Sermon on the Sunday of the Holy 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.
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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