Sermon for the Sunday of All Saints 2017

June 11, 2017

Sermon for the Sunday of All Saints 2017

Today marks the end of a particular cycle in the Church year. This cycle began with the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, which is also the beginning of the Lenten Triodion. Today is the end of this period, not only the end but also its apex. It is an apex because the fruit of the work of Christ, which has been illustrated, exemplified, chanted about and homilized on since the beginning of Lent, is born out in the members of the Church. This fruit is the transformation of members of the Church into Saints. The Saints are those who are partakers of God, each in varying degrees and are recognized as such by the Church through their lives.

St. Gregory Palamas writes that by commemorating all of the Saints on one day, we offer one hymn to all the saints who are “united in one accord.” He notes that this reflects what Christ prayed for when He said, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17.21).[1] St. Symeon the New Theologian, noting the unity of the Saints and their common participation in God, writes:

These saints themselves come after the saints who preceded them, and from generation to generation they join [their predecessors] through the practice of God’s commandments. Like them, they are enlightened and receive this grace of God by participation. They become just like a golden chain with each one of them a link, bound to all the preceding saints in faith, love, and good works. So it is they become one single chain in the one God, a chain that cannot easily be broken.[2]

In this way, the unity and oneness of the Church, made up of the living and departed, is revealed through this feast dedicated to All the Saints.

“Our Orthodox services teach, exhort, and spiritually educate the faithful, providing them with rich spiritual food for both mind and heart,” wrote Archbishop Averky.[3] The purpose, as Archimandrite Gabriel states it, “to remove us as often as possible from earthly vanities and calm our mind and heart in God; as often as possible to tear our spirits away from all that is earthly and to strive towards that which is lofty and Divine.”[4]

This is not as it were some sentimental presentation or drama to stir our hearts towards God. Instead, there is a specific intent in the layout of the daily, weekly, yearly services and cycles of services. When we learn what this intent is, we slowly acquire an education which contributes to our sanctification showing that the Church is indeed a “School of godliness.”

Writing about the Divine Services, St. Nicholas Cabasilas explains that during the Liturgy“…Christ and the deeds He accomplished and the sufferings He endured for our sakes are represented. Indeed, it is the whole scheme of the work of redemption which is signified in the psalms and the readings, as in all the actions of the priest throughout the liturgy… Their purpose,” he says, “is to set before us the Divine plan, that by looking upon it our souls may be sanctified, and thus we may be made fit to receive these sacred gifts.”[5]

It is the same for us as we have come to this auspicious day of the Sunday of All Saints. Looking back we can note:

  • Through all of the readings, we are taught about the creation of the world, the Garden of Eden and the fall of the first man as we read through the Old Testament. The Psalter is read twice per week, and the books of the prophets, the books of Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, and Ezekiel are also read revealing the history of Israel and the prophecies about Christ. The Gospels are read in their entirety beginning on Holy Monday. Following Christ’s resurrection, the Acts of the Apostles is read recounting many miracles and confirming the resurrection.
  • On particular days, our awareness to the activity of God is heightened. On Forgiveness Sunday, we commemorate the banishment of Adam from Paradise;
  • The feast of the Annunciation falls during Lent and announces that the Son of God was going to be born from the virgin Mary;
  • The activity of God is also seen through the life of St. Theodore of Tyro and the koliva, the restoration of the holy icons, the lives of Sts. Gregory Palamas, John Climacus, and Mary of Egypt;
  • As Lent comes to a close, we recount the raising of Lazarus – Christ having the power to restore life, and of Palm Sunday,
  • The suffering and death of Christ is found in the Church hymnology and then His resurrection, His ascension and then the descent of the Holy Spirit. [6]

We are then brought to today. Step by step we have been shown the work of Christ including His Ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit which is all done for the sanctification of the human race, to make us Saints, to lead us to the Kingdom of God.[7]

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.  And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, says the Apostle Paul (Romans 8.14-17).

Commenting on the Saints as actual heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, St. John Damascene writes,

If the Creator and Lord of all is called both King of kings and Lord of lords and God of gods, then most certainly the saints, too, are both gods and lords and kings… not by nature, but because they have ruled over and dominated sufferings, and because they have kept undebased the likeness of the divine image to which they were made – for the image of the king is also called a king, and finally, because they have freely been united to God and receiving Him as a dweller within themselves have through association with Him become by grace what He is by nature.[8]

Monk Moses the Athonite says that the failure to become Saints is the greatest tragedy of human existence, that is, to not know that this is possible.[9] The Saints are not good people like Grandma or Grandpa, Mamaw or Papaw. They are not good people because they defend the poor, the indigent, the minorities. They are good people because they are cured spiritually and have become by grace what God is by nature or, “partakers in the divine nature” as the Apostle Peter says (2 Peter 1.4).[10]  This is possible because of what Christ has done. The fruit of the work of Christ blossoms in the making of Saints which is what we commemorate today. Take note that it is not only a doorway that is opened up for us by the work of Christ, which is true no less, but that life, which is made available to us, is manifested in the Saints and their lives. They are what we can become because of the work of Christ.

 Truly, all things are vanity and life is but a shadow and a dream. If we believe this to be true in any respects, may we struggle more to attain that Kingdom about which we hear “only the violent will take it by force” (Matthew 11.12). In this struggle, is it not true when Christ says, “my yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11.30); that because of the joy set before Him, Christ endured the cross? Fathers, brothers, sisters, what can compare to that which Christ has prepared for those love Him? However much we labor, however much we struggle, however much we toil, is it not small, a pittance, compared to what will be received on that awesome day? As St. Gregory Palamas writes, “However much a man should toil, his labour will be slight in comparison to what he is to receive at his end (as an earnest of those good things) so that his soul may rejoice.”[11] And previous to him, St. Isaac the Syrian wrote, “Although the prizes God gives us resemble our offerings to Him, consider the overwhelming superiority of God’s recompense to those who, in Him, confessed Him.”[12]

May we struggle to love God whether we only live for one more day, one more decade, or however much time we have, so that we may hear from Christ, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25.34).

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[1] Veniamin, Christopher, (trans.). Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies. (Essex: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2014), 204.

[2] McGuckin, Paul (trans.). The Practical and Theological Chapters & the Three Theological Discourses. (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1982), 73.

[3] Liturgics, formerly found at holytrinitymission.org, unpublished version, 41

[4] “Handbook of Liturgics”, quoted by Abp. Averky in Liturgics, 22-23.

[5] A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1960), 26, 29.

[6] Cf. Kidd, Fr. David and Ursache, Moter Gabriella. Synaxarion of the Lenten Triodion and Pentecostarion (HDM Press: Rives Junction, 2005), 49-50, “Homily Twenty-Five” in Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Essx: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2014), 204.

[7]Quoted by St. Innocent of Kerson in Bulgakov, S.V. The Bulgakov Handbook at http://transfig.orthodoxws.com/files/Bulgakov/0621.pdf, accessed on 6/8/2017.

[8] Writings, Chase, Jr., Frederic H. trans. (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1958), 367.

[9] The Sunday of All Saints and the Purpose of Life @ http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/06/the-sunday-of-all-saints-and-purpose-of.html accessed on 6/10/2017.

[10] Cf. Hierotheos, Metropolitan of Nafpaktos. Empirical Dogmatics of the Orthodox Catholic Church (Levadia: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 2012), 1:243

[11] The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian. (Boston:Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1984), 368.

[12] Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies, 201.




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