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Orthodox Spirituality

Sermons of Archpriest Anthony B. Gavalas

Coworkers With God

Ninth Sunday of St. Matthew
4/17 August 2003

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

Behold my brothers and sisters, what an extraordinary, what an extraordinary privilege we have in the sight of our Lord. How much trust He has placed in us; how much He is sure of us; how much He loves us; and how much gives us credit for. For we are not robots; we are not somehow children of our fate. There is no concept of fate in Orthodoxy. The predestination of which we speak is the predestination that our Savior God has for each of us, that everyman should be saved; that everyone should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. This is the will of God, and this is the predestination of mankind when he was created by our sovereign Creator Lord.

Bur we are told in today's Epistle that we are coworkers with God. We are coworkers in that edifice that He will build of us. We are working together with Him. How many of us have ever thought that we are coworkers with the Holy Trinity? This God Who made everything, all of these things that we see, and all of the things that we do not see, this God has chosen to make us colleges, coworkers.

This incredible universe that He has created, we have grown used to here in our cities especially because of the amount of ambient light that exists all around us when we look up into the heavens we see perhaps a moon, maybe one or two of the heavenly bodies that are very, very bright. But on a night like last Thursday when our Lord in His righteousness reminded us that when all is said and done everything that we have created, this incredible technological world that we have put together here on the earth can fall apart in a matter of seconds, and we are left no better off than aborigines somewhere, no better off than primitive people, fumbling around trying to find something to light our path, trying to get some kind of information.

But on a night like that we can look up into the heavens and we see the stars and we see the various heavenly bodies. Those who are familiar with the stars, can look up into the heavens and they can see so much, the God that made all of that provides for you and for me, indeed as our Savior has told us, He provides for the smallest sparrow, how much more so would He provide for you and for me?

So He has provided for us. He has trusted us, and He has given us all the things necessary so that we might in cooperation with Him build upon that unique cornerstone that has been placed in our souls from the time we were baptized, that cornerstone which is Jesus Christ Himself, and Which we are called upon to build upon. We are called upon to build and edifice, a building in which our souls can find comfort and live.

We are building for eternity my beloved brothers and sisters. We are not building for a little while; we are not building a temporary hut where we might pass an afternoon, an evening, a summertime. We are building our eternal mansion. So when we build in that way we choose the best materials. We choose silver and gold and granite and marble, the best, the strongest, the most enduring, things that are not corrupted, things that are not destroyed by time, or by weather, or by use.

This is what we are supposed to be doing.

As a matter of fact however how many of us do choose the very best for this building that our Lord has entrusted us to build with Him? For these materials that we are supposed to be using, that is prayer, studying of the Holy Scriptures and of holy works, of love for one another, of practicing the Christian virtues, of living the life of the Church, of confession and prayer and Holy Communion. How many of us are using these materials? But rather in most cases we are satisfied with the cheapest of materials, with a perfunctory prayer, with a fast that is just within the law, and that grudging, with stingy alms, with carelessness in how we speak to one another and how we show love to one another, without realizing that we must forgive constantly, and in forgiveness there is building, in keeping of grudges there is destruction. In remembering wrongs that people have done to us there is only corruption.

And yet somehow we think that with these very cheap, very nothing, of no worth materials we can build the eternal home of our souls. We might fool ourselves; we might even fool each other; but we cannot fool God. For our Lord God will come again, and He will come in His brilliance; He will come in His brightness; He will come in His light; He will come in His fire in which the Holy Trinity dwells, that fire that surrounded Him on Mount Tabor, during the event of the Transfiguration, which we will be celebrating on the day after tomorrow, that heavenly feast in which we see the coming age drop before our eyes. This is why you see often times in the sequence of the icons that the Transfiguration is not placed in its proper sequence as far as time is concerned. The Transfiguration occurred forty days before the Crucifixion of Christ. The Church has moved that feast to forty days before the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross so that it would not fall in the middle of Great Lent. But in the sequence of the feasts as you will see here on ours it is placed as the last feast, not because we do not know where it belongs, but rather because it is an image of the age to come, it is an image of the coming of Jesus Christ to judge the living and the dead, it is a vision and a foretaste of the eternal Kingdom in which the living and the dead will be together taken up into this glory, even as Moses and Elias were, Elias from the kingdom of the living, because Elias never died, but was taken up alive into the heavens, and Moses from the kingdom of the dead, for he was buried before the children of Israel went into the promised land.

So we see that our Savior will come in that consuming fire that St. Paul speaks of, and that consuming fire will test what we have wrought, what we have built. And those who have built out of silver and gold, those who have built with the virtues of Holy Christianity, of our Holy Orthodox Faith, with the confession of our Faith, and of the Church life, and of love for one another, that will endure. But those who have built of straw and chaff and cheap and useless materials will see their entire life burnt up before them in eternity.

For that fire, that fire that is the glory of the saints is the same fire that is the punishment of the wicked. The fires of hell are no different from the glory of God in which the saints are comforted unto eternity. The holy fathers have given us this image, that the sun to those that are used to it brings them peace, and warmth, and light, and they enjoy it. It is a warming to the body, it is a pleasant and healthful thing. But for those who have lived in caves all of their lives if they are thrust forth into the sunlight all of a sudden, then that sun blinds them and burns them and it is terribly uncomfortable. It is a terrible discomfort the sun, and yet it is the same sun. And so it is with the fire in which the Godhead dwells, in which the Holy Trinity dwells. The same fire is the enjoyment and wonder and sweetness of the saints, and it is the consumption, the eternal consumption of the wicked in hell.

My beloved brothers and sisters we have before us all of those things needful for our building of the edifice based on Jesus Christ. We have all of the Christian virtues. We know them, we know the commandments, we know what is expected of us as Christians in our relationship with God through the holy Church, and with each other in love. Let us choose from those building blocks, from those building materials to build upon that cornerstone which is Jesus Christ. So that in that day our works which are gold and silver not only will not be destroyed but as is the property of gold and silver when it is exposed to fire it becomes even purer, even brighter, even cleaner as the very saints in heaven go from glory to glory. Their sanctification is not static, but rather continues from gloriousness to gloriousness into eternity. To our Lord God Who has entrusted to us the work of our salvation, Who has made us coworkers in the building up, to Him, to his Father, and to the Holy Spirit be glory and honor unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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