Massachussetts 54th Regiment, depicted in the 1989 film "Glory"

Simply a Matter of Honor

Homily on the 6th Sunday After Pentecost
Archpriest Alexander Webster

Delivered at Holy Trinity Monastery
Jordanville, NY
July 15/28, 2018

Romans 12:6–14

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

Oné of the spe­cif­ic coun­sels of the Holy Apos­tle Paul in one of today’s epis­tle read­ings is espe­cial­ly strik­ing. St Paul urges the Chris­tians in Rome to out­do one anoth­er in show­ing hon­or.1

Now what on earth can that pos­si­bly mean for us liv­ing today in a soci­ety in which “hon­or” seems to be in such short sup­ply? Per­haps more than we may think! 

Webster’s Dictionary—alas, no rela­tion!—defines hon­or, in the first place, as a “good name or pub­lic esteem.” It’s an aspect of char­ac­ter, a per­son­al qual­i­ty, a mat­ter of doing what is right with lit­tle or no regard for one’s own advancement.

I pre­fer to define hon­or as doing the right thing, espe­cial­ly when it may cost you or me personally!

The Honor of the Good Samaritan

The Good Samar­i­tan in our Lord’s mem­o­rable para­ble knew what hon­or meant — and he act­ed with hon­or. After a priest and a Levite went out of their way to avoid the poor soul, pre­sum­ably a Jew, who had been beat­en, stripped, and left for dead on the road to Jeri­cho by rob­bers, a Samar­i­tan chanced upon the poor vic­tim. Now, Samar­i­tans in those days were despised by the Jews as a way­ward sect whose “tem­ple” was on Mount Ger­iz­im in Samaria, between Judea and Galilee. The Samar­i­tans wor­shipped there instead of at the true tem­ple of Solomon (and lat­er, King Herod) in Jerusalem. Nonethe­less, it was the Samar­i­tan, not the two Jews in the sto­ry, who had com­pas­sion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pour­ing on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeep­er, say­ing, Take care of him; and what­so­ev­er thou spend­est more, when I come again, I will repay thee.2

The low­ly Samar­i­tan respond­ed to the plight of the poor mugged Jew by tend­ing to his wounds per­son­al­ly, tak­ing him to an inn, pay­ing for his lodg­ing, and pledg­ing to the innkeep­er to cov­er any addi­tion­al expens­es incurred by the  recov­er­ing vic­tim. The Samar­i­tan, unlike the two Jew­ish lead­ers, did the right thing, despite the invest­ment of time and mon­ey that it cost him. 

For the Good Samar­i­tan, it was sim­ply a mat­ter of honor.

The Honor of Soldiers

The Hol­ly­wood film Glo­ry (1989) depicts the for­ma­tion and bat­tle his­to­ry of the 54th Mass­a­chu­setts Infantry Reg­i­ment, the sec­ond African Amer­i­can vol­un­teer unit in the Union Army dur­ing the Civ­il War. The reg­i­ment was com­mand­ed by a young offi­cer, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, from a very promi­nent Cau­casian Boston family.

In the movie, Colonel Shaw gath­ers his reg­i­ment on a mis­er­able rainy evening to deliv­er dev­as­tat­ing news. It’s ear­ly 1863 and the sol­diers are still in their ini­tial train­ing phase at Camp Meigs in Mass­a­chu­setts, not yet don­ning the cov­et­ed blue Union uni­form. Shaw announces:

In accor­dance with Pres­i­dent Lin­col­n’s wish­es, you men are advised that the Con­fed­er­ate Con­gress has issued a procla­ma­tion. It reads: ‘Any negro tak­en in arms against the Con­fed­er­a­cy will imme­di­ate­ly be returned to a state of slav­ery. Any negro tak­en in Fed­er­al uni­form will be sum­mar­i­ly put to death. Any white offi­cer tak­en in com­mand of negro troops shall be deemed as incit­ing servile insur­rec­tion and shall like­wise be put to death.’ Full dis­charges will be grant­ed in the morn­ing to all those who apply. Dismissed.

Then Colonel Shaw turns to his sec­ond-in-com­mand, Major Forbes, and says qui­et­ly, “If you’re not here in the morn­ing, I’ll understand.”

Well, next morn­ing the rain has ceased, the sun is shin­ing, the bugle sounds as the Stars & Stripes is run up the flag­pole, and Colonel Shaw, still fas­ten­ing the but­tons on his uni­form, walks out of his tent and asks Major Forbes, “How many are left?” Forbes is silent, and Colonel Shaw takes a few more steps to the assem­bly area to dis­cov­er that no one had left overnight—every one of those African Amer­i­can sol­diers and their Cau­casian offi­cers had decid­ed to stay and take the fight to the Con­fed­er­a­cy, even with a cer­tain death sen­tence hang­ing over each of them if captured. 

For the men of the 54th Infantry, it was sim­ply a mat­ter of honor.

