in which our people and the Balkans and the Near East were held in the terrible, terrible yoke of the Moslem Turks.

Among them we number very young people, very old people, bishops, monks, lay people. Men and women, rich and poor who for the sake of the love of Christ, and for the sake of the love of our Holy Orthodox Faith preferred to give up everything so that they might be beneficiaries of the promises of our Lord God. Today in the heavens there is, as one of the hymns says, a strange sight, for the martyrs embraced one another: the martyrs of the ancient times embraced the martyrs of the more modern times. Those of the same names embraced each other, for they stand as the witness and assurance that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and unto eternity. For the same Jesus Christ for Whose love the ancient martyrs suffered such terrible things, that same Jesus Christ is the inspiration and the beloved Bridegroom of the souls of the Holy New Martyrs. They stand as part of that golden chain from our Savior Himself Who was the first Martyr, all the way to the most recent of martyrs for the sake of the love of Jesus Christ in our Holy Orthodox Faith.

So we see around about us, since Pentecost, Lord's Day after Lord's Day, Sunday after Sunday, more and more assurances from the Holy Trinity that the words of the Holy Scripture are true, and that the promises made by God to his people are true, and that if we seek first the righteousness of God, the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, then everything will be added to us, for that everything is Jesus Christ our Lord, in Whom we live, in Whom we have our being, and Who is the hope of every Christian, Christ Jesus our Lord, Who keeps His promises, and Who, together with His Father and the Holy Spirit is worshipped in Orthodox fashion unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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