Ser­mon on the Sun­day of the Fore­fa­thers
Read­er Nicholas Kotar
2nd Sun­day Before Nativ­i­ty (Dec. 11/24, 2017)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spir­it!

In today’s Gospel read­ing, we hear about a cer­tain great man who invit­ed many peo­ple to dine with him. We have heard this sto­ry many times. We hear about all those ter­ri­ble peo­ple who had made promis­es to come to the feast but spurned the mes­sen­ger with all man­ner of sil­ly excus­es. How often do we think, “How good it is that we are not like those peo­ple! How good it is that we are not mere­ly among the many who are called, but we are of the cho­sen.” But are we tru­ly of the cho­sen? 

St Theo­phan the Recluse said, “All Chris­tians are called, but the cho­sen are those of the Chris­tians who live like Chris­tians. But our edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem allows un-Chris­t­ian prin­ci­ples. Un-Chris­t­ian cus­toms have sneaked into our dai­ly lives and con­tin­ue the cor­rup­tion we were fed in our schools. What will come next? If things will not change, then more and more, true Chris­tian­i­ty will weak­en. Final­ly it will dis­ap­pear com­plete­ly. Only the name of Chris­tian­i­ty will remain, but the spir­it of Chris­tian­i­ty will no longer exist. Every­one will be filled with the spir­it of the world.”

Such words must have been shock­ing in the 19th cen­tu­ry, but we should lis­ten to them all the more now, when the spir­it of the world, of false tol­er­ance, of revi­sion­ism and mod­ernism are sneak­ing their way even into the Ortho­dox Church. Why must we wall our­selves off from the world, some say? Why do we remain so back­ward? Can we not bet­ter min­is­ter to the world by learn­ing to speak its lan­guage? Can we not save more peo­ple this way?

In answer to this ques­tion, which is not mod­ern at all, but eter­nal, the Ortho­dox Church offers us the Holy Fore­fa­thers. Specif­i­cal­ly, the three youths and the prophet Daniel. Their lives, which hap­pened so long ago, are more than ever rel­e­vant in our own dark days. 

We meet these amaz­ing young peo­ple in Baby­lon, in a sit­u­a­tion chill­ing­ly sim­i­lar to our own Amer­i­ca. If the Baby­lo­ni­ans wor­shipped a gold­en idol, in our time Amer­i­cans wor­ship anoth­er idol of gold—the idol of mon­ey and self-ful­fill­ment and the need to belong to the wider soci­ety. In Baby­lon, Hebrew boys were tak­en from their fam­i­lies into schools that taught them a new set of val­ues that was sup­posed to sup­plant every­thing they believed in, every­thing they stood for. Now, in this dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion, we might think that they had to choose their bat­tles care­ful­ly to remain alive and faith­ful. Bet­ter to com­pro­mise in the lit­tle things, per­haps, to save up strength and oppor­tu­ni­ty to stand fast when it counts. But these young men under­stood that from the small­est com­pro­mis­es come the great­est apos­tasies. 

So when the ques­tion of eat­ing food that wasn’t per­mis­si­ble to eat, the young men didn’t say, “God will for­give us for eat­ing it this one time. It’s only food, after all!” No. For them, fast­ing was non-nego­tiable. And by the way, though they ate noth­ing but veg­eta­bles and water, they were stronger and health­i­er than all the oth­er boys who ate meat and drank wine! But is fast­ing non-nego­tiable for us? Is fol­low­ing the com­mand­ments of the Lord, to pray dai­ly, to give our mon­ey or time to those who ask it of us, to read the Scrip­tures dai­ly, to put the needs of oth­ers ahead of our own–are these non-nego­tiable? Or do we capit­u­late at the slight­est blow­ing of a con­trary wind?

As for Daniel, he was set up by cun­ning ene­mies, who con­vinced Dar­ius of Per­sia to enact a fool­ish law that for 30 days no one could ask any peti­tion of any­one save the king. Daniel could have done what all of us would have prob­a­bly done. He could have gone into a hid­den room in his house, wait­ed for dark, and prayed in such a way that no one would notice. After all, isn’t it bet­ter not to rock the boat?

But no, Daniel sim­ply con­tin­ued to serve the Lord his God by pray­ing as he always did. Not flaunt­ing his piety, no. But not hid­ing, either. In the open.  Know­ing it would cost him his life! And his faith closed the mouths of lions, uncov­ered the false­hoods of demons, and even burst asun­der drag­ons! But what about us? How often do we hes­i­tate to cross our­selves before our meals in pub­lic places, think­ing that it is bet­ter that we do not con­fuse oth­ers with our out­ward dis­play of piety. 

So you see, if we com­pare our­selves with all these amaz­ing men and women who braved phys­i­cal per­il, embar­rass­ment, finan­cial loss­es, and even death for the sake of remain­ing loy­al to the Law giv­en them by the God they loved, we may find our­selves well short of the mark. And if we lis­ten more care­ful­ly to today’s Gospel read­ing, we may notice our­selves in the man who pre­ferred to spend time with his new wife, the man who was just too busy to make time for the feast.

Luck­i­ly, the Church doesn’t leave us in the lurch. The epis­tle read­ing for the day pro­vides a clear blue­print for how we can begin to emu­late the Holy Fore­fa­thers and become “new men in Christ.”

There­fore put to death your mem­bers which are on the earth: for­ni­ca­tion, unclean­ness, pas­sion, evil desire, and cov­etous­ness, which is idol­a­try. Because of these things the wrath of God is com­ing upon the sons of dis­obe­di­ence, in which you your­selves once walked when you lived in them. But now you your­selves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, mal­ice, blas­phe­my, filthy lan­guage out of your mouth. Do not lie to one anoth­er, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowl­edge accord­ing to the image of Him who cre­at­ed him.1

Sim­ple. Curb all your per­son­al desires that con­flict with God’s com­mand­ments. More than that. Curb all your per­son­al desires as much as pos­si­ble, peri­od. Put to death the lust for oth­ers. Put to death your pas­sion to belong, to be accept­ed, to be praised for your tal­ents. Put to death your desire for mon­ey. Put to death your desire for con­trol over your own life. If you do not, the result is anger, mal­ice, filthy lan­guage, but we must put off all these. We must not even lie to one anoth­er! Because we have been made new, renewed con­stant­ly in the image of Him who cre­ates us. May the Lord help us, lest we remain among those who are called, and yet not found among those who are cho­sen.

Amen.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicholas Kotar is an author of epic fan­ta­sy inspired by Russ­ian fairy tales, trans­la­tor from Russ­ian into Eng­lish, and con­duc­tor of Russ­ian sacred choral music. He num­bers sev­er­al Holy Trin­i­ty Pub­li­ca­tions titles among his trans­la­tions. He posts reg­u­lar­ly on his blog on Russ­ian reli­gious tra­di­tions, cul­ture, and his­to­ry. His nov­el The Song of The Sirin is avail­able now.


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