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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