The Honor of Mothers

Back in the sum­mer of 1960 when I was a nine-year-old boy in Jer­sey City, NJ, fas­ci­nat­ed by the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War, I did some­thing very wrong and sin­ful that led to a cru­cial turn­ing point in my young life. 

The local F.W. Wool­worth store, which we called the “5 and 10 cents” store, was sell­ing a bag of toy Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War sol­diers for $1.98. But I had only one dol­lar to spend. So I con­coct­ed a scheme in my lit­tle boy mind. I head­ed up Jack­son Avenue to the “John’s Bar­gain Store” and shoplift­ed a bag of World War II sol­diers sell­ing for 99 cents. It was a close call, but I wasn’t caught!  Imme­di­ate­ly I pro­ceed­ed down Jack­son avenue to Woolworth’s and tried to make a deal with the sales­man in the toy sec­tion. I offered to trade the WWII sol­diers I had just stolen and the dol­lar bill I had for the cov­et­ed Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War sol­diers. Well, of course, it was no deal. The sales­man could not pos­si­bly accept such a barter. So I did what any lit­tle thief would do in that case: I went home dis­ap­point­ed, but began to play with the stolen WWII sol­diers in the liv­ing room of our fam­i­ly apartment.

Enter my moth­er Eileen with her eagle eye! When she noticed the new toys that she had not pur­chased for me I had to con­fess what I had done. Good Irish-Amer­i­can Roman Catholic woman that she was, my mom told me to go back to John’s Bar­gain Store with my stolen loot and fess up to the storekeeper. 

“Will he send me to Reform School?” I cried. Reform School, a home for crim­i­nal minor boys, was the big bogey­man that urban par­ents in those days some­times invoked to keep their kids from mis­be­hav­ing. “I don’t know,” said my mom a bit disin­gen­u­ous­ly, “but you have to do the right thing.”

And so I trudged back to John’s Bar­gain Store, and, awash with tears, con­fessed my sin to the store­keep­er. Instead of a legal pun­ish­ment, that kind old fel­low mar­veled at my hon­esty and told me to thank my moth­er for being such a good mom.

For my moth­er, it was sim­ply a mat­ter of honor.

There’s an epi­logue to that tale. The very next day, Sat­ur­day, my mom, my younger sis­ter, and I went shop­ping on Jack­son Avenue. We stopped at F.W. Woolworth’s as usu­al, but this time we paused at the toy counter and my lov­ing moth­er Eileen bought for me the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War sol­diers that I had want­ed so bad­ly in the first place!

For my mom, it was also a mat­ter of for­give­ness and redemp­tion of her way­ward, nine-year-old son!

Honoring One Another in the Church

Broth­ers and sis­ters in Christ, hon­or is more than a noun — even more than doing the right thing, espe­cial­ly when it may cost you or me per­son­al­ly. Hon­or is also a verb — and that gets us even clos­er to what the Apos­tle Paul means when he exhorts the Chris­tians in Rome to out­do one anoth­er in show­ing honor.

The orig­i­nal Greek text of that phrase in Romans 12:10 is a bit ambiva­lent. It could also mean, “In terms of hon­or, let each one esteem the oth­er more high­ly” than our­selves.3 St Paul is sum­mon­ing the Chris­tians in ancient Rome — and us, too, of course — to show respect and hon­or toward one anoth­er in the Church, whet­her or not any of us deserves it, or may not seem to deserve it — even if it costs us some­thing per­son­al­ly, such as our sense of our own dignity!

That’s why the Fifth Com­mand­ment sum­mons each of us to hon­or our father and mother.

That’s why the Apos­tle Paul, in Eph­esians 5:21, exhorts hus­bands and wives, [Sub­mit] your­selves one to anoth­er in the fear of God.

That’s why St Paul, a lit­tle lat­er in Eph­esians 6:4, com­mands, ye fathers, pro­voke not your chil­dren to wrath: but bring them up in the nur­ture and admo­ni­tion of the Lord.

And that’s why we, all of us Ortho­dox Chris­tians, are expect­ed to hon­or our Church leaders—the patri­archs, bish­ops, priests, dea­cons, monks and nuns — that is, to respect, heed, and love them; and why our Church lead­ers ought to “out­do one anoth­er in show­ing hon­or,” in St. Paul’s words, by lov­ing and esteem­ing all of the faith­ful

As usu­al, St John Chrysos­tom, in his com­men­tary on the Epis­tle to the Romans, put it sim­ply and mar­velous­ly: “There is noth­ing which makes friends so much as the earnest endeav­or to over­come one’s neigh­bor by hon­or­ing him.” 4



Father Alexander Webster, Dean of Holy Trinity Orthodox SeminaryThe V. Rev. Arch­priest Alexan­der F.C. Web­ster is Dean of Holy Trin­i­ty Ortho­dox Sem­i­nary and Pro­fes­sor of Moral The­ol­o­gy, pend­ing a well-earned retire­ment lat­er this month. He holds a Ph.D. from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pitts­burgh. A retired mil­i­tary chap­lain, he has authored numer­ous books and arti­cles on Chris­tian­i­ty and the moral­i­ty of war.