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Sermons of Archpriest Anthony B. Gavalas
Let Your Light So Shine
My beloved brothers and sisters, we have noted during these recent weeks as we were preparing for and celebrating the feasts of the Holy Apostles, that great miracle of the spreading of our holy Orthodox Christian faith to all of the ends of the earth by that superhuman, that extraordinary, that Godly work of the Holy Apostles. And how it was that in that one generation by the time that the Holy Apostles had reposed, most of them by violent deaths at the hands of the pagans, the name of Jesus Christ and of salvation in Him had been preached from end to end of the earth.
But how was it that after the repose of the Holy Apostles, how was it that Christianity extended further, and struck deeper roots, and spread into the very corners of the then known world, through the foundation of churches, of parishes, of dioceses, a Christianity that was able to withstand terrible persecutions at the hands of an organized persecution?
It was because of the nature of the Christians of those times.
The pagans would say as they would see the Christians and how they behaved one to another Behold those Christians, how they love each other. And those souls of the pagan world, exhausted by the emptiness of paganism, by its dismalness, by its darkness, by its hopelessness, by its total lack of love, responded. For the pagan religion, while having many, many things to offer to the flesh, offers nothing to the soul.
And desiring that love, desiring that kindness, desiring what they saw among the Christians they would draw near to them seeking the solace of love, and of kindness, and of compassion, and having drawn near to them, they would hear the Gospel of Christ. And they would see that this compassion does not well out simply out of a human feeling, out of human emotions, but rather had its roots in the preachings of Jesus Christ, of that God Who bowed down the heavens and in His loving kindness emptied Himself of the glory while not leaving His Father and offered Himself in His incarnate dispensation for the salvation of mankind. They would hear this Gospel, and they would take it to heart, and they would be baptized. And thus the faith grew watered by the blood of these former pagans who took the preaching of Christ so much to heart that they died for His sake in martyrdom rather than return again to those idols.
We the Christians of this age are the inheritors of that blessed inheritance. And just as those Christians of the first century hearkened to the words of our Savior Christ Let your light so shine before men that they might see your good works and glorify your Father Who is in the heavens, and in that way established, and expanded, and enlarged the Church, we are their inheritors. And we also are hearers of that commandment of Christ to let our light so shine. But do we have that light? Do we have the light so that it might shine? Surely at our holy baptism we received the light, for baptism is called illumination, when our formerly darkened souls wounded as they were by the consequences of the ancestral sin, were illuminated as we came out of the baptismal font, and were reborn in the womb of the baptismal font of the Holy Orthodox Church, we received the light from Him Who said that I am the light of the world, He shared this light with us in our holy baptism. But do we have that light today, so that we might hearken to and perform that commandment that our Savior has given us to let our light shine? Or because of our sinfulness has that light within us been so besmirched, and so covered over with the mud of our sins, that we walk in the world, in the world that is populated by darkened people, as darkened objects ourselves? How different are we from those here in the world who were never touched by the illumination of Him Who is the Light of the world that we allow our Christianity to slacken to the point that not only do we not give off light, but because we still bear the name of Christians, yet do not fit the description of Christians, we become a stumbling block, we become, rather than a lighthouse, a reef upon which other ships go aground and are destroyed. Somehow we must rekindle that light. For in all of us if it is not darkened surely it is dimmed. Our passions, our sins, our evil habits, our taking on the ways of the world--all of these have practically extinguished the light.
How do we get the light back? How will it be rekindled? Much in the same way, my beloved brothers and sisters, as we relight a candle that has gone out. We bring it close to a lit candle, we bring it close to a source, we bring it close and it catches fire again, and from a formerly darkened object, it too becomes a source of light to those in the house.
We must rekindle our faith, we must rekindle our belief, we must rekindle our living of our Christian faith. Our morning and evening prayers must become more fervent, more focused. Our fasts must cease being a habit, something that we do on Wednesdays and Fridays and at other times without giving thought to what the fast is about and what it is supposed to accomplish within us. Our almsgiving must be more generous. And chief of all we must live the life in Christ with the Holy Mysteries, because all of these other things are but means, paths, clearing the way to the Holy Mysteries, and even all of the rest of the Holy Mysteries are themselves but paths to that one Holy Mystery which is Holy Communion. We must prepare for Holy Communion; we must fast more strictly and with greater focus; we must say our preparatory prayers with greater attention; we must keep a little vigil on the night before we come to holy Communion, so that our minds become clear of those things of the world; we must approach the Holy Mysteries with our hands clean and our hearts purified through Holy Confession, for we are all sinners, and must approach this mystery so that we can prepare for the great mystery.
If we do this then truly that light which is within us, that spark that has all but gone out, that trace of that light that we received at our Holy Baptism will be rekindled by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and will shine forth, and we will be able to perform that commandment, to do that commandment that our Savior gave us today, Let your light so shine..., and as hearers and as doers of the commandments we will be vouchsafed salvation and a portion in the Kingdom through Christ Jesus our Lord, Who together with His Father and the Holy Spirit is worshipped by Orthodox Christians. Amen.
